Panda Bear performing on Friday of Moogfest 2010. Photo by Jeff Pearson.
When I arrived at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium on Friday, October 29, there was an air of excitement. All of the Moogfest attendees were taking part in something special, something unique. Personally, I have never been ahead of the curve in particularly much in life, and I know it felt nice as I stood there, waiting for The Octopus Project to start, to be a part of the inaugural Moogfest in Asheville, North Carolina. As festival-goers poured into the venue, some costumed, some quickly bearing thick, winter clothing—I, myself, didn’t quite prepare for the frigid temperatures, only packing a thin hoodie which I was frequently made aware of how crazy it was to only be wearing—and the lights dimmed for the first set of the festival. The Octopus Project tore through a rowdy, psychedelic set to an eager and equally rowdy and psychedelic crowd. The band previewed their upcoming album, Hexadecagon, an uptempo array of songs swirling about the auditorium. Yvonne Lambert displayed an uninhibited skill on the Theremin, a product of Moog itself, making it seem like The Octopus Project was performing an alien mating ritual right on the stage at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. There had been some murmurings throughout the set that members of Devo, who had to cancel their appearance due to Bob Mothersbaugh’s hand injury, might be joining The Octopus Project, perhaps accounting for the swelled numbers for such an early set. Sure enough, Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale were introduced as The Octopus Project wound down their set, playing backing band as they playfully worked through seminal Devo cuts, “Beautiful World” and “Girl U Want.” As I wandered out of the venue with a huge grin on my face, I knew this was going to be a special weekend.
The Octopus Project with Devo by Jeff Pearson.
Over in the Asheville Civic Center, Big Boi was already thundering through hit after hit as I arrived. He and a posse, of ATLiens presumably, bounce around onstage, having fully embraced the free-spirited festival atmosphere. The set is practically a whirlwind of the best of Big Boi’s work, both as a solo artist and a member of Outkast. There is not a single second to breathe, and as every single person is singing the words back to him on a huge run of songs containing “Rosa Parks,” “So Fresh, So Clean,” “Miss Jackson,” and “B.O.B.,” it’s nearly impossible to not get swept up in the fun. If one word could sum up Big Boi’s rambunctious set, that’s just what it would be: fun. After giving the fans what they want with Outkast’s biggest hits, Big Boi plowed through the highlights of his debut solo album, Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty, each song getting a bigger and bigger crowd response until he finally dropped the mic and inevitably left the crowd wanting more.
As the smoke from Big Boi’s set began to clear, the atmosphere in the Asheville Civic Center began to shift drastically. There were those who hadn’t really fully embraced the identity of MGMT, ready for a nonstop dance party, and those who were prepared for a classic psychedelic freakout of epic proportions. Having just released Congratulations, MGMT had further distanced themselves from the high-energy dance anthems that were sparsely populating their debut, Oracular Spectacular. It shouldn’t really have come as such a surprise to people that as a band, they are less Daft Punk, more Velvet Underground. They feel more comfortable cozying up under kaleidoscopic projections and delivering their blend of psychedelic rock with delicacy. Their set on Friday in the Asheville Civic Center was a perfect amalgamation of meeting expectations; they breezed through the hits “Time To Pretend” and “Electric Feel,” while really letting their more experimental work breathe, filling the arena with a Day-Glo fog.
MGMT by Jeff Pearson.
Back in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, chamber-pop outfit Clare & The Reasons were gearing up their set, accompanied by sparse, rustic visual ambiance to tie their old-timey atmosphere together. There were twigs attached to the various microphone stands, leaving us to feel the performance was connected to the nature of the earth; I could practically see a cartoon bird chirping on Clare Manchon’s shoulder. The set had a very playful energy, feeling less like a festival set strictly adhering to rigid scheduling, and more like a campfire sing-a-long.
In fact, that atmosphere carried over into Van Dyke Parks’ set, though his solo piano journeys through American life felt like something more akin to a smoky western saloon; perhaps it is just because pianos and campfires don’t tend to mix. Parks worked his way though his songbook, interlacing entertaining stories about his life, his interactions with Bob Moog, and how the songs themselves came to be. Parks was genial and captivating, playing songs from his projects with Brian Wilson, including “Orange Crate Art” and Smile’s “Heroes And Villains.” As a long-time fan of the work that he and Wilson did together, it was incredible to hear his stripped-down, lighthearted versions of those songs. Hearing him playfully bounce along the keys and his personal inflections to the lyrics was like hearing those songs for the first time—like hearing them with new ears, almost. My friend Kyle, who had just wandered in from the cold to find me grinning from ear to ear, leaned over and said, as Clare & The Reasons joined Parks onstage for the final few songs, “This just makes me so happy.” It really could not be said any better. Seeing Van Dyke Parks gleefully and humbly do what he loves to do best was truly a gleeful and humbling experience to all in attendance.
Van Dyke Parks with Clare & The Reasons by Jeff Pearson.
Next up was Panda Bear, the solo project of Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox. Though the artistic merits of both Parks and Lennox are on par with each other, often people even refer to Lennox as the next Brian Wilson, the intimate crowd that had gathered for Parks’ set seemed to disperse quite a bit, leaving me the opportunity to grab a spot on the rail for Panda Bear. As I patiently watched as a large projection screen was set up behind a table full of electronic instruments, on either side one stack of speakers, I struck up a conversation with a rabid Animal Collective fan behind me. With wide eyes, he told me that Animal Collective was his favorite band and that seeing Panda Bear was the sole reason for coming to Moogfest. Though a huge fan of Panda Bear myself, I couldn’t, in good conscience, keep a coveted spot on the rail from him. I told him I would take a few pictures and let him enjoy the set from front and center. I can’t recall whether he began to hug me even before I had gotten the sentence out, but needless to say, he was excited. Panda Bear took the stage and delivered a moving performance of guitar and effects looping mastery accompanied by sparse and subdued visuals. As he would build a wall of sound, using only his voice, guitar and equipment laid out in front of him, completely captivating the entire crowd, shots of cell divisions and expired film reels would loop and pulsate behind him with the music. Lennox definitely commanded the attention of all those in Thomas Wolfe Auditorium—so much so, that when I switched places with my new friend after a couple of songs, I’m not even sure he noticed his newly acquired vantage point. We were all so lost in Panda Bear’s enchanting music that the only two things in the world to exist at that moment were us and it.
Panda Bear by Jeff Pearson.
On my way to the Moogaplex, the Haywood Park Hotel Ballroom converted to a futuristic dancehall for the weekend, to see Bonobo, I popped my head in the Asheville Civic Center to see what was going on with Girl Talk’s set. The answer, in a word, was pandemonium. Below me was a sea of flailing arms, Girl Talk frenetically making his way through mash-up after mash-up as he was swarmed by ecstatic fans dancing onstage all around him. As I walked out into the frigid October night, shielded from the harsh temperatures by only a thin hoodie, I thought about the stark contrast of the two things I just witnessed. It’s a symbol of the diversity Moogfest boasted in its inaugural year; while Panda Bear is looping the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium into visceral infinity, Girl Talk is warping Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” into a crazed, dance-party encore, each given the exact attention or response that it demands.
Inside the Moogaplex was a mob of people waiting in line to get a chance to see Bonobo perform a DJ set; it seems Moogfest promoters had grossly underestimated his popularity. Those of us lucky enough to make it inside the swanky converted banquet hall were treated to a varied, expertly navigated set. Bonobo ran the gambit of styles, from his downtempo, hip-hop influenced original material all the way to four-on-the-floor techno. It was a fantastic way to cap off the first day of Moogfest, a purely uninhibited dance party from start to finish. On the surface, it served as infectious rhythms for those in the packed room to move their bodies to, but below were the bubbling elements of Bonobo’s work—deeply intricate layers and throbbing bass. He sent the crowd out into the cold night with the textured beats he laid down still pulsating through the seashell cavern their ringing ears left them with.
Bonobo by Jeff Pearson.