Massive Attack performing on Saturday of Moogfest 2010. Photo by Jeff Pearson.
I woke up on Saturday morning to my phone buzzing, alerting me of a text message. It was Kyle, letting me know there would be an in-store performance by the folk trio, Mountain Man, at Harvest Records later that afternoon. We were to meet downtown a bit before the show and ride together to the store in West Asheville to shop for records and listen to their set. As we drove through the rolling hills, patterned with yellow, orange and reddish hues, listening to Radiohead’s Kid A, we excitedly discussed both the night ahead and our favorite moments from the day prior. Both of us had only a cursory knowledge of Mountain Man’s music, but were anxious to see their performance. The set was well-attended; once Kyle had picked out a few records, a bootleg of the Beach Boys Smile among them, we took our place near the back of the room to listen. A trio of Appalachian songbirds, Mountain Man delicately wove their vocals around one another, each with a unique timbre to create a fully realized and complete sound. There was fragility about their music; perhaps the bare-bones nature of the performance combined with the intimacy of the venue, but the girls’ songs seemed at any given time to be on the verge of simply floating away. Mountain Man’s performance left me covered in goose pimples, one of the most chill-inducing musical experiences I have witnessed.
Mountain Man by Jeff Pearson.
After arriving back downtown, I received a message from my friend Matt that he would be coming up for the remainder of the weekend; he had suffered a spider bite earlier in the week which prohibited him from making it up from Georgia on Friday, but was feeling well enough to ride out the rest of the festival. By the time we met up and got him checked-in to get his wristband, it was about time to head into the Asheville Civic Center, where we would be posted up for the majority of the night. We got a spot right on the rail, where I enjoyed a festival favorite meal of chicken fingers and Dr. Pepper. Just as I discretely wiped the last of the grease from my dinner on my pant legs, the first act of the night, Nosaj Thing, took the stage. The Los Angeles-based producer wasted no time getting people moving with his blend of cerebral, science-fiction stylized hip-hop beats. The entire set was otherworldly, with Nosaj Thing even digging into Wu-Tang Clan’s “Triumph” as he layered richly textured and dramatic beats and combined them with more straightforward dance sensibilities. Nosaj Thing displayed his versatility in that regard; he maintained his artistic identity of being a forward-thinking electronic musician while catering to a festival crowd which was eager to set their night off with a bang.
Next up was Caribou, the musical project fronted by producer/multi-instrumentalist Dan Snaith. Caribou turned out to be the surprise set of the weekend, with the quartet Snaith has assembled pounding through high-energy, extended versions of the best songs from his last two albums, Andorra and Swim.Snaith would expertly navigate various instruments, building his songs around synthesizer and guitar loops as he softly sang the words. Songs would escalate to the point of exploding; a couple of times during the set, Snaith would take a seat at a drum set across from drummer Brad Weber and the two would create thunderous accompaniment to the joyous wall of sound that had been built. Every moment was teetering on the edge of sheer bliss and utter intensity—on set closer, “Sun,” the band stretched the song out to nearly ten minutes of furious jamming, a blur of strobe lights and free-flying instrumentation. One of the most incredible things about Caribou’sperformance was the level of precision that the songs were played, while still keeping the whole thing very loose and experimental. As Snaith jumped from guitar to synthesizer to drums all seemingly in a matter of seconds, pounding out a rhythm that many producers wish they could find in their laptop’s databanks, it was hard to fight the urge to stare, mouth agape, instead of dancing. I’m sure either reaction would have been just fine with Caribou.
Caribou by Jeff Pearson.
The rowdy dance party atmosphere continued with the next act, the Washington D.C.-based Thievery Corporation. Blending dub-infused, down-tempo, sensual beats with world-music influences, Thievery Corporation had every single person in the Asheville Civic Center moving, busting out dance moves they weren’t even aware they had in their repertoire. It was a full-on bass worship session as the group’s production duo of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton laid out a smoothly arranged set of the band’s classics, including “Lebanese Blonde” and “Le Monde.” Supporting the bouncing low-end backbone laid down by Garza and Hilton was a revolving door of vocalists and a band featuring a horn section and sitar. The entire set had the feel of a smoky bazaar party, the entire crowd completely losing themselves in the brand of bass-heavy, middle-eastern flavored lounge music Thievery Corporation was pumping out. This timeslot was yet another example of the artistic diversity present at Moogfest; as Thievery Corporation rattled the cavernous Asheville Civic Center, Jónsi was delivering a message to the heavens in Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, moving many audience members near to tears with his emotive brand of uplifting post-rock.
Thievery Corporation by Jeff Pearson.
Once Thievery Corporation was done, the atmosphere of the Asheville Civic Center turned to that of a palpable anticipatory tension. Every person I spoke with that day was in near shock at the fact that they would be seeing Massive Attack later in the night. The fact that Moogfest was able to book such a legendary act in the electronic field in its inaugural year was astounding; this performance marked the first time Massive Attack had ever played Asheville, and only the second time ever playing North Carolina—the last time they graced a stage in the state was Raleigh, twelve years prior. The British veterans pummeled the Moogfest crowd with dark and pulsating tracks from all over their prolific career. On tracks like “Angel” and “Inertia Creeps,” both from the 1998 record, Mezzanine, deep and methodical beats were elevated to new heights by searing electric guitar work. The latter saw the main creative collaborators behind the band, Robert Del Raja and Daddy G, exchanging lines back and forth, interweaving their vocals with massive guitar riffs and dark synthesizer washes. Throughout the set, the band used shocking imagery of death figures and anti-corporation propaganda to really complete the twisted atmosphere that they cultivate on stage.
Massive Attack by Jeff Pearson.
The plan going into Massive Attack’s set was to duck out early to make it to the Orange Peel in time to get in for Four Tet’s late night set. As often happens at music festivals, the plan didn’t come to fruition. It became impossible to peel—no pun intended—ourselves away from the trip-hop legends’ show, and before we knew it, the house lights were coming back on, Massive Attack bidding their farewell, and we were left wide-eyed and forced to rush to a probably at capacity venue. We did our best to make it there swiftly, but as we came up at the crest of a hill on Biltmore Avenue, we could see a line curling around the Orange Peel, leaving us with no doubt that we weren’t going to get in to see Four Tet. We headed back to the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium to catch the last few songs of The Disco Biscuits’ set, as they joyously brought the night to a close to a group of faithful followers of the band’s trance-rock fusion. As the Biscuits rounded out their set with a stunning rendition of “Kitchen Mitts,” lasers searching the seats in the auditorium, the only thing I could think was, “What a day.”
Four Tet Line by Jeff Pearson.