TV On The Radio performing on Friday of Moogfest 2011. Photo by Jeff Pearson.
Exploring Asheville with my girlfriend, Jenna, was like seeing the city with new eyes all over again. I fall completely in love with that town every single time I step foot in it. It didn’t matter that we were trudging through blisteringly cold rain all day to enjoy a late brunch at Tupelo Honey Café (where I had the eggs Benedict and Jenna the sweet potato pancakes) or a little record shopping at Voltage Records (where we scooped up copies of Sonic Youth’s Murray Street and Balam Acab’s Wander/Wonder); for all we cared, it was seventy-five degrees and sunny in the beautiful mountain town. I vigorously told stories of last year’s inaugural Moogfest, promising the best weekend of our young, love-stricken lives. There was one aspect of this year’s Moogfest that both Jenna and I were in the dark on—the newly added outdoor stage, the Animoog Playground. Much of the artists we were geared up to see on Friday were going to be outside in the chilling, late-fall air. Naturally, we did what any smart humans would do. We danced until we were hot and sweating.
The first act to play this year was Matthew Dear. He christened the Animoog Playground, a converted parking lot behind the Renaissance Inn, with his dark, throbbing blend of electro pop and deep house. Cold bodies scattered throughout the blacktop dance floor were warmed very quickly as Dear sprinkled piercing synthesizers from the stage to combat the steadily falling frozen rain that was literally sprinkling over the crowd from above. Dear’s visceral approach to dance music was the perfect way to start off the weekend; Moogfest has made a name for itself by putting together lineups full of thought-provoking, left-of-center electronic musicians, and Matthew Dear fit this description exactly. Tearing through a set of songs from his latest record, Black City, he took the crowd on a ride through many realms of music. Greg Paulus added subtle atmospheric touches to the songs with trumpet lines that, with the groundswell of electronics lying underneath, called to mind peering into a dimly-lit jazz club from the sidewalk of a space-age metropolis. It was this congruence of the old and the new that really made Dear’s set stand out. While in many regards he wears his influences on his sleeve, he brought the twenty-first century aesthetic, and the crowd along with it, to the past.
Matthew Dear by Jeff Pearson.
After Matthew Dear finished his set, Jenna and I wandered the Animoog Playground while we waited for Mayer Hawthorne, searching for the perfect meal to hold us over for the bulk of the evening. Moogfest took advantage of the ample outdoor area that was afforded them by adding the Animoog Playground, and had about five food trucks on the outskirts of the venue. We decided to try the Pesto Grilled Cheese from The Lowdown food truck, with Muenster and Colby jack cheeses and heirloom tomatoes on garlic toast. Needless to say, we got another before leaving the venue after Hawthorne’s set, and a few more before the weekend was over. While we ecstatically munched on our sandwiches, each of us with wide eyes looking at each other in pure, satiated bliss over our stuffed mouths, we ran into my friends Conor and Dana. I had met them at last year’s event and we were excited to catch up and let Jenna get to know them. We excitedly talked about the weekend ahead and our personal must-see sets as Mayer Hawthorne took the stage. Hawthorne, being from Detroit, was used to the type of conditions he was being forced to play his set through, but he was no more pleased to see it than anyone else in attendance. He led his band, The County, through a fun and soulful set of crowd-pleasing tunes from both of his albums, A Strange Arrangement and How Do You Do. As if the bundled-up Moogfest attendees needed any more inclement weather, Hawthorne willed the crowd to make it rain down on Asheville with “I Wish It Would Rain,” urging people to participate in a jazz-finger fueled rain dance. Hawthorne showed his affinity for all styles of music throughout his set, displaying his love for hip-hop by playing Snoop Dogg’s “Gangsta Luv.” As he and The County bounced through the How Do You Do hit, “Dreamin’,” they amped the energy of the show up by seamlessly going into Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True.” The air was filled with the muffled sound of mittened hands clapping along to the beat as Mayer Hawthorne ended his set on this joyful note.
Mayer Hawthorne by Jeff Pearson.
Little Dragon was scheduled to perform next at the Animoog Playground, but had to cancel due to an illness. Many disgruntled attendees shuffled through their bags to find their schedules for an alternate option, but since I am completely obsessive about things like this, I knew exactly what our next choice would have been should something like this come up. With a festival like Moogfest, I could happily see any of the acts on the schedule. We high-tailed it over to the Asheville Civic Center to see The Antlers, a tiny seed of relief perhaps lodged in our minds, due to being able find reprieve from the brutal weather. As we walked into the Civic Center, seemingly stepping foot on a new planet with a lovely, welcoming climate, The Antlers were playing through the gorgeous opening track, “I Don’t Want Love,” from their latest album, Burst Apart. The Brooklyn-based band filled the large arena with syrupy, hauntingly moving songs from each of their three albums. Along with “I Don’t Want Love,” the song that got the biggest reaction from the crowd was the set closer, “Putting The Dog To Sleep.” Also from Burst Apart, the track lilts beautifully slowly, with singer Peter Silberman displaying his vocal prowess over the seemingly delicate track. The song was completely flooring, and as The Antlers extended the ending in a flourish of sound, Jenna and I took a page from an episode of New Girl we had just watched, and slow-motion chicken danced until the show’s conclusion. People around us surely thought we were nuts, but it seemed fitting at the time. It probably wasn’t.
The Antlers by Jeff Pearson.
The Toronto-based Holy Fuck took the stage next. Their set was at once a complete change of pace from The Antlers; the slow-paced rock was replaced with a frenetic, high-energy set of combustible electronica. Holy Fuck are known for their intense live shows, and right off the bat they showed why. They approach electronic music in a refreshing way; they create dance floor-ready freakouts by using live instrumentation and innovative means to create the noise that blankets their beats. They skew away from sampling and looping, and instead use toy keyboards and film synchronizers to establish their improvisational style. The set was a non-stop onslaught of sound, with the main collaborators, Brian Borcherdt and Graham Walsh, facing one another across the stage. Each song revolved upon itself, picking up new sounds and momentum along the way, ending in an all-out celebration. I think quite a few people who weren’t familiar with Holy Fuck came away from their set thinking the band’s name—less a proclamation of who they just saw, and more an exclamation of what they just saw.
Holy Fuck by Jeff Pearson.
As we left the Asheville Civic Center, Moby was leading a blissed-out dance party, with one of the most enthusiastic crowds of the entire weekend. A visibly appreciative Moby was giving the crowd everything he had, and Jenna and I knew we were leaving everyone in good hands. It was a much different atmosphere in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium upstairs, compared to the boisterous affair we had just left, the feeling in the air here was calmer as many people were taking their seats to hear the progressive house sounds of the Swedish producer, The Field. It wasn’t too long before The Field, the project of Axel Willner, had turned the atmosphere into something akin to what was going on downstairs in the Asheville Civic Center, however. Willner laid down a beautiful, methodical set, accented with the use of a live band. Whenever he needed to take his meticulous looping into the stratosphere, a drummer and bassist would thicken the sound and allow the tracks to really take off. He played many tracks from The Field’s latest record, Looping State Of Mind, and the lush yet somewhat minimalistic approach to music left the bulk of the crowd divided into two parts: there were those of us that were glued to their seats, watching the set unfold in astonishment, and those of us that had lost all abandon, dancing in a seemingly infinite loop right along with Willner.
The Field by Jeff Pearson.
This somewhat split group mindset carried over into the next set, where Flying Lotus put together a masterful performance that was constantly teetering on the edge of an absolute party and a mind-blowing piece of artistry. Really, it was both. Flying Lotus surrounded popular hip-hop tracks like Lil’ Wayne’s “A Milli” with maximalist electronica bombast, jittery yet completely rhythmic propulsions. He had the entire floor moving in unison, like an ocean of people, bobbing up and down with the current of bass he was providing. One great thing about a Flying Lotus show, aside from the almost laughably good digital expertise, is the amount of joy Steven Ellison pours into every performance. He was eating up the vibes that the Halloween weekend crowd was giving back to him, matching beats and toying with people’s minds with a huge, infectious smile on his face. He embraced the holiday spirit, claiming that Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice is the greatest movie of all-time, and while on the one hand it is nearly impossible to think that it could be true, on the other, when listening to his otherworldly productions, he just might be the one person to truly think so.
Back in the Asheville Civic Center, to close the night, was TV On The Radio. Another band of Brooklynites, TV On The Radio have an eclectic sound that is a blend of all sorts of stylistic components. As they tore through their biggest songs from each of their albums, everything from post-punk to R&B was covered. They have a sound and an energy that really most thrives in a small, intimate venue, but they made the most of the cavernous Civic Center. Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone exchanged vocals on each song while David Sitek guided the band through all of their hits. The crowd gradually swelled throughout the set, and as the band ripped through “Wolf Like Me,” the set closer and arguably TV On The Radio’s biggest hit to date, it was a full-blown celebration. There is always an unmistakable energy on the first night of a festival, with everyone getting their sea legs throughout the day and really letting loose and giving the bands back everything they can. There was that familiar feeling in the air of the Asheville Civic Center Friday night as TV On The Radio led the party. People know that such things as these are fleeting, and to experience every moment to the fullest.
TV On The Radio by Jeff Pearson.