M83 performing on Sunday of Moogfest 2011. Photo by Jeff Pearson.
We awoke Sunday morning with that familiar bittersweet feeling that comes with the last day of a festival. We felt a mixture of emotions—happy, sad, tired, and overwhelmedwith a feeling that we hadn’t seen or done enough in our short weekend in Asheville. We tried to fit in a few things that afternoon that we hadn’t done yet, as we waited for a table to be ready at Over Easy Café, we perused the eclectic book selection down the street at Malaprop’s. We probably didn’t explore the store’s amazing selection as thoroughly as we would’ve liked; we had heard great things about Over Easy and didn’t want to lose a table. Missing out on truly digging through their stacks of books was definitely worth it. As soon as we bit into our brunches, we immediately knew this was the best meal of the entire weekend. We split two selections: the croissant sandwich with bacon, probably the most amazing piece of breakfast mastery I’ve ever experienced, and the only slightly less incredible trout bagel. The true pièce de résistance, however, was the juice. They were out of orange juice, so we opted for the freshly squeezed, locally made apple juice. This cup of apple juice, and the meal overall, turned out to be one of the highlights of an amazing weekend. I am pretty sure the festival could have been cancelled, and if we had wandered into Over Easy on the way out of Asheville and had this meal, we would have still been completely satisfied with the weekend. I’m still pretty glad the festival wasn’t cancelled; the music on Sunday went sort of amazingly with that apple juice.
To start off the evening of tunes, we ventured over to the Orange Peel for the first time that weekend to see Oneohtrix Point Never. Daniel Lopatin, the synthesizer mastermind behind the Oneohtrix Point Never project, filled the Orange Peel with ethereal ambient music that was constantly on the verge of disintegrating into fractions of the noise that he pieces together to create his sound. Accompanied by a bare lighting setup and otherworldly projections, Lopatin delivered an intricate, constantly evolving set that practically had the enthralled crowd feeling the breath and pulse of the music emanating from the stage. The projections grew and swelled along with the veritable wall of sound Oneohtrix Point Never was building before the crowd’s collective wide eyes. The entire set flew by; it seemed Lopatin had barely even gotten started before the final strains of sound washed over the Orange Peel. It isn’t as if the set was some meandering ode to astral worlds beyond ours; there were moments of head-nodding rhythmic pulse that Lopatin bathed in delicate synthesizers and samples. It was all finely-tuned, yet appropriately spacey—in other words, completely fitting for the Moogfest weekend.
Oneohtrix Point Never by Jeff Pearson.
We then made the chilly walk over to the Asheville Civic Center for M83. The sun was starting to set, and the entire lobby area of the Civic Center was basking in a gorgeous golden light, giving the venue’s entryway a whimsical, fantasy-world feel. It was the perfect atmosphere to enter into, with our heads full of that confusion and stupor that only a weekend’s worth of steady electronic music streaming into our brains can muster. As we descended into the venue, the golden light fading away behind us, it finally felt like the festival was coming to an end. There is always that moment of bittersweet clarity at some point during a festival, the time when it becomes clear to just surrender whatever energy remains in your body to the music, because you won’t need it much longer. From the looks of the crowd at M83, we weren’t the only ones to have that revelation. Anthony Gonzalez and company pounded out a set of uplifting, transcendental songs that ranged from the danceable (“Midnight City”) to the meditative (“We Own The Sky”), and everything in between. Accompanied by beautiful LED fixtures and a light-specked background resembling a night sky opening up on top of the sea, M83 filled the Asheville Civic Center with thought-provokingly moving pieces that seemed written with the furthest reaches of those stars in mind as their destination. As the band began the intense, ever-building set closer, “Colouers,” the crowd’s thoughts weren’t the only things moving. The entire venue was worked into a frenzy of unabashed dancing.
M83 by Jeff Pearson.
We had lots of time to kill after M83, so we let our sweat cool in the rapidly cooling air as we walked to the YMI Cultural Center to finally check out Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings. Though not participating in Moogfest in a performance capacity, legendary ambient musician and producer, Brian Eno, was one of the biggest draws of this year’s festival. Along with a rare installation of 77 Million Paintings, a digital media experiment that had never been on the east coast and not in the United States but only once, Eno led a seminar earlier in the weekend. As Jenna and I bought our tickets to experience his work, Eno himself actually came down the stairs and said his goodbyes to the employees working the installation. I was pretty star-struck, but still worked up the courage to ask him to sign our tickets, which he did graciously. The installation was quite serene; they had a few couches set up and some strange-looking decorations that made the entire room feel like the surface of some distant planet, colorful rocks protruding from the floor that shifted colors with the performance. 77 Million Paintings itself was extravagant. Paintings evolve continuously as peaceful music crawls around the space, creating a dizzying, yet completely relaxing experience. It was quite the anomaly. While trying to focus on one, singular piece of art to note the changes taking place, my mind would wander and when I snapped to, the painting had completely shifted. I couldn’t tell whether I just wasn’t attentive enough, or if the paintings were shifting so gradually that the changes taking place were visible at all. They were happening, though, which is the strange part.
The word “interesting” was tossed around a lot on our way to the Animoog Playground, as we tried to make sense of what exactly we had just seen. Neither of us had noted changes happening as it went on, but both of us acknowledged that changes definitely did take place. Getting out of the opaque mindset and back into the dancing mode wasn’t difficult once Passion Pit ripped into their opening song, “Moth’s Wings.” The energy onstage was completely captivating; singer Michael Angelakos bounced around the stage with a swagger that was fit for the most classic and titanic front men as the band poured mammoth synth pop sounds around his voice. The song, taken from the band’s first full-length, Manners, was one of many crowd-pleasers that the Boston-based band played in the frigid mountain air that night. Though the night was probably the coldest of the entire weekend, Jenna and I got wrapped up in what turned out to be the most celebratory, all-inclusive dance party of the festival, and by the end of the concert I am pretty sure that both of us had removed all layers but tee shirts. Passion Pit played their set at a relentless pace; each song built on the last, and each one seemingly got bigger and better. Tracks like “Sleepyhead” and “The Reeling” saw the band cut the air with funky synthesizers and huge, electronic bombast, while even the more subdued side of the band on songs like “Let Your Love Grow Tall” and “To Kingdom Come” got big reactions from the eager crowd. Passion Pit came back out for an encore, and sent the crowd out to find whatever warmth they could with a new song titled “Take A Walk,” an up-tempo track that played like the crowd favorite that it will inevitably become. The final song of the night was the bouncy “Little Secrets,” which melted away whatever shred of frozen restraint remained in the crowd; we were dancing out into the night, back onto the Asheville streets as we made our way to our final set of the weekend.
Passion Pit by Jeff Pearson.
As we danced our way down the street, towards the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium to see Umphrey’s McGee close the festival, I tried to start a “We want the Umph! Gotta have that Umph!” chant, but to no avail. It didn’t dampen my excitement to see one of my favorite bands in one of my favorite towns with my favorite girl. We arrived to the show a little bit late, entering the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium to Jefferson Waful’s lights flashing all over the venue, stretching to their furthest reach, strobing at their most frenetic pace. It could have been any song for all we could tell; the Chicago-based six-piece was lost in a jam, winding the auditorium up with a high-energy guitar onslaught. Before we knew it, the band was expertly weaving the track back into the ending of “Plunger,” an early hit of the band’s. It became quite clear, very early on, that Umphrey’s was not holding anything back on this night. The entire set was completely through the roof, showing the band’s affinity for hard, fast progressive rock. It’s become somewhat of a tradition with Umphrey’s to throw in a crowd-pleasing cover in their set, and on Sunday they decided to play Talking Heads’ “Girlfriend Is Better,” to a huge audience reaction. Talking Heads is a band that paved the way for a festival like Moogfest, who made it okay to think outside the box, and Umphrey’s McGee have always lived by that mantra. They closed the night off with “Domino Theory,” a new track off of their latest record, Death By Stereo. It says a lot about Umphrey’s as a band that they can literally play any song and even though the crowd may not be familiar with it to start with, each and every person will be completely sold by the end of it. This closing performance was a shining example; as Joel Cummins teased MGMT synthesizer lines on a Moog of his own, guitarists Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss displaying their uncanny guitar telepathy that they have mastered over the years, bassist Ryan Stasik and percussionists Kris Myers and Andy Farag making the entire venue shake with rhythm, it was plainly obvious why a band like Umphrey’s would play a festival like Moogfest. Both the band and the festival have carved their place in music as wholly unique and wholly incredible. Walking out onto Haywood Street for the final time that year, already making our plans for where to eat, where to shop, who we might get to see the next year, we were thrilled to have these memories to hold us over for a couple hundred days.
Umphrey’s McGee by Jeff Pearson.