Dispatch from Planet Moogfest, Day Two

We’ve been exploring Planet Moogfest from horizon to horizon; Here’s a roundup from Day Two of the epic musical and cultural event. Moogfest continues tonight at venues throughout downtown Asheville.

Day Two Dispatch:

Thievery Corporation

Thievery Corporation seamlessly fused an astonishing array of influences from around the world into a sexy-as-hell sonic-dance party. Highlights included “Facing East,” “Sound the Alarm” and “Warning Shots,” with the 12-member collective layering tablas, sitars and horns over deep dancehall-reggae grooves that had the hilariously costumed masses shaking it in all of our Halloween-inspired glory. Of particular note were the pack of robots getting down up in the top row of section 203: ya’ll ruled!

Via Twitter:

@jakefrankel: Thievery Corporation makes me feel like humping, but like, in a spiritual way, ya know? #moogfest

– Jake Frankel

Mountain Man

Harvest Records offered a taste of Moogfest even if you didn’t have a ticket Saturday with the ironically named Mountain Man — an all-girl folk trio from Vermont — who filled the already crowded room with rich three-part a capella harmonies steeped in Appalachian tradition. Space was tight, but the band performed with little more than their own voices (and the occasional guitar), so they were able to take residence behind the counter for a breathtaking show that included a host of tracks from their recently released debut Made the Harbor. Despite the sparse and ghostly feel of songs like “Animal Tracks” and “Honeybee,” there is also something remarkably powerful about this outfit and the intimate setting only heightened that energy. Though it wasn’t an official Moogfest performance (they appeared later at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium), it was certainly one of the afternoon’s most noteworthy.

– Dane Smith

Best new-to-me act I’ve seen so far: Caribou

Caribou leader Dan Snaith and his gang were all huddled together on the big Civic Center stage and displayed an almost telepathic ability for musical communication. They were masters of tension and release, building epic and dissonant jams punctuated by what sometimes sounded like exploding glass and scary death-monster screams. If outer space had a sound, it might sound something like Caribou did last night.

Overheard at the show:

Caribou makes me feel like a caterpillar that bursts out into a bomb!

– Jake Frankel

Caribou is the indie-electronic project of composer/mathematician Daniel Snaith. While Snaith is not working on mathematics (he has a PHD from the Imperial College of London), he is making some of the best contemporary indie-pop electronica. His latest album, Swim, has been a critic favorite for 2010, furthering his acclaim fro his 2007 album Andorra. Between these two records and recent touring Caribou is slowing becoming darling of the indie-pop scene.

While most of his music is made utilizing MIDI as a one-man band, his performance at The Asheville Civic Center was with a full live band. It was quite good. The crowd was kept dancing the entire performance, and Snaith and group did an excellent job of bringing the album tracks to life. I was worried going in that the songs might not translate well live, but this was not the case at all. Thus far it was one of the best performances I have seen at Moogfest.

– Par Neiburger

Best light show: Jonsi

Going from the dissonant cacophony of Caribou in the Civic Center to the down-tempo subtle mysticism of Jonsi just across the hall at Thomas Wolfe was like entering another dimension. It was hard for me to make the mental transition, but the light show helped ease me in. The surreal projections were perfectly attuned to the music; a highlight was when a cackle of sputtering flames burst into a flock of butterflies. The imaginary language Jonsi sang in much of the set sounded like an intricate mix of Icelandic and Vulcan.


– Jake Frankel

The atmosphere of Jonsi’s performance preceded the band’s appearance on stage by about 20 minutes — in this way the show began upon entrance to the Thomas Wolfe. The stage set made a realm of the auditorium: Gentle incandescent light, a wooded grove projected on a sheer screen looked like it could be entered. In a strange way, the scenery pulled the viewer in and extended outward at the same time, subsuming the rows of red seats all the way to the rear-most balcony. The accompanying soundscape made the ambiance all the more environmental. The overture was visual as well as aural.

Jonsi’s first song — a mostly solo, guitar vocal piece by the bandleader with some very subtle Nord accompaniment — almost turned the room into glass and immediately shattered it. The audience was motionless and mute as background filled with images of deer, owls and foxes. It was a song about waking up, beginning the day, beginning the attempt at a graceful life, entering the wood, emerging from isolation into further isolation, the isolation of entrance, beginning. By the end of the very-high concluding note, the keyboard’s single held chime melded with Jonsi’s operatic sustain, and the overture was complete.

The set burgeoned from there, in all respects. The ensemble grew from two to at least six, including a pump organ, guitars, bass and an elaborate percussion kit that included everything from pixie-wing chimes to a thunderous bass drum. In the approximate middle of the set, at the end of a massive instrumental crescendo that accompanied an arresting scene of an owl hunting a field mouse that eventually gave way to an antelope and a wolf lunging at each other and exploding into leaves, the drums were simply incredible. The sonic plane was almost visible.

Ultimately the show alternately epic and the enchanting — at times, when the beat picked up, the music was clubby. Perhaps the projections and some of the more airy pieces verged on cloying, or at least melodramatic. If the show is taken as a narrative, and it should be, some elements that would be a bit mawkish on their own balanced other moments of near-terror and fury.

– Jaye Bartell

Jonsi has the kind of voice that can break your heart with a single note. Even though a lot of his songs are written in Icelandic and his own made up language, dubbed “Hopelandic,” the ethereal atmospheres and soaring falsetto spark an emotional connection that transcends language and transports you to another world. Basically, this guy shoots straight for the heart, and he’s a dead eye shot. From the moment he appeared onstage at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, a surreal feeling swept over the room and what had been a raging party was transformed into a zen-like dream. Joined by a full backing band, he drifted between dense swells of ambiance and delicate, blissful melodies that kept the capacity crowd glued to their seats. This show was epic.

– Dane Smith

Other best light show: Massive Attack

Massive Attack’s post-industrial electro-rock explosions were transcendental.  Sure, they bombarded ears with bass-bombs and shrieking keyboard and guitar missile launches; but they also provided a needed oasis with devastatingly sexy down-tempo ballads. Their scrolling light show was a dark commentary on modern news and stock tickers, with its pulsing corporate logos and symbols. Interspersed were messages such as this one from Howard Zinn: “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”

Via Twitter:

@Jar-e: Massive Attack just fought a war of choice over the false pretense of WMDs sparking sectarian strife and a refugee crisis. #moogfest

@Jar-e:Massive Attack just systematically disenfranchised my people, stole our land and made us walk a trail of tears. #moogfest

@Jar-e:Massive Attack just forcefed me grain until my liver distended into a creamy paste which they then ate w high end French crackers #moogfest

@Jar-e:Massive Attack just shot me in the face and took a shit on my dying body. #moogfest

@jakefrankel: Massive Attack is making want to kill myself, but, like, in a good way. #moogfest

@PaulKShaver: Massive Attack last night was like getting kissed on the cheek by Jesus #moogfest

– Jake Frankel

Massive Attack is best known for inventing trip hop. The sound they pioneered made way for acts like Tricky, Portishead and Hooverphonic to become mainstream successes. While Massive Attack was most prevalent in the 90’s, they have recently re-united with a new album and tour alongside Thievery Corporation. This was my main reason for wanting to attend Moogfest and the act I’ve been looking forward to all weekend. They did not disappoint. A highlight for me was the performance of the song “Teardrop” a track originally made with Elizabeth Frasier the lead-singer of The Cocteau Twins. While the female singer they had with them did not quite capture the beauty of Frasier’s vocals it was a treat to hear this song performed live. And in all fairness, there is not a person on the planet that could re-create Elizbeth Frasier’s vocals.

Matmos

Matmos are the pioneers of minimal IDM. They are perhaps most famous for doing all of the beats and production for Bjork’s fourth album: Vespertine, her most critically acclaimed record to date and my personal favorite. Their set in The Orange Peel was top notch. While most of the Moogfest crowd was either at Thievery Corporation or Alex B, for once The Orange Peel was not difficult to get into. You could tell the audience that was there, was not there haphazardly but there to see Matmos perform. Everyone’s attention was captivated and Matmos played an excellent set. At one point one of the members brought their electronic gadgetry out into the audience and began interacting with the crowd. These are the moments that make and event like Moogfest be something you would think Bob would be proud of.

Nosaj Thing

Nosaj Thing is an underrated gem of electronic music. I’ve seen him now three times and each time his set is impeccable. I think in the years to come he will become a huge name. His music has an artistic integrity that is often lacking in live electronica. He’s not so much concerned with pleasing the crowd or keeping everyone dancing, as much as he is with creating an atmosphere. His sets have the appearance of being one long composition, as though each track and the way it corresponds to the other is all meticulously planned. As always I was very impressed and, once gain, caught people who were hearing him for the first time become converted to fans.

Four Tet

The line for Four Tet at The Orange Peel was, to borrow a term, ridonculous. I waited for over a half an hour and honestly didn’t think I was going to get inside in time to see any of Four Tet’s set. I got inside just under the wire to see the last 15 minutes of his set. It was quite good. I have been a big fan for years and was extremely happy to get see him perform even if I only caught the end. Fourtet is one of the most important producers in modern electronic music. Seeing the tail end of his set was well worth waiting in line in the cold for nearly 45 minutes. Four Tet’s performance was a perfect end to a really incredible night of music. I did not see one single performance that I was disappointed with and am pleased to say that everyone brought their A-game to Moogfest.

– Par Neiburger

Four Tet (a haiku review)

The new Knight Rider
Got my ass and toes shaking.
Cerebral pinball?

Best news of the night:

I spoke briefly with AC Entertainment owner and Moogfest founder/promoter/Master of Ceremonies Ashley Caps as he was headed out of the the Four Tet show and he said “Moogfest is going great and will definitely be back next year!”
– Jake Frankel

Best (secret) After-party: The Mad Tea Party(!)

Sometimes the party must go on, and last night it was dancing to the sounds of Mad Tea Party in a house just north of town. Tucked into a nook in the living room, the band was in top form, blasting a bouncy beat and stomping out the drums while zombies danced and costumed party-goers streamed in and out. There were all the usual house party elements; crowds smoked on porches, there was a bonfire in the backyard, drunk people acted a fool and there was even the occasional police scare. But lets face it, what good house party would be complete without that? We left around 4 a.m. and the action showed no signs of stopping.

– Dane Smith

Best Costumes:

The dude who looked EXACTLY like Kenny Powers.

The Double Dare contestants.

All the Hunter S. Thompsons. Can’t wait to read their takes on Moogfest.

The Osama Bin Laden who was getting down at Four Tet (Sweet moves!)

Shows I’m most looking forward to tonight (Day Three):

1. Omar Soulyman

2. Hot Chip

3. Pretty Lights

– Jake Frankel

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