Viking's Choice

All Tomorrow's Parties 2011 In Photos: Breathing Life Into The Boardwalk

  • Cults opened the ATP festival at Asbury Lanes with a set that ended in thunderously loud noise-pop.
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    Cults opened the ATP festival at Asbury Lanes with a set that ended in thunderously loud noise-pop.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Welcome to the Asbury Park Boardwalk.
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    Welcome to the Asbury Park Boardwalk.
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  • Perennial ATP performer Shellac was as loud, heavy and offensive as ever at Convention Hall. Guitarist Steve Albini (left) also hinted at more recordings to come.
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    Perennial ATP performer Shellac was as loud, heavy and offensive as ever at Convention Hall. Guitarist Steve Albini (left) also hinted at more recordings to come.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • That woman in the bottom left-hand corner is totally right there with Shellac right now.
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    That woman in the bottom left-hand corner is totally right there with Shellac right now.
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  • Street artist Shepard Fairey had his album-cover-inspired works on display.
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    Street artist Shepard Fairey had his album-cover-inspired works on display.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Without any metal at this year's All Tomorrow's Parties, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 definitely had the rowdiest crowd.
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    Without any metal at this year's All Tomorrow's Parties, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 definitely had the rowdiest crowd.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • A storm a-brewin' on Bradley Beach.
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    A storm a-brewin' on Bradley Beach.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Chavez was plenty muscular in the naturally boomy Convention Hall. Guitarist Matt Sweeney would later join Bonnie "Prince" Billy during a couple songs from their collaborate album, Superwolf.
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    Chavez was plenty muscular in the naturally boomy Convention Hall. Guitarist Matt Sweeney would later join Bonnie "Prince" Billy during a couple songs from their collaborate album, Superwolf.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • We weren't allowed to take photos of Jeff Mangum, so we took a photo of a piece of paper that said we couldn't take photos of Jeff Mangum.
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    We weren't allowed to take photos of Jeff Mangum, so we took a photo of a piece of paper that said we couldn't take photos of Jeff Mangum.
    Lars Gotrich for NPR
  • Reggie Watts improvised wordless musical impressions of soul and French music between stream-of-consciousness ramblings at the Berkeley Hotel on Friday night.
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    Reggie Watts improvised wordless musical impressions of soul and French music between stream-of-consciousness ramblings at the Berkeley Hotel on Friday night.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Taking a break atop the Paramount Theatre.
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    Taking a break atop the Paramount Theatre.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Delicate and full of space, The Album Leaf filled the Paramount Theatre on Friday evening.
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    Delicate and full of space, The Album Leaf filled the Paramount Theatre on Friday evening.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Somewhat sleepy, but still beautiful, Bonnie "Prince" Billy largely culled from newer material, but also played a stunning new arrangement of "I See a Darkness."
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    Somewhat sleepy, but still beautiful, Bonnie "Prince" Billy largely culled from newer material, but also played a stunning new arrangement of "I See a Darkness."
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • A ghostly calm settles before the torrential downpour on Friday night.
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    A ghostly calm settles before the torrential downpour on Friday night.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • On the boardwalk.
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    On the boardwalk.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Saxophonist Colin Stetson took full advantage of the Paramount Theatre's gorgeous sound system on Saturday afternoon, especially when he picked up that honker of a bass sax.
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    Saxophonist Colin Stetson took full advantage of the Paramount Theatre's gorgeous sound system on Saturday afternoon, especially when he picked up that honker of a bass sax.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Marc Ribot laid down some serious "outside" jams with his trio, Ceramic Dog, at the Paramount Theatre on Saturday afternoon.
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    Marc Ribot laid down some serious "outside" jams with his trio, Ceramic Dog, at the Paramount Theatre on Saturday afternoon.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • From the balcony of the Paramount Theatre.
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    From the balcony of the Paramount Theatre.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • The Criterion Collection curated a series of classic films all weekend long, often with guest speakers like Robert Downey Sr.
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    The Criterion Collection curated a series of classic films all weekend long, often with guest speakers like Robert Downey Sr.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • The Horrors' Goth-tinged post-punk felt somewhat out of place on Saturday evening at Convention Hall, but there was no less chatter about it afterward.
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    The Horrors' Goth-tinged post-punk felt somewhat out of place on Saturday evening at Convention Hall, but there was no less chatter about it afterward.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Wonder Bar was host to late-night fried goodness and a dive-y atmosphere to grab a beer.
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    Wonder Bar was host to late-night fried goodness and a dive-y atmosphere to grab a beer.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • A statue of James A. Bradley presides over the Berkeley Hotel.
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    A statue of James A. Bradley presides over the Berkeley Hotel.
    Lars Gotrich/NPR
  • Foot Village: four drummers, four screamers, hundreds of damaged ears.
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    Foot Village: four drummers, four screamers, hundreds of damaged ears.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • We all wait for our Battles in some way.
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    We all wait for our Battles in some way.
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  • Some are closer to Battles than others.
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    Some are closer to Battles than others.
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  • And this is what Battles looks like.
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    And this is what Battles looks like.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Asbury Lanes was host to cheap beer, bowling, late-night DJs and lots of experimental sounds.
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    Asbury Lanes was host to cheap beer, bowling, late-night DJs and lots of experimental sounds.
    Lars Gotrich/NPR
  • At Asbury Lanes, Oneida presented The Ocropolis III, an eight-hour (!) improvisation featuring guest musicians from Portishead, Boredoms, Guardian Alien and Yo La Tango.
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    At Asbury Lanes, Oneida presented The Ocropolis III, an eight-hour (!) improvisation featuring guest musicians from Portishead, Boredoms, Guardian Alien and Yo La Tango.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Best Dressed at ATP definitely goes to Ultramagnetic MCs.
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    Best Dressed at ATP definitely goes to Ultramagnetic MCs.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Outside the Silverball Museum, home to 200 pinball machines and a little girl with a mallet.
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    Outside the Silverball Museum, home to 200 pinball machines and a little girl with a mallet.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Behind the board at Convention Hall.
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    Behind the board at Convention Hall.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Inactive for 30 years, the messed-up rockers in The Pop Group gave a dubby, skrangly and revived performance at the Paramount Theatre on Saturday.
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    Inactive for 30 years, the messed-up rockers in The Pop Group gave a dubby, skrangly and revived performance at the Paramount Theatre on Saturday.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • An astronaut projected onto the side of a house all weekend? Sure, why not? It's ATP.
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    An astronaut projected onto the side of a house all weekend? Sure, why not? It's ATP.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Catharsis in chaos: Swans' relentless two-hour set was downright Wagnerian in scope.
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    Catharsis in chaos: Swans' relentless two-hour set was downright Wagnerian in scope.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • It was too quick a moment to capture, but Portishead's Beth Gibbons actually stage dove at the encore on Saturday night.
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    It was too quick a moment to capture, but Portishead's Beth Gibbons actually stage dove at the encore on Saturday night.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Portishead curated Saturday's artists and performed two nights back-to-back. While the set lists didn't change much, Sunday's show was far more aggressive and experimental.
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    Portishead curated Saturday's artists and performed two nights back-to-back. While the set lists didn't change much, Sunday's show was far more aggressive and experimental.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • When the weather permitted, there was a bonfire perfect for late-night winding down.
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    When the weather permitted, there was a bonfire perfect for late-night winding down.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • It's just a wee bit cold for this sweatered ATP attendee to take a dip.
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    It's just a wee bit cold for this sweatered ATP attendee to take a dip.
    Lars Gotrich/NPR
  • Touching up the rock-star mural outside Asbury Lanes.
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    Touching up the rock-star mural outside Asbury Lanes.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Tough and true love from author Junot Díaz.
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    Tough and true love from author Junot Díaz.
    Lars Gotrich/NPR
  • A long way off from her day job as a political journalist, Anika have off cool kraut-psych vibes that filled the Paramount Theatre on Saturday afternoon.
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    A long way off from her day job as a political journalist, Anika have off cool kraut-psych vibes that filled the Paramount Theatre on Saturday afternoon.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • It was hard to deny Deerhoof's infectious energy and absurdist stage banter on Sunday afternoon at Convention Hall.
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    It was hard to deny Deerhoof's infectious energy and absurdist stage banter on Sunday afternoon at Convention Hall.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • The Paramount Theatre would have done well to turn up the volume on Earth, but the band's slow-moving and doom-tinged Americana was rich and seeking.
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    The Paramount Theatre would have done well to turn up the volume on Earth, but the band's slow-moving and doom-tinged Americana was rich and seeking.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • ATP attendees got to play putt-putt for free, but not Grandma. (Seriously.)
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    ATP attendees got to play putt-putt for free, but not Grandma. (Seriously.)
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • The one and only Flavor Flav was a regular master of ceremonies during Public Enemy's killer Sunday-night set at Convention Hall.
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    The one and only Flavor Flav was a regular master of ceremonies during Public Enemy's killer Sunday-night set at Convention Hall.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Fans raise their fists with Public Enemy.
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    Fans raise their fists with Public Enemy.
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • On Sunday night, Chuck D would later join Portishead to spit a verse from "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" over the beat from "Machine Gun."
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    On Sunday night, Chuck D would later join Portishead to spit a verse from "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" over the beat from "Machine Gun."
    Gisel Florez for NPR
  • Late-night fish tacos are always a good idea.
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    Late-night fish tacos are always a good idea.
    Lars Gotrich/NPR
  • Inside the Grand Arcade, the billboard for Convention Hall.
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    Inside the Grand Arcade, the billboard for Convention Hall.
    Gisel Florez for NPR

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You can listen to many sets from the 2011 All Tomorrow's Parties festival right here, with more to come.

When the setting matters as much as the music, it creates a temporary community. For the organizers of the All Tomorrow's Parties music festival, the place is paramount. When they announced that they were moving from last year's quirky Kutcher's Country Club in the Catskills to three venues off the Asbury Park, N.J., boardwalk, some expressed concern that some of that community would be lost. And it was, if only a little.

The festival's focus wasn't at the Berkeley Hotel, where most of the artists and attendees stayed, but at the beautifully restored Paramount Theatre and Convention Hall. In its heyday, the Paramount was more prestigious than any Atlantic City casino, as well as home to events like the Miss America pageant. As one who remembers most of the Bradley Beach boardwalk shuttered and boarded up — I lived in the Asbury Park area briefly at age 7 and have many relatives there — it did my heart good to see bands like Portishead and Swans breathe life into these once-flourishing and now quite active venues. Asbury Park is finally making its way back, little by little.

ATP revels in times both new and renewed. Just around the corner at a functioning bowling alley, a rowdy crowd smashed up against the stage at Asbury Lanes for Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 and gave the weekend the kickstart it needed. The '80s arty-but-not-smarty rock band looked absolutely bowled over (sorry) by the response, especially given that it hasn't released anything in 10 years. It was at a vintage bowling alley where a small community actually seemed to form, mostly around cheep beer, bowling and late-night DJs. And, perhaps more to ATP's spirit, Asbury Lanes hosted more experimental sounds like the pedal-worshipping Thought Forms and Oneida's performance of The Ocropolis III — which, over its eight-hour (!) improvisation, included guest musicians from Portishead, Boredoms, Yo La Tengo and Guardian Alien.

But, of course, the main attractions were right on the boardwalk. While I don't generally care to see a band two nights in a row, Portishead varied its attitude (if not its set list) from night to night at Convention Hall. Saturday was just a solid performance, culling mostly from Third, but also giving subtle new arrangements to fan favorites ("Wandering Star" was downright Godspeed You! Black Emperor-esque in its simplicity). But on Sunday night, Portishead gave a more aggressive, even off-the-cuff performance. Having played a killer set just hours earlier, Chuck D of Public Enemy spit a verse from "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" over "Machine Gun" as a surprise guest (though he apparently did the same at the 2008 Primavera Sound festival). And then Simeon from Silver Apples added some theremin-like noise to the encore, "We Carry On."

At the Paramount Theatre, Swans and Earth rattled and ruled the historic venue. Well, actually, Earth could have used a bit more volume on Sunday evening, especially with such a stellar sound system and acoustics, but, as always, the band's attention to slow, exploratory American music was rich and seeking. Swans, on the other hand, held court for two hours, claiming the stage in the name of M. Gira. Never have I seen such a Wagner-ian rock performance: absolutely masculine and relentless, yet alluring in every respect.

There was much to see and do over the course of the weekend, including films from the Criterion Collection, the Laphams Quarterly Literary Stage and a Friday-night comedy line-up, which brings me to Jeff Mangum and Reggie Watts. There were two opportunities to see the out-of-hiding Neutral Milk Hotel visionary over the weekend, and when I was given the opportunity to see him on Friday night, I opted for comedian Reggie Watts. And, to be honest, Watts was the better choice. In between absurdist stream-of-consciousness ramblings, he'd improvise these incredible musical impressions (soul and French music being two of them) using only wordless sounds and a looping pedal. It was hilarious, exciting to watch and, well, new. And that's where my issue with Jeff Mangum comes in.

I did end up seeing Mangum on Sunday afternoon with a sleepy but still devoted crowd. And I would never want to take away anyone's warm memories or high expectations for this event, but I kept filling in the blank spaces where the overblown horns and shambling drums should have been in "Holland, 1945"; kept thinking about 12 years of silence and speculation; kept thinking about how nostalgia colors opinion, and not always in an honest way. It's really great to see Mangum back — it truly is. He seemed pretty happy, if still a bit cautious. The guy even drew pictures in notebooks for fans who asked for autographs. But I'm really looking forward to what he does next.

With that in mind, I wonder what would happen if All Tomorrow's Parties let a younger band curate a weekend festival; not some overhyped artist of yesterweek, but an artist of definition and foreseeable impact. Portishead's picks were largely contemporaries and older, and much of the festival felt the same age, too. A majority of the festival's curators have been long-established musicians, directors and other creative personas, often with more than 15 years experience minimum. And these folks are certainly not without fine taste, but it's a sensibility refined from years of inspiration. It's given a platform to forgotten and cult-like musicians in The Clean, The Raincoats and this year with The Pop Group. And perhaps that's what a younger artist would offer, too. (What better way to learn about undiscovered gems than through your favorite bands?) But what an opportunity to create a new guard in a three-day festival that celebrates outer sound. The rumblings would be endless.

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