What brings a wildly eclectic lineup, from hot-topic R&B crooner Frank Ocean to alt-rock vets Afghan Whigs and many more, to a makeshift stage in an industrial warehouse on Manhattan's Lower East Side along the desolate edges of the East River? All Tomorrow's Parties, aka the inaugural ATP NYC.
Founded in 1999 as a fiercely non-corporate alternative to big festivals like Glastonbury, All Tomorrow's Parties is an intimate concert series based at a summer camp in England. It's long been a bastion of indie nerd-dom, hosting a lineup of noise and experimental bands, often curated by a guest musician.
Its stateside counterpart, ATP NY, launched in 2008 at Kutsher’s Country Club in Monticello, NY, a dilapidated summer camp two hours drive from New York City that was the inspiration for Dirty Dancing. But because of the crumbling facilities, ATP NY was forced to move to Asbury Park, NJ, last year. This year, however, ATP NY found a new new home: Manhattan's Pier 36, and hosted a bill over the weekend curated by Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli, including Frank Ocean, the Roots, the Antlers, Mark Lanegan, Jose Gonzalez, the Make-Up, Hot Snakes, Charles Bradley, Dirty Three, Hannibal Buress, Janeane Garofalo and many others.
What's the verdict on the inaugural ATP NYC? Well...
Here's the thing: ATP NYC has a lot to live up to. As a hardcore ATP fan who attended every east coast installment since its '08 launch, I have great memories of the fest's years upstate at Kutsher’s Country Club, where I'm sure it would still be held if the facilities were not a danger to concertgoers (no, really, the place was falling apart). It was a playground for indie nerds deep in the woods. It was an escape; it was an experience. And so was the one year in Asbury Park, NJ, where you could stroll the boardwalk or drink around a massive beach bonfire in addition to seeing bands in the gorgeous old oceanside venue.
New York's LES was decidedly less impressive, but, still, producers did their best to offer fans the full, immersive experience ATP is known for, including movies, comedy and other non-musical activities. They dressed up a boat as a bar, put together a makeshift movie theatre playing classics like Dazed and Confused and This Is Spinal Tap and had good food and drink. Most importantly, thought, the musical acts delivered, big time, making ATP NYC a musical success.
Friday night featured arguably the fest's biggest draw, Frank Ocean. And here ATP's upside was most evident; festival producers sell only a limited number of tickets, providing fans with an intimate, comfortable experience, and the crowd was very, very small for Ocean. I walked directly up to the stage and watched as one of the most hyped performers of 2012 turned in a spot-on performance of tracks from his new album, Channel Orange.
Frank Ocean, "Forrest Gump"
Saturday was packed with must-see acts, including Mark Lanegan, JEFF the Brotherhood, Jose Gonzalez, Charles Bradley and others. I perused the "grounds," sipping a rum and coke on the floating boat bar, dropped in to watch a little Dazed and Confused and took in plenty of sets, notably a touching performance from Jose Gonzalez.
But the best were Afghan Whigs and the Roots. Again, the crowds made this a truly up-close gig. The Roots threw down, lighting up 400 fans with as much umph as they do the millions of viewers each night on Late Night. For the Afghan Whigs, well, admittedly, I'm not a fan, but Greg Dulli and Co. KILLED it, playing both old '90s alt-rock staples and newer tunes with verve. Dulli is a pleasure to watch and his pipes sound just as attractively grating and emotion-filled as in 1992. See the band play "My Curse," with Marcy Mays on vocals, below.
Below, check out a mix by ATP NYC curator Greg Dulli himself, featuring tracks from all of the fest's performing artists...