An Echoes Take on MoogFest 2010 Day 2: Massive Attack assaults, Thievery Corporation raps, Jon Hopkins up-dates Techno.
It was Halloween Eve at MoogFest and there were many treats, no tricks, and some disappointments. Unfortunately, an interview commitment prevented me from seeing several acts including Jonsi, Caribou and Mountain Man. But I have reports on a few of them from Echoes‘ Kimberly Haas.
My night started with Thievery Corporation who brought a large live band with horns and multiple singers. Their first three songs played off the down-tempo mood that dominates their recent anthology, It Takes a Thief, with an appropriately intoxicating take on their dope anthem, “Lebanese Blonde” sung by Sista Pat followed by a dreamy “Shadows of Ourselves,” sung in sultry French Chanteuse mode by LouLou. From there, they took a turn into the rap and toaster configurations that have dominated much of their music over the years. Energy levels were much more amped up than on CD and once they got going there was no return to the more downtempo dreamy moods. Instead, it was a rap rave-up powered by thundering drums and bassist Ashish Vyas’ deep bottom growl that stalked the music the way he stalked the stage. The rapping and toasting quickly grew tedious for me, especially as it was lost in the cavernous reverb of the Asheville Civic Center which was packed to the back entrance with fans who found it the perfect soundtrack for their Halloween Eve.
Massive Attack redeemed the night with one of the best sets of the Festival. It was similar to their shows a few years ago with the addition of tracks from their latest album, Heligoland. While Thievery opted to play to the revved up expectations of an arena festival crowd, Massive Attack maintained fidelity to their sub-down tempo moods. But make no mistake, this music thundered with a pair of drummers (electronic and acoustic), booming bass and easily the best guitar work of the festival as Angelo Bruschini laid down burning solos on several tunes and added a serrated edge to the electronic orchestrations. Vocals rotated among several singers including Robert “3D” Del Naja and his mumbled monochrome voice of doom, Grant “Daddy G” Marshall’s soulful croon and Horace Andy’s equally soulful, but nasally Jamaican cry. But it was Martina Topley-Bird who lit up the stage every time she
came out. Made up looking like a Nightmare Before Christmas Fairy corpse she brought her sultry voice to bear over the dark beats of “Babel,” “Splitting the Atom” and “Teardrop,” a song originally sung by Elizabeth Fraser. Topley-Bird doesn’t have her kind of pipes, but she brought the song into her own, intimate range.
Massive Attack used the same LED backing of parallel bars that spit out words, slogans, facts and figures. It’s a dazzling display that accentuates their powerful, dramatic music. Massive Attack can be overwhelming in their moodiness. One festival goer commented, “That would have been great if I had some heroin.”
From the arena sized assault of Massive Attack, I ventured to the cozier Moogaplex, essentially a large, vendor-style conference room where Jon Hopkins was already in motion with his update of pure techno music. There were no synthesizers in sight. Instead, Hopkins played tracks off his computer and manipulated the sound live. It was a pounding pure metal beat set as Hopkins did a finger dance on his two KAOS pads, stabbing and dragging his fingers across the touch screens to alter the sound with slurs, stutters and altered attacks. Up against Four Tet, the Disco Biscuits and Massive Attack, it was a small, but ecstatic audience who raved to every breakbeat and tempo shift with hand-waving enthusiasm. If you were wondering where all the aggressive sounds on Brian Eno’s new album, Small Craft on a Milk Sea were from, you could hear it here.
On our way home, we decided to catch the end of Four Tet’s set. The Orange Peel was jammed to capacity and they were turning people away. Inside, Four Tet, aka Kieran Hebden, stood behind a couple of computers, spinning sounds from his catalog. I’m sure the music was raging earlier, but we heard him go out on a pretty, serene note.
Echoes’ Kimberly Haas was more fortunate than I and caught several acts I missed. She thought the dream pop band, School of Seven Bells, played an energetic and engaging set although they seemed to use an inordinate amount of backing tracks. That might have been because one of the two identical twins, Claudia Deheza (her sister is Alejandra) left the band a couple of weeks ago.
Kimberly was blown away by Jonsi who played a totally immersive concert based on his Go album and the tour he’s been on for most of this year with expansive dynamics and more energy than the album. Jonsi was completely consumed in his performance, tapping the deep emotions of his music. He brings a detailed sound to the stage and it was good to see him in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium rather than the cavernous Civic Center arena.
Kimberly also caught the most anachronistic act of MoogFest, the Vermont based female trio, Mountain Man. They played a charming set, with sweet three-part harmony with just one acoustic guitar passed between the members. They gave a gorgeous performance of “Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies” providing an old time contrast with the ultra-modern high tech festival.
During the day, I checked out events at the Moogaplex, including a Theremin performance and demo from Kevin Kissinger. I also gave a shot at this instrument which is harder to play than you might think. Michelle Moog-Koussa centered a panel talking about the Bob Moog Foundation, and revealed some of the early Moog recordings made before the instrument was even an instrument. The Foundation is benefiting immensely from the festival, getting a cut of the action on tickets and Moog Filtered Ale, created for the event by local microbrewery Asheville Brewing Company, a lot of which was being imbibed.
I’m hoping for surprises in the final day, which, except for DJ Spooky, isn’t exciting me.
John Diliberto ((( echoes )))