All Tomorrow's Parties Was a Bloody Good Time

And loud as hell.

I'm all for diversity in most areas of my life, but there's something extraordinarily powerful about finding yourself in a community uniformly focused on a common passion. The 3,000 people I'm spending the weekend with share my longstanding love for guitar-oriented artists who take the feedback and squall from their instruments and shape it into something majestic, ornate, and hypnotic. Whether one calls it post-punk or art-rock, it's got a certain brand of fan, and at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in the Catskills in upstate New York, 3,000 of us are enjoying what is easily one of the most meticulously curated lineups in that genre. I'm thinking about this while gazing out the window of the lobby of Kutsher's Country Resort, where we are staying and where the festival is taking place over three days. In an interview with the Village Voice last week, festival founder Barry Hogan offered the cinematic comparison that Kutsher's is The Shining meets Cocoon, and he's pretty on the money there. It's a rundown, gently dilapidated space, seemingly frozen in time somewhere in the late '50s to mid-'60s, and local lore has it that it was the inspirational setting for the movie Dirty Dancing. The facilities are oriented around a small lake dotted with rickety rowboats, which many of the attending journalists are choosing as the setting for interviewing bands (Les Savy Fav frontman Tim Harrington is currently bobbing along with a videographer in tow). The gift shop behind me sells vinyl purses in the shape of poodles and gold-flecked shawls, presumably for dolling up its typical elderly customers. A nearby cosmetic counter, staffed with a woman who could pass for Amy Winehouse's grandmother, offers daily "makeup shows," and further down toward the main lobby is "The Deep End," a disco-fied cocktail lounge with diamond-shaped windows overlooking the adjacent indoor pool. Aesthetically, the overall picture is a fabulous disaster with pockets of charming kitsch. By the end of the first day, I'm used to the faint scent of mildew hanging in the air, but none of us ever get used to the bizarre reality that the water in our toilets is so hot that steam condenses on the seats. A typical vacationer's dream it wasn't, but for a weekend of music and film that included the Meat Puppets performing their sophomore album in its entirety, a rare appearance by Krautrock pioneers Harmonia, the curmudgeonly cacophony of Shellac, an ongoing series of cult films sponsored by Criterion, and the first stateside appearance by My Bloody Valentine in nearly two decades, it was both hilarious and idyllic. As comedian Patton Oswalt observed during his stand-up set on Friday, "Where's the next ATP? An abandoned rendering factory? David Lynch would walk in here, take one look around, and say 'Done.'" Any irony or surrealism would be worthless if the performances and sound weren't breathtaking, but they were. The mainstage was the Stardust Ballroom—essentially a miniature version of the Showbox with celestial lighting and murals of planets circling its perimeter. It was an ideal setting for Built to Spill to unfurl Perfect From Now On from start to finish, and a delightful playground for Les Savy Fav to wreak their signature brand of mischief, with Harrington ending their set nearly scraping the ceiling as he crowd-surfed from on top of a stepladder. By the time Sunday rolled around, the energy and anticipation for MBV was at a fever pitch, and the stacked schedule (curated entirely that day by MBV themselves and including stunning sets by Mogwai, Dinosaur Jr., and Mercury Rev) meant nonstop rock for me from 5 p.m. until nearly 2 a.m. Signs appeared at nearly every turn encouraging everyone to pick up free earplugs from reception, but as the headlining time slot drew near, festival staff were roaming the hallways handing them out like lifejackets for the Titanic. The star power in the crowd cranked up a notch as well; punk poetess Patti Smith showed up, as did notoriously reclusive Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Mangum, causing many to salivate at the possibilities for next year's lineup. I could fill up two more columns rhapsodizing about MBV's set, but in a nutshell, it was excruciatingly beautiful. Loud as a jet engine, gorgeous as a dream, and entirely worth the interminable wait. By the time they got to "Soon," the final cut from their masterwork Loveless, I was plotting my return in 2009. Touch and Go's 20-year anniversary festival in 2006 in Chicago was fantastic and Pitchfork this year was a giddy marathon, but simply no one throws down quite like All Tomorrow's Parties.

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