Moogfest 2011 Vibrant Weekend of Musical Tributes
In its second year in Asheville, North Carolina, Moogfest 2011 continued this spirited music festival in honor of the Moog Synthesizer and the man who embodied the spirit of merging music with the science of technology behind it, Bob Moog. Moog called Asheville home for the last 25 years of his life and his company still thrives in this artsy mountain town. The Halloween spirit was also in full force throughout the weekend, as 28,000 plus revelers donned costumes of all sorts—from suits depicting ‘the one percent’ to animals, ghouls and robotic types. Along with a full three days overflowing with live music, The Bob Moog Foundation also hosted panels every afternoon, delving into everything from the new ipad app, Animoog, to sound design and classic Theremin instruction. At night, over 60 acts spread out over downtown with three additional venues, making for tough scheduling choices even though it was easy to run from one performance to another. Brian Eno’s exhibit “77 Million Paintings” brought a confluence of sound and art, while his illustrated talk filled a theatre of fans (not just those there for the festival) listening raptly to a witty and intellectual discussion of creativity. Rightly so, NPR declared Eno the Mayor of Moogfest the very next day.
Many musicians echoed the sentiment of Bradford Cox the first night when he explained, “Robert Moog was a hero of mine and it’s a pleasure to play this festival”. A prolific writer based in Atlanta, Cox was at the historic Orange Peel presenting his solo project, Atlas Sound. Using foot pedals to control the loops of live music, he performed dreamy layers of synths over acoustic guitar and distorted vocals. Cox presented lush tracks off a new release, Parallax, as well as a few new songs to an appreciative early-evening audience.
Ducking in two shows later that night provided a generational contrast in electronic music. The German band Tangerine Dream brought their seminal synth sound to the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium (TWA). Ever the rock stars in leather and long hair, the group played their trance-inducing instrumentals with synths taking the lead, until live drums and guitars found room for a solo. Next door, Toronto’s Holy F**k were on stage with synths banging out the youthful craze of noise rock also incorporating guitars and drums. However, this band’s floppy hair plus casual wear of cardigan sweaters and oxford shirts did not translate into a dressed down production style. Their relentless, pulsating sound reverberated across the cavernous Asheville Civic Center Arena (ACC).
Moby took that stage next, headlining the night with hits from the early half of his career, which spans over two decades. He recently released a new album, Destroyed, which is also the title for a book of photographs Moby has taken on tour at large European venues. Moby happily put on this type of show on U.S. soil for the fans filling the ACC, trucking around the large stage playing guitar or whacking on drums set up in the center. A pair of bongos was also used for dance breaks on extended versions along the way. With a band all dressed in black, Moby peppered the set with a signature response to the crowd, “thank you, thank you, thank you”. The set began with the contemplative, “God Moving over the Face of the Waters”, showcasing Moby’s over-the-top songstress Inyang Bassey. Introducing “Go” as the first song he ever recorded, Moby dedicated the performance to Moogfest saying what an honor it was to be there.
Other highlights included “Bodyrock”, “Porcelain”, “South Side”, and “Extreme Ways” plus a return to his punk rock roots for an extremely up-tempo take of “We Are All Made of Stars”. Dispensing with the “charade” of an encore, Moby continued the dance party atmosphere to the point of rave intensity (explaining how he used to love going to raves “much to the chagrin of [his] punk rocker friends”). During the last song, “Thousand”, Moby climbed up shirtless on a six-foot high road case, standing up slowly and raising his arms out in front as the crowd went wild. He hopped down as it ended to say another round of “thank you” thrice plus one “good night”.
TV on the Radio
Brooklyn band TV on the Radio closed the night with their indie rock, which is open to influences from jazz and soul music as well as all things electronic. Accomplished musicians and loop masters, the bohemian-looking quintet was eagerly embraced by the audience. From the shouted lyrics and throbbing beat of “Caffeinated Consciousness” to the slow jam of “Will Do”, the band confidently worked through songs off this year’s release, Nine Types of Light, along with some older tunes. The crowd was asked if they were having a good festival so far and this set clearly capped off an excellent day one.
Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor brought his other Brooklyn band, Cant, to Moogfest for an early show at the Orange Peel on day two. He easily commanded the four-piece group, wearing a tweed suit and mouthing the mike center stage while conducting with his guitar. The synth-heavy ‘80s sound reflected the haircuts and fashions, with long instrumental intros and vowels for choruses that did not vary much from song to song. The lyrics used elsewhere seemed simplistic though earnest, for example It’s a game inside your head that no one wins. Taylor thanked the crowd when the set was over, saying how they were “very honored to be part of such a great festival”.
Oklahoma’s beloved psychedelic alt rock band, The Flaming Lips, were the headliners for the night outside at the Animoog Playground, which took over a parking lot for the chilly weekend. Frontman Wayne Coyne came out like a wise shaman to check the equipment, take a photo of the waiting fans and have a chat beforehand. He pleaded with everyone not to freak out by the strobe lights or his antics climbing on top of them in the plastic orb. He also declared that it had to be one of the greatest festivals ever put together, but since it was cold the band would need the crowd’s “heat” fully directed back to them on stage. Then it was show time, with a balloon storm and funfetti galore. A scrim on the back wall allowed band members to emerge one by one down a ramp and Coyne to climb into his orb beneath, reflecting the theme of their 2009 release, Embryonic. At the side of the stage were groups of recruited dancers, scantily clad Dorothy girls and guys as the Tin Man or Lion from The Wizard of Oz. By the second song, “She Don’t Use Jelly”, the entire audience was singing through the insistence of Coyne’s waving arms as he danced around with a ribbon stick.
“You gotta sing” Coyne instructed, “It’s all we have. Come on, mother fuckers, come on!”. Other highpoints of the set came right after this, “The Yeah Yeah Song”, and a cover of Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Lucky Man”, in honor of Bob Moog and “the people who keep his spirit alive for us.” This time, Keith Emerson’s famous synth solo was recreated by Steven Drozd on the new Animoog ipad app. Coyne lovingly strummed his guitar for “Fight Test” and another cover of sorts was offered up when the theme from The Exorcist appeared later during a jam. After thanking the crowd and adding, “take care of each other”, Coyne launched into the final song of the evening, a glowing, sing along rendition of “Do You Realize?”.
On day three, M83 took to the stage at the ACC as a buzzed-about, four-piece band. Anthony Gonzalez creates the music in his studio over in France, so to hear it fully realized in concert was a treat. “It’s amazing to see so many people here”, he said to the large crowd gathered for his early time slot. Gonzalez recounted how he’s been a huge fan of electronic music for a long time, so playing Moogfest meant a lot to him. For someone who spends his time alone in a studio, Gonzalez was clearly enjoying recreating the songs live on stage. This music layers the synths over pop hooks and live instruments to great effect. The group conquered the hits, “Kim and Jessie” off the 2008 release, Saturdays = Youth, and “Midnight City” off the new release, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, while never losing steam throughout the set.
Passion Pit took the headlining spot at the Animoog Playground later that night, starting things off with their first hit from 2009, “The Reeling”. The band Frontman Michael Angelakos was waving around his white microphone on a long, white chord to prompt the crowd to sing along and used the edge of the stage as a footrest, as though he was standing at an edge of a cliff looking out over the sea of fans. He looked down and called out chuckling, “What’s up photography session”, to the people with the fancy cameras on their shoulders. Still looking like collegiate boys from Boston, the group cranked through other hits such as “Moth’s Wings” and “Sleepyhead” as well as two new songs. Angelakos seemed genuinely concerned for the chilly crowd, asking numerous times how everyone was doing and thanking them for “staying out in the cold for us”. Before the last song, there was another nod to the “honor and privilege” of playing at Moogfest, as well as a shout out to keyboardist Ian Hultquist who had a birthday coming up at midnight. The band then ended with “Little Secrets,” allowing the audience to chime in with the looped vocals for the cheery chorus, Higher and higher and higher, higher and higher and higher!
There were a few band no-shows. Little Dragon had to unfortunately pull out of its time slot due to illness of a band member. Also, YACHT was stuck in Mexico City for some reason, while Glasser couldn’t get out of the early snowstorm in the Northeast. Yet, there were other shows where only a glimpse could make them memorable. New Zealand’s The Naked & Famous provided warm, sunny vibes with their indie pop songs as if it were summer outside. Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, used a commanding voice and shredding guitar abilities from center stage to set off majestic cascades of sound with her band. Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo was dancing to his music with a mike in hand, decidedly different from sticking by his synth keyboards set up like walls around him last year. Then there was Special Disco Version, featuring James Murphy and Pat Mahoney, who had people grooving to the beat immediately and forgetting they had planned to move on to other shows elsewhere. The eclectic line up presented many facets of electronic music as a vibrant art form. For this, Moogfest is a fitting tribute indeed to the man who spent his life discovering ways to create and communicate with sound.