The first impression Pier 36 makes is of vacantness. This is due in part to lack of logos (the only apparent ones are Criterion films, literary journal Laphams Quarterly, and a few food trucks) and side attractions (movies being screened as part of the festival were relegated to the Queen of Hearts festival boat), but also thanks to I’ll Be Your Mirror’s less than festival-sized crowd. Although it was refreshing to attend a festival free of sensory overload, this big city offshoot of All Tomorrow’s Parties is still struggling to find its place.
Due to the enormity of Pier 36’s insides, bands on the second stage had an easier time at filling the venue’s outsides. The Dirtbombs played with enormous energy and enthusiasm to an appreciative crowd. Two drummers ensured that the nearby overpass wouldn’t be an issue. Later, Jose Gonzalez greeted the nighttime in customary gentle fashion; his incongruous light show and smoke machine, on the other hand, was a bit distracting.
The Dirty Three’s early time slot meant missing out on Warren Ellis’ always entertaining mad virtuoso persona, but The Antlers’ early evening set on the main stage was as worthy a consolation as any. This is a band improving with every passing day, as Saturday’s set was a big step up from their already fine slot at Crossing Brooklyn Ferry in April. Although banter remains a little forced, engaging with the audience is coming more easily, with the touring guitarist even leaping off stage at one point in set closer “Putting the Dog to Sleep”. Still, presence matters little when the songs are this beautiful. Pete Silberman’s falsetto never faltered once, and is becoming a triumph in itself; he steers very clear of taking the easy path and impersonating Thom Yorke.
The Antlers were also blessed with the most pristine sound of the night’s big acts. Mark Lanegan particularly suffered at the hands of the mixers, who didn’t turn his vocals up until halfway through set opener “The Gravedigger’s Song”. Once Lanegan’s vocals were brought to the fore, a new problem arose in the (amply used) kick drum being turned up to eardrum damaging levels. Even so, fans still showed appreciation by shouting, “thank you, Mark!” and dancing enthusiastically to “Gray Goes Black” off of this year’s Blues Funeral release. Not that Lanegan took apparent notice of any of these things; he spent the entire set standing in one spot and looking dangerous. His guard dropped when Gutter Twin Greg Dulli came onstage for a duet of “Methamphetamine Blues”, but otherwise Lanegan won the ATP Festival’s “Most Threatening Man” title by a long shot.
I’ll Be Your Mirror curators, The Afghan Whigs, followed after some quick djing by ?uestlove of headliners, The Roots. As was to be expected, Pier 36 was at its most crowded when the Whigs took the stage. Their set felt simultaneously brief yet extensive and managed to touch on a lot of crowd pleasers. Known for their outstanding live covers, The Afghan Whigs eschewed many full on soul renditions and instead integrated “Where Did Our Love Go” and the like into “Bulletproof” and “Faded”. Their recent covers of Marie “Queenie” Lyons’ “See and Don’t See” and Frank Ocean’s “Lovecrimes” were also brought out, with a little bit of Ocean’s “Thinking ‘Bout You” thrown in as well. Seeing as Ocean was Friday’s headliner, having the rising star himself appear would have been a memorable moment, but unfortunately never left the passing fancy stage. The Afghan Whigs still managed to pull out some other special guests, such as Scrawl’s Marcy Mays, who joined the band for “My Curse” (which she also sings on Gentlemen). Although this may not sound like such a coup to the general public, those already privy to the song were granted a faithful and passionate version of one of Dulli’s greatest.
The Roots’ musical diversity and dexterity meant that stage setup caused a delayed appearance from Black Thought and company. This critic left before the set ended and regretted it for the rest of the weekend and some of the working week. Likewise, the regret of missing Sunday’s delights, such as Ian Svenonius bringing the sass with the reformed The Make-Up and Thee Oh Sees being tight and weird is weighing heavy upon me as I type this review. Based on I’ll Be Your Mirror’s second day, the festival’s overall theme seemed to be that of a promise that leaves you wanting more. Although it may have taken a financial tumble this year, with hope I’ll Be Your Mirror will smooth out its behind the scenes quirks well enough to rise as the go-to United States festival someday.