Sunday, April 5, 2009

When the LES and Williamsburg Spent the Weekend in the Catskills

[Ugh. This is what happens when inertia kicks your ass. The subject of this entry occurred in September 2008. I intended, as always, to write about it immediately, given the euphoric state that the event induced. And then a few months passed before I started writing. Yet more months passed before I finally finished.]

Time to catch up a bit. Let's start with ATP, perhaps the most magical of my experiences during the past several years.

I found out in November 2007 that My Bloody Valentine was reuniting for a series of concerts in the U.K. during June the following year. The thought of MBV playing live again got me so giddy that I bought a pair of tickets for one of the shows at the Roundhouse in London. I suspected that they'd probably eventually extend the tour to the U.S., where I could see them without hopping aboard a transatlantic flight and blowing off a few thousand dollars. But given the whims of temperamental musicians like Kevin Shields, I figured I should plan as if the show in London would be my one and only opportunity to see MBV live.

I have a certain sense of regret for coming of age during the wrong era -- that is, an era that didn't consist of the mid 80's and early 90's. Some of my favorite bands (or their peaks, anyway) came and went during those years. Just as I started to become interested in music, the Smiths were breaking up. When my aural senses finally began to appreciate the sound of guitars without the accompaniment of synthesizers, Pale Saints broke up. (Well, the incarnation fronted by Ian Masters anyway.) By November 2007, I had made peace with the likelihood that I'd probably never get to see some of my all-time favorites who had disbanded before becoming my all-time favorites. Given that mindset, I was prepared to hold reason at bay to ensure that a chance to see MBV didn't pass me by.

Then April 200
8 came around, and I got wind that MBV would be headlining the New York edition of the ATP Festival in September. I passed the word along to my music buddies, and we began to toss around the idea of going -- not just to see MBV, but to make up for our absence at Coachella during the past couple of years. (It's a wonder how music still binds us, even though we've become such different people living such different lives in such different places over the past 10 years.) Somehow, a vague notion quickly crystallized into a plan of action, and we were booked for a long-overdue reunion in the Catskills! Never mind that, aside from MBV and Yo La Tengo, we didn't much care for or know most of the other bands on the roster ... or that I had a pair of tickets for the Roundhouse that would now go unused. (Very expensive souvenirs, but souvenirs nonetheless.)

September seemed years away at the time, but it felt as if no time had passed at all as the moment of truth drew closer. My cohorts converged from the O.C., Houston and Dallas. Quite exciting to see them all here; we'd never been in NYC at the same time. And even though it'd been several years since our last get-together, we quickly regressed into our familiar high school form and out of our corporate shells.

We had dinner at Basta Pasta (wonderful, as usual) before heading down to anotheroom -- my absolute favorite bar, mostly because of their discerning taste in beer and music. And that discerning taste got the weekend off to a fortuitous start. The bartender had a pretty good song going on the iPod, so my Dallas friend asked him who it was. Turned out to be Built to Spill -- the main act for the first night of ATP whose set we had planned to skip because none of us knew anything about them.

So we headed out Friday morning with a sense of purpose. Had we not gone to anotheroom the night before, Thurston Moore would've been the highlight of the evening. But now, we were all anxious to see Built to Spill.

We wound our way slowly up to Monticello in the Catskills. When we arrived on the grounds of Kutsher's and saw the other festival goers streaming in to this dorm-like compound in the woods, the scene brought back memories of summer camps spent on campuses like Sam Houston State University out in the boonies of Texas. As we checked into our room, that feeling intensified. Kutsher's better days had come and gone decades ago. But no matter; we were too excited to care.

We rushed downstairs to the Stardust Room. (Yup. The Stardust Room. Whatever image the word "stardust" conjured in your mind probably bears a close resemblance to reality. It's a venue that, at first glance anyway, seemed better suited for the likes of Frankie Valli than My Bloody Valentine. But by the end of the weekend, we'd grown to find the place rather endearing.) Got there just in time to catch Thurston Moore. Amusing, but not really my thing. I'm barely a Sonic Youth fan as it is.

Then Built to Still took the stage. And, oh man, were we grateful for our brush with serendipity the night before at anotheroom. We all wondered how it was that we'd never heard Built to Spill all these years. That was a highlight performance for all of us, and our already ebullient dispositions began to float even farther into the stratosphere.

The next day was a bit of a wash on the music front. I don't think we caught even one set that day. But we still had fun, because ... hey, we were basically at summer camp! We ate a late lunch at a place called Bubba's (or if it wasn't called Bubba's, it should've been). We then swung by Bethel Woods to take a look at the site where Woodstock took place. Kinda amusing to see the old
folks there reminiscing about the olden days. Sort of like seeing me and my music buddies at Kutsher's in 40 years. And then it was back to the compound for some good ol' fashioned dopiness, playing ghetto-style putt-putt (a club in one hand and a beer in the other) and bocci. You know, I can't remember what the hell else we did that day, except that it was fun.

From ATP Festival 2008
Then came Sunday, the day we'd been waiting for. After a "healthy" brunch at a throwback diner called Tully's, our day was jammed packed with one show after another -- Robin Guthrie (1/3 of the the Cocteau Twins), Gemma Hays (2002 Mercury Prize nominee), Meurcury Rev (my favorite set of the weekend), ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead (damn rowdy live, but rather tame recorded), Yo La Tengo (not as spastic as they used to be) and then ... and then ... My Blody Freakin' Valentine!

It took a long while for them to take the stage. As we waited, some in the crowd broke into an amusing chant of "Yes We Can!" I chuckled, and felt even more at home, realizing that we were even more like-minded than I'd thought. When MBV finally took the stage, I must've had an amazingly huge smile on my face, because life suddenly felt more complete.

I don't remember all too much about the set, really, except that it was pretty freakin' loud (apparently, among the loudest concerts ever at 132 decibels). It was so loud that, even with earplugs on, I was a bit worried that I was going to suffer some permanent hearing loss. (I'd never worn earplugs at a concert, but I knew better for this one.) I mean, I could feel my internal organs shifting about from the intense vibrations.

My friends may disagree, but in terms of listenability, the show left quite a bit to be desired. The loudness was fun, but it made evertyhing sound awash. I couldn't make out much of the vocals or their signature guitar swirls. But whatever. They could've been playing banjos, and I would've been happy.

From ATP Festival 2008
Can't remember a time when the four of us were as happy as we were that night. So happy that we were cruising around the Catskills at 4:07 a.m. in search of a McDonald's, screaming at the tops of our lungs like drunken idiots (except for the driver, of course) to Coldplay, the Smiths and Depeche Mode. Quite grateful for having friends who share my passion for music.

And we're off to Coachella in a couple of weeks. Woohoo!