On paper, it seems like a no-brainer: retrofit Coachella's three-day blowout of bands, DJs and eco-friendly fashionistas and transport the whole experience — desert nomad tent motif and all — to a wide-open urban park just outside New York City. That's what the promoters at Goldenvoice and AEG Live had in mind when they inaugurated All Points West at New Jersey's Liberty State Park on August 8-10, and for the most part, it served up enough highlights to merit a return next year.
It helps your cause considerably when you have Radiohead topping two of the three nights. The lads from Oxfordshire stuck close to their latest album In Rainbows, but their Saturday night set made it clear why they're still the World's Greatest Rock Band. Thom Yorke whipped the band into Kid A's “The National Anthem” with a spastic burst, setting up a sonic freak-out that included a drum ‘n’ bass arrangement of “Everything in Its Right Place” and three classics from The Bends (the title track, “Fake Plastic Trees” and “Planet Telex”). Through it all, FOH sound engineer Jim Warren made sure that even way out in the field, his mind-bending spatial effects on the overall mix (delay, reverb and extreme surround panning) cut cleanly through the cool night air.
There were some other performers at APW. All reports confirmed that Underworld, those geezers of techno-trance, still have the goods, welcoming Friday's sunset with the creepy anthem “Moaner.” The next day, Chromeo kicked things off with its tongue-in-chic brand of electro-punk, mining a clutch of vocoder-based tracks from the epic Fancy Footwork album. Chromeo was ably followed by the tech-rock glam vibes of Canada's Metric, who set the table for Animal Collective's raucous group improv. With shamanistic frontman Avey Tare leading the way, the band revealed a glimpse of its next album with the tribal-sounding “Lion in a Coma.”
Improbably, while Kings of Leon were plowing through their solid but traditional rock dirges, The Roots were preparing to throw down all the way across the field at the second (aptly called “Bullet”) stage. They opened with an instrumental nod to War's '70s funk classic “The World Is a Ghetto” and tore it open from there, with Tariq Trotter moving with such animated intent that he became a blur of energy. Why The Roots weren't given the main stage to warm up for Radiohead is still a mystery — but who are we to complain when we're right there in the front row?
There were other moments on Sunday: The power trio Secret Machines tread super-heavy and psychedelic, while Earl Greyhound's Kamara Thomas stole the spotlight with her wicked bass lines and leonine vocals. New York's Scratch DJ Academy was also in the house (in a tent, actually), where Brooklyn's J.Dayz conducted an evening master class in turntablism.
All in all, if you didn't mind a five-beer maximum and a 45-minute hike from the nearest NJ Path train (hint to the Transit Authority: next time try shuttle buses — the $30 ferry ride is close, but no cigar), APW was well worth a weekend away from the squalid inferno of the city.