ATP 2012 Saturday Recap: Afghan Whigs, Dirtbombs + More Take Manhattan
If there's a VIP tent on the grounds of Pier 36, the New York City venue hosting this year's All Tomorrow's Parties: I'll Be Your Mirror festival, it's not seeing much action. Hell, the deli platter's probably untouched. That's because more than any other indie rock event, ATP erases the line between artist and fan, and on Saturday, as acts ranging from avant-garde electro-pop duo Emeralds to reunited alt-rock heroes the Afghan Whigs did their thing, the only hint of segregation was at the food trucks, where those who'd already ordered their artisinal dumplings stood apart from those still deciding between chicken and veggie.
Afghan Whigs leader Greg Dulli served as curator for this year's festival, and throughout the day, he could be seen wandering the giant warehouse space, checking out sets by the groups he'd picked and even taking the stage for the occasional guest appearance. He joined singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur on "Where Is My Van?" sharing backup-vocal duties with a gang of toddlers, and reappeared several hours later to help grunge godfather and Gutter Twins cohort Mark Lanegan cap his set with 'Methamphetamine Blues.'
Lanegan's smoldering performance -- an intense blend of arena rock, backwoods blues and New Wave -- was among the days best, but top honors went to the Whigs, who marked the start of their much-anticipated fall tour. The Cincinnati quintet sounded absolutely enormous, and with the opening trifecta of 'Crime Scene, Part One,' 'I'm Her Slave' and 'Uptown Again,' they revisited a singular strain of '90s alt-rock every bit as grand twice as funky as anything disciples like the Foo Fighters have come up with since.
Dulli is a born rock 'n' roll frontman -- he's can screech and rasp and sing straight-faced about sex in ways that other indie dudes wouldn't dream of -- but he also knows pop and soul. On Saturday, sharp-dressed crooner and frequent Whigs collaborator Steve Myers lent his loverman falsetto to '66,' a rocked-up, drum-machine-backed R&B banger the band segued into 'Little Red Corvette,' one of two Prince tunes -- 'Purple Rain' being the other -- they referenced during the evening.
Other Saturday ATP highlights included the Dirtbombs (pictured above), who -- bolstered as always by two drummers -- motored through garage, punk, soul and classic Detroit techno tunes; Nashville duo JEFF the Brotherhood, masters of Southern wastoid skater rock; and Aussie instrumental trio the Dirty Three, who pulled off a kind of mass hypnosis with their heavy-psych New Age droning. Front and center was bearded, rubber-limbed, shaman-like multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, best known for his work with fellow Aussie Nick Cave. As Ellis jerked and twitched and sawed away on improbably majestic violin lines, guitarist Mick Turner and drummer Jim White brought the industrial-strength noise and funk.
On the other end of the spectrum, Charles Bradley brought a welcome outsider-art sensibility to what might otherwise have been boilerplate -- if wholly satisfying -- Dap-Tone soul revivalism. The formerly homeless singer supplemented his smoove romantic pleas with James Brown grunts and arm-flap dance moves -- fitting maneuvers for the so-called "Screaming Eagle of Soul." Less animated but excellent all the same were the ladies in Scrawl, a long-running Ohio threesome many consider forerunners to the Riot Grrl movement. On their best tunes, bassist Sue Harshe and guitarist Marcy Mays -- who joined the Whigs on 'My Curse' -- harnessed the forward push of, say, R.E.M.'s 'Catapult' and the scraggly attack of the era's more aggressive college-rock acts.
"I want to see you pacing yourself," Harshe said at one point, well aware she sounded more like a mother than a punker. "Caffein, beer. Caffeine, beer. Maybe a little food."
Those who took that advice probably saw her -- as well as Dulli, head Dirtbomber Mick Collins and perhaps even Ellis, pointy shoes and all -- in the beer lines, waiting just like everyone else.
Watch the Afghan Whigs, ft. Marcy Mays, Perform 'My Curse' at ATP 2012