It’s all true: The New York installment of All Tomorrow’s Parties is the best U.S. music fest going by an easy mile. Kutsher’s, the last of the kosher Castkills resorts, is a beautifully decrepit time capsule, its décor little changed (if at all) since its ‘50s heyday. Fill it with 2,500 or so hipsters, add a few dozen of indie rock’s best and brightest (many playing special, one-time-only sets), and watch it become one of the most surreal experiences a music fan could hope for. The massive corporate festivals can have Coldplay; I’ll take the one with the ceilings and the awesome sound systems and T-Model Ford playing in the lobby, Jim Jarmusch’s perfect hair visible from practically everywhere.
On Friday in the Stardust Room, a roundish auditorium seemingly bathed in blue and purple light at all times, Australian post-punkers the Scientists played their first-ever U.S. show, and Seattle heirs apparent Mudhoney burned through a set of their early Sub Pop singles. On the dining room stage at other end of the Kutsher’s labyrinth, a series of comedians poked fun at the resort’s less-than-perfect accommodations. (Todd Barry’s offhand remark to an audience member who said he found a Band-Aid in his room: “Maybe it was there to cover the bleeding floor.”)
The Friday lineup could have been its own mini-festival, with the legendarily leathery Iggy Pop leading a muscular Stooges band through the landmark Raw Power album—as well as “I Got A Right” and “No Fun” and about a thousand crowd dives. (The only performer to spend more time in the Stardust pit was Fucked Up’s hilarious Damian Abraham, who’s not even half of Pop’s 63 years.) Reunited stoner-metal kings Sleep closed the night with a massive, slow-rolling set that included their Holy Mountain album in its entirety. Guitarist Matt Pike looked happier than shit.
That was all part of Don’t Look Back night, but the nostalgic theme that branched throughout the festival in light of its 10th anniversary. The Jarmusch-picked Sunday lineup included included a wild mix—from the bluesy garage-rock of the Greenhornes to the space-glam of White Hills to a few Wu-Tang’ers, as well as cameos from Bill Murray and Ron Jeremy—but with three side projects on the bill, and a constant presence around the resort (raise your hand if you stood in a food-court line behind Kim and Thurston), it felt almost as much as if Sonic Youth were curating the rest. (The band did curate the first stateside ATP, in L.A. in 2002.)
Saturday’s (ATP-curated, actually) lineup, heavy on veterans of the festival, was also loaded with worthy curiosities, from the groovy pulse-beats of Beak> to the woozy freak-blooze of Sleepy Sun. Lee Ranaldo’s Text of Light would be the day’s most difficult noise experience, while Steve Albini’s “house band” Shellac were, expectedly, wrench-tight and wickedly funny. “Post-rock” pioneers Tortoise served up a perfect early-evening respite with their polyrhythmic spree, eliciting the rare applause of recognition for an instrumental number with “Glass Museum” (from 1996’s Millions Now Living Will Never Die).
But the high points came from two bands better associated with Lollapalooza than any present-day event. The Breeders brought plenty of melody and much unhinged pogoing (during “Cannonball,” duh) in a hit-sprinkled set that radiated joy. Later, Sonic Youth, back to just a quartet with Mark Ibold currently touring with the reformed Pavement, presented a master class in “alternative” music. With a set composed fully of songs from their pre-Goo era (“Eric’s Trip,” “Catholic Block,” “Death Valley ‘69,” etc.) the band rocked harder than any time I’ve seen them. Later that night, comedian Hannibal Buress would sing a winningly pitiful “Bennie and the Jets” in the lobby as glasses-wearing beardos swam nude in the pool. Something for everyone.