All Tomorrow’s Parties NY: Kutsher’s Scares, Doug Martsch Wails

By Scott Lapatine & Brandon Stosuy
The hilarious setting for My Bloody Valentine’s first US show in 16 years is a crusty Catskills resort that’s already inspired more than enough The Shining jokes for one weekend. While the facility itself has seen better days — stained carpets, beige tap water, worse — Kutsher’s Country Club is a wonderfully surreal setting for a rock festival, the vibe is summer camp meets freshman orientation. Indeed everyone seems amused how the regular crowd (i.e., old people) has been replaced by a sea of hoodies. We can only imagine what normally goes down in these parts. Last night Eugene Mirman suggested “It’s where homeless people have Bar Mitzvahs.”

There are outdoor activities (golf, boating, smoking), but the real action takes place indoors. The main stage is in the Stardust Ballroom (stars airbrushed on the walls, space scape on the walls, a planetarium vibe) and there’s a ’50s-style indoor pool, a dozen differently patterned soft pastel wall colors, bars called the Deep End and Flying Saucer, and certain collapsing abandoned suites (ceilings emptying onto the floor). It’s all positioned around a “lake” that’s actually more a pond. It’s Dirty Dancing 10 years after Baby and Patrick Swayze skipped town and someone decided on ’70s grandma-style redecoration. The fact that this fest is entirely without corporate sponsors or complicated tiers of VIP access makes it truly a unique event.

Rental car woes and city traffic meant we checked in a few hours later than planned, and we missed Meat Puppets and Bardo Pond revisiting their most beloved albums as part of ATP’s Don’t Look Back day. Led by John McEntire, Chicago’s Tortoise performed seminal post-rock set Millions Now Living Will Never Die, with its knotty twenty minute opener “Djed,” and newer tunes like “Monica,” from 2001’s electronic-tinged Standards. The multi-instrumentalists showed muscular jazz chops in a setup that included two facing drum kits and a vibraphone. Kevin Shields looked on approvingly.

On the comedy stage, Maria Bamford was at her best on pugs and their love
for water/inability to swim, and Patton Oswalt was commanding even with obvious topics like Obama and airlines. His best jokes were specific to this gig (when you turn on the lights here, he said, it gets darker). Patton described an eerie moment the day before when all the rooms were being aired out and the TVs were all on at a low volume … their hums beginning to sound like threats a la “I will tear off your back skin” and “make soup out of your stomach.” Where is next year’s ATP he wondered, “the killing fields of Cambodia … with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs”? Down the hall, Thurston Moore showed up sans Matador’s newest signing Sonic Youth but with plenty of lyrics sheets to do his sprawling 1995 solo record Psychic Hearts, though we missed most of it.

Built To Spill’s always been a curious mix of Doug Martsch pop/fey vocals and those endless psych-y guitar parts and songs, often without straight up choruses, that seem to unfurl endlessly. Like if his voice wasn’t as pretty, the shit would be too macho/if the guitars weren’t so macho, the band too indie fey. When he places those disparate elements within a proper song structure, it’s pretty blissful, so he and his band’s performance of Perfect From Now On worked well, especially when the sound guy got the levels right, or when they finished the album proper and gave us something like “Car,” among other nonPerfect tracks, but the standard grand finale 20-minute jam got a bit tiring. The band didn’t always look that excited to be there, but if you closed your eyes, you could pretend — and really, once they kicked into that looser realm, they actually looked excited, too. But then, what would a Built to Spill show be without it? When Perfect came out, it was this scary moment, the band stepping away from Up to a major label cliff, so it’s amazing to think about how well DM used his new resources to create such a complex guitar-rock album. They did a good recreation of it, adding enough twist and turns to make it feel like you were discovering something while hearing something extremely familiar. The encore included You In Reverse opener “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” and that was pretty sweet too.

We need to stock up on supplies at Wal-Mart, then: Om, Polvo, Fuck Buttons, Low, and, if we’re lucky, seven-card stud with Steve Albini. Check out all these wonderful photos by Amrit Singh.