The Black Heart Procession.
The Queen Mary
Long Beach, California
November 8-9, 2003
As I write this in October 2008, half a decade after the fact, my memories of this event are not fuzzy at all! It’s just that most of them have slowly evaporated up into Earth orbit and eventually found their way inside the infinite cloud of cosmic background radiation. All Tomorrow’s Parties 2003 was a full-on, weekend-long musical event chock-full of full afternoons and evenings of bands galore. Since there were two stages set up–one inside the ship itself and the other outside in a park about a quarter mile away–it was impossible to catch everyone who played.
The Danielson Famile.
The Magic Band.
On the first day, I caught the Black Heart Procession, who moseyed up from San Diego, climbed up on top of the big metal stage outside and toe-tapped their way through a set of their moody, lonesome pop dirges. The continually growing afternoon audience seemed to accept it with open arms. The Danielson Famile’s quirky indie gospel music may not be my cup of tea, but fortunately, the band played inside, where their cute nurse uniforms looked spectacular as they were bathed in the flashy, multi-colored lights of show business. Back outside, the Magic Band, sans Captain Beefheart of course, who retired from music in the early ’80s, belted out nearly an hour of fairly traditional-sounding blues rock lightly peppered with some fractured Trout Mask Replica oddness.
Mike Watt and George Hurley.
On the boat again, Mike Watt and George Hurley bashed out a bunch of drum ‘n’ bass versions of Minutemen songs. (No, not the techno kind of drum ‘n’ bass, silly–although that might be an interesting thing to hear.) Nary a guitar player was to be seen or heard anywhere, and the audience simply ate it up. In sharp contrast, Sonic Youth closed out day one up on the big ol’ park stage with plenty of guitars, which they abused to amuse themselves and the crowd. Did Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo perform that old standby stunt in which they each hold their guitars way up high and smash them together? Probably. But, I’ve seen so many Sonic Youth shows, I honestly don’t remember. Still, it never hurts to see this band time and time again. In fact, it kind of tickles.
On the second and final day of the fest, Bardo Pond’s distortion pedal-fueled tar rock blended perfectly with a grey-smeared overcast sky as another crowd coalesced and ambled their asses about. The first time I saw Cat Power was back in the mid ’90s at the Che Café in San Diego. I recall a very young Chan Marshall who awkwardly shambled through a set of gentle songs on vocals and guitar like a shy woodland pixie with a bob. Fast forward a few years to ATP. Inside the boat, one could be forgiven for thinking it was dark outside. Cat Power’s hair grew ever longer as she more confidently belted out another set of singer-songwriter fare backed by a full band.
James Chance and the Contortions.
Following the Power, I took a chance on James Chance and the Contortions out on the park stage. A quarter of a century after the fact, Mr. James, looking for all the world like some sort of colorful Rocky Horror reject, brashly ejected some outright ghoulish sax squawk over a queen-sized bed of no wave monster rock. Back inside the Queen Mary, it was time to experience some wordless conspiracy theory with Jackie-O Motherfucker. The band wafted out one long puff of hovering, atmospheric drones that eventually gathered itself together into one giant, pounding rhythm. As the music hummed on, it was amazing to slowly float up, down and around the balconies and staircases, which were jam-packed with people from several walks of life who surprisingly seemed to really absorb it. Jackie-O’s performance was by far my favorite of the weekend.
Mission of Burma.
Stefano Scodanibbio and Terry Riley.
Out in the park, Mission of Burma took to the stage for the first time in a couple of decades. The only surviving memory I have from their set is guitarist Roger Miller donning noise canceling earphones to protect his tinnitus-ravaged ears. Why does music almost always have to be so loud? Anyway, they bashed out a set of songs that sounded a lot like a fun-loving grandma from Missouri who loves taking short walks on the beach and throwing impromptu Tupperware parties on offshore oil rigs. One last round of music on the big ol’ boat materialized in the form of Terry Riley and Stefano Scodanibbio. I dare you to pronounce the latter’s last name five times really slow with a mouthful of mashed potatoes. Terry tickled the ivories on his synth while Stefano sawed away on his upright bass just so. It was pleasant enough, but I would have appreciated another round of drones even more. But, apparently, Terry left his laying around back in the ’60s.
Pounding the final nail in the coffin of All Tomorrow’s Parties 2003 was none other than the godfathers of ragtime, I mean punk–the Stooges. This outfit–yet another who recently reformed after three decades–is a little smarter than their name implies. After all, they were the very first group to cleverly christen their vocalist, Iggy Pop, after a brand of breakfast cereal. This shirtless leader of the band (and abandon) resembled a 55-year-old slab of wildly contorting humanity who brazenly coaxed the band to bash through a set of classic buzzsaw three-chord punk. The spent crowd lapped it up and loved it. Was that really Terry Riley I saw in the middle of the mosh pit? The world may never know.