M.T. Richards' Moogfest Coverage [Active Child, Tim Hecker, St. Vincent and More]



If you were one of the many festival-goers who arrived at Asheville Civic Center in thirst of rave-style abandon this weekend, you were presumably nonplussed by the goth-pop meanderings of one Active Child. The L.A. outfit — fronted by Pat Grossi, a trained choral singer who sounds quite a lot like Rick Astley — played Moogfest on Saturday evening.

Having already guzzled an uncountable number of beers by this point, I was ready to mosh with the collegiate hipsters who had flooded the Civic Center entrance — many of them dressed in oh-so-clever Halloween get-ups. Turns out that Grossi has precious little patience for moshing. He plays dreamy, erotic, plaintive, goth-infused industrial R&B. New album You Are All I See is “headphone” music in the most concrete sense of the term — every track springs forth with opulent, velvety nuances that aren’t immediately hearable unless you’re listening on low-impendance headphones. Credit Grossi for pulling that aesthetic off live. Dressed dapperly and seated behind his signature harp, his glumly lit set included the titanic “Ancient Eye” and shattering operatic ballad “Hanging On.”

“This is going on/Going on for way too long,” he cooed on “Playing House.” Later that night, a half-dozen or so Occupy Asheville protestors could be seen bundled up in sleeping bags in Pack Square. Grossi’s words seemed to paint a familiar, albeit unknowing portrait of fatigue and nagging desperation.

Next up was Tim Hecker. On record, Hecker creates an overwhelming monolith of noise, all droning synths and damaged, creaky pianos. His Ravedeath, 1972 is one of the more fantastically fucked-up albums you’ll hear all year. Without any real melodic core, though, his tracks start to feel aimless and indulgent in a live setting. One can only hear so much ambient keyboard noodling before the effect grows wearisome. Plus, I was serially wired (combining MDMA and Modafinil will do that). My mate Donnie and I decided to bounce.

It wasn’t before long that we got acquainted with the scuzzers, flannel clad bohemians and assorted other derelicts for whom Moogfest appears to have been test-marketed. One fellow calling himself Jesus was on a mission that can be summarized in the following lyric from Jay-Z’s “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)”: “Get a couple of chicks, get ’em to try to do E.”

Like Crystal Castles, also on the bill, Amon Tobin beats you over the head with a smattering of whiplash drums and ascending/descending synths. His compositions are generally too arrhythmic to dance to, but no matter: Most of the people watching Tobin’s set stood pretty well mesmerized. The biggest draw of his performance was the giant, potentially seizure-inducing fluorescent soundstage. Yet even the most atonal tracks from new album ISAM sounded unbelievably crisp and taut. “Bedtime Stories” in particular was so big, so anthemic, that it felt uncontainable.

St. Vincent’s performance was low-key by comparison. But her stripped-down, largely acoustic set in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium was perfectly paced, from the breathy and translucent “Neutered Fruit” to the vulnerable grunge-pop of “Cheerleader.” Both songs were tapped from her latest disc, Strange Mercy, but she memorably found time for “Save Me From What I Want” (off 2009’s still-resonant Actor).

“I want riffs that you can sink your teeth into,” St. Vincent's Annie Clark told me last month. To that end, Strange Mercy has its share of jingle-jangle punk-isms, but it’s not exactly a Sleater-Kinney record. Her biggest strength onstage is still her flailing, near-angelic falsetto, and it was on poignant display. Squealed the girl next to me, “She’s a diva!”

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