I wore straight-up hiking boots to this motherfucker, clunky and impenetrable, and sloshed invincibly across acres of gushy, foul-smelling New Jersey mud like a hovercraft, like a Range Rover, like God moving across the face of the waters. The mud is what we’ll all remember about APW, first brought to life by Friday’s torrential downpour and sustained Sunday morning and early afternoon by apocalyptic storms that deferred ferries and kept the gates closed for three-plus hours as folks Twittered irately. Once everyone finally got in around 4:30, the weather was actually lovely, not a drop to fall on our pretty little heads all evening. A fabulous environment from the knees up, provided you had a gas mask. Nearly every band’s banter included a simple, paternal, deeply concerned question: “Are you all OK?”
Yeah, sure. If you had the good sense to not go fucking barefoot, it was fine, fine. But what we needed was one specific moment that justified our toughing this out, the role Jay-Z’s “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” played Friday, the role watching badass Tool fans flee in terror from My Bloody Valentine did Saturday. What we got instead was Coldplay’s Chris Martin doing “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party),” the piano-bar version, delicately crooning “Your mom threw away your best porno mag” as if it was the frailest of sweet nothings. I’m sure the Beastie Boys are touched.
Our first bit of bad news upon finally entering the grounds it that it seems anyone scheduled to play during those lost three hours has just been axed entirely, so no Gaslight Anthem, bah. Instead, the main stage kicks off with Silversun Pickups, which is a real “Welcome to Hell, here’s your accordion” sort of moment, so instead it’s off to Akron/Family and their various jams: the drone/flute jam, the free-jazz horns & percussion jam, the classic-rock jam. Quote: “We like fun/Do you like fun?/If you like fun/Say ‘We like fun.'”
From there it’s just folks filling niches: La Roux’s excellent synth-pop (led by Conan O’Brien/Molly Ringwald/Debbie Gibson hybrid Elly Jackson), Elbow’s melancholy sad-bastard rock (exquisite and lovely, though Coldplay Lite goes over better when Coldplay ain’t on the bill), the dependably and fantastically loud Mogwai. The gorgeous menace of “Mogwai Fear Satan” still reels you in, but just the whiff of “Lips Like Sugar” pulls everyone toward Echo and the Bunnymen, who’ve got some serious jams (“Bring on the Dancing Horses”!) but also a disquieting faux-Doors aura and some seriously unintelligible stage banter. The Black Keys, bootless Ohioan bluesmen still, do their thing, to no complaint from anyone and to the lasting elation of same.
Finally, Coldplay. The Beastie Boys thing was actually pretty sweet, in a defiantly goofy sort of way, as Chris Martin’s finest moments inevitably are: “Fix You” is as rousing and hokey a power ballad as could possibly exist, “Yellow” is still “Yellow,” and “Strawberry Swing,” a gorgeous African guitar line married to simple handclaps and a now-suddenly-not-entirely-ironic “Such a perfect day” lyrical sentimentality, is the closest we get to rising above the literal and figurative muck. “We take our hat off to you, New Yorkers and New Jersiers,” Martin announces. “For coming out in what can only be described as some sort of mud jacuzzi.”
Nothing left to do from there but stage-hop one more time to hear MGMT play their three good songs (alongside a few new ones that sound like Squeeze). “Electric Feel,” lithe and slinky and vaguely pornographic, is perfect, but “Time to Pretend” is weak without the gargantuan production, the drums and the vocals both pale echoes of themselves, and our big encore finale, “Kids,” is a travesty, the two dudes ditching their band and just bouncing around singing and cracking themselves up to a mere backing track. The live guitar solo was a nice touch, I guess. And as we flee en masse to the ferries, one of Elbow’s myriad anthemic jams still resonates: “It’s looking like a beautiful day/Throw those curtains wide/A day like this a year would set me right.” Just the one will do.