JERSEY CITY, New Jersey — If you didn't mind the (near constant) rain, the resultant mud, the trench foot or the indescribable odor of 10,000 soaking-wet Tool fans, well, then the second All Points West festival was genuinely great.
Actually, it was pretty great regardless of those things, a testament to the organizers who assembled a lineup that managed to outshine the deluges that flooded New Jersey's Liberty State Park all weekend. The brainchild of Goldenvoice, the same folks who bring you Coachella, APW lived up to the pedigree, delivering a lineup heavy on indie (both new and old), hip-hop and buzz bands, and positively top-heavy with headliners — [artist id="1269"]Jay-Z[/artist] (who filled in last minute for the [artist id="968"]Beastie Boys[/artist]), [artist id="1111141"]Coldplay[/artist] and [artist id="1149"]Tool[/artist]. It was so solid a schedule, full of so many can't-miss acts, that you almost didn't mind trekking through calf-deep mud to get from one stage to the next.
Of course, Friday night belonged to Jay-Z, who paid tribute to the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch (who is receiving treatment for glandular cancer), by launching into the B-Boys' "No Sleep Till Brooklyn," then stalked the APW main stage like a man possessed. Decked out in black (a.k.a. "the D.O.A. look"), backed by a cracking live band with two drummers, he tore through a succession of hits — "Blue Magic," "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," "Swagga Like Us," "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" — then paid homage to Michael Jackson with a performance of the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" (which "Izzo" samples) and a speech. "If you take one thing from this concert, remember this: We don't mourn death, we celebrate life," he told the crowd.
During his encore, Jay gave the audience a sneak preview of his anticipated Blueprint 3 album by spitting a stray verse ("I taught n---as fishscale/ Now they want me to fish for them"), then ripped through a one-two-three wallop of his hugest tracks: "99 Problems," "Big Pimpin' " and "Hard Knock Life." He even shouted out some of the hipsters in the audience. (Note to all future festgoers: Do not wear tie dye to a Jay-Z set, lest you feel the wrath of Jigga's onstage banter.) It was Jay's first U.S. festival appearance, and he was most certainly making up for lost time.
Jigga wasn't the only highlight on Friday: [artist id="2584573"]Vampire Weekend[/artist] put on brave faces and played through the downpour, the [artist id="1229828"]Yeah Yeah Yeahs[/artist] brought their patented brand of spastic high-energy art rock, the National's rumble somehow managed to be more menacing than the rolling thunderclaps, and the Knux brought Run-DMC swagger to hipster nation.
Saturday was the day Tool fans invaded Liberty State Park, and as darkness descended, they prepared themselves for a performance by their mercurial masters. They were impatient — pity My Bloody Valentine, who drew the unenviable task of playing before Maynard and company, which meant they were booed mercilessly by the black-clad masses. When Tool finally emerged to the twisting strains of "Jambi," the bloodthirsty fans went ballistic, thrashing and pounding in time to the band's primal pulses.
Tool's set was aided by gruesome, gooey visuals (courtesy of guitarist/artist Adam Jones), all spasmodic gremlins and twitching amputees, that worked perfectly with the tense, druggy and downright-hazy dark metal. Frontman Keenan's keening, choked vocals on tracks like "Schism" and "Stinkfist" only added to the tension, though we're not quite sure what he was hoping to accomplish with his Salvador Dalí-esque mustache.
Saturday also featured standout sets by Toronto glitchers Crystal Castles, the Arctic Monkeys (who broke out the smoke machine), the Honey Brothers (a.k.a., "that band with Adrian Grenier from 'Entourage' in it") and high-impact pop from Brits the Ting Tings.
Speaking of Brits, it was Coldplay who closed out All Points West, with a set that managed to be both massive — they have, after all, sold something north of 50 million albums worldwide — and minimal, connecting with each member of the waterlogged masses who stuck around Sunday to see them perform (this is probably the secret to their success: Coldplay are very personable dudes).
Kicking off with a trio of tracks — "Life in Technicolor," "Violet Hill," the massive "Clocks" — Coldplay then got down to getting close to the crowd. Frontman Chris Martin saluted their dedication: "As four British people who grew up in the mud and the rain," he laughed, "we salute you for coming out to what can only be described as a mud Jacuzzi."
They got psychedelic ("Strawberry Swing"), trance-y ("God Put a Smile on Your Face") and goofy (Martin's sorta jig during "42"), and — much like Jay-Z — they paid tribute to both the Beastie Boys and Michael Jackson, the former with a ballady take on "Fight for Your Right (to Party)", the latter with a version of "Billie Jean," complete with Martin's Jacko-esque falsettos.
They closed All Points West with the somber, wobbly "The Scientist," as Martin promised the crowd that it would probably be a while until they heard from Coldplay again. We should be dry by then.