All Tomorrow's Parties 2009: Who Rocked the Catskills the Hardest?

Rolling Stone's awards for Best Duet, Deadliest Card Shark and Most Inappropriate Use of Harmonica

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For the second year in a row, the All Tomorrow's Parties festival rocked the Catskills, invading the quaint upstate Kutsher's Country Club. This is the resort that inspired Dirty Dancing, and the whole place reeks of Fifties charm: It's the only rock festival around where you can hear noise bands in the Starlight Ballroom, or see Nick Cave shuffling down a hallway lined with shag carpet in a tennis-ball motif. There's geese on the lake, mini-golf, a sauna, and an elderly gent playing "The Candy Man" on the organ in the lobby. It all adds up to some hardcore Catskills ambience — as you drive in on Route 52, you pass a kosher Chinese restaurant called "Mazel Wok."

For the roughly 2,000 fans on hand, it was a weekend of music delights. ATP remains by far the best organized, friendliest festival around. And at Kutsher's, it's also the one with the most indoor plumbing. (This must be the only rock fest where you couldn't use a port-a-john even if you wanted to.) Bands wander around, checking out each other's shows — for the No Age set, I was right in between indie director Jim Jarmusch and the lead singer of Deerhoof. Shellac organized a baseball game on the grounds for musicians and fans. This ATP was curated by the Flaming Lips, who did a fantastic headlining set on Sunday night, but the whole weekend was packed with goodies. There was no way to catch every band you wanted to see, but these are a few of the highlights.

Read our daily reports from Kutsher's here:
Flaming Lips Wrap All Tomorrow's Parties After Sets By No Age, Boris
Animal Collective, Deerhunter, Sufjan Stevens Bring Lullabies and Assaults to All Tomorrow's Parties
The Feelies, Dirty Three With Nick Cave Revisit Classic Albums at All Tomorrow's Parties

Best in Show: The Boredoms, no question. They did their "Boadrum 9" piece with nine drummers, one of whom was carried onstage on a platform held aloft by fans. Instead of a free-form jam, it was an expertly paced set with staggering peaks, including a rampage through "Acid Police." The drummers formed an 18-arm behemoth; as our colleague (and monster drummer) Christopher Weingarten observed, Hella's Zach Hill was drumming so hard you could see the sweat dripping off his stool. The Boredoms ran on so long, the crew had to come out and dismantle the drums while they were still playing, but that somehow made it all the more majestic.

Best Sideman: Nick Cave, who sat in with the Dirty Three on piano, never uttering a word, just lending his magnificently sinister presence to the proceedings. It was what it must've been like in 1976 seeing Iggy Pop play shows with David Bowie on keyboards. The Dirty Three were amazing, with Warren Ellis playing violin solos while kicking the cymbals with his boot. Never seen that move before.

Best Nick Cave Sighting: At the arcade, playing video games with a friend's 14-year-old kid. It was one of those games where you fire a laser rifle — and Cave was smoking this kid. Bats? Released!

Best Duet: Bob Mould joined the L.A. punk dudes No Age for a set split between Hüsker Dü classics and No Age tunes. It was a generous move for Mould, considering these are songs he wrote 25 years ago, and he released a stellar new record just this spring. But like No Age, he was lit aflame by the spirit of the occasion, roaring his way through "Something I Learned Today," "Could You Be The One," "I Apologize," "Makes No Sense at All," and the climactic "New Day Rising." Deerhunter's Bradford Cox joined for an inexplicable yet entertaining romp through the Johnny Thunders oldie "Chinese Rocks."

Best Eardrum Massacre: Boris were so loud, they basically gave the whole crowd a colonoscopy. The Japanese noise band covered their 45-minute 2003 opus "Feedbacker," which started out kind of like "Cortez the Killer," then turned into the sound of Cortez getting killed. The air pushing out of the speakers was like fists of love.

Biggest Rave: Animal Collective, who fused the spirit of 1987 Ibiza with 1967 Golden Gate Park for the weekend's most hippie performance.

Nastiest Bass Explosions: Black Dice, whose set was a nonstop 45-minute barrage that literally made the walls shake. They've fleshed out their electro-noise sound with a layer of Sanford and Son/Match Game '70s TV-theme funk texture, which makes them sound impossibly cheery and humane even when they're pummeling your senses. Nobody who attended this show will hear a word you say all week, which is why they're just smiling and nodding.

Best Dancing: Deerhoof were predictably awesome, leaping in time to Martha Colburn's video animation and banging out a cover of the Ramones' "Pinhead."

Most '70s: Suicide, who covered their classic 1977 debut album, working hard to give the impression they barely remembered or liked the songs. Their who-cares spirit was there, even if their skills weren't. A couple times, Martin Rev began playing one track on the synth, and Alan Vega sang something else — it's one thing to go out there without memorizing your songs, but when you don't even recognize them? So punk!

Most '80s: Crystal Castles, who did their 8-byte aggro new wave beats while Alice Glass flung her body around the stage. People even busted out the glow-sticks for this set.

Deadliest Card Shark: Shellac's Steve Albini, who ran an "Executive Card Room" in a fetching Hawaiian shirt, allowing him to fleece the pockets of hipsters who could go home broke and boast they lost at poker to the man who wrote "Kerosene." Brilliant.

Most Romantic: Boss Hog, with Jon Spencer and Christina Martinez vamping up their old-school indie-rock sex groove "I Dig You," praising each other's groovy hips and barbecue lips. This is how Ike and Tina might have ended up if they actually liked each other.

Most Valiant Attempt to Play Harmonica by Somebody Who Clearly Has No Idea How: Atlas Sounds, the solo project of Deerhunter's Bradford Cox, who gave up the laptop to try his hand as an acoustic folkie, honking on a Hoehner but stopping mid-song to complain it was clogged with spit. Sample stage banter: "Does my guitar sound too Dan Fogelberg?" Not possible, dude!

Scariest Stage Dives: The Jesus Lizard's David Yow waited about four seconds into the first song ("Puss") to leap head-first into the crowd. He's not a young man, so it looked pretty death-defying, but he survived to repeat the trick all through the set.

All this plus Panda Bear, Iron & Wine, Sufjan Stevens, the Feelies, Caribou jamming with the Sun Ra Arkestra's veteran Marshall Allen, and more. You could catch a nap on couches that haven't been vacuumed since Patrick Swayze was in town, or check out the Criterion film room for Gimme Shelter, Two-Lane Blacktop, Monterey Pop or Hausu. And no wi-fi, which meant no pain-in-the-ass thumb-heads trying to twitter in front of you while the band was playing. Cool. See you next year, Kutsher's. Keep the borscht warm.

Check out all of our exclusive videos straight from All Tomorrow's Parties on the next page!

The Flaming Lips (interview and live footage):

Boris live:

No Age with Bob Mould:

Bradford Cox interview:

The No Age video game challenge:

David Cross' tour of Kutsher's gift shop:

Animal Collective:

Deerhunter:

Dirty Three:

Suicide:

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