Asheville in the fall, nestled into the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, is an alluring place.
But approaching the Asheville Civic Center from the hillside below on the first night of MoogFest, which took place over this past Halloween weekend, concertgoers must have felt oddly out of place. Once inside the empty shell arena, it was hard not to compare the bleak Civic Center, home to snooze-y conventions, to the Sturm und Drang of being with 80,000 people in a field in Tennessee on a starry night.
The Civic Center crowd didn’t really pick up until Atlanta’s Big Boi took the stage around 8 p.m. It took a hype man, DJ, drummer, guitarist, seven-string bassist, and a dozen dancers and backup singers to accomplish what would have been impossible for rock bands like Kuroma and MGMT. Some things just need to be big.
Big Boi delivered a healthy diet of classic Outkast. “Ms. Jackson,” “So Fresh, So Clean,” and “B.O.B.” (“Bombs Over Baghdad”) all got the royal treatment, with synched music videos and B-roll footage playing continuously on the stage’s backdrop screen. “One hand for the almighty Outkast,” Big Boi said at one point, raising his arm in the air in homage to his missing comrade.
The programming on Friday night in the Civic Center’s adjoining room, The Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, was considerably more cerebral than Big Boi’s dirty south onslaught. At 11 p.m., Van Dyke Parks gave an entertaining set of jazz and World Beat-influenced songs. Slotting Panda Bear’s solo midnight set after Parks’ may have looked strange on paper, but Noah Lennox was equally heady. Emerging for an encore, he quietly told the audience he had enjoyed playing and that his last song would have “a lot of energy.”
Jonsi’s set on Saturday night in Thomas Wolfe must have picked up on some of Noah Lennox’s energy from Friday night, because the Icelandic singer was equally soaring and solitary. Jonsi came out with just an acoustic guitar for his first song, filling the auditorium with his un-humanlike voice. Before one song, a young fan sitting behind me turned to his friend and said, “This song is about to get crazy.” He was right. Jonsi’s production reached its pinnacle with an explosion of light and digital distortion, with three film projections layering the backdrop screen.
Later on Saturday night, as fans lined up to get in to see Four Tet at the Orange Peel, the party atmosphere downtown had also reached its pinnacle. In the wee hours, it seemed there was a drunken fan instigating a bar fight around every street corner, followed by a burst of police cars and interrogations.
While Asheville is generally a low key and folksy place, this Halloween MoogFest had brought out a dark costume – claws and all.