Review: Moogfest 2014 (Part Two)

Continued from Part One

Keith Emerson was mainly in town, though, for a press conference at which the engineers at Moog Music unveiled what Emerson dubbed “the clone,” a from-the-ground-up duplicate of the massive modular unit Emerson carries around with him to gigs. Partly a can-we-even-do-it exercise, the development of the Emerson Modular is a testament to the r&d and technical skills of the folks at Moog.

While Emerson was in Asheville for Moogfest, he also made time to sit down with his friend André Cholmondeley (of Project Object, Delicious, The Wham Bam Bowie Band and onstage tech for Emerson, for Greg Lake, for Yes, for moe., and for many others) and do an interview to be podcasted. I was fortunate to be allowed fly-on-the-wall access during that chat, and afterward – while Cholmondeley spirited Emerson away to his next engagement prior to leaving town – I was able to score a few moments to chat with the keyboard legend as well (look for that conversation in my next feature).

Being a “rock guy” (albeit one who also digs jazz, blues and soul but other genres not-so-much) some of the acts left me either cold or mystified. Pet Shop Boys played a good chunk of their set behind screens, their silhouettes reminded me of some unholy hybrid of David Bowie‘s Scary Monsters persona and, well, Zippy the Pinhead. Had the music been interesting to me, I might have overlooked the somewhat annoying visuals. But for those most part, it could have been anyone phoning in the soulless (albeit ecstatically received) performance.

We in the press received an email alert that synth legend Bernie Worrell would be joining Emerson and his band onstage, but that didn’t happen. Instead, The Bernie Worrell Orchestra took to the stage following the conclusion of Emerson’s set. While it was kinetic and fun, the real highlight of the Worrell set came right near the start, when Nick Montoya (friend of Worrell, Moog employee, and part of The Volt Per Octaves) came onstage to lead the audience in a vocoder-led version of “Happy Birthday” dedicated to Worrell.

Kraftwerk‘s set at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium was visually stunning (3-D glasses were required to take in the full range of the visuals, but it looked way-cool even without the glasses), and the visuals were keyed to the music. While the foursome themselves aren’t much to look at (dressed in matching outfits, posed carefully behind four podiums), their visual presentation factored that fact in, and made the full-stage visuals the centerpiece. (I had the offhand thought that as much as I like DEVO, those Akron-based spudsters clearly got a lot of ideas from Kraftwerk.)

CHIC featuring Nile Rodgers came off a bit like a tribute band that included the subject of said tribute. The large band ran through a long set of numbers that served to illustrate just how much Rodgers has contributed to the popular music lexicon. Many of the numbers were, by necessity, “covers,” but in all cases the tunes had a close connection to Rodgers (he wrote, produced, and/or arranged the originals).

M.I.A. is one of the hottest stars on the pop music scene today. Her set may have pleased the faithful, but I didn’t understand what the fuss was all about. I am told she often performs with a band of human beings; her set this night featured her and a couple guys working at desks. I found it boring and threatening to give me a headache.

The Volt Per Octaves, on the other hand, gave a rousing performance in the intimate New Earth club. The husband/wife/daughter trio (featuring the aforementioned Nick Montoya) delivered a set that proves that synthesizer-based pop need not be bloodless, Human League-style pap.

Talks by Don Oberheim and Giorgio Moroder were – along with all the Keith Emerson-related goings-on – among my most-treasured memories of Moogfest 2014, and the event that capped the entire five-day festival was Sunday’s panel discussion among writers for The Simpsons and Futurama. Though this final event was lightly attended (a few hundred people in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium), it was thoroughly entertaining to see and hear these self-proclaimed “math nerds” explain all manner of in-jokes from the two animated series.

At press time there is no word concerning future Moogfests, but all indications are that there will indeed be future festivals. And everything about Moogfest 2014 suggests that the festival is back on track, true to the concerns and values of its namesake.

In tomorrow’s installment, my conversation with Keith Emerson.

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