If it wasn't already apparent, it became crystal clear early Sunday afternoon that something very special was happening in town this weekend, as scores of music lovers lined up around the block on Fourth Avenue.
"Thank you for coming to the bowling alley," famed post-punk producer and musician Steve Albini told the crowd once they made their way inside the Asbury Lanes. "We've played several bowling alleys, and this is among the nicest bowling alleys we've played at in New Jersey."
Albini then lead his band, the three-man sound and fury machine known as Shellac, through a blisteringly powerful surprise set before the rapt crowd of lucky fans. The performance kicked off the third and final day of the I'll be Your Mirror festival, a gathering of the arts that placed Asbury Park at the center of the underground music universe.
Presented by All Tomorrow's Parties, the I'll Be Your Mirror festival brought some of the biggest and most unique talents from outside the mainstream to a number of the city's historic venues, including the Paramount Theatre, Convention Hall and the Lanes.
Opening night attractions on Friday included a much-anticipated performance by reclusive indie rock legend Jeff Mangum at the Paramount. As part of Neutral Milk Hotel, Mangum released two LPs, including the beloved indie rock classic "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea'' (1998) before the group disbanded. Mangum then shied away from the spotlight for more than a decade, only recently returning to the public eye.
When Mangum returtned to the stage for a second performance on Sunday afternoon, the audience met him with a combination of reverent silence during numbers and rapturous applause between songs that included classic originals such as the title track of "Aeroplane" and "The King of Carrot Flowers," as well as a cover of Roky Erickson's "I Love the Living You."
Several bands tested the sonic limits of the boardwalk's grand old music venues. On Saturday, raging electronic rock trio Battles definitely earned themselves a spot on the highlight list for their stunning Convention Hall performance, while earlier in the day Newark native Marc Ribot lead his own experimental three-piece unit through a Paramount Theatre set that blurred the line between blues, hard rock and the avant-garde.
British trip-hop trio Portishead, which marks its first shows on the east coast since 1998 with performances Saturday and Sunday, curated the festival's second and third days.
"The thing (with Portishead) is their whole attitude is perfect, because not only did they have a very creative input to it, they also wanted us to discuss with them the pros and cons of their choices and stuff," All Tomorrow's Parties co-director Barry Hogan told the Asbury Park Press in an interview this spring.
"It's not just like, ‘Here's a list, just go and book it,' it's a collaborative process," said Hogan. "If we could keep working with Portishead for all of the events, it would be fantastic, but obviously they've got records to make."
Portishead's Geoff Barrow may have been the hardest-working person in town this weekend: besides two stand-out performances with Portishead, Barrow helped kick off Saturday with an impressive Convention Hall appearance by his Bristol, England-based Krautrock trio, Beak>, and he will took the stage of the Paramount Theatre Sunday to perform with another one of his projects, Anika.
Helping Portishead bring the weekend to a close on Sunday night were hip-hop heroes of Public Enemy, whose stunning set featured plenty of material off of their 1990 classic "Fear of a Black Planet," along with a cross-section of their classic hits.
Along with countless hours of live music supplied by dozens of under-the-radar bands, I'll Be Your Mirror offered plenty of stimulation in other areas of the arts. The Criterion Cinema in the Berkeley Hotel is screening films ranging from the Oscar-winning documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk" (1984) to the Michael Bay-directed action blockbuster "The Rock" (1996) and plenty in between.
The festival also brought acclaimed visual artist Shepard Fairey to town. Murals by Fairey, perhaps best known for his now-iconic "Hope" poster of President Barack Obama, can be seen in and around the city's waterfront, and the artist's work was also on display in a gallery on the boardwalk. And as if that wasn't keeping Fairey busy enough, he was also scheduled to perform a DJ set late Sunday night at the Lanes.
"Basically, every single one of my passions has been encompassed in ATP this year: making art, doing gallery art, outdoor art, graphic design, DJing, doing music related stuff," Fairey said Sunday afternoon. "I'm in hog heaven right now."
Fairey's work was also on display on the side of the Lanes, where he had installed a mural depicting six icons of punk rock: The Ramones' Joey Ramone, Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, The Clash's Joe Strummer, Lodi native Glenn Danzig of the Misfits, Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi and Henry Rollins of Black Flag.
"There are a lot of punk musicians I like, but those are six that I think are really important," Fairey said. "Knowing that this place put on music shows and a lot of punk shows, I thought it was a fitting subject matter."
All Tomorrow's Parties - a London-based organization founded by Hogan in preparation for the inaugural ATP festival in 1999 - began organizing events in the U.S. in 2002 and moved to the east coast in 2008 for three annual events at Kutshers Country Club in Monticello, N.Y., that were curated by My Bloody Valentine, the Flaming Lips and indie auteur Jim Jarmusch.