We arrive at Butlins in Minehead for ATP, curated by The Breeders, tired from the journey but happy.
That is until we discover that our chalet is precisely three miles from the nearest car park. Smiles plastered on, our provisions for three days’ stay are transported on a trolley that may have been the basis for all those clichd stand-up segments about supermarket/airport trolleys with wheels that have minds of their own. Attempting to steer your bags over ground not dissimilar to that of the surface of the moon is far from hilarious. Oh well. That’s what we get for being wimps and not carrying our provisions.
At the room these minor setbacks are soon forgotten. First beer open and itinerary planned, we set off to catch the first band of what should be a great weekend.
The Holloys are not the best start. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with them, the drone infested indie propelled by two drummers is pretty passable, but it’s not phenomenal. You want a festival to start with a bang, and this is more like a nod of recognition that you give that bloke down the pub whose name you can never remember. The Holloys want to reach the sky, but they keep scraping their fingers on the ceiling.
Howe Gelb’s Giant Sand are the first band to take to the stage in the Pavilion. It’s a massive room with penny arcades and burger joints at one end, and the stage at the other. It’s also the central point that most people make their way through on their way to the other stages at the festival. On one hand the band performing might grab the odd passing punter, on the other, it can make for quite a noisy set with people talking and winning jackpots as they pass through. All of which means you have to be on your game to really hold the attention of the audience. Giant Sand are not the kind of band that are ever going to be able to do that. Gelb’s grungy country might resonate for a few, but here it’s drawing the odd yawn. We try and stick it out for a while in the blind hope that things will change, but eventually the impulse to try and win an iPod on one of those crane games becomes overbearing.
The Bronx are about to attempt to tear us all a new A-Hole, which is very kind of them. Hitting the stage in a fury they proceed to throw just about every rock clich at us. Clichs they may be, but for some reason it works. AC/DC style riffs and screeching punk vocals may not be to everyone’s taste but at least they’re trying to get the party started.
Back to the Pavilion and Throwing Muses are back with us after far too long away. Putting aside a crush on Kristin Hersh in a vague attempt to be objective proves tricky, but just about doable. Opening things with Shark and peppering the set with “hits” like Bright Yellow Gun, Throwing Muses are on good form. Hersh’s voice is arresting as it flips between naive coos and throat busting roars at seemingly random points.
Aging indie boys are throwing their hands in the air and singing along with every word. The effect Throwing Muses had when they were still new and fresh is clear to see in the rapturous response they receive. With fresh material there’s nothing to stop them being as exciting and vital as they once were. For now, this is a sterling set from a band who can rightly claim their place amongst the indie legends who’ve come into contact with 4AD.
Bon Iver (Justin Vernon) is well on his way to becoming a 4AD legend himself. With a full band behind him tonight, the songs from For Emma, Forever Ago and the Blood Bank EP are filled out gloriously. It’s funny to think that many of these songs were written (as is known to anybody who’s ever heard of Bon Iver) in a tiny shack while chowing down on a recently dispatched deer, when they’re now echoing around a holiday camp being sung by a couple of thousand people tucking into recently dispatched cows courtesy of Burger King.
What is obvious is that each of these songs is communicated in such a way that each and every person feels as if they’re being spoken to on an individual level. This is beautiful stuff, and although it’s not the last set of the day, it feels as if it can’t be topped. And so it is, we retire for the night to sup on cranberry juice and await the showing of The Bad Seed on ATP-TV.