After what has seemed like an age this particular edition of ATP finally came together three months later than planned. As a result of the initial cancellation and re-scheduling of the event from December to March there has been a few changes in the original line up, but seeing as it’s the start of Spring and it isn’t freezing cold nobody is complaining particularly. Besides, the shift in dates has meant that Mike Watt and George Hurley are able to play, so there’s a definite silver lining to what had originally appeared to be a considerable inconvenience.
Opening the festival is the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise, a mass of musicians from the collective that festival curator Jeff Mangum had a role in initiating. They provide a chilled out if occasionally ramshackle start, but it is a fun welcome to the weekend, and if the spectacle of Elf Power songs being performed by a bloke with an enormous tuba doesn’t at least raise a smile then all hope is lost.
Mangum himself performs two sets over the course of the weekend. The second, on Sunday is ridiculously oversubscribed and results in a queue that possibly has more people in it than actually get to see him perform. Those lucky enough to get inside the venue are treated to quite perfect renditions of his Neutral Milk Hotel material. The King Of Carrot Flowers pt 1 and Two Headed Boy are quite wonderful but perhaps the finest moment of Mangum’s set is when a room full of indie-kids start to bellow “I love you Jesus Christ” at the introduction of The King Of The Carrot Flowers Pts 2 &3. It’s a moment to file away under “things you never thought you’d see happen”.
Joanna Newsom is also the lucky recipient of two sets this weekend, and both are utterly stunning. Even if her voice might be a little feline for some, there’s no doubting her spine tingling skill on the harp or piano. Yet it’s down to everyone’s favourite curmudgeon Mark E Smith to make an early pitch for performance of the weekend. Watching the The Fall can be a life affirming or utterly disappointing experience depending on the mood of the protagonists. Fortunately, the band are in fine form, creating a wave of unrelenting sound drawn mainly from Ersatz GB, for MES to ramble around. This is about as tight as The Fall has been for some time, and in spite of some sound issues (MES muttering mid-song during Nate Will Not Return that he’s “looking for a microphone that fucking works”), and MES’ habit of “live mixing” it’s an incredible set from start to finish.
In fact, it’s down to the old hands to make this weekend utterly unforgettable. Mike Watt and George Hurley running through a set of Minutemen songs is by turns exciting and heartbreaking. As good as they sound, the absence of D Boon is keenly felt. Scratch Acid turn the centre stage into a seething mass of bodies as their metallic edged punk attack grabs hold and refuses to let go. It takes approximately 3 songs for vocalist David Yow to launch himself into the audience, and when he does it’s hard for a little nostalgia not to surface. The Magic Band‘s set on Sunday is inspired and loving nod to the good Captain Beefheart. The slightly “crazy” hat sported by the Mark Boston is somewhat unnecessary however; The Magic Band’s amalgam of blues and jazz has always been totally unhinged, there’s no need for embellishments.
Earth‘s set on Sunday is spellbinding. They might not be causing internal organs to rupture with a sonic assault these days, but the delicate improvisations of Angels of Darkness and Demons Of Light are just as intense. Even those who miss the days of Earth 2 will surely have been hypnotised by Dylan Carlson’s curious mash up of suedehead hair cut and Amos from Emmerdale sideburns.
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion live up to their name, but could do with ditching the leather trousers. Low meanwhile make their way through an intensely delicate set (Monkey a particular highlight) whilst worrying endlessly about Syria and asking the audience out for a jog in the morning. Only Thurston Moore‘s set is something of a disappointment, the blasts of noise injected into his songs not seeming entirely convincing. Fingers crossed that Sonic Youth can find a way to continue.
The weekend is not a total nostalgia fest however and some newer bands make their mark too. Feathers, who dont have an album out yet, are clearly worth keeping an eye on. Considerably indebted to ’80s electropop and Kate Bush, they’re everso slightly gothic, and a rather exciting prospect. Yamantaka//Sonic Titan is a pleasant surprise and a heady mix of performance art, punk, and exquisite pop. It’s as if the cast of Spirited Away decided to form band. Recent signings to ATP records Tall Firs put in a low-key but hypnotic set. Delicate guitars twist around each other as the duo create a somnambulant fug only pausing occasionally to crack jokes about how their music isn’t “a cloud of unremitting doom” before explaining that the next song is “also about suicide”. Still, the paean to ATP that is “Crooked Smile” is at least appropriate.
The accolade for band of the weekend however goes to Boredoms. With five drummers, a considerable smattering of guitarists and band leader EYE smashing at a multi-headed hyrdra of a guitar with an enormous pole, they are an incredible visual spectacle. Throw in an unbelievable display of synchronised drumming, seething ambience, roaring walls of noise, “performance” conducting and the unrelenting symphonic closure of Acid Police and it’s a completely awe inspiring show. It really doesn’t get any better than this.
This ATP may have been something of a nightmare in coming to fruition, but the wait was more than worth it. Some may disagree, but Jeff Mangum and ATP conspired to put on one of the most interesting and solid weekends in recent years. The National will have to work hard to top this one in December.