Live Music + Gig Reviews

ATP: My Bloody Valentine 2009: Day 3 @ Butlins, Minehead

6 December 2009

Poor Gemma Hayes is facing a nearly empty Centre Stage when she starts her set on Sunday, which is hardly surprising considering the brutal pummelling that Lightning Bolt and Fucked Up handed out the night before. Most punters are probably still in bed nursing bruises and terrifying hangovers.

By the time she’s made her way through her cover of Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting, it’s pleasing to see that the venue has filled up considerably. An anomaly amongst the noise bands that dominate the line-up, Hayes’ gentle folk songs are something of a relief. Her wonderfully light and sultry vocals are a beautiful antidote to the brutality of the pounding heads and the waves of noise that have emanated from Minehead so far this weekend.

Grinning throughout her performance, and genuinely appreciative of the welcome with which she’s greeted, she wins over the crowd with a sublime, but cruelly short set.

Lilys used to do a fine line in shoegaze sometime back, but today they’re sounding much more like the ’60s garage bands that have been showing on ATP-TV this morning. With occasional riffs pinched from The Who and The Kinks, they’re a pretty entertaining proposition. Singer/guitarist Kurt Heasley is on fine form, publicly berating a malfunctioning effects pedal and providing a wizened jocular edge which is most welcome.

On a pitch black stage A Place To Bury Strangers are the first of today’s bands to provide a good sonic kicking. Squalls of noise thunder around the venue as the band deconstruct their songs and hurl them out in barely recognizable forms. It’s not the first time this weekend that volume has made a band seem more interesting than their performance deserves, because the relentless barrage elevates this from being a merely diverting set. It’s a shame, because they’re capable of so much more than this.

Someone who definitely didn’t catch Gemma Hayes’s set is The Faith Healers‘ Roxanne Stephen, who says that she only got out of bed five minutes before they were due to go on stage. As a result, she’s forgotten to bring her tambourine. A punter heads off to the toy shop to remedy the situation, and in lightning quick time a small blue tambourine is lobbed on to stage.

For a band most famously part of the lurch scene in the early ’90s (whatever happened to Silverfish) they’re fairly subdued, not so much lurching though their songs but almost sleepwalking their way from beginning to end. It’s a pity because they can be electrifying when on form.

Swervedriver are making the most of the resurgence of the shoegaze sound, but for some reason the first 20 minutes of their show are distinctly bland. Towards the end they start to hit their stride, revelling in a glorious cacophony, but by then it’s a case of too little too late.

Iceland seems to be a hot bed of dainty unusual bands. Mm typify this. Holding the main Pavilion stage audience in thrall for over an hour is no mean feat but they achieve it with consummate ease. It would appear that the only two people who are unaffected by these soaring songs are playing air hockey at the back of the venue. This would be annoying if it wasn’t for the fact that the pitch coming from the puck seems to fit in perfectly with the band’s epic songs.

Meanwhile there’s a sense of excitement ahead of EPMD’s slot. Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith have been on the hip hop scene forever. They play a short set, and there’s no denying their skills as emcees, they don’t come close to recreating the magic of De La Soul, the other hip hop band of the weekend.

Having already appeared once as No Age’s surprise guest on the Centre Stage on the Saturday night, Bob Mould is back with his own set taking in his years with post-punk inspirations Hsker D, with pop rock band Sugar, and also showcasing his solo output. A man whose contacts list must read like a who’s who of alternative rock legends, Bob is a stalwart of ATP. He accompanies himself simply with a guitar, and reminds everyone that at heart he’s a traditional songwriter, as demonstrated on his quietly-released recent album Life And Times. It’s good to see him on stage, and to hear something a little more restrained at this otherwise noisy weekender.

New Yorkers The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart inject some new blood into the schedule. Their debut album was one of the sleeper hits of 2009 and they proved why with a charming performance of their woozy indie-pop before the buzz band of the weekend Lightning Bolt return for an encore surprise slot for those who didn’t get in to their over-subscribed Saturday night gig.

Having curated an ATP before, Dirty Three know exactly what’s expected of them. Warren Ellis engages the crowd with the professionalism of a stand-up comedian, introducing the songs with drawn out stories invariably centred around LSD use. Ellis is thoroughly affable and ever-so-slightly unhinged. The band hammer through these songs in a frenzy, even the quietest moments taking on a sharpened edge.

Ellis whirls around the stage, kicking his legs out at impossible angles, thrashing his violin with his bow, or playing it with his teeth, and all the while looking like he’s having the time of his life. They close with Everything’s Fucked, but the reality is that Dirty Three have turned in a performance that is anything but. A definite highlight.

Sunday is My Bloody Valentine‘s last chance to redeem themselves. Kevin Shields has been an almost invisible curator at the festival, and his total lack of interaction with the audience almost suggests that he’d rather be anywhere else but here.

Initial signs aren’t good. With the first song completed, Shields is off towards the soundman again. But with the initial niggles finally out of the way, the band finally hit a groove. I Only Said is fantastically dreamy and every bit as gorgeous as you could hope for. Only Shallow is as perfect as it should be with those drum rolls sounding every bit as exciting as they did in 1991. Shields’ guitar soars, roars and squeaks in all the right places. The vocals are still low in the mix, but it doesn’t matter as the band takes us on a stunning sonic journey.

They save the best for last with You Made Me Realise, which dissolves into a 15 minute cacophony midway through. It’s so loud that the building shakes, internal organs shudder, and most people are questioning whether it’s possible to withstand such an aggressive onslaught. Such moments are both frightening and joyous, the continual roar is not like that related in A Passage To India where every sound made in the caves results in an echoing “Boum”.

The sound in the cave suggests that everything exists and nothing has value, and the more philosophical amongst the audience might draw the same conclusion when faced with such an unbelievably aggressive noise. On the other hand, most people appear to be recording it on their mobile phones. Whatever. Tonight, My Bloody Valentine finally got it right. If only we’d seen more of them around the festival.

Following MBV was never going to be easy but School Of Seven Bells manage it. Those mourning Benjamin Curtis’ departure from Secret Machines can at least draw some comfort from the fact that he’s re-emerged with such a great band. Their electro-pop is dreamlike in structure, releasing ideas and chasing them as they evaporate into the air before being replaced with another curiously wonderful melody. Alejandra Deheza’s vocals are cutely delivered, and are the perfect remedy for those still attempting to recover from the holocaust of You Made Me Realise. Eminently danceable tunes mean that, as the festival draws to a close, it does so on something of a high.

My Bloody Valentine’s ATP might not have had the most varied line-up, and the weather definitely contributed to a bleak feeling around the site, but it had some undeniably fantastic moments. It might not go down in history as the greatest ATP, and some of the scheduling issues could have been sorted out, but the whole weekend had its own identity, ensuring that a good time was unavoidable.

  1. ATP: My Bloody Valentine
    Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

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