Live Music + Gig Reviews

ATP/Groening 2010: Day 3 @ Butlins, Minehead

9 May 2010

Clearly we exude a joie de vivre that makes people stop and stare. Either that or our aura is a distinctive shade of black, because as we make our way to the ATP pub quiz we are accosted by a staggeringly drunk young man who wants to perform an exorcism on us. We pass up the opportunity and wish him well with his Finals on Monday, which he will almost certainly fail should he actually manage to get there… since he’s still convinced it’s Saturday morning.

Once we’ve won the The Simpsons themed pub quiz (a full 20 points ahead of second place and our second pub quiz triumph in as many weeks, after the Camden Crawl last weekend – GET US), it’s time for The Tiger Lillies. We’d been looking forward to their set for the entire weekend, having been primed with tales of avant garde theatrics and unique tunes. But something doesn’t click. Maybe it’s because their vocalist sounds like Mr Hanky, or maybe it’s down to their stage presence feeling like a watered down version of The Residents‘ superior show yesterday. There’s a song about wanking though, so that’s nice.

We then hang around for a rare set from Argentinian Juana Molina. Having cancelled her upcoming Union Chapel gig, it proved to be even rarer and more anticipated than expected. Molina has a sullen presence as she takes to the stage surrounded by machines and pedals that she uses in a tUnE-yArDs style to create and layer loops. But where she strays from Merrill Garbus is that her sound is a more ambient one. Anyone concerned that they wouldn’t understand her Spanish lyrics needn’t have worried; she hums sounds rather than words and creates a gloriously chilled atmosphere. Her insular stage presence causes one heckler to shout out “Tell us a joke”, but overall she is a joy.

Back on the Pavilion stage, Groening introduces Daniel Johnston as “perhaps my favourite songwriter”. What follows is an all too brief, but visually alarming trawl through some of Johnston’s finest work. As he stumbles on to this huge stage alone and dwarfed by the hundreds of stage props ahead of Spiritualized‘s lavish set still to come, watching him is, at times, uncomfortable. His body shakes and his guitarwork is clumsy, but his vocals are keen and he appears to be enjoying himself. True Love Will Find You In The End is a joyous yet heartbreaking moment, with audience support for Johnston reaching palpable levels. The imagery and thought processes in his lyrics continue to dazzle and disturb in equal measure, but there is little doubt that he’s a songwriter of amazing talent. If the execution is a little poor, it hardly matters when the songs are as perfect as this.

Hope Sandoval And The Warm Inventions have triggered the diva alert alarm over at the Centre Stage. With absolutely no stage lighting and apparently an insistence that the bar is closed, several disgruntled punters head straight back out to get a pint while wondering who Sandoval thinks she is. She was of course the transcendental vocalist for Mazzy Star and possesses a voice that comes from a place probably marked as sacred on any number of maps. Unfortunately, as wonderful as her voice is, The Warm Inventions are not Mazzy Star and there’s precious little for her to hang her ethereal vocals on.

Jason Pierce (or J Spaceman if you prefer) is the final act to grace the Pavilion Stage this weekend. Performing the entire Spiritualized album Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space with the assistance of a gospel choir and an orchestra, Pierce leads us through his opus while seated in front of his stack of amps, resplendent in white jeans and t-shirt and obligatory shades. The Pavilion has always been the target for criticism concerning the sound that bands achieve in the space, but there’s no problem here. These morphine laced songs sound incredible from first note to last. Everything is majestic. Whether it’s the full-on drone rock of Come Together or the more dub-heavy soulful moments, this is an exercise in overblown rock pageantry. The album itself was a landmark in modern music; somehow, Pierce has made it sound even better tonight.

A good half an hour before the end of Spiritualized’s set the queue for Joanna Newsom‘s performance in the Centre Stage has already started to form. Fifty minutes later people are finally granted admittance. Rumours of “annoying” behaviour have started to circulate well before she takes to the stage, but for a few moments Newsom manages to quell any criticisms the audience may be harbouring. There is little doubt that her new album Have One On Me is one of the most ambitious and well-realised records in recent years, but tonight there is a problem translating those songs into the live arena. There’s no faulting her ability on the harp or piano, and that voice may well divide opinion, but it fits these songs wonderfully. The problem is that her songs are a sprawling morass of ideas, usually drawn out over upwards of seven minutes. When the end of a three day festival approaches, people are usually looking for cheap and easy thrills, none of which are readily available from Newsom’s set tonight. So while she might be technically amazing, tonight it just doesn’t work.

In contrast, The Raincoats work perfectly. That they’ve spent the last 10 minutes waiting on the Reds stage before they’re allowed to play (apparently they’d be too loud and bleed through to disrupt delicate flower Newsom and her songs) is quickly forgotten as they rattle through a glut of simplistic, ramshackle punk songs. They may not be tight, or even in tune for the majority of the set, but they play with an adorable attitude. They are one of the unlikely heroes of Sunday’s line up and their cover of The Kinks‘ Lola raises many a smile.

On an astonishing evening packed full of various talented female musicians and vocalists, it falls to CocoRosie to close the festival. Any fears that their somewhat unusual songs might be out of place are quickly assuaged when the sisters start the music hall romp of Hopscotch with a quick round of pat-a-cake. Such is the infectious nature of their songs, which fuse hip-hop beats, jazz, folk and a helping of childish innocence, that they appear to affect the gait of anyone who attempts to walk to the bar during their songs, rendering each one of them with a peculiar king-of-the-swingers style amble. As endings go, CocoRosie were never going to provide a big bang, but they have the audience awestruck for the most part with their heavenly voices and childish dancing. Tonight they make perfect sense.

Matt Groening’s ATP will be remembered for his choice of acts who not only make creative music but also put on a performance. The high ratio of female musicians was welcome but overall he came up with a varied bunch that still held together coherently. His presence and accessibility to the fans showed how much he cared. Combine all that with ATP’s superb organisation resulting in all attendees being able to go to every gig and share a total communal experience, and this festival proved to be one of ATP’s finest.

  1. ATP/Groening 2010:
    Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

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