Live Music + Gig Reviews

ATP/The National 2012 @ Pontins, Camber

9 December 2012

All Tomorrow’s Parties has now returned to its “spiritual home” by leaving Butlins at Minehead and going back to Camber Sands. For those who have been with the festival since the very start, this is a quite important and significant move. For those that felt quite spoiled by the twin concepts of hygiene and warmth provided by Butlins, it appears to be something of a backwards step.

Minor grumbles aside, nobody really attends ATP with the intention of focussing on the facilities, it is all about the music, and the line-up chosen by The National is a belter. It’s a list of bands to be thankful for. In fact most of the weekend finds the bands continuously thanking The National for including them. It becomes such a well worn statement that by the time The National wrap the festival up on Sunday, they find time to thank The National for putting The National on the bill.

As is usual with ATP, the highlights are numerous and relentless, to the point where getting food becomes a worrisome event, just in case something jawdropping is missed. Hayden‘s world weary folk sets the bar high early on. It’s been a while since he’s been in UK, which is a considerable shame. In fact it has been so long that he’s apparently been trying to buy things with old 20 notes. A quaint mix of Leonard Cohen, Dinosaur Jr and the lo-fi scribblings of Sebadoh, he’s genuinely affecting.

Boris‘ colossal prog rock meets doom (complete with massive gong) is as ridiculous as it is majestic. Tim Hecker hides in the darkness to terrify and delight in equal measure with a set that sometimes finds the balance between nerve shredding bass tones and occasionally peaceful ambience.

Youth Lagoon‘s delicate piano balladry calls to mind Harmony Korine (for some reason) and Windmill. It is a heartbreaking and utterly spellbinding set, and there is yet more good news with Trevor Powers announcing on Twitter recently that his follow up to Year Of Hibernation is finally finished. On this evidence, it will be beautiful. Lower Dens‘ mix of drones, emotive disco, languid folk, and an occasional foray into Krautrock territory is stunning. Yet despite the apparently robotic elements to their sound, the band tap into an unmistakably human vein to ensure that there will be tears before bedtime. This Is The Kit (the project of Kate Stables) is also rather wonderful. There’s an unmistakable Joni Mitchell influence at play, and like Mitchell, Stables has a fine voice, and smart, well written songs.

Ethan Lipton‘s performance of No Place To Go, a theatre piece that mixes jazz, politics, humour and clever plotting has the audience utterly spellbound. In fact there’s a fair bit of humour to be found on a line up that on first glance appears to be a little dour. Mark Mulcahy‘s performance is a delight, crammed with touching, quirky, and beautifully written songs. He’s a magnetic presence, and a much needed injection of fun. Similarly, The Philistines Jr succeed by keeping things relatively light and direct. There are dark themes swirling in the undercurrents of their music, but somehow they manage to imbue everything with such fine harmonies and intelligent lyrics, that their music becomes a joyous celebration.

The National’s set is also an enormous celebration. They’ve clearly enjoyed their weekend, and it shows in their performance. A two-hour set that covers enough ground to please just about everyone includes a few new songs thrown in for good measure (although vocalist Matt Berninger needs a crib sheet to remember the lyrics). They’re on good form (although they apologise for being a bit ropey) and Fake Empire, Squalor Victoria, Green Gloves and Mr November, all send the crowd into raptures, but it’s the emotional closing version of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks that really hits home. Played acoustically, the audience become part of the performance singing along with the band. Closing the festival like this points to just why ATP is such a wonderful event. The bands and the fans are all there for the same reason, to celebrate and enjoy music together as one. As such, the venue itself is unimportant; the purpose however, is vital.

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