The concept behind the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, where a particular band/artist is chosen to curate the event, is a genius one but it isn’t new or unique – the annual Meltdown Festival held at London’s South Bank Centre has been inviting notable musicians to program the festival’s lineup since 1993. Previous luminaries to have acted as curator include Scott Walker, David Bowie, Nick Cave, Lee “Scratch” Perry and John Peel (not a musician of course, but certainly deserving of a Meltdown curatorship), and this year it is the turn of Jarvis Cocker. Cocker has invited an intriguingly diverse set of performers, from the reformed Jesus & Mary Chain to Roky Erickson, by way of Motörhead, Devo and the “vintage Disney songbook” (as performed by Nick Cave, Grace Jones, Pete Doherty, Beth Orton, Shane MacGowan and Cocker himself). The two shows that most caught my eye were that of Sunn O))) and Iggy & The Stooges (with Scout Niblett in support), with The Stooges to perform in the newly-refurbished Royal Festival Hall and sure to give the revamped acoustics a good test!

The Sunn O))) performance takes place in the smaller Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday 18 June. In keeping with the band’s cowled & cloaked mystique, the impressive array of amps onstage looks like a set of megaliths, it’s like we’re about to witness some arcane druidic ritual. Smoke machines work overtime to fill the cavernous space of the concert hall, and when the air is suitably hazy the lights go down and five shadowy figures take to the stage. Sunn O))) high priests Stephen O’Malley (gloom-axe) and Greg Anderson (sub-bass) are tonight joined by ‘vokillist’ Attila Csihar, Daniel O’Sullivan (Guapo) on keyboards, and Steve Stapleton of Nurse With Wound (electronics, treated guitar) – it was rumoured that Justin Broadrick (Godflesh, Jesu) would be part of the line-up, but (sadly for a Broadrick fanboy like me) he doesn’t appear.
All that is initially visible on stage is the blonde-wigged Attila, lit by two green spotlights, long blonde hair cascading out of his hood, a ghostly figure contorted in the enveloping smoke. His ‘vokills’ range from Gregorian-like chanting to grunts & gurgles & hisses that evoke a Lovecraftian otherworld, while behind him the band create a physically-punishing doom drone. I have never before experienced sound as a physical force in this way – sitting in the QEH’s comfortable leather seats, the rumbling sub-bass and guitar drones feel as though they’re re-arranging my internal organs. It is not an unpleasant experience – I find that Sunn O)))’s sound has a soporific quality, and several times during the performance I drift into a near-sleep meditative state.
After the first piece Attila leaves the stage and the band switch into another innard-massaging glacial riff. The stage is still dark and enshrouded in smoke, the imposing backline occasionally lit with red & orange from behind, as though Sunn O))) are playing on the lip of one of Hell’s lava pits. O’Malley and Anderson play their guitars in a ritualistic way, raising them high in the air before bringing them down as another reverberating gloom chord is struck.
Attila rejoins the band for the final piece, this time clad in a blood-stained hessian sack with only one arm-hole – a grotesque, malformed presence to go with his unearthly guttural growls and unnerving Blixa Bargeld-like screams. When the performance ends I’m in a daze and completely miss the fact that when the lights come back on the performers are all lying around the stage as if dead – I was too involved in my own Sunn O)))-induced nightmarish visions to clock the (theatrically) gruesome scene right before me…

Sunn O))) - Meltdown Festival (18/06/2007)

Here is a mix of material from the 2007 tour-only “Oracle” double-disc, which is similar in sound to Sunn O)))’s Meltdown performance.

Sunn O))) – Oracle mix

A few photos of the performance can be viewed at Damon Allen Davison‘s Flickr page.
Southern Records have made available some Sunn O))) mp3s in the Discography section of the band’s Southern homepage here.

It’s always great when you’re equally as keen on the support act as on the headliner, so “thank you Jarvis” I really got my money’s worth this night of 20 June 2007. Unfortunately much of the (aged) Stooges crowd doesn’t seem interested in Scout Niblett‘s primal rock and the vast Royal Festival Hall is quite empty. This doesn’t deter Scout and she plays a typically delicate/savage show, her soaring voice effortlessly filling the spacious concert hall. The set is similar to her recent Bush Hall show, starting off with two new songs (presumably to appear on the Steve Albini-recorded album due this Autumn), followed by “Lullaby For Scout In 10 Years” and “No-one’s Wrong (Giricocola)”. She then kicks drummer Kristian Goddard off the drumset for “PomPoms” and “Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death” (“We’re all gonna die!”). With Scout back on guitar we get the sparse “Dinosaur Egg”, to which she adds a couple of new verses to the David Shrigley-penned lyrics. There’s one more new song before she closes with the grungey guitar and martial drum rolls of “Hot To Death”.

For some great photos from Scout’s performance check Lee Hooper‘s Flickr set here.

Iggy Pop is both a force of nature and a freak of nature. From the opening “Loose” to the performance’s end well over an hour later, Iggy is barely stationary: leaping around the stage, rolling around on the floor, throwing the mic (and mic-stand) around, and on his knees worshipping in front of the speaker stacks (with some simulated amp-copulation thrown in for good measure). It’s only a couple of songs in and he’s thrown himself from the stage into the arms of the adoring fans. Later on he smashes a beer bottle against his mic stand, and although a diligent Royal Festival Hall employee is quick to remove the broken glass from the stage almost immediately, I’m happy in the knowledge that there has still gotta be a few pieces laying around for Iggy to roll around in as though it were 25 years ago. He’s in his trademark gig ‘uniform’ – shirtless in tight blue jeans – and with his boundless energy and muscled torso it is impossible to believe that this man is 60 years old. No fuckin’ way, it can’t be.
The Stooges play like champions and deliver exactly what I’d hoped, powering through their early material (everything off “Fun House” bar “L.A. Blues” and half of “The Stooges”) with vigour and intensity. The band are even joined by “Fun House” saxophonist Steve Mackay on the likes of “1970” and “Fun House”. Every song sounds like a masterpiece – The Stooges’s sound is (or should be) hardwired into the DNA of every alternative rock fan there is. During “Real Good Time” and the following “No Fun” Iggy invites about thirty audience members up on to the stage to jump around with him, an activity which he describes as “very Benny Hill” once the ‘dancers’ have been sent back down…
The second half of the set is less engaging, given over to newer material from this year’s “The Weirdness” and a couple of songs from Iggy’s “Skull Ring” album (2003) which saw him collaborate with the Asheton brothers for the first time since The Stooges split in 1974. I must confess to not having heard “The Weirdness”, having been put off by some pretty negative write-ups, and on the evidence of “Trollin'”, “I’m Fried” and “She Took My Money” I won’t be rushing out to lay claim to a copy – these songs are overshadowed by some rather puerile/juvenile lyrics, and just don’t have that magic ingredient that The Stooges managed to distill into their first two albums. The night ends with an encore of “Not Right” and “Little Electric Chair”, and although I leave exhilirated by having finally seen this seminal band in action, I would have left happier if the set had been restricted to the first nine songs.

Iggy & The Stooges - Meltdown Festival (20/06/2007)

Setlist: Iggy & the Stooges @ Royal Festival Hall, London
(20 June 2007) part of Jarvis Cocker’s Meltdown Festival
Down On The Street
I Wanna Be Your Dog
TV Eye
Real Good Time
No Fun
Fun House
Skull Rings
I’m Fried
She Took My Money
Not Right
Little Electric Chair

Lee Hooper has some great shots of Iggy in action here at Flickr.