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An aural overview of some of my favourite records of 2009 is now available on the Mixtapes page. Go forth safe in the knowledge that it is an Animal Collective/Fever Ray/the xx-free zone…

And in thinking back on another year that fizzed by, yet was again punctuated by many wonderful live music experiences, I couldn’t resist coming up with a list of those that seemed extra special. When I’m standing in a crowd, washed over by waves of sound, I often think that this is as close to religion as I’m ever gonna get. The shared experience with one’s fellow concert-goers (who in that moment don’t seem to to be the greedy, selfish, stupid creatures that many of us are), seeing, hearing, feeling what is arguably humankind’s greatest artistic expression (I’m talking about Music, not David Yow’s bodily fluids), well it makes me feel good to be alive. These are ten instances where that feeling came on particularly strong – if you were there, you know what I mean…

The Jesus Lizard, Dälek, Grails, Magnolia Electric Co, Sonic Youth

l-r: (top) David W Sims of The Jesus Lizard, Dälek (middle) Grails
Magnolia Electric Co (bottom) Sonic Youth

Dälek @ Sonic City festival, De Kreun, Kortrijk, Belgium (04 April 2009)
Over an early-April weekend, Dälek curated their own ATP-like mini festival in the Belgian city of Kortrijk, bringing together friends & heroes like 2nd Gen, Earth, Zu and Charles Hayward – but it was the curators themselves (assisted by buddies Oddateee and Destructo Swarmbots) that stole the show with their industrial-strength beats & dense rhymes smothered in an avalanche of noise.

Grails @ ATP: The Fans Strike Back festival, Butlins Minehead, UK (10 May 2009)
Highlight (one of many) of an ATP that delivered so much. Extra percussionist Dave Abramson allowed Emil Amos to switch between guitar and drums, and Sunn O))) soundman Randall Dunn manned the analogue synths, creating the sample-filled dronescapes that linked the songs into a single thrilling journey through exotic otherlands.

The Jesus Lizard @ ATP: The Fans Strike Back festival, Butlins Minehead, UK (10 May 2009)
The night before, the Lizard’s first show in some ten years, was something special for its sense of occasion and because the band delivered on all expectations. But this show seemed that bit better, like they rocked a little harder, a little tighter, a little shinier. But maybe only because I was able to properly focus on rawk-ing along, instead of standing transfixed like a mouth-breathing happy bunny caught fluff-fluffing in the headlights thinking “oh my god! It’s the Jesus Lizard!!!” …

Magnolia Electric Co. @ Primavera Sound festival, Barcelona, Spain (29 May 2009)
Good times in the sweltering Spanish sunshine. The ever-affable Jason Molina and his Magnolia cohorts ‘classic country rock’-ed their way through much of “Josephine“, and although you’ll never hear Molina revisit Songs: Ohia material, at least they delved into the recent past for nuggets like “Leave The City”, “Hard To Love A Man” & “The Dark Don’t Hide It” – and were demanded back by the baying crowd for an encore of “Hammer Down”.

Sonic Youth @ Primavera Sound festival, Barcelona, Spain (30 May 2009)
Wow! With Pavement bassist Mark Ibold in the line-up, Kim Gordon (one hot [gran]mama in ripped stockings) could switch between adding extra guitar attack-ack-ack or double bass thump to the Yoof’s swirling noiserock. The whole show thundered by as though a blissed-out daydream, the crowd seemingly surfing on an euphoric wave of energy. Songs from “The Eternal”  made up the majority of the set, but it was oldies like “‘Cross The Breeze”, “Tom Violence” and closer “Expressway To Yr Skull” that had my grin at its widest.

Neurosis @ Patronaat, Haarlem, the Netherlands (08 July 2009)
Launching with “At The End Of The Road”, Neurosis quickly constructed a towering wall of sound, but the intricate interplay of the instruments was never lost in the din. The set is “Given To The Rising”-HEAVY (prompting a positive re-evaluation of an album that sorta passed me by), the atmosphere dark and oppressive – not least because the band have it written into their agreement with the venue that all airco is turned off during their set, making for a sweaty & claustrophobic experience.

Oneida @ Paradiso, Amsterdam, the Netherlands (14 August 2009)
The Little “O” seemed to be having a particularly good time (pleased too that the Big “O” was playing the main hall downstairs at the same time), the positive energy emanating from the stage proving infectious. Oneida sure know how to work a rifftastic groove, and man can that Kid Millions play the drums.

Micah P Hinson @ Toutpartout 15 Years Birthday Night, Botanique, Brussels, Belgium (28 November 2009)
Micah P‘s self-confessional and intimate songs were perfectly suited to the amazing Rotunda room in the Botanique (situated in the botanical gardens of Brussels), surely one of the best live music venues around. He played plenty off covers album “All Dressed Up And Smelling Of Strangers“, paying tribute to his musical heroes & influences, including “coked-up airplane pilot” John Denver with a goosebump-inducing rendition of “This Old Guitar”.

Six Organs Of Admittance @ 10 Years of ATP festival, Butlins Minehead, UK (11 December 2009)
The joke round these parts goes: although I’m an appreciator of the axe-wielding babe-ness of Elisa Ambrogio, I’d much rather shack up with her beau Ben Chasny. Well there was no Elisa this time, but aided by Alex Nielsen’s expressive drumming and the baritone guitar of Andrew Mitchell, Chasny delivered the highlight of the festival – well, at least until Shellac came, saw & conquered two days later.

Shellac @ 10 Years of ATP festival, Butlins Minehead, UK (13 December 2009)
About as perfect as a rock show can be. They’ve got the tunes, they play together as though they’ve discovered the ability to mind-meld, shit there’s even choreography (Albini’s impression of a slowed-down-then-sped-up-tape is spot on). And inbetween the ‘minimalist hard rock’ songs that make you wanna bang your head, they are just fuckin’ funny – Shellac stage-banter is second only to that of Warren Ellis in laugh-out-loud comedy gold.

Todd Trainer: “Do I look like I can fuck??!!”
Albini: “He’s being modest – he’s a genetically-engineered machine designed to only fuck and play drums. He’s the result of a gene-splicing experiment conducted on Gene Krupa and one of those earth-moving machines…”

Neurosis, Micah P Hinson, Oneida, Shellac, Six Organs Of Admittance

l-r: (top) Neurosis (middle) Micah P Hinson, Oneida
(bottom) Shellac, Six Organs Of Admittance

Of course, this list omits many other memorable experiences. Sheeee-it, I saw The Jesus Lizard in three different countries, the always-awesome Shellac the same. There was Sunn O)))’s Atilla Csihar creating an incredible piece of performance art with his cloak of mirrors, lasered-claws and mesmerising mix of hellish growls, throat singing & Gregorian-style chanting. Sleep (temporarily) reunited! Nick Cave playing stripped-down versions of Bad Seeds songs (backed only by Warren Ellis & Martyn P Casey), interspersed with readings from his latest novel. Two fantastic ATPs with a Primavera in balmy Barcelona sandwiched inbetween. Anti-Pop Consortium transposed from Nieuw Haarlem to the Old. And many more great nights out in the various ‘poppodia’ in an around Amsterdam. Huge gratitude to all those that made these happen.



I’m by no means an experienced festival-goer. Despite having soiled with saliva the Reading & Glastonbury ad pages of my late 80s Melody Makers & NMEs, by the time I was in close enough proximity to attend one of those ‘holy grail’ festivals the line-ups didn’t hold enough interest to warrant spending three days in an increasing state of mud bespatterment. For me it has to be first & foremost about the music, maannn – I view as alien those who attend these events just for the ‘vibe’, wandering around dazed & confused, missing all the performances in lieu of some altered state of camaraderie. So when the deserving-of-huge-reward-in-the-afterlife Barry Hogan and Helen Cottage launched the inaugural All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in 2000, it was a dream come true – one of my favourite bands (Mogwai) choosing all of their favourite bands (amongst whom Shellac, Papa M, Wire, Sonic Youth, The For Carnation, Bardo Pond) to play in a seaside holiday camp where the punters had a proper roof over their heads, a plumbed-in toilet and self-catering facilities. That April weekend was one of the best of my life thus far, and subsequent ATP experiences (Shellac 2002, The Director’s Cut 2004, Slint 2005, Dirty Three 2007) similarly served up never-to-be-forgotten idyll on the English coast.

That the fine folks of ATP have over the years achieved the seemingly impossible by tempting out of retirement Slint, Television, My Bloody Valentine and now the Jesus Lizard, only adds to their legend, and to my mind you can’t have much better endorsement than that of the notoriously promoter-skeptical & festival-avoiding Steve Albini, who said “There are three things in the world that I endorse: Abbey Road Studios, Nutter Butter Sandwich Cookies and All Tomorrow’s Parties” (a somewhat healthier endorsement than that which appeared in the liner notes of Big Black’s “Songs About Fucking“: “Steve uses and endorses heroin”). Albini’s band Shellac are such regular ATP’ers that they’re now officially the “ATP house band”.


ATP flashback 01

from top, l-r: Mogwai (2005), Shellac (2004), Matmos (2005), Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (2002), carousel horses (2007), Joanna Newsom (2007), Envy (2004)


On the return journeys after those wonderful weekends there have always been daydream conversations about “if you were curating ATP…”.

In 2007 the organizers gave form to those daydreams, introducing the concept of “ATP vs the Fans“, where the ATP folk chose half the line-up and ticket holders collectively got to select the rest (via a voting system). That concept has been resurrected for one of the May weekends in 2009, this time with the stipulation that votes can only be cast for bands that have not previously played an ATP festival in the UK. After purchasing tickets, attendees each get to submit a wishlist of 10 acts – these votes are tallied into a master list and every two weeks the top 2 names on that list are approached to play the festival (should the top 2 prove unavailable then the next 2 are approached). Of course it is unreasonable to expect people to splash the cash without some initial enticement, and the organisers more than held up their end by announcing a (to me) mindblowing first few names for their portion of the bill: the reformation of the Jesus Lizard!!! the reformation of Sleep!!! Anti-Pop Consortium!!! Grails!!!

On the basis of those four alone this became a must-attend event for me, and tickets have duly been procured and votes cast. Excluding bands that have previously played these awesome festivals was a tough assignment, as so many of my favourites have already appeared, but in the end the difficulty was reducing the list down to just ten.


ATP flashback 02

from top, l-r: Ganger (2000), Slint (2005), Camber Sands (2002), Múm (2005), Zeni Geva (2002), Dirty Three (2007), Camber Sands (2005), Boredoms (2004), Low (2002)


So now the wait in hope that I’m not too far out of step with the other attendees, and that at least some of my choices end up playing.  So far no good, with only two of those choices – Future Of The Left and Jesu – scoring high enough to be proffered an invite (which FotL have duly accepted, still waiting on Mr JK Flesh). Of the current list of 100,  only a handful of my choices are languishing in the lower reaches of the chart, so it seems I’ll have to rely on a ‘wildcard pick’ to see any more of my wishlist tread the Butlins boards in early May, but there is still plenty of time to go so I remain hopeful. None-the-less, with recent confirmations from Electric Wizard, Alan Sparhawk’s Retribution Gospel Choir and Qui, offers out to Neurosis, Killing Joke, Wolves In The Throneroom, Harvey Milk and Casiotone For The Painfully Alone, and faith in the further choices of the ATP curators, the line-up for “ATP: The Fans Strike Back” promises to be an awesome one and I’m already gleefully rubbing body parts in anticipation of my May trip to the wilds of Minehead!


On the Mixtapes page you’ll find a companion-compilation to the 2007 ATP which was curated by Dirty Three.

 

My votes went to :
Alasdair Roberts
Boduf Songs
Epic45
Future Of The Left
Jesu
Killdozer
Nadja
Scout Niblett
These New Puritans
The Young Gods

The votes of my unmarried female companion :
Aesop Rock
Alasdair Roberts
Boduf Songs
Epic45
Jesu
Killdozer
Nadja
Scout Niblett
Tunng
Whip / Timesbold

The weather has increasingly perked up over the weekend and Sunday qualifies as glorious, so its a shame to be indoors all day with the beach so close by, but hey its ATP with a day’s lineup of Papa M, Dirty Three, A Silver Mt. Zion, Cat Power, Bill Callahan (Smog), Joanna Newsom and Tren Brothers, so sorry sun, sorry beach: no contest.

It’s unusual that David Pajo is performing under his Papa M moniker – given that his previous two albums have been credited to Pajo, does this mean that he’ll be bringing a band with him, playing older material? As it turns out, it is just Pajo with his guitar, harmonica and what can only be described as “foot-bells”, and he draws mostly from those aforementioned two albums. Although the sun is blazing outside, its near dark inside the venue, with Pajo himself clad in black, creating a suitably gloomy atmosphere for Papa M’s dark fingerpicked folk. I really enjoy seeing songs performed in an ‘acoustic’ setting – shorn of all other instrumentation it allows one a glimpse into the song itself, rather than the performance of the song, and can be key to appreciating just how good a particular songwriter is. The recorded versions of many of the songs that Pajo performs today were apparently created using the bundled software on his laptop – resulting in a digital-low-fi production, with cheesy drum sounds and ‘clipart’-standard samples detracting from the quality of the underlying songs. In this setting however, songs like “High Lonesome Moan” and “Manson Twins” have a dark, gleaming folk beauty to them, and the crowd really laps it up – Pajo brushing off the applause with “are you guys still drunk from last night?” The eerie, gothic feel to proceedings is sustained with Pajo’s version of the traditional “Mary Of The Wild Moor”, which he introduces by saying its one of his favourites because it’s one of the few where every character in the song dies…
Papa M’s performance is understated and low-key, but it turns out to be one of my favourite of the festival – and has successfully caused me to positively reappraise both the “Pajo” and “1968” albums which I’d previously thought didn’t stack up against his earlier output.

Papa M - ATP 29-04-2007

“This is a song about dividing up the goods that you’ve collected over the period of a relationship and you realise that you actually don’t care for a whole lot of it, and the problem is that at the end of it nobody wants the indie rock collection, so you’re just like kind of working out what to do with, and they don’t really melt down into ashtrays or anythin’ like they used to, and you realise you’re probably better off sitting in a room and getting cancer by burning ‘em…”
Dirty Three’s Warren Ellis is an inspired performer, from the comic genius of his song introductions to the spittin’, hollerin’, high-kickin’ physicality of his violin-playing. Eyes clenched shut, back often turned to the audience, he’s lost in the music, while the laconic Mick Turner and Jim White (introduced by Ellis as “The Boy Wonder!”) keep everything relatively grounded. Today Ellis is on particularly good form, clearly loving being here, having a good time amongst close friends (and devoted fans), and this relaxed bonhomie is evident in the Dirty Three’s playing as they really pull it out of the bag for what is the most exhilarating performance of the weekend. They open with “Hope” and storm through a set that includes crowd favourites “Sea Above, Sky Below”, “Everything’s Fucked” (“you think you’re Buddy Holly and she’s Mary Tyler Moore… then you kind of look in the window of the shop… and you realize that you are actually Burt Reynolds and she’s Sally Fields… and you have a toupee… and she’s not The Flying Nun anymore”), and “Alice Wading” (for which they’re joined on bass by Joel Silbersher). For the closing “Indian Love Song” they are joined by Giorgos Xylouris (Psarantonis) on lute, and it’s an incendiary performance of a song that builds and builds towards a volcanic eruption, a fitting end to this explosive show.

Dirty Three - ATP 29-04-2007

We miss A Silver Mt Zion with the lure of a couple of beers in the sunshine too strong to resist, but then head back to the Pavilion Stage for Cat Power & Dirty Delta Blues. The three previous Cat Power performances I’ve seen have been a shambles – paralysed by stage fright and/or intoxicated, Chan Marshall has bumbled her way through the set, hiding behind her fringe, stopping & starting songs but rarely finishing them, her wonderful voice only once or twice given free rein. On the back of the relative mainstream success of “The Greatest” and the live safety net her Memphis Rhythm Band provided, she had reportedly all but overcome the debilitating stage fright that had blighted her earlier performances, so it was with much anticipation that I greeted this performance – I was finally going to see Cat Power get through whole songs, and hear that voice soar free of the constraints of her shyness! Backed by her Dirty Delta Blues band (featuring Dirty Three drummer Jim White alongside members of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Delta 72, and Lizard Music), she was indeed transformed from the last time I’d seen her – with hair tied back (no fringe to hide behind) she strutted around the stage, her nervousness only given away by repeated attempts to stick her hand into the pocket of her pocketless jeans. So far so good… only there was no ‘oomph’, no emotion, no passion, just… dull. Dirty Delta Blues sounded no better than a hastily-thrown-together pub blues band and Marshall’s voice stayed decidedly earthbound – she just sort of ‘crooned’ and, as has been remarked on the “how bad was Cat Power @ ATP?!” forum threads out there, it may as well have been Joss Stone on stage.

With one-time-lover Chan Marshall having just played downstairs, and finding himself sandwiched between sets by his current squeeze Joanna Newsom, we can’t help but be reminded that Bill Callahan (the Artist Formerly Known As Smog) is something of an alt.cassanova. So his decidedly Christian-at-a-BBQ look of tight white jeans and tucked-in blue button-up shirt is a bit of a surprise. But that of course is beside the point – I’m here for the music, not for tips on dressing to impress shrill-voiced harp-pixies. Callahan, ably supported by a full band, draws most of his material from new album “Woke On A Whaleheart”, but there is also room for the old-skool “Cold Blooded Old Times” and “Say Valley Maker” & “Rock Bottom Riser” from recent “A River Ain’t Too Much To Love”. “Rock Bottom Riser” is the highlight for me, melancholic yet uplifting, Callahan’s baritone like a smooth, mellow bourbon. Unfortunately the schedule has been slipping throughout the day, and Bill suffers the ignominy of having his set cut short in order to let his paramour Joanna Newsom start on time. His devoted audience are not happy but he takes it all in his stride.

Bill Callahan - ATP 29-04-2007

This is the second Joanna Newsom performance of the day – her first caused the only queue I saw the whole weekend. Together the converts and those just interested in seeing what all the fuss was about numbered too many for the 2,000-capacity Centre Stage, but so keen were people to see her that they queued up for the entire length of her performance in some vain hope that they’d make it into the venue. Fortunately Centre Stage is not quite full for this performance, it clashing with Nick Cave & Grinderman’s second of the festival. Joanna is accompanied by Ys Street Band members Ryan Francesconi (tambura, guitar) & Neal Morgan (drum, vocals) and a violinist friend, and this band ably fleshes out the sparser “Milk-Eyed Mender” material (“Book Of Right On”, “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie”, “This Side Of The Blue”) whilst suitably distilling the (to my mind overblown) orchestration of the “Ys” album. This is the first time I hear new song “Colleen” and it’s captivating – An Appalachian Hillbilly in King Arthur’s Court. There unfortunately seems to be a problem with the miking of the harp (insufficient gain before it starts feeding back), meaning that the set is played at comparatively low volume and is therefore adversely affected by a chattering crowd and the thud of Mum Smokes coming from the nearby Reds Stage, but Joanna comes away having won a few more converts (even one of the security guys I spoke to afterwards was pretty entranced, and not only because she is “pervable”…)

Joanna Newsom - ATP 29-04-2007

So to the last performance of the weekend – you know the end is coming but you wish it would stay away forever… so I’m thankful to the Tren Brothers for managing to temporarily stop time with their hypnotic soundscapes. Jim White’s languid, shuffling percussion provides the perfect canvas for Mick Turner’s painterly guitar washes, and without Warren Ellis’s violin to provide rhythm and focus, the Dirty Two’s compositions are more expansive, like broad outback landscapes, Turner’s swirls of guitar loops, melodica and harmonica akin to the heat shimmer distorting the horizon. Although there are definitely songs, they ebb and fall as a cohesive whole, so its pretty amusing when Jim “The Boy Wonder” White starts another song only for Turner to stop him with a “we’ve played that one already” – the audience wouldn’t have known any different (but I don’t mean that in a derogatory way).

Tren Brothers - ATP 29-04-2007

So thanks again to ATP and Dirty Three for what I can categorically describe as one of the best weekends of my life!
Only let-down: Cat Power (and this is churlish, but I feel slightly disappointed that there weren’t any superstar onstage hook-ups: Dirty Three didn’t join Low for an In The Fishtank-style rendition of “Lordy”, Cat Power didn’t come on to sing “Great Waves” during the Dirty Three’s set, Blixa Bargeld didn’t haul out a guitar to accompany Nick Cave’s ‘solo’ performance, Bill Callahan didn’t provide backing to Joanna Newsom or vice versa… greedy fuck that I am).



For a selection of photos from ATP D3, go here


This version of Joanna Newsom “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie” performed on “Later… with Jools Holland” (BBC2, Fri 11 May 2007) nicely captures how this song sounded at ATP. Joanna is accompanied by Ys Street Band members Ryan Francesconi on guitar and Neal Morgan on backing vocals.

Joanna Newsom – Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie (live on Later)



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