Caught Live: ATP Concerts Presents... Nightmare Before Christmas, Day One (Curated by Les Savy Fav) @ Butlins, Minehead
RW's intrepid reporter Michael James Hall headed along recently to the latest installment of All Tomorrow's Parties' Nightmare Before Christmas weekender. The 2011 edition threw up another typically wide-ranging lineup that was co-helmed by three highly-respected acts, each representing a different corner of what might be termed the alternative music landscape: Battles, Caribou and, on the opening night, veteran New Yorkers Les Savy Fav. Check out the first of Michael's daily reports from Minehead below:
From the farthest-from-the-motorway corner of London we emerge - lacking a brake light and an MOT cert. perhaps (well, so the well-trimmed copper says as he hands down a sixty quid penalty), but wide-eyed and primed for a weekend of potential ATP delights nonetheless.
I break from the pack to catch today's curators Les Savy Fav's late afternoon set over at Reds. While my compadres recharge, LSF pierce the twilight with thundering jabs of hardcore - not to mention, of course, the bejewelled torso of professional rabble-rouser Tim Harrington. It's not yet tea time, and already the singer is hitting himself with an alarm clock; he's pouring a kettle of water in your mouth; he's hanging from inside the ceiling. His exuberance is that of both an uncontrollable master of raucous racket and a rotund ADHD kid. And his band's set manages to find just the right niche.
Up at Centre Stage, Marnie Stern is spearheading a frantic three-piece, filth-talking, Minutemen-loving set of alternately cute and ferocious jerk-pop that perks up a disoriented crowd. Man, that band love to talk about vaginas... I mean L.O.V.E.
***Minor festival complaint #1: playing Neutral Milk Hotel over the PA only serves as a crushing reminder of the postponed Mangum weekend. Got that, ATP? Thanks.***
Still at Centre, Surfer Blood are busy being a great '50s guitar pop band. Fusing their American diner sound with plenty of Pixies power and Rivers Cuomoesque vocals from frontman JP Pitts, the Florida four-piece chug through a set that consists mostly of new and much-more-fully-realised material, punctuated with bona fide pop gems like 'Swim' (still a candied treat) from their debut LP. Has Pitts' voice in fact broken since we saw them last?...
The stoner-rock mariachi of The Budos Band, meanwhile, is bringing the party atmosphere to Reds for the first time this weekend. But while the Staten Islanders' Glenn (Danzig) Miller-like live sound may be a compelling one, tonight they serve primarily as an amuse-bouche for the much-loved and madly-anticipated Wild Flag. If you had to try and describe these gals to your gran, you might say they were a cool classic rock band. Between bursts of Stone Roses riffery and KISS-sized anthemism they display a liberal love for all manner of exciting, arms-in-the-air arena rock, while still managing to keep the schmindie kids happy by, y'know, being proper ladies. They shred solos, they rock out, and they rule (nicely).
Bouncing across to catch Oxes back at Reds, your correspondent gets sucker-punched right in the gut as soon as he walks through the door. The Berlin-via-Baltimore trio's glass 'n' bricks hammering of doom is smothering, savage and supremely exciting. Brilliant thugs.
Archers of Loaf then create scenes of pure joy at Centre Stage. It's a simple recipe for a great show: plenty of years away, many the fan that never thought they'd get to see them live, and so many the raised arm and screamed lyric. They succeed in owning the place with shrugs of subtle tunes, tightly-wound overwhelming power-rock, spiteful digs of soaring '90s indie and, of course, The Two Hits. Both of which are immaculate, frothing milkshake blessings tonight. Fucking fantastic.
No Age later burn through bursts of two-man hardcore in brusque fashion, grabbing audience members for Black Flag covers while thoroughly hammering through a swift assault of a set. Next up, the recently-reformed Hot Snakes dish out a few lessons in hard, savage punk - and then some. Their set is both brutal and beautiful, with Speedo's rhythm guitar teasing out the most genuinely gorgeous tunes from the stoniest and bloodiest of places. They explode and continue exploding, relentless and face-close intense for the whole hour. Stunning.
The mighty 'Fav then bring Friday full circle with a Centre Stage headline set that is customarily drenched in silver glitter, balloons, gimp suits and moments of genuine glory. Triumphant, good-hearted and entirely celebratory, Harrington and co. send me to bed with a smile and a slap on the ass.
***Minor festival complaint #2: The Pavilion Stage should have been the obvious choice of venue for Les Savy Fav's closing set of the night. The largest potential performance space on site should not be (mis)used as a sparsely-attended chill out area - after all, The Pavilion is what gives ATP its sense of occasion for many festival-goers. Please don't forget that next time!***
Les Savy Fav photo courtesy of Jason Wood