Field Trip #4: ATP Part One

For those who’ve never been to ATP, last Wednesday’s playlist will have provided a perfect overview to what it means to All Tomorrow’s Parties die-hards and us alike. The joy of the first day at the festival is its accelerated nature. You land, pick up the wristbands, lovingly produced programme, TV guide and room cards, grab a quick bite to eat and you’re right into the bands.

And so it was on Friday; after the now ritualised pizza-hut stop, we caught the very back end of Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise. Comprising more than a dozen different musicians, including Julian Koster, this is reportedly a band for which no two performances are alike. As we caught the closing minutes of their act, they were vacating the stage, not for the comfort of the artists lounge (if such a thing exists at Butlins Minehead), but to mingle with the crowd – tuba included. We couldn’t help think we’d missed something unique.

Of the different venues available to us, it’s fair to say we set our stall out from the get-go; our only destination would be Centre Stage, for the ageing hipster’s wet dream of a line-up, including festival curator Jeff Mangum, of Neutral Milk Hotel, with the improbably good programming of Joanna Newsom, The Fall and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion to follow.

First we had a wild-card in Charlemagne Palestine. We’ll hold our hands up, we didn’t know a thing about him. Decked out in a kind of beat get up and ‘accompanied’ by a raft of stuffed toys he believes are “sacred divinities of childhood”; idiosyncratic doesn’t quite cover it. His performance was something of a revelation – this isn’t a good thing. Over an hour, Palestine played two ‘songs’. This involved an RSI inducing dedication to just a few notes on keyboard. He describes his style as ‘maximalist’ (getting the most out of any series of elements and situations), and his set was met with good reaction, but more than one of our group described it as the worst gig they’d ever seen. We couldn’t disagree.

That was okay though, because we knew that up next was Jeff Mangum, generally the reason we all bought our tickets in the first place. Mangum, out of the spotlight for the best part of 15 years, has recently started playing again, and is the person behind the inspired curation of this weekend’s festival. He didn’t disappoint, rolling out a winningly recognisable set with aplomb, joined on stage by various members of the Elephant 6 Collective. The small irony, for us, given he was the reason for our being here, it was with this accompaniment that Mangum’s songs really shone; Koster playing the saw amongst the highlights of a set strewn with them.

Then a trio of Joanna Newsom (who played again on Saturday), The Fall and Thurston Moore (one of his first shows since the word broke about his split from wife, and fellow Sonic Youth figure-head, Kim Gordon) each played up to the standard laid down by Mangum. Unsurprising from Newson and Moore maybe, but we all know The Fall can go either way, or anywhere else along that spectrum. Performance of the night though, by some distance, came from The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Machine-gunning out their own brand of the great American song-book for the last 20 years, it’s some wonder they have all the energy, enthusiasm and raw power still at their disposal. But have it they do, and by the bucket-load, keeping us rapt and playing on well after two o’clock in the morning. Judah Bauer, Russell Simins, Jon Spencer; you absolutely OWNED ATP!

Posted on 11/03/2012 by thedoublenegative