Playlist #8: Nice Surprises

Let Marc Hall lead the way with a roller-coaster ride of revelations…

Two weeks have now passed since The Double Negative road trip to ATP, in which we’ve had time to digest the sonic wonders that bathed and pummeled our ears over the weekend. In my last playlist, I talked about the excitement of the Friday night, fully loaded with top class bands. It didn’t disappoint, each and every act was fantastic. You could predict that Jeff Mangum would be a special moment, as too Thurston Moore, but we were also treated to an on-form Mark E Smith with The Fall. Add to that the sheer delight, and no little surprise, as the John Spencer Blues Explosion literally blew the roof off. But, it wasn’t the Friday which resonated most, it was the two sets by Japan’s Boredoms.

I’d heard for years how special a Boredoms show was, though their recorded output never sat right with me, and I didn’t go expecting much. I was aware their show was to be a new composition, and the vibe coming from ATP themselves was ‘you must see these shows’.  Thankfully, I heeded this advice and took my place on Saturday afternoon, in slight need of the hair of the dog, ready for my Boredoms experience. 90 minutes later I understood why Boredoms are classed as one of the greatest live experiences in the world. Combining showmanship, experimentalism and downright bloody good stomping sounds via a multitude of guitars, 5 drummers and a charismatic frontman. Amazing.

This got me thinking of other bands I’ve seen over the years that surpassed expectations. It’s fair to say with many gigs, you’re there for a reason so it shouldn’t be a surprise when you’re knocked out by a great performance (unless you have a special support band). Most of my surprise sets come from festivals.

I’m a self-confessed festival addict, losing count of how many I’ve attended over the years. My training wheels come from the likes of Reading and Glastonbury back in the 90s. It was at these events when I might have known the buzz band of the day, usually found packing out a small tent in a late afternoon slot before never being heard of again. Then night time comes and you set yourself down to see what this old band are about. Twice in 1995 I was given a musical lesson by a headlining act, The Cure at Glastonbury and Neil Young at Reading. Young was riding a new wave of success based on being heralded as the Godfather of grunge.

“It’s not always the bands you don’t know that provide the surprises”

Expecting to see a doddering old guy without much to offer, I took my place at the back near an impromptu camp fire with my trusted festival blanket. Lying there, watching the stars, with Neil Young playing in the background is one of my favourite memories of all time, and what an introduction to a legend. I’ve been lucky enough to see him on several occasions since. The last time he played two sets, one acoustic, one electric. I entered expecting the acoustic set to be the one to remember…wrong. Another nice surprise.

Occasionally you’ll be lucky enough to catch a performance by a band on the way up. I remember catching The Flaming Lips in an early afternoon slot at one festival (sadly missed Phoenix Festival, I forget the year). At the time I knew little of them. It was years before their breakthrough, and in the days before the live shows consisted of space vulvas, bubble walks and dancing animals. Never the less, the experience was one to remember, and I recall leaving that festival thinking they were the strongest band of the weekend. In similar circumstances, I can’t forget the time I accidentally watched the close of a Polyphonic Spree set. Walking between tents at Leeds one year, and catching site of these cult-like figures singing David Bowie’s Life on Mars, dragged me into the tent for the rest of the set.  Years later, I discovered that head honcho Tim DeLaughter was the singer from a band called Tripping Daisy, who put on one of greatest live sets I’d seen in the old Lomax.

It’s not always the bands that you don’t know that provide the surprises, sometimes you’ll see a performance that will change your perception of the band, or drag you back into their world after previously writing them off. I remember being delighted with The Moldy Peaches, the year they opened the Main Stage at Leeds. This was a few years after they had been on the receiving end of praise from every hipster going. Putting them on first was almost setting them up as a joke (like Leeds/Reading have done over the years – Daphne and Celeste/Kevin Rowland). They are a band who never took themselves too seriously, so you couldn’t not love the set they performed. Similarly the year that Andrew WK played. I’ll admit, this time it was me who had written him off, as the thousands of people waiting for his show seemed to have the excitement level of a toddler drinking coke. I stood there at the back, arms crossed, ready for a self-satisfactory snort of derision. Approximately 5 minutes later I was singing Party Hard at the top of my voice in the quickest turn around ever.

On to Pulp. How can I put Pulp on a playlist about surprise performances?  Pulp, specifically Jarvis, are noted for their great live shows, with their big breakthrough coming from the late replacement (of The Stone Roses) as Glastonbury headliners in 1995. I was there, it was a great gig, deserving every inch of praise and respect it brought to the band. The Pulp show I’m talking about was at Leeds 2002 (a good vintage, it was the same year as those Moldy Peaches and Andrew WK shows). Seven years after the Glastonbury triumph, Pulp had fallen from headline band, and was now second on the bill behind the latest wunderkinds, The Strokes. It had been a packed day, with heavyweights such as The White Stripes and Weezer before them; Pulp played their hearts out, and 80,000 people sang along with the Common People. You had to feel sorry for Casablancas and co.

I also feel I need to explain why I’ve chosen Spaceman 3 for my playlist.  I’ve never actually seen Spaceman 3. They’d split way before my gig going days started, but I did catch a band called Spectrum recently. I didn’t know who they were, and was just filling time between other bands. After being blown away by a sublime set, I did a bit of wiki-research and found out it was the band of Peter Kember, ½ of Spacman 3. If only you could accidentally see members of legendary bands at every festival.

Marc Hall

Posted on 26/03/2012 by thedoublenegative