ATP have the rare knack of putting on fantastic indie/alternative rock festivals on at the most interesting and quirky of locations this time curated by Portishead and held at the glorious Alexandra Palace in North London. ‘Ally Pally’ as it’s known – is no different. Two fantastic adjacent halls and some quaint gardens to enjoy another rare thing, a beautiful English summer day.
This was the second day of the two-day festival. The Saturday featured performances by Portishead and the magnificent PJ Harvey but offered little else in terms of crowd pulling power. However, the Sunday offered Godspeed You Black Emperor, Swans, Grinderman, The Telescopes and of course, Portishead again. While some of these bands may not be household names, it is suggestive of musicians who have played for many years and won a loyal or cult following.
First up were Godspeed! You Black Emperor (GYBE) a post-rock Canadian 6-piece ensemble whose music is a mixture of classical, rock and jazz. Their music is haunting, bleak and at times heartbreakingly beautiful. Their two-hour set spanned their 5 albums with warmer reception being reserved for earlier work like ‘East Hastings‘ and ‘Providence’ from #F #A Infinity and ‘Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennae Towards Heaven’ from the album of the same name. Much of the soundscapes and images that the group make (in their accompanying film) show a harsh, apocalyptic world of suffering, torment and love.
Post-rock as a genre conjures up images of serious boys who file their extensive vinyl collection by genre, sub-genre and then alphabetise them. Boys, for who dancing, means moving nothing below the neck. But GYBE are playful and anarchic in their choice of song-titles and their samples often evoke humour as well as impending calamity.
LIARS were next on the bill and they played a storming 45-minute set sounding more like The Stooges than the sound mash-ups from their earlier material, playing a very melodic, stripped set with ‘It Fit When I Was a Kid’, ‘Plaster Casts of Everything’ and ‘Loose Nuts on the Velodrome’.
And so to Grinderman. Although not top billing, the anticipation for Nick Cave and could not have been more keenly felt. There is no doubt Cave’s undeniable talent, a monster of creative energy – his career spans film scripts, spoken word tours, two novels and a seminal discography with his first band The Birthday Party, not to mention the acclaim and high regard his work with The Bad Seeds has produced.
On the day after Amy Winehouse‘s untimely death, here was a true rock and roll legend who had fought his own demons and drug addiction to continue at the zenith of his powers as an entertainer. That a man who allegedly once turned his own apartment into a shooting gallery from where he dealt drugs, it’s hard to imagine someone could produce art of such slick, monstrous beauty – not to mention such impecable personal grooming.
Grinderman didn’t disappoint, that’s for sure. Nick Cave worked and menaced the stage, constantly tempting the audience forward and into his frenzy with teasing – moving ever nearer the mosh pit and the sea of grasping hands. Happily obliging at times, Cave entered into the crowd snarling and foaming like a nutter hanging out at a tube station in rush hour, spitting out the venom that accompanies his low-life personas and twisted melancholy.
The majority of the set was made up of tracks from the current ‘Grinderman 2’ album but his public were just as happy to lap up ‘Get It On’ and ‘No Pussy Blues’ from the first album as ‘Worm Tamer‘ and ‘Bellringer Blues’. As a live act, Grinderman manage to give their songs much more garage rawness and brute power than the recorded product sometimes allows. That a 53-year old man (and 3 other members who can’t be much younger) can put on that kind of rock show with the kind of urgency that puts to shame musicians half his age.
Describing musicians whether they are dead or alive as ‘a genius’ shows the kind of clumsiness of language that writers reserve for describing the famous and talented. Very few individuals deserve such a title bestowed upon them, Nick Cave however, showed why he might deserve it more than most for his contribution to modern pop culture.
And so the final band of the night, or at least for those with day jobs (the interesting Caribou played on until the wee small hours) was Portishead, the curators of this year’s ATP. The success of the Bristolian trio gained acclaim in the 90s for their hybrid trip-hop sound on the albums Dummy and Portishead, returning in 2008 with Third, after a 7 year hiatus.
While tunes from the last album were warmly received like ‘Silent’ and ‘The Rip’ the crowd – of the age and demographic to remember their debut, were clearly nostalgic to hear the more famous numbers: ‘Sour Times’, ‘Glory Box’, ‘All Mine’ and ‘Only You’ and ‘Wandering Star’ were delivered with ghostly aplomb – vocalist Beth Gibbons still retains the ability to haunt with her voice and guitarist Adrian Utley could easily sneak into The Cramps with his tremolo-heavy guitarwork.
Portishead in many ways embody the ethos of All Tomorrow’s Parties: bands that despite having their day in the sun, critically at least, still retain a huge fanbase and a unique sound. Many of the bands on the bill for ATP do not really need to evolve in order to please. For those who still maintain an interest, old is the new ‘new’.