Imagine living in a room at the top of your local pub, which is the bearer of live music every night; it's the closest equivalent to what an All Tomorrow's Parties weekend provides; music literally on your doorstep. Logistically a musical haven for the connoisseur of fine sounds.
Texan post-rock quartet Explosions In The Sky have the honour in curating the event that takes the sleepy English town of Minehead by storm twice a year. If not for their live performance over the weekend, then Explosions are to be commended on the choice of contemporaries they've hand picked to join them over the three day event, with quality control at its finest, spanning over three stages.
Guleph, Ontario's Constantines kick of the weekend with their abrasive bone grinding form of working class art-punk, with front man Bryan Webb ripping the lyrics of 'Draw Us Lines' and 'Young Lions' out of his stomach as though his life hinges on it. The set may just go down as one of the main highlights over the weekend. If ever there was a side note then Webb's continuous hacking of hair from his head with a pair of scissors may just go down as one of the more bizarre shticks from a rock 'n' roll front man.
Mono were also at the top of their game, with a beautiful cinematic light show that encapsulates their menacing build-ups of classic post-rock, just in time for Dinosaur Jr. to grab the mantle and keeping running, despite the trio of Marshall amplifiers bearing over J Mascis that almost make him look like the forgotten man. Still, the soaring sounds of 'Out There' and 'Tarpit' keep up the breakneck speed this festival has started at.
With Explosions headlining the event, they themselves would've gladly passed up on the option to play the Skyline Pavilion stage, with its attraction to the masses and potential other main stage demons a recipe for disaster for any post-rock band, and although the latter wasn't quite met, it wasn't too far off, either. The biggest event of their lives probably wasn't the most memorable in terms of stage performance, that seemed insipid and lackluster despite the back end of the set featuring post-rock's new king that is 'Your Hand In Mine' and an epic rendition of 'Memorial'.
Friday night was closed in the company of solo artist Matthew Houk otherwise known as Phosphorescent, who provides a solo disjointed southern deriving folk tune with adequate improvisation. Although a little too haphazard at times, the heartfelt rendition of 'Wolves' manages to cap off a blistering first day.
The sounds of Saul Williams are that of intrigue. Despite Trent Reznor's apparent dismissal amongst some, the Nine Inch Nails' main man has hit jackpot in knocking heads together with Williams' for his latest album, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Stardust, with industrious beats proving an evocative force under Williams' dexterity of unleashing various statements in poetic fashion. Highlights include the melodic free for all of 'Tr(n)igger' and the brooding sounds of 'Break'.
Ghostface Killah or Okkervil River. Yes, I know what many would've said, but as it happens the latter prevailed in front of my eyes and so did hindsight according to mutterings of Ghostface's performance, which by all reports was deemed “lazy”. Okkervil' have what it takes live. Will Sheff fails to disappoint, with his prominent vocal leading the front of his band's rich Gothic sound that weaves in and out of a rocking alt-country sensibility. The rendition of 'Westfall' the band provide ranks amongst one of the festival's highlights, while favourites 'For Real' and 'Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe' seem to have more pace and intensity live as apposed to on disc.
If there were points for highlights than ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead win hands down. Their arrival at ATP is definitely made known with old favourites 'Relative Ways' and the lyrical head fucking twists of 'Totally Natural' (on top of several new tracks), but it's 'Caterwaul' that steals the headlines for not only the set, but the weekend. With Jason Reece sprawling from the stage to the front row of the crowd like the psychopath he truly is, Conrad Keely pounds at his guitar, extruding fist pumping chords, while his vocal - in tandem with Reece's - becomes the deliverance of rock 'n' roll genius. This, my friends, is cathartic indie rock n' roll at the top of its game.
Despite the heart rate boarding on abnormal and jaw inches from scraping the ground, things seem well enough to carry on and watch The National ooze their uber-cool aura. Front man Matt Berninger ambles around on stage like a half opened pocket knife in between his charismatic rasps during 'Apartment Story', 'All The Wine' and epic closer 'Mr. November', while his respective band mates follow, carrying out their respective tasks in water tight fashion.
While down time was had by many, Reds was once again the destination for fresh talent and Texas quintet The Western Keys took to the stage with their watered down alt-country ditties, which seems a nice substitute for Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. San Francisco's Lazarus spiked a similar vein in terms of wearing influences on sleeves, with brainchild Trevor Montgomery delivering his slurred poetic bravado in near sleepy fashion Ala Nick Cave circa 1990. Accompanied by haunting keyboards and eerie guitar, the pleasant surprise of the weekend may just have been found.
Unlike the hectic start of the first two days, Jens Lekman provides stability, with his lax Scandinavian mentality doubtlessly rearing its head through his music. 'Black Cab' is pop music brimming at its elegant best, while 'Post Card To Nina' is accompanied by the humorous story about how the track itself was conceived.
Polvo are seemingly back and so are their brain numbing sounds that fall somewhere in between, Slint, Sonic Youth on drugs and and the Indian Ocean. With a hefty back catalogue at their disposal, they make good use of it with their first show in almost ten years. Unlike Bradford Cox's Atlas Sound, who can't stop working, with more music than you could poke a stick at. His set consists of rolling experimental waves of crescendo and although delivered to a thin crowd, they had the pleasure of enduring the bass infused 'Quarantined' and moody cut of 'Cold As Ice' off his Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel LP.
The obscurity of glib noise doesn't end there, with Animal Collective greeting the crowd with mind bending renditions of 'Peachbone' and 'Fireworks' while the new material Panda Bear, Avey Tare and Geologist share upon ATP continues the propulsive attitude the band have always applied to their art.
What the Broken Social Scene know how to do is please a crowd and it's hardly surprising that they continue to succeed, despite taking to the stage after De La Soul have the crowd in a frenzy with their vintage fashion of hip-hop.
If The National's Matt Berninger is the coolest front man on the bill than BBS's Kevin Drew is a close second, with in-between song banter one of the many highlights along with the tempo building 'KC Accidental' and “love song” extravaganza 'Superconnected'. The pinnacle of the set was the introduction of members from the Constantines, Explosions In The Sky and one J Mascis knocking out riffs during 'Back Out of the...' with the feel good factor shattering the mercury.
The Drift put their hat into the ring in the discovery for new music, with their jazz infused post-rock delivered with some of the finest virtuoso on display over the weekend. Each member conducts a pivotal role in delivering a sound that will be a far cry from a discovery in the not too distant future. 'If Wishes Were Like Horses' the main standout from the band's Memory Drawings album.
When iTunes lists an album's genre as “unclassifiable” then the band that would fit the bill is Battles. Arguably the band of the weekend (hence why they played two sets) their striving form of innovative music meets the expectations of many, with their seamless brand of sounds so incongruously fucked up that you just have to dance to it.
Rock stalwart, Jonathan Stanier, holds all the cards to this trick with his perpetuating pounding of the snare drum, while his band cohorts follow in this obscure stricken awe-inspiring experience that one must witness. The incredible beats of 'TIJ' are surpassed by 'Atlas' which is the perfect tune to walk away from to end the weekend.
Explosions state in the official ATP program that this is greatest music festival on earth. “Nothing comes close.” Well, having now been there, done that and bought the proverbial t-shirt (or in my case, four), there's nothing I'd agree with more. They also make a point of wishing these times rank amongst the finest memories one should encounter. That, too, is an objective well and truly met.
By Simon K
Photos from the event can be viewed on our facebook group page at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=12957351817.