So, this weekend I’ve been testing the limits of human endurance. Bear Grylls, he’s a boy scout compared to me. Mount Kilimanjaro? That’s for pussies – my arena of sonic stoicism was Butlins in Minehead, Somerset, for the second weekend of the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, having already pretty much destroyed myself at the ‘VS The Fans’ weekend.
Curated by my teen fangirl obsessions, The Breeders, the lineup was wonderfully erratic (CSS sharing a stage with Deerhunter, Foals competing with Shellac for audience).
Though perhaps not objectively speaking the best performance, my personal highlight was Throwing Muses. After a frantic Friday afternoon dash from the office, I arrived just in time to catch their criminally early 7.15pm set. What kind of person puts such legends on while it was still daylight and then leaves everyone to languish in the dreary shed-bound whinings of Bon Iver as a headliner? A silly one, that’s who.
Throwing Muses at ATP, shot by Tim Cochrane
Anyway, Kristin Hersh was as magnetic as ever, responding to a besotted fan’s amateur sound-engineering by chuckling, “You don’t want more vocals. They’re shrieky!”. In truth, they were more roary, as the super-tight band blasted through a glorious, mixed set, taking in ’90s alt-pop classics from their breakthrough album ‘University’ (a raw-throated, rushing ‘Shimmer’ particularly impressive) and earlier, idiosyncratic numbers like ‘Bea’.
On Saturday, pathologically unpretentious punk legends Shellac (their drummer Todd Trainer could be spotted wandering around the site like some ungainly gothic vulture all weekend, while Steve Albini invited fans back to play poker in his chalet) proved that they are totally incapable of ever playing a bad set.
Undercutting the sand-paper edged brutality of their minimal sound with goofy onstage banter (at one point playing in movie slow-motion) but never anything but terrifyingly precise, they put most other bands to shame. Ending with a spot-on, epic take on ‘The End Of Radio’, they leave us feeling refreshed like we’ve just had our heads dunked in ice-cold water.
Sprinting (well, bobbling quite fast) back to the main stage in the pavilion, I sneaked as close as I could to the front for the main event – The Breeders themselves. Notoriously erratic live, the Deal sisters, bassist Mando Lopez, drummer Joses Medeles and guitarist Cheryl Lyndsey were on top form for this show.
Though I was a little saddened by the omission of the brillianty brutal and sardonic ‘Safari’, they more than made up for it with the appearance of original violinist Carrie Bradley and renditions of early tracks like ‘Metal Man’, ‘Fortunately Gone’ and their cover of ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ as well as crowd-pleasing rattles through ‘Cannonball’ and ‘Divine Hammer’. Resolutely unprofessional, they rambled and chatted between songs – earlier that morning, Kelley Deal could be found in the Crazy Horse pub, knitting happily amid a circle of gobsmacked fans.
The fans weren’t the only ones showing the Deals love – Deerhunter‘s Bradford Cox interrupted a set of woozily hypnotic, swampy space-pop to have a fanboy moment covering ‘Bragging Party’ by Kim Deal’s side-project The Amps, with a little help from the sisters. “I’m such a dork,” he giggled excitedly, “this is a genuine honour for me.” As he and Kim Deal switched the “Aaah… oooh” refrain back and forth, you could tell from the grin on his face that it was no platitude.
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Matt Caughthran from The Bronx also made use of his distinguished patrons, calling Kim and Kelley up during his set with Mariachi El Bronx (aka The Bronx playing in a romantic, California-sunset Mariachi style) to sing the throbbingly beautiful cover of bolero standard ‘Regalame Esta Noche’ that appeared on The Breeders’ last album ‘Mountain Battles’. It was a truly heart-stopping moment. Very nearly literally: the room was so hot I came worryingly close to passing out…
Anyway. I’m going for a nice sit down and a cup of tea. Read more about the weekend in Ash Dosanjh’s review, out next Wednesday.