Gig Review: All Tomorrow’s Parties, Camber Sands, 19th-21st May 2006

Broken Social Scene at All Tomorrow's PartiesOur first ever visit to the indiest of indie festivals came about thanks to the new “Share A Chalet” scheme which pairs couple with couple (we don’t have enough friends to even fill out a 4-berth chalet) and leaves you hanging around your freezing, run down little box on a wet Friday afternoon waiting to see who you’ve got. I could have gone either way: like-minded, friendly folk up for a laugh but in bed at a reasonble hour after ATP festivities have concluded for the evening, or obnoxious speed-freaks hell bent on staying up til daybreak. In the event it went the third way: they didn’t show up and we got the place to ourselves for the weekend. Woo hoo. And we still haven’t got any friends.

After watching J Mascis playing Air Hockey in the arcade, sampling some of the dreadful takeaway burgers and failing to get in to see Lightning Bolt, we got our first taste of live music for the weekend with long time Peel faves Herman Dune, a band I’d never taken much notice of before but whose indie-folk stylings went down very well with the two of us, and with just about everyone else in the room. We then ventured upstairs to catch the tail end of the disappointing Lilys before watching the positively ancient The Bevis Frond who mixed dull proggy rock with gleaming pop and were very entertaining thanks to the self-depricating charm of lead singer Nick Saloman. They played a song that had been covered by Teenage Fanclub and it sounded exactly like Teenage Fanclub, which was nice.

We stayed put for the rest of the night for the mouthwatering triumvirate of Broken Social Scene, Teenage Fanclub and Dinosaur Jr. Broken Social Scene were outstanding once again. A beautiful (unreleased?) opener gave way to a riveting set which drew from their previous two albums and featured Amy Millan on fine form, especially for “Shoreline 7/4” and “Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl”. J Mascis joined them for “Almost Crime” and, after spending a couple of minutes tuning up, took part in an impromptu guitar duel with Apostle Of Hustle, Jason Collett, all gleefully orchestrated by chief-Scenester Kevin Drew. Teenage Fanclub‘s set was pretty much what I’d hoped for: greatest hits and old classics, though starting off with a lengthy instrumental from their A Catholic Education debut was a bit of a surprise. They quickly got into gear and, as usual, it was Gerry Love’s songs that stood out more than any with classics like “Ain’t That Enough”, “Star Sign”, “Don’t Look Back” and “Sparky’s Dream” showing just why he’s the nation’s most underrated songwriter. Norman Blake was also on fine form with sparkling versions of “It’s All In My Mind” and “God Knows It’s True” while Ray McGinley made up the numbers with the inevitable “About You” and “Verisimilitude”, songs that he has bettered on the last two TFC albums.

Dinosaur Jr stole the day with a powerhouse of a performance that was so much better than their Leeds Festival appearance last year. Clearly their heavy touring schedule has paid off and they sound much tighter than they did back then. They also seemed to be enjoying themselves much more with Lou Barlow’s poppier moments an excellent complement to J’s molten guitar heroics on the likes of “The Lung” and “Sludgefeast”. The omission of “Tarpit” was my only disappointment but the inclusion of an incendiary “The Wagon” more than made up for it.

The Radar Brothers at All Tomorrow's PartiesDay two started late for us when we decided to miss out on The Boredoms in favour of a few beers in the pub and it was nearly 6 when we saw The Radar Brothers put in an engaging performance of their slowcore, drawing heavily on their last album The Fallen Leaf Pages and including the occasional classic oldies such as “Shovelling Sons” and “Stay” to keep most of the crowd happy. I ventured upstairs to catch The Black Heart Procession leaving JustHipper to enjoy the 1990s and The Gossip, which she did. The Black Heart Procession were pretty great. I’d never really heard much of their stuff and always thought they were from a similar slowcore mould to The Radar Brothers, but they had a much more expansive, soulful sound and a quite brilliant singer. Must track down their latest album The Spell and investigate further. Next up were The Fiery Furnaces who we saw a couple of weeks before at the Night & Day and were superb that night in their electrified, keyboard-free incarnation. Seeing virtually the same set for the second time was much less pleasing and the hour tended to drag with the grating revamped versions of “My Dog Was Lost” and “Teach Me Sweetheart” not being too welcome to these ears, though “Black Hearted Boy”, “Benton Harbor Blues” and “Leaky Tunnel” and the Rehearsing My Choir material were all once again excellent. I just hope they bring the keyboards next time around.

Back downstairs I secured a good spot close to the front for Joanna Newsom while JustHipper had heroically guarded her front row centre placement since teatime. You needed to be close to the front because she’s so damned quiet. It transpires that this is not her fault, nor the fault of the soundman but instead it was a Catch-22 situation brought on by the presence of the brigade of chatterers who lined the perifory of the venue and seemed intent on spoiling the occasion for everyone else. If the soundman upped the volume of the harp mics in order to drown out the chatterers then the chatter would come through the PA and start feeding back. So the louder the chatter, the quieter the gig. [Sigh]. Anyhow, Joanna was on awesome form despite a nervy opening where the din from behind was too much of a distraction. Eventually she had the attention of me and the few hundred others who could actually hear as she played old favourites like “The Book Of Right On” and “Sadie” and treated us to some new songs that she’s currently recording for her second album, on which she will be accompanied by a full orchestra. These songs were very, very long and positively overrun with vivid imagery and woodland creatures. But they never dragged; if you lost focus at any point something startling would happen in the next verse to bring you back round, whether it be a flourish of harp or a fight between bears. The four new songs took up about 50 minutes of the set, the last of them clocking in at an estimated 20 minutes. Phew. A crushingly beautiful “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie” brought us back into familiar waters and she ended a stunning set with the gorgeous “This Side Of The Blue”. A triumph over adversity. Tired legs meant that we only saw 10 minutes of headliners Sleater-Kinney before making our way back to our freezing chalet for a nightcap and bed.

Crazy caped guy goes nuts with plastic sword thingy on a pub bench at All Tomorrow's PartiesDay three began with some ATP TV and the must-see madness of R. Kelly’s Trapped In The Closet, followed by the two recent controversial episodes of South Park where Scientology gets a battering, Tom Cruise gets Trapped In The Closet and Chef gets killed off after being brainwashed into paedophilia. Essential viewing all round. Then to the pub where hopes of catching the Leeds v. Watford play-off final were dashed by the ATP pub quiz which continued while outside a man in a cape, who we’d seen acting strange all weekend, finally flipped and lost it on the pub bench (see pic.), fighting imaginary assailants with a plastic sword before smashing his weapon on the pavement and stomping off. Conveniently this was all under the watchful cinematic gaze of film director Jonathan Caouette, who was making a film of the event. We eventually repaired upstairs to catch the very excellent Destroyer whose latest album Destroyer’s Rubies is my current fave of 2006 so far. Despite the news filtering through that my beloved Leeds United were in the process of getting thrashed in Cardiff, Dan Bejar and his band played a blinder to take my mind off those events. The sound was very close to their recorded sound and while “Rubies” was cruelly cut short, robbed of it’s raw, emotional coda, “Painter In Your Pocket” and the closing “Looter’s Follies” were close to perfection.

Band Of Horses had sadly cancelled at the last minute so I decided to miss their replacements The Drones, who JustHipper quite enjoyed, and make my way downstairs to see Elf Power, from Athens, GA, home of many a great band. Despite a truly appalling sound mix, Elf Power went down very well with their upbeat indie pop. JustHipper had warned me that their songs are all about castles and kings and princesses and hobgoblins but I couldn’t hear a word the singer was singing anyway, all I know is that I enjoyed it very much. Back upstairs the stage had been unfortunately decked out in Watford flags by one of The Decemberists road crew though the band admitted knowing nothing about football. They made up for this by playing a truly wonderful set, the best of the weekend thus far, which included a glorious “Engine Driver”, a very welcome “Apology Song” and culminated in an epic “The Chimbly Sweep” during which Colin Meloy indulged in some crowdsurfing and, just before the song’s climax, persuaded the packed crowd to sit down. Needless to say the reception at the end was louder than any I’d heard through the whole weekend.

With the Clinic gig downstairs packed to the rafters we watched Swedish psychadelic rockers Dungen who managed to be vaguely dull and vaguely interesting at the same time, but not vaguely good. Then it was downstairs for The New Pornographers, for me at least as JustHipper had decided to preserve her place at the front again for The Shins. It was her loss as The New Pornographers put in the set of the weekend. It didn’t start too well with their guitarist breaking a string in the first song and realising they’d left the spare guitar in the van, but with the genius pop hooks of “Use It”, “The Laws Have Changed” and best song of the weekend bar none, “The Bleeding Heart Show”, and the thrilling vocal contributions of Kathryn Calder, and the frequent appearances of non-touring member Dan Bejar, of Destroyer fame, to give them that extra dimension, not to mention the excellent wall of pop sound mix, this was a set that had the audience beaming from ear to ear well after the last note of the effervescent “Sing Me Spanish Techno” had died.

The Shins put the lid on a fantastic weekend that was better than we’d dared to hope. They played a perfect set, showcasing some cracking new songs which bode well for the new album and playing almost everything you’d want them to play from their two previous albums. They are the consumate pop band, James Mercer’s melodies sounding effortless and yet meticulously structured while his lyrics have a rare complexity. “Know Your Onion” kicked things off in style, “Saint Simon” and “New Slang” had the crowd singing along while the encore of “Kissing The Lipless” and “So Says I” had us baying for more. The perfect end to a perfect weekend of indieness. See you next year, Camber Sands.

11 Responses to “Gig Review: All Tomorrow’s Parties, Camber Sands, 19th-21st May 2006”

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    […] The New Pornographers at ATP […]

  • The Indie Credential » Blog Archive » Gig Review: Joanna Newsom & Northern Sinfonia at Manchester Bridgewater Hall, January 15, 2007 Says:

    […] even The Ledge struggled to see her over the heads of the giant men who turned out in support, and once at All Tomorrow’s Parties where her set was plagued by drunkards talking so loudly it was difficult to hear her during the […]

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