ATP: The Mangum Edition (pt.III)

Moderation on Saturday night was rewarded with the aforementioned fried breakfast, albeit a day late. We decided to start our musical day at 4.30 with Lost in the Trees, so there was plenty of time for a yomp out to the moors. We drove off through Dunster and parked up near Dunkery Beacon, meandering up to Somerset’s highest point on foot and lounging for a while in the sun. There was incredible dense cloud all over the coast – Minehead was cloaked in thick grey fog as we left – but it was gloriously sunny up on the high ground.

From Dunkery Beacon

After that we drove down the Exe valley to Dulverton and gorged ourselves at the Bridge Inn (highly recommended) before winding back up the western side of Exmoor to Exford and then on to Porlock. After tea and cake, we hot-footed it back to Minehead where the thick fog remained – not having lifted, we assumed, since the morning.

Butlins peeking through the fog

So back to the music, and we raced over to Crazy Horse for Lost in the Trees. Though we only made it for twenty minutes, they were comfortably the standout ‘discovery’ of the weekend for me. I say ‘discovery’ because (like the astonishingly prolific Mount Eerie) they’ve been around a good while doing their thing – I just didn’t know about it. And I would describe their thing as a stripped-down, more avant-garde expedition into similar territory to Arcade Fire. A largeish but not unwieldy lineup of talented multi-instrumentalists (quite a common occurrence these days, isn’t it?), LITT create strongly melodic pieces with plenty going on underneath, and seem to explore grey areas between melody, counter-melody and harmony (counter-harmony?!) to great effect. One memorable sonic trope was the doubling up of violin and high voice; the frisson comes from the difficulty in finding the line where one ends and the other begins while knowing both are producing notes in the same range. The textures weren’t overly lush but were full and always intriguing, with some unusual combinations (and the unexpected appearance of a French Horn!), while the songwriting ranged across bleak (though ultimately very human) themes.

Lost in the Trees

It was upstairs next for the Magic Band. I didn’t really know what to expect as my knowledge of Beefheart is concentrated on that one totemic album, Trout Mask Replica. It was actually a great gig: Feelers Rebo and Eric Klerks traded slide riffs and took turns to show off their blues chops; Rockette Morton kept up a constantly mobile bass barrage; and drummer Craig Bunch gave them all a solid basis on which to work, bursting through where invited with some raunchy fills. On vocals, and at times doing an uncanny channeling of the Captain, Drumbo strutted around in full declamatory pomp, taking the sticks for one song and showing how he got his nickname. Sometimes there was an element of chin-stroking indulgence but on the whole it was a lot of fun.

Psych-Blues from the Magic Band

We stuck around at Centre Stage for the Sun Ra Arkestra, which like the Magic Band is an entity birthed from a now-departed prophet. This was another of the weekend’s standout shows, for while it feels like the Arkestra have toned down some of the wilder space-jazz of their early days – indeed, this was more like experimental big band with some free jazz interludes – they came up with an hour of wonderful performance. In fact it’s really sui generis because there’s some fusion bass going on and also – especially in Marshall Allen’s use of the EVI – something deeply proggy. The visual spectacle has always been part of the show with the Arkestra and here they glistened under the lights like space gods, though since Sun Ra himself ascended I’m not sure how seriously they take all that. Standout players were Allen (usually on sax rather than EVI), young pianist Fariz Abdul-Bari Barron  and the extraordinary Knoell Scott who danced (breakdanced wouldn’t be a stretch) like a man possessed. In truth though, the SRA is far more than the sum of its parts; a festival theme is emerging of holistic musical experiences and like Boredoms, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Joanna Newsom – even the Fall – this was about the wall of sound; also this show had the distinction of being second only to Group Doueh in sheer danceability.

Sun Ra Arkestra

After that, I stuck it out for about quarter of an hour of the Magnetic Fields but it really wasn’t my cup of tea. I found their amusing clever-clever cabaret schtick a bit cloying, and for all of the lovely arrangements, the Neil Hannon identikit vocals and raised eyebrow lyrics were a bit precious. Instead we gradually drifted down to Tall Firs. They were pretty good, maybe a little the worse for wear by the time we got there, but engaging enough. They played some beautiful guitar, like some of the quieter moments of Slint or something else Pajo-ish, but the very mannered vocals got a little wearing. I’d actually forgotten that they did Too Old to Die Young, which I have a vague recollection of having liked for a while. Anyhow, I’m not dashing out to buy their albums but I enjoyed the set and particularly the instrumental mix which was rather lovely.

Tall Firs

I’d taken a bit of an attitude towards Jeff Mangum from the start as I (perhaps unfairly) associated the poor scheduling and somewhat thin line-up of this ATP to his caprice, but I got even more annoyed by the strictures around his sets – ‘no cameras, cameras will be confiscated if used’ signs everywhere, an insistence on emptying the large venue and then refilling it with enormous queues, a late-in-the-day delay to his set – it all smacked of an egotistical diva (or someone wracked with worry, which in fairness, he may be). I like the stuff I’ve heard by Neutral Milk Hotel but I wasn’t bothered enough for it to outweigh the diva-like behaviour which is precisely the opposite of what ATP seems to me to be all about. I didn’t even try, then, to get in to see him. I plumped for Group Doueh downstairs in Reds. Yet the Spirit of Mangum even pervaded my experience of that show, as due to his (again very last minute) worry about noise from downstairs, we were all locked out queuing for half an hour until he had finished up on the Centre Stage. I don’t know if it was him or his management or the organisers responsible for all this, but it was really poor. Anyhow, it meant I could only see half of Group Doueh as I had to be up at five to drive home (whinges over), but that half hour of Western Saharan joy was one of the best things I’ve seen in ages. Bamaar Salmou is incredible on guitar – as several people pointed out he’s probably quite influenced by Santana, but his impassive delivery gives him an almost surrealist air. The vocals and drums were tremendous too, and while there are some slight echoes of Tinariwen – moreso Tiris actually – Group Doueh have made their own sound and it’s just brilliant. Like LITT this band were completely new to me and one I will most definitely explore further.

Group Doueh

Overall it was a cracking weekend. The lineup was noticeably thinner than my previous visit (see here for parts one two three and four of that write-up) but the quality was consistently good. Sunday night ended up probably being my favourite, but highlights for the weekend were as follows:

Hall of Fame (Music):

1. Joanna Newsom 2. Group Doueh 3. Lost in the Trees

Hall of Fame (Total experience):

1. Joanna Newsom 2. Boredoms 3. Sun Ra Arkestra

Hall of Meh:

1. Magnetic Fields 2. The Apples in Stereo 3. Jeff Mangum (in absentia)

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Published in: on March 14, 2012 at 10:06 am  Leave a Comment  

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