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coverpic flag Australia - Full Moon 152 - 02/09/09

All Tomorrow's Parties
Mt Buller, Victoria, Australia, 9-10 Jan. 2009

My first festival experience of 2009 couldn't have been any more different from my first festival experience of 2008. At the Big Day Out 2008, my wife and I choked on dust and scrambled through ridiculous crowds of pissed teenagers to watch Bjork from a hundred metres away. At All Tomorrow's Parties 2009, we had a perfect view of Dirty Three, relaxing in the fresh air, at the top of a mountain, with a full moon coolly looking on.

ATP is the perfect music festival. While most other music festivals - and there are now fucking hundreds - recycle similar line-ups of shit bands with big-money promoters, the ATP organisers choose a band or artist that they love, then get that band/artist to curate the line-up. Before this one I had been to the Shellac- and Autechre-curated fests at Camber Sands and had a ball. Although I've never really been a fan of Nick Cave, the line-up of the first Australian ATP proves that the man and his band of Bad Seeds have good taste - and that they're keen to acknowledge their Aussie rock heritage.

My weekend began at the amphitheatre with dull pub-rockers Hoss, but thankfully I decided to make the short climb up the hill to the main Bourke St stage to catch a blistering set of psych-rock by Dead Meadow. I've never really been that impressed by their records, but live Dead Meadow is an altogether tastier prospect. Their drummer looks like he's been teleported from the '70s, the fuzz and wah-drenched grooves are present and correct, and they've got some cracking tunes.

Bill Callahan proved something of a disappointment. His set at the Shellac-curated ATP was mesmerising, as the shit-faced Smog swayed his way through a solo set of stark and wrenching tunes from all of my favourite records. This time around I barely recognised him, his hair now long and silver, his face partly concealed by a patchy beard. Ably backed by Jim White and Mick Turner of Dirty Three, Callahan played a bunch of recent tunes that I didn't recognise - presumably off Woke On A Whaleheart, which I haven't heard - alongside classics like "Cold-Blooded Old Times". He may be a great songwriter, but it was a pretty lack-lustre set.

The weekend's 'Mystery Act' was, surprise, surprise, Grinderman, who just about blew my head off. Their raw sound, comprising loops, two-chord guitar, rumbling bass, drums and voice, worked brilliantly, with Warren Ellis chucking maracas around the stage and Martyn Casey laying down some of the dirtiest bass sounds I've ever heard. Wholly satisfying stuff.

Having seen The Necks live before, I opted for Fuck Buttons instead. While The Necks are hypnotic in a club, I couldn't quite imagine their sound working on a big stage. Fuck Buttons, meanwhile, played a brilliant set dominated by tracks from their recent Street Horrrsing album. While their sound is fairly basic - noise, screaming, pretty keyboard patterns and the odd thumping beat - they handled their arsenal well, wringing every ounce of goodness from each droning surge of sound.

Dirty Three was the first of my two highlights of the weekend, carrying the Friday night to an unimaginable high. It's all there: Jim White's flowing-octopus drumming, Warren Ellis making the violin sing, Mick Turner patiently plucking away, supported by Nick Cave on piano. While their set was sadly cut short due to time constraints, they played the bulk of Ocean Songs, bringing this grown man to tears during "Distant Shore". The way the sounds of the instruments melt together is truly something to behold.

While The Saints may be Aussie rock legends, their headlining set was pretty lame. Ed Kuepper belted out the riffs with a ridiculously huge Marshall stack like he was trying to destroy the songs - and he succeeded. A real train-wreck.

Sunday began with The Stabs, who had a good sound but did little with it, so I went up the hill to see Bridezilla instead - and I'm very glad I did. This absurdly young Sydney band is causing quite a stir with their dark violin-sax-guitar stew. Led by the coo of a girl called Holiday, they resurrect the female-fronted alchemy of '90s indie bands like The Breeders, Throwing Muses and Belly, while stirring in their own youthful magic. If they can get through the predictable record label frenzy without being eaten alive or turned into puppets, there'll no doubt be a great album on the way.

Small Knives quietly broke my heart with some rather lovely country-pop, then Afrirampo well and truly woke me up with some ridiculous screamy noise-pop. Like having a cup of tea then taking a shower in vodka.

Michael Gira woke me up in a different way - he made me realise how important good lyrics are. If a band has bad lyrics it can ruin even the best songs, but if a band had good lyrics then you can strum a rubber band and make it compelling. Gira intoned dark poetry over a handful of chords and mustered 40 minutes of disturbing entertainment before selling a handful of his own hand-made CDs.

How could Harmonia fail? We're talking ex-members of Krautrockers Kraftwerk, Neu! and Cluster, yet their set amounted to little more than old men dicking around with synthesizers to create the kind of vacuous post-rave mush that would be laughed off the stage were it not for the fact that they're legends. Disappointment of the festival.

After Kuepper's performance with The Saints the previous night, I didn't give Laughing Clowns much of a chance, so took a chairlift ride with my wife up the mountain. They sounded quite good from a distance.

And then the second of my two highlights of the weekend: Spiritualized. Having seen them before I knew what to expect, but to hear Jason Pierce and whatever band he musters for the occasion play live is an inconceivably great live experience. Spacemen 3 classic "Walking With Jesus" sat beautifully alongside "Shine A Light", "Come Together" and "I Think I'm In Love", stirred in with some new tracks from latest album Songs in A & E, which is now on my shopping list.

By the end of the weekend, when Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds hit the stage, I was utterly exhausted. I made it through about half-an-hour, which sounded like an overblown Grinderman, before I decided enough was enough. Until the next ATP...

Copyright © 2009 Tim Clarke e-mail address

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