Wednesday, 23 December 2009

My Bloody Saturday Nightmare

After my first sleep for forty-two hours, I decided to head into Minehead to buy some of the Spanish wine I'd sampled on Friday. I'd sampled enough to get a little tipsy before even setting foot in Butlins and the red was pretty good. My mission was delayed when I heard the sound of music. It seemed as though Yo La Tengo were playing somewhere. As I neared the Pavillion I realised that it was actually Sonic Youth soundchecking. People could go inside and watch from a distance. They ran through five songs from "The Eternal" and Lee asked the small gathering to, "Look lively out there! Too much of the sheep dip!" a comment psychically synchronous with the black sheep I'd seen as his recorded voice was reproduced on magnetic tape the day before.

On returning from Minehead I passed Thurston Moore on the pavement. The skies were grey but we are both wearing shades, two guys who live to rock. Back at Butlins I watched about twenty minutes of the Sex Pistols "Filth and the Fury" film in the cinema then made a futile bid to watchIan Svenonius interview Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon. The queue was long enough to fill the venue at least three times, so I returned to the Pavillion where I was rewarded with a better bit of entertainment. The Sun Ra Arkestra were soundchecking. They concentrated more on getting individual instruments sounding good than playing whole songs like Sonic Youth did, but hearing any of these fantastic musicians soloing is a rare treat.

Upstairs The Membranes had been reborn with Gold Blade's rhythm section. John Robb lives about a twenty minute walk from my home and I sometimes run into him in Hulme. He was charging about with more energy than most frontmen half his age and predictably proclaimed Minehead to be a "Tatty Seaside Town." When he fucked up the song he explained it was only the second time he'd played it in twenty years. "The Pastels haven't rehearsed at all, and they'll still be better than us!" They played "Wounded Bull in Victorian England," their song I've heard more than all other Membranes songs put together as it was on Homestead's "Human Music" compilation which I bought mostly for the Live Skull, Yo La Tengo, Salem 66 and Volcano Suns songs. I think I only saw them once back in the late eighties, supporting That Petrol Emotion in London. "We didn't think anyone would come to see us," joked John, "No one did twenty years ago!" As the jarring chords of "Shine on Pumpkin Moon" clattered to a close, I ambled downstairs and got an impromptu festival audio moment as the Membranes merged with the freeform sound of the Sun Ra Arkestra's opening space jam. These eleven super cool dudes keep the flame burning after their leader had to return to Saturn. One of them utilised the space on stage to jive and do handstands when he wasn't playing a part in launching a musical rocket to Venus. I made my way right to the front of the stage and tears of joy welled up behind my shades. They played "Nuclear War" the song Yo La Tengo covered, with the handstand man sticking out his butt as he sang, "When they push that button kiss your ass goodbye!" Their cosmic jazz was well suited to the Pavillion stage as it required no extreme volume to bring transcendence, and the star spangled black night side banners were perfect to glimpse from the corner of the eye as light reflected off the Arkestra's shining robes. Space really was the place! A lot of people remarked that they just didn't get the Arkestra when I told them how much I enjoyed their gig.

In a perfect bit of sequencing, Harmony Rockets blasted off another stellar trip to find the skullfucking core of the "Paralyzed Mind Of The Archangel Void," one of the best albums in the known universe to fuck to. Amplified to blast off levels at the peaks, this flew so far above and beyond the album itself that it left me wondering why Jonathan Donahue and Grasshopper bother to continue with Mercury Rev. This stuff is so much better and was really the only time another band mined the hallucinogenic hypnotic noise / melody interface that put them on a level with My Bloody Valentine themselves. A follow up album is well overdue. I'd love to hear these guys jam with the Sun Ra Arkestra, I think that would be out of this world.

I entered Reds at the exact time (6pm) That Petrol Emotion were due to play and thought for a second they were going to play to a nearly empty room as the "Blue to Black" emergency rhythm sample kicked in. It was but a soundcheck with another ten minutes until lift off. I had enough time to buy a glass of red wine to drink and spill on red carpet and easily found a spot right on the Mack barrier. In Reds if the room fills up the only way you can see the band is to be very near the stage or at the front of the raised area behind the mixing desk, but the sound is excellent and hard hitting. It really came as no surprise when they started the set with a fiery "Blue to Black" and the set was pretty much a truncated version of the one I saw them play back in July. Only Killing Joke make me want to move and groove more than the petrols, such is their rhythmic itch. "It's a Good Thing" scratched it and by "Abandon" they'd rubbed it raw. Such was their energy they made me feel fifteen years younger. I was never crazy about "Hey Venus" but they've made it way heavier now, and Reamann bursts out some wild six string freak out near the end that lifts it high. Singer Steve Mack announced that they were going to play an old song, and I shouted "Lifeblood!" to which he replied, "Now you've spoiled the surprise." Requests were shouted, I'm sure someone was after "Can't Stop" just like in Manchester and I shouted "Circusville" at which Reamann burst out laughing, shaking his head and replying, "No way! No fucking way!"The last song was the ever more relevant pollution evacuation anthem "Scumsurfin'" maybe my favourite song of theirs. Maybe it was time to move to higher ground before Reds flooded.

Upstairs J Mascis and the Fog were half way through a set of guitar solo drenched songs. They were looser than Dinosaur Jr but played "The Wagon" and finished with an epic "So What Else is New." The big fat mountainous bassist certainly wouldn't be able to bounce about like Lou Barlow. I'd really have liked to have seen the whole set, but I'd have had to split myself in two! Nevermind, they were due back next weekend.

Walking through the main hall en route to rice and beans at the chalet, I chanced upon a band who sounded like a poor rip off of My Bloody Valentine with all the joy and experimental originality excised. That was the horribly over-rated Horrors. On returning for Sonic Youth's set, the Pavillion was predictably the most full it had been all day. They'd have certainly sounded better upstairs, but maybe then not everyone who wanted to see them could have got in. Most of the set came from their disappointing recent album "The Eternal" and some idiotic nearby Eastern Europeans chose to show their appreciation by clapping out of time and shouting at each other until I asked them to stop. Everything shifted up a gear when they played the time tripping "Hey Joni" and "The Sprawl." They were allowed an encore, and blessed the Pavillion with a corruscating "Death Valley '69" that was better than the whole of the prior set combined, ending with a freeform percussion fade out jam.

Robin Guthrie's pleasant music made a nice backdrop for a rest and a chat with some friends from Manchester, who all decided to wait in Reds for Lightning Bolt. I decided I'd rather see My Bloody Valentine again.My Bloody Valentine were the first band I ever saw play a gig in Manchester, so in a way this weekend seemed like a loop of reality closing. They played the same set precisely and not surprisingly were slightly better than the first night. Bilinda wore a black dress and I ended up much closer to the stage. Nearby a hilarious dyke kept hollering to the bassist between songs, "Goodgey we love you!"

No Age jammed their two man drum and guitar schtick which was obviously highly influenced by My Bloody Valentine as I struggled to stay awake. Hypnotic punk rock and lack of sleep were conspiring against me. Suddenly I was jolted wide awake by a much more memorable tune - "Something I Learned Today" by Husker Du. Hang on, who was that balding guy who'd joined them on guitar? None other than Bob Mould and as if I hadn't got enough of a nice surprise I was up on my feet and shouting along to the next song, a killer rendition of the second Husker Du single "In a Free Land." Torpor descended again as they left the stage and I occasionally managed to half take in a very fat man fronting Fucked Up who despite being loud and noisy couldn't keep me awake so I crashed.

Bands not heard: The Tyde, Le Volume Courbe, The Pastels, Spectrum, Lightning Bolt, Ariel Pink.

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