Papa M was billed as playing "From A Shark Cage," but so entrancing was his rendition that it seemed to me that he'd boiled down a fifty minute album to a twenty minute live set. I watched from the stage dive barrier as he picked magic from six strings, aided for the most part by a bassist and second guitarist. It was an immaculate performance, even if some of the album had gone AWOL. Maybe the song with the phone messages got a call up to go fight an illegal war in Afghanistan? When David mentioned Abe Lincoln for some reason that has now slid into lost memory because it won't help me survive to remember why, I got a chance to do a heavy heckle which raised a few laughs; "Thomas Jefferson: if god is truly just I tremble for the fate of my nation!"
The Pavillion became the playground of two very silly scantily clad Japanese women. The anarchic Afrirampo larked about playing nonsense rock, both yelping and dancing about as much as playing guitar and drums. I guess if you're wearing a bikini covered in fluffy bits in Winter, you need to keep moving. There was no doubting their momentum could take them to parts most other bands wouldn't even think of travelling to, but it wasn't too hard to tear myself away to catch the latter part of Om's much darker set upstairs. Om were diggin' up Lazarus again and the big stage suited their low heavy sound, but this didn't have the atmosphere of their Crazy Horse gig.
Shellac played some of their songs. These included: My Black Ass, a slowed down Canada, Copper, A Minute and a sombre new requiem where they sang, "Oh what a friend was Gary." When they kicked into The Squirrel Song intro I decided it was time to head downstairs to hear the Dirty Three. I was going to have my gluten free coffee and walnut cake and eat it and made the best of the most irritating clash at All Tomorrow's Parties ever by watching the first half of Shellac's set and the second half of the Dirty Three's more swinging party. The Dirty Three were in full swing and released a set of balloons near the end of their set, again different from the previous three. They proved themselves the heroes of the fortnight and were one of the few bands who took total command of the huge Pavillion.
Porn started out with just one big fat bearded man making a noise. It slowly grew as more folk joined in and in the end there were four noise-smiths wooping it up, including the ubiquitous J Mascis. It was an awesome sound and one hopes fucking Fuck Buttons were listening.
Downstairs Battles had started to destroy any appreciation I used to have of them. Strangely the drummer who used to play in Helmet and the guitarist who used to play in Don Caballero sounded pretty neat, but it was impossible to block out the other two musicians' irksome contributions. Tyondai Braxton had good reason to use a vocoder; without mutation his voice was totally annoying. He was warbling and crap rapping to new jams that didn't grab me at all, ruining whatever small spark might have been there with a stream of gabbling geek speak. Before hearing this, I'd rated Battles above Melvins as band to watch, but as soon as Melvintime hit, I was glad to head back upstairs to avoid this descent into dreck and prove my judgement very wrong indeed.
I've seen Melvins a few times before, but this was by far the best gig I've heard them play. Buzz introduced the band, refering to the bassist dressed as an arab as the man in the suburban turban. Towards the end he left the stage, drawing aside a backdrop to reveal a couple of extra drummers pounding away. The four drummers made an exceptional racket as the man in the suburban turban leapt into the crowd, screaming over and over, "Death waits for no one!"
The Breeders were a hell of a lot better than the last time I saw them, when they played the sloppiest gig I've seen them do. I guess the new rhythm section hadn't worn in so well back then. Today they had an extra guitarist to help out and Kim Deal sat behind the drum kit to sing "Hovering." They played more "Last Splash" and "Pod" songs than ones from their two more recent albums, including my favourite "New Year." They played their infinitely improved take on the song Mark Chapman took too seriously, "Happiness is a Warm Gun." Luckily no one shot Kim Deal. At the end they wheeled out a decaversary birthday cake and asked Barry and Deborah on stage to help them eat it.
The Drones cranked out their intense garage rock so loud I had to move back from the front of the stage. Someone shouted for a song early in the set, to which frontman Gareth Liddiard spat, "We already played it Einstein!" More of their set seemed to be from their earlier albums than from the excellent "Havilah" but I could be wrong as I was lost in the rush of hysterical histrorical blood, piss and puke their blustering emotionally flayed music runs on. They were the first band of the day who made me feel I needed a drink, and the left hand bar was deserted so I quickly got some red wine to guzzle as Gareth ripped his throat ragged. It was a shame more people didn't make the effort to see them as they are one of the most ferocious live acts on the planet these days. Bands don't get to such venomous heights without being road hogs.
Despite being very near the front for the first half of The For Carnation's hushed atmospheric set, it was very difficult to actually hear them. The room was rapidly filling up with drunken arseholes who were more interested in shouting at each other things like, "Oh Wesley isn't this amazing, so very now. It's so amazing I don't even want to listen to it but I think I should hold up my crappy little camera phone and block someone's view of the band so that Ponsonby and Jasper can watch a really bad sounding version with a wobbly picture on Youtube and we can laugh at them while we snort coke grown by starving farmers who were ripped off by a drug cartel that smuggled it across borders up the ass of a mule. Wouldn't that be splendid?" It would have been futile to ask all these loudmouth buffoons to be quiet as there were just too many of them. It would not surprise me to learn that most of them were Londoners, as talking very loudly and spoiling gigs in the quiet parts of songs is an ancient tradition in that city. The For Carnation were mostly quiet parts. It was the most annoying part of the weekend and a case of bad billing. The For Carnation should have played early in the day to avoid the sound of the crowd, who wouldn't have had time to get drunk enough to be so rude. If they had swapped places with Shellac and played after Papa M it would have been perfect, as David Pajo seemed to have the full attention of a much more sober gathering. Pajo was lurking by the sound desk, talking to a lady. I noticed this as I made a futile trip back there hoping the music would be louder, but instead the level of inane chatter increased. A tall man with a camera who knew Pajo and the lady began to shout drunkenly at them about five times louder than they'd been talking and when Pajo left continued to shout drunkenly at the lady, paying no attention to the band at all. "Shut the fuck up!" I shouted at him as I stormed off back down the front where some fuckwad was shouting about her septic clit ring. Meanwhile The For Carnation played some songs, one of which was "Empowered Man's Blues" and I was surprised by the number of new ones as this weekend was in general a bit of a golden oldies feast. Sadly the new ones didn't sound as timelessly brilliant as the older ones, but to be fair I was really having to strain to hear them over the gobshites. Brian McMahon was positioned at the back of the stage and had a box with a mike set up on it. When he wasn't singing he'd duck down and hide behind the box. What was he doing down there? Probably holding his head in his hands sobbing, I came all the way from the USA to play one gig for these drunken jabberjaws and I can't even hear myself sing because everyone is talking so damn loud. The drummer was at the front but the band collectively had as much stage presence as Brian's old band Slint; almost none at all.
Sunn O))) did not suffer from similar problems, as their rendition of the "Grimmrobe Sessions" was a total headcleaner vortex. Even if you'd wanted to have a conversation, you'd probably not have been able to work out what you wanted to say. Two dark robed men, heads cowled, loomed out of the billowing fog of dry ice raising guitars skyward as if in worship of a drone demon and let loose a skullfuck mega-hum that was probably setting off earthquakes and tsunamis on the other side of the world. Time slowed and stopped, Sunn O))) had completely taken over the room and created their own small universe where all had to bury their identities in the cleansing drone. Afterwards I felt like I'd never felt before, something had happened to my sense of balance that was quite pleasantly bizarre. I ran into Bardo Pond again as Sunn O))) stopped burning and they were all similarly enthused. It was cold outside. The creation of a new universe hadn't yet begun, but the old one had been obliterated. The starship heading towards our solar system had to delay to repair extensive damage to its hyper-music drive.