Friday, 21 May 2010
Matt Groening's ATP Festival
The first of this year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festivals at Butlins in Minehead was something of a departure in that it wasn’t curated by a band or musician, but by Matt Groening, the creator of the Simpsons and Futurama. This was his second bite at the cherry, following on from his successful stewardship of the 2003 ATP Pacific festival at Long Beach, California. Groening confesses to knowing nothing about Butlins or Minehead, which is more than just an ocean and a continent away from Long Beach, and also expresses his puzzlement over what exactly a chip butty is. Hopefully that curiosity has now been satisfied. One of the artists which he chose, Joanna Newsom, pointed out during her set that it was particularly appropriate for her to be playing at this festival since people had been saying for years that she sounded like Lisa Simpson. The line-up Matt Groening chose definitely veered more towards what might have been Lisa’s choices, rather than Bart’s. There was a strong showing for female artists and a much broader musical spectrum than has sometimes been the case. This perhaps makes a good argument for more non-musicians to be invited to be curators (I know Jim Jarmusch is curating one day of the ATP New York festival) since they’re not bound to a particular musical genre and beholden to fellow artists who operate in a similar area. Having said which, of the two May festivals, it was the one curated by Pavement for which there was a mad scramble, and which was on its way to selling out before a single further act had been announced. The rather dispiriting message seems to be that there is always more demand for the familiar and well-worn than for a more surprising, offbeat and eclectic mix. People are happier with what they already know, with an experience which will offer exactly what’s expected. To an extent, of course, an act has to be well-established to be a curator. They have to have been around the block a bit, to have built up connections and left a trail of influence in their wake. The case of the Pavement sell-out, however, seems to suggest that it is the name of the curating band as much as the acts which they choose which attracts people’s attention. At the moment, the God Speed You Black Emperor ATP in December is fast on its way to selling out too. Hopefully the festival won’t drift entirely into becoming an indie identikit festival, and will persist with offering the kind of line up which Groening himself calls ‘quite adventurous’. The slightly reduced attendance did alleviate some of the problems which had dogged previous occasions, however. The concerts were more evenly spaced, programmed one after the other on the three available stages, thus avoiding agonizing clashes. And there was less of a sweaty, beer-soaked crush in the two inside venues. On the whole, it was altogether more civilised; I only got showered with beer once (well, it’s good for the hair anyway, apparently).
The first act on Friday was James Blackshaw, who took to the Centre Stage in unassuming fashion with his twelve string guitar. He produced scintillant showers of arpeggiated notes in extended pieces which swirled around in perpetual motion. It was just James with his guitar on this occasion. The titles of Blackshaw’s LPs and pieces tend to have titles which highlight their numinous qualities, sometimes referencing particular religious works, such as The Cloud of Unknowing. He professes to be uninterested in religion himself, although perhaps now that he’s entered the orbit of David Tibet and Current 93, his opinion might be swayed. There were none of the extra colours provided by celeste, harmonium and the like which are to be found on his records; and, alas, there was no Lavinia Blackwell to vocalise as she did on the Steve Reich-like piece Cross from the recent Hermann Hesse-referencing LP The Glass Bead Game. But the guitar alone was enough. Blackshaw’s lack of stage patter meant that lengthy retuning interludes were, as he conceded, talk amongst yourselves moments, but this didn’t matter in the slightest. Each new open tuning opened a new book. Pieces tended to start with slow, exploratory strums, sounding out each new possible chord. There was a slight problem with the sound, which emphasised the bass strings over the treble, thus losing some of the finer detailed filigree overlaying the hypnotically repetitive ground. Live engineers tend, by default, to ramp up the power to emphasize heaviosity, but this seems rather pointless when dealing with an acoustic guitar. It was a beautiful start, nonetheless.
I’d spotted James Cargill and Trish Keenan of Broadcast wandering along the seafront as we approached the gateway (or should I say checkpoint) into Butlins, and, as my favourite band, they were one of the three acts which I was anticipating most eagerly over the weekend. They spent a long and vexatious time setting up their projections from a recalcitrant laptop (a common enough experience) which seemed to leave very little opportunity for sound checking. For a set which relies a good deal on vocal improvisation and subsequent manipulation, Trish’s inability to hear herself in the monitor was obviously a serious impediment, and combined with the squeals of feedback emanating from her microphone whenever she made any exaggerated movement, she was left in a state of agitated insecurity, her technology no longer under her control. She was visibly frustrated, adrift on washes of engulfing sound, which she rode out to the best of her ability. She could be seen after the performance having a few demonstrative words with the sound engineer. The set basically followed the pattern of recent shows, with the first half’s soundtrack to a slightly truncated version of Julian House’s Winter Sun Wavelengths film having a more aggressively pulsating menace than when I heard it in Cardiff towards the end of last year. It was a combination of sound and visuals which drove the senses towards a state of derangement and promised blood sacrifice and the summoning of forces from the beyond. The song section which followed found sound problems coming to the fore, and were uncharacteristically tentative as a result. There were still moments of magic, with Trish’s white dress absorbing the projected kaleidoscope of colours to become a genuinely psychedelic garment when she moved centre stage during …….But the spell, and the dance, were broken when the microphone started squealing with feedback again. The lovely synth lines which James wove into the interludes between verses in this song in previous shows also seemed to be lost in the mix. This was a great shame, particularly since artists later in the festival seemed to have no compunction in taking their own sweet time in setting up and soundchecking, even if this meant that the schedule ran significantly late. Broadcast, it seems, paid the price for their punctiliousness. They did rally for the pounding, one chord Mongolian lute (I’m guessing here) driven Kosmische drone of the final song, whose anti-materialist mantra ‘what you want is not what you need’ took on an extra admonitory tone with the more primitive sound to which they’d been reduced.
Cold Cave lived up to their name, producing icy, echoing synth pop in the mould of early Human League or Cabaret Voltaire, transforming a corner of their native Manhattan into a place that’s forever Sheffield in the late 70s. Songs like The Laurels of Erotomania and Theme from Tomorrowland suggest a similar fascination for the alienated futurescapes of JG Ballard. The band dressed in black, remained static throughout, and played in darkness, save for the cold blue lights surrounding the stage proscenium. I suspect there may have been a mild element of tongue in cheek, but I could be wrong. The songs showed a gift for melody, all in the minor key, and it was all set to a highly danceable metronymic machine beat, surprisingly produced by an actual drummer. Of all Matt Groening’s characters, this would have been Futurama robot Bender’s choice.
Iggy and the Stooges would definitely have been Bart’s choice. I’m not a fan of Iggy Pop, so the prospect of him performing Raw Power didn’t excite me in the way I know it did others (Jarvis Cocker gave his London show a resoundingly good review on his Sunday show on radio 6). I caught part of his evening show more out of curiosity than anything. We wandered in to the main stage (set up beneath the Butlins ‘big tent’ which dominates the skyline on this side of Minehead) as he reached the tail end (sorry) of Now I Wanna Be Your Dog. It was a cold weekend, with a stiff breeze blowing up the Bristol Channel, but this didn’t deter Iggy from divesting himself of his shirt. I guess this is just what people expect of him these days, and he’s trooper enough to give the fans exactly what they want. Like many other rock heritage acts, he’s long since given up on progressing into new territory (on stage, anyway) and is content to milk fond memories. And he doesn’t do it by halves, it has to be said. He also adds an element of unpredictability and potential chaos by inviting members of the audience on stage and throwing the mic into the crowd for comments. Fun House was enjoyable, with its funk and free jazz sax skronk. But the tenor of the show seemed to be set by the young female saleswomen who accosted passersby and tried to flog them expensive mp3 memory sticks of a previous concert from the tour.
Toumani Diabate was the first of the 3 African acts of the weekend, and Matt Groening can be congratulated for providing a truly continent spanning line-up, with acts from Africa, Europe, North and South America and Asia (well, 3 from Japan). No Australasians, but you can’t have everything. Toumani sat centre stage with his kora, but this was really a full on African dance band, a 9 piece outfit which included a mix of traditional and rock instrumentation, with effects driven guitar solos giving way to displays of virtuosity on the balafon, the African equivalent (and probably precursor) of the marimba. Another fellow played a tiny ukulele-like instrument, out of which he managed to squeeze a couple of plucky solos. Indeed, the solo space given to all of the musicians gave this something of the feel of a jazz gig.
I retreated to the cinema for a screening of one of my favourite films, If…, and watched until the scene in which Christine Noonan, looking not dissimilar to Trish Keenan from Broadcast, takes a stunt ride with the boys on their stolen motorbike. Then it was off to receive a sonic pummelling from the Liars. Singer and front man Angus Andrew seemed to be competing with Iggy Pop in terms of exhibitionism, leaping manically and treating the crowd to the occasional Jagger-like shake of the ass. This actually served to lighten the generally oppressive and paranoia-soaked tenor of the music, which gives Radiohead a run for their money in depicting the modern world as a locus of fear and loathing. Indeed, last time they were due to play an ATP festival in Minehead, they pulled out after having been selected to support Radiohead on tour. The material was mainly from the recent LP Sisterworld, with tracks like Scissor and Scarecrows on a Killer Slant getting the late night crowd heaving. There was an outing for There’s Always Room on the Broom from their Walpurgisnacht-themed LP They Were Wrong So We Drowned (The Liars have great song and album titles), which is maybe as near as they’ve come to a ‘hit’. The video for Scissor is great, by the way. Call me an old fart (oh, you already did) but after a while I decided it was getting a bit late for this kind of art punk barrage, good as it was, so I called it a night.
On the Saturday, after breakfasting on toast with whortleberry jam at the Apple Tree tea rooms, dining on a fine pizza at Pinocchio’s and sinking a couple of pints of Exmoor ale at the Queen’s Head, it was time for another of the three acts which I was looking forward to with particularly eager anticipation. This was The Boredoms, who I’d long wanted to see and hear (particularly after seeing the photo of the gravity defying leap which Yamatsuke Eye performs in the inner sleeve of the Vision Creation Newsun CD). They were continuing their recent tendency towards tribalistic percussion based music by staging a performance which went by the name of Boadrum. This was a circle (or horseshoe) of eight drummers, with Boredoms front man Yamatsuke Eye at the centre. The other members of the boa drum snake were fellow Boredoms Yoshimi P-We and Yojiro Tatekawa, Hisham Bharoocha of Soft Circle, Zach Hill, Butchy Fuego from Pit er Pat, Kid Millions from Oneida, Jeremy Hyman from Ponytail (also performing at the festival) and Shinji Masuko from DMBQ. The whole set up was backed by the three-walled rack of Eye’s incredible 14 necked guitar, a deliberately absurd instrument which outdoes the twin-necked efforts of 70s prog and jazz rock guitarists such as Steve Howe and John McGlaughlin by several degrees. This was as much a musical sculpture in the style of Harry Partch as it was an instrument, although it served that purpose too. It was struck percussively by Eye with a couple of long, colourful sticks, the guitar becoming a kind of bell, chiming pre-tuned chords at climactic moments during the piece. Early on, one of the drummers was carried in on a moveable platform, a kind of palanquin, from the back of the hall by some 6 or 7 bearers, and brought towards the stage, playing all the while. On this first of two shows, it was Yojiro Tatekawa who had the honour of this regal progression, which temporarily halted in the midst of the audience from where he beat the bejesus out of his drum kit in a call and response duet with the musicians on stage, before being carried forward to join them. The whole performance was orchestrated with wild yet controlled energy by Eye, whose yells and vocalisations served both as rhythmic markers, modulating the ebb and flow of the waves of percussion, and as a human face for the music. He also provided electronic washes of sound, manipulations and white noise. It was an astonishing experience and left me half deaf for the rest of the day, my eardrums evidently having pounded in sympathetic resonance. A Japanese lady danced with her small child just in front of us, occasionally pausing to play ball, and propped her on the balustrade beside where we were sitting for a while. A Bore-baby, perhaps?
After briefly sampling Danielson, with his family band dressed in home-made nurse’s uniforms, and deciding it was interesting but not really my cup of tea, the next act was Deerhunter, who cleaved more closely to the kind of indie guitar fare which has come increasingly to characterise ATP festivals (and which would certainly dominate the next weekend’s Pavement festival). They produced some great reverb-drenched songs, sending out billows of sound which expanded to fill the spaces enclosed by the big Butlins tent with a nebulous and dreamy haze. The haziness was perhaps more pronounced given that singer Bradford Cox pronounced himself to be feeling a bit poorly. He also revealed some of his own personal favourites by thanking Matt Groening for giving him the chance to see The Residents and The Raincoats. Next on the Central Stage, Konono No.1 brought their Congolese sounds to Somerset, complete with their own home made amplification and loudspeakers on poles. These produced a built in distortion which the gave the thumb pianos which are at the centre of their music a tone which paradoxically feels both very modern and like its covered with a slight patina of rust. It’s a grainy sound which contemporary electronic musicians might strive to produce using the latest digital equipment, but which is here created through junkyard experimentation. They got the room moving with a large band, which augmented the three thumb pianos with a female singer (who also accented the rhythm on timbales), a guitarist and a couple of percussionists, one of whom enthusiastically punctuated the proceeding from time to time with blasts on his playground whistle, as if alerting us to pay attention to the beat. It was the kind of music you could imagine playing well on into the Kinshasa night.
Back on the main stage, She and Him, who consisted of alt-country singer M.Ward and sometime (most of the time, really) Hollywood actress Zooey Deschanel, along with band and backing singers, provided bright, sunny pop redolent of a pre-rock (pre-lapsarian?) era of girl groups and Brill Building songwriters in the Carole King mould. It was effervescent and instantly catchy, and would have been the perfect prelude to a walk out into the sunshine and onto the beach. The prevailing meteorological conditions were against such a happy congruence, but the music created a little sunshine in our hearts.
Back on the Centre Stage, The Residents were in the midst of a soundcheck, maintaining their anonymity and sense of mystery even during the banal routines of the set up. They had rather grumpily pointed out on their website that their ATP performance would be a truncated version of their current show, but that as it was a festival audience, they probably wouldn’t care anyway. The show in question featured the band members, as always, in disguise, with the two instrumentalists perched at either side of the stage dressed in sequined ruby coats, faces covered with black masks draped with limp strands of hair, pairs of what looked like night-vision goggles in place of eyes, the whole ensemble suggesting an alien vaudeville on a toxic planet. The Residents are known for their strangeness, both musically and in terms of their appearance. If one of Matt Groening’s characters were to choose them, it would have to be Doctor Zoidberg from Futurama. It would all make perfect sense to him, and he’d break into a scuttling dance. At centre stage was the singer, standing amidst a set which represented his front room, with hearth, radio and sofa, to which he occasionally retired. He was our storyteller, an old, beak-nosed man in loose, striped dressing gown, polka-dot shorts and a pendulous, over-sized tie. He looked like an aged Mr Punch gone to seed, unsavoury, irascible and more than a little unhinged. The tales he told were ghost stories and twisted reminiscences. Two old cowboy songs were reconfigured to turn the familiar old West into a deserted, spectral landscape, guitar chords echoing in the emptiness before trailing off with an eerie dying fall. They were crying out to have accompanying films made by David Lynch. The old man essayed some bow-legged Rumpelstiltskin dance moves, with back bent and arms splaying out to the sides, tie swinging in time to the beat like the axe in The Pit and the Pendulum. It was a prehensile sway which gave the old geezer a demented, goblin-like air. We gained an insight into his disturbed inner life and memories of the past, his voice occasionally pitch-shifted into a disturbingly distorted childlike whine. This may have given an idea as to why he was alone in his room, raving about invisible soul stealers (to an invisible audience?) He told us of the unknown (and perhaps imaginary) sister, of an ill-advised childhood prank which left him motherless in a horrific fashion, and of the sinister mirror people, who he fretted about throughout. They wait patiently, plotting to steal your identity (your soul, if you will), and are occasionally glimpsed looking greedily out of the mirror, in the periphery of vision. Having warned the first few rows of the audience that they might be at risk should these phantoms become manifest, they finally burst through in an explosive burst of noise and light. The Residents show was an utterly absorbing spectacle, sometimes amusing, sometimes unnerving, and yes, I would’ve liked to have seen it in its entirety. I would have had to travel to mainland Europe to do so, however. Oh, and the mirror people really are out to get you now, you know.
On the main stage, Amadou and Mariam were the third and possibly best known of the festival’s three African acts. Anchored by Amadou’s sinuous and surprisingly forceful guitar (a key, perhaps, to why they find favour with the indie crowd) their live show was bright and well-honed, with a few of the stadium gestures which have presumably developed in the light of their huge success in France. There were traces of the kind of musical slickness with which African acts tend to become imbued once they find their way into Parisian studios, but the strength of the Malian couple’s own voice shines through such surface tampering. XX on the centre stage were, to my ears, rather colourless, both in their uniformly black clothes and in their sound. I fully concede that this is a case of my not connecting with the music in question. I know others love its sense of space, its spare arrangements and languid atmosphere. They unleashed a bone-juddering, kidney-quivering bass at some juncture, which seemed a little extraneous to the needs of the song. Perhaps it was an attempt to vary the general tone of sparsity and inject a blast of force to win over the agnostics.
Finally, after deciding that the queue for the swiftly arranged jam between Konono no.1, The Boredoms drummers and Jason Spaceman was rather too long, and feeling that the pre-arranged set by The Ruins shouldn’t really have been usurped anyway, I went along to see them. Or rather him, since the Ruins are (is) now just drummer Tatsuma Yoshida. He provided precision, stop-start squalls of drumming to a pre-recorded backing of lightning fast noise prog. This included a Mastermind ‘how many can you spot’ cut-up of classic prog themes and extracts (I scored rather poorly, only my rusty knowledge of the old Yes catalogue rising back to the surface). It was a performance of athleticism and endurance, exhausting to watch let alone play, but impressive and exhilarating. Any drummers amongst the festival audience were well and truly spoiled this year.
The Sunday gave another chance to see The Boredoms, and this time I placed myself in the thick of it to see this day’s drummer of choice, Zach Hill, carried in procession to the stage. It was a spectacle well worth seeing twice. My hearing having been largely restored, I wore earplugs this time. The old lugholes can only take so much. Matt Groening came on stage to introduce The Tiger Lillies as a ‘favourite favourite’ amongst a weekend of favourites. I wish I could share his enthusiasm, but many of their songs seem tossed off (appropriate phraseology given that one concerns a character called Masturbating Jimmy) with offhand and rather casual abandon. They occasionally hit the mark with some of their more subtle songs, but the leering obsession with Victorian sleaze and decadence, and the sledgehammer way in which it is often underlined, becomes a little tiresome. They provide an inadvertent reminder of the power of indirection and suggestion (and even clever innuendo), and despite the bluntness in which they revel, lack the depth or wit to be as offensive as they’d clearly like to be. The playing of the theremin with the contrabass was a nice theatrical touch, though, and its always nice to see someone who can manipulate a musical saw with aplomb.
Juana Molina, the South American representative, stood at her rack of electronics with guitar in hand, which she used briefly to provide short phrases which were immediately sampled and looped. Bassist aside, she was essentially her own one-woman orchestra of layered and transmogrified sound, creating a layer over which she sang, providing another layer, over which she sang, providing..etc. She managed to maintain the lightness of her songs, never allowing things to get to cluttered or overcrowded. How much of it was pre-programmed and how much improvised, I don’t know, but it was a hypnotic and bewitching performance. On the main stage, Matt Groening was on hand again to introduce Daniel Johnston, who was somewhat lost standing alone on such a large platform, amidst the furniture and instrumentation set up for Spiritualised’s band, chamber group and choir. He played a new guitar, a small solid bodied affair which looked like it had been knocked up in a woodwork class, and which sounded exactly like the battered old Spanish guitar which he used to play. He also sat at the electric piano for several songs, where his technique was a little more assured than the somewhat notional guitar accompaniement which provides for himself. Watching Daniel Johnston requires some knowledge of the history which lies behind his songs, of the early self-assurance which led to him actively seeking an audience, and the agonizing decline into serious mental illness, all played out in the public eye (and documented in the film The Devil and Daniel Johnston). In listening to him play live, you are listening to the latest chapter in his life story. It seems to have settled into a fairly calm and well-managed course, with medication and family care keeping him on an even keel. Some of the early exuberance is missing however. This could just be the passing of time, and maybe also the resignation which has come with the realisation of the permanence of his condition. There’s a certain amount of special pleading required when you approach his music, and the crowd was clearly willing him on. The best of the songs, crudely delivered though they might be, are worth hearing in their own right, though. It made me feel a bit uncomfortable when Daniel’s declaration of his mental illness raised a cheer from the audience (why?). It sounded like he was cut off from elaborating, and such a reflexive response suggests his celebrity is becoming as much based on his illness as it is on his music. It would be a shame if this were the case. We saw him after the show wandering along the seafront with some companions. He paused by one of a series of what looked like old iron torpedo casings (which may have been because they were old iron torpedo casings for all I know) which formed someone’s strange idea of a good promenade decoration.
Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions, fronted by the former Mazzy Star singer (that group are due a perhaps inevitable reunion in the near future – curating an ATP festival of their own perhaps) provided a languid set of drifting dream pop, with the guitars occasionally roused to create a minor storm, but quickly settling back into a laid back state of calm. Hope remained fairly uncommunicative throughout, with only the odd mumbled word of thanks, but there was some atmospheric burbling ambient hum between numbers which obviated any awkwardness. There’s not a great deal of variance to the tone or the downtempo feel, but I didn’t find that a problem. I was drawn along in the music’s slow burning wake. Hope herself added a few extra colours to the sound with some plangent harmonica sighs and a light sprinkling of celeste stardust.
We went for a walk on the beach, the skies having cleared at last, and heard the heavenly choir backing Spiritualised’s run through of Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space drifting out into the evening air. I admit to a certain antipathy towards Spiritualised’s music, which reminds me of later Pink Floyd in its overweening pomp and its amassing of large forces to convey a series of dirge-like, self-pitying plaints. Rock star drug abuse and moping over splitting up with your girlfriend (hmm, could the two be related do you think) are lyrical concerns which betoken an insular self-regard, a worldview locked into its own narrow orbit. Why should we care? Having said which, we did get to hear the free jazz freak out section of Cop Shoot Cop, whilst waiting in the queue which was amassing with worrying rapidity for Joanna Newsom outside the barricaded and security guarded doors of the Central Stage, and it was pretty good. A whole concert of that sort of thing would have suited me fine.
The queue grew larger and the doors were still not open by the time the concert was due to start. Chaos threatened to ensue, and a general state of grumbling began to fill the air, as no explanation was forthcoming. Someone said something about the sound system having packed in. Anyway, eventually we did get in, whatever the problem was. There was a tremendous sense of anticipation for Joanna Newsome’s appearance (not least from myself – she was the third of my most eagerly anticipated artists) and she didn’t disappoint. The group consisted of her drummer and percussionist Neal Morgan, who was isolated on her left, and who played a fairly prominent role throughout, and a chamber group consisting of mandolin and other assorted stringed instruments (plus recorder), two violins and, of course, a trombone. Joanna herself played her harp and a piano which was place to the rear of the stage. It’s quite difficult to play such relatively hushed acoustic music, which demands full attention, to a festival audience, particularly a well refreshed night-time one (who had been forced to queue for a long time, too) but the crowd was rapt. Most of the material was from the new Have One On Me LP, including a great rendition of the multi-part title song, with all the group joining in for the final vocal harmonies. She did a version of Inflammatory Writ from The Milk Eyed Mender, but perhaps understandably, there was nothing from Ys, or indeed from the Ys Street Band EP (Coleen would have been nice – it was one she played at the Sydney Opera House gig earlier this year). Bizarrely, she spent several minutes tuning her harp, leaving her hapless percussionist, at her suggestion, to field questions from the audience. Having replied to one questioner who asked what his favourite cheese was by replying that he didn’t really like cheese, a later disgruntled audience member asked, in an aggrieved tone, ‘why don’t you like cheese’. The mood was turning potentially nasty in this county famous for its cheesemaking (Cheddar’s not all that far away) and he threw a pleading look towards Joanna. She finished her tuning, and promptly retired to the piano for the remaining two songs. Indeed, after a rousing version of the Good Intentions Paving Company, she suddenly declared that that was it, and abruptly left the stage. It was a good number to finish on, but, with time to spare in the one hour slot, the audience clearly expected an encore, and there were boos when it became evident that they weren’t going to get one. Leave them wanting more, I guess. Apparently, Joanna was seen after the show munching on some chips. Perhaps she was just really hungry.
The Raincoats packed out the smaller Reds Stage, and obviously commanded a huge amount of affection. Their set had a winning informality, with the singers Gina Birch and Ana da Silva enjoying an easy, relaxed and chatty rapport with the audience, and with each other, and had a nice line in self-effacing humour. They seemed to be really enjoying playing, and that enjoyment communicated itself to those watching. The music was loose and a little ragged around the edges, but still possessed of an adventurous spirit. They came back after a playfully staged ‘encore’ set up (having not quite managed to actually leave the stage) and led the crowd in a singalong of Lola, which they’d covered on their debut LP back in 1980, and the odd fluffed line mattered not at all.
The final show of the night, on the Central Stage, was by Coco Rosie, the group centred around sisters Bianca and Sierra Cassady, and they continued the trend of starting late, not finally finishing setting up until about 1.20. I saw them through to about 2, and they were excellent. Bianca’s child-like voice (another Lisa Simpson) provided a counterpoint to the more classical style of Sierra, who had trained to be an opera singer (although apparently her real passion had been medieval music). Her soaring vocals projected a sense of yearning and melancholy longing. They had a new pianist in Gael Rakontondrabe, who provide a new element to their arrangements, which also found Sierra playing what looked from a distance like a harmonium, and a Celtic harp – baby to Joanna Newsom’s concert mother. The song Hopscotch from their excellent new LP Grey Oceans (the one which sees them sporting strange Pharaonic beards and false eyebrows on the cover) was put into context as they started by chanting and playing a clapping game as if they were back on the childhood streets of their hometown. There were also interjections from a human beat box, which added a touch of hip hop to this already strange amalgam of folk, jazz, torch song and operatic nursery rhyme. This was the kind of music which you could imagine playing in some dreamlike end-of-the-world saloon (the one in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s final film Querelle springs to mind, although that had Jeanne Moreau providing the songs) and its lulling verses accompanied me into my dreamworld. It was a fitting end to a fine weekend. Thank you Mister Groening.