The Nightmare Before Christmas - Day One - Butlins, Minehead - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

The Nightmare Before Christmas - Day One - Butlins, Minehead

by Steve Rhodes Rating: Release Date:

All Tomorrow's Parties' annual festival, A Nightmare Before Christmas, at a windswept Butlins complex in Minehead is this year curated by three North American bands of contrasting styles. While none of them quite have the draw of previous recent curators Pavement, My Bloody Valentine or The Breeders, which could have some bearing on the lack of sell-out status, they still provide an entertaining range of acts over an early December weekend.

Up first, Friday's curators Les Savy Fav are a revelation in their 'matinee' afternoon performance, dominated by their charismatic frontman, Tim Harrington. Tim first emerges on-stage in a sparkling black dress, drinking from a plastic kettle and bounds straight into the audience during their opener and several times after, while the band play on. At various points, Tim lies down with two members of the audience wearing dressing gowns and clutching pillows, propositions several members of the crowd and disappears literally into the rafters, hanging down from them, all the while continuing his singing. Shedding his top, he self-flagellates himself with the mic lead and brings a person from backstage to impersonate him. The antics do not detract from the powerful aggressive melodies and vocals that the band impressively play out, and at the end of the set the band dismantle the drummer's kit around him and Tim carries off the bass drum through the crowd, with the drummer following, still playing. A phenomenal start to the weekend.

After such an immense opening, it's not surprising that Marnie Stern fails to follow in Les Savy Fav's footsteps. Though there are some spiky songs there is no spark between the band, with the on-stage banter totally ignored by the audience and the over-drumming exposes a lack of cohesion and talent from Marnie and her bass-player up front. Marnie's vocals, while are a nice pastiche of Tanya Donnelly, with a hint of Kim Gordon and Karen O, lack the punch or personality of any of them. Sadly very average at best.

Wild Flag on the other hand are a more interesting concept, which is hardly surprising with half the band previously resident in Olympia, Washington legends Sleater-Kinney. After an inauspicious opener, 'Radio Crimes' is launched and their class is shown. The band seem to operate two clearly different styles, depending on who's leading. Mary Timony's songs are more poppier, drawn-out and with elements of prog rock, but are occasionally let down with too many yelps, and Carrie Brownstein's are more Kinney-like, abrasive and punchier. Perhaps more of a dictatorship is needed, as Carrie's songs seem to have more bite and get a better reception from the audience, particularly when an extended number has great leaping freak-outs from Carrie. This is far from Kinney Mark Two, however, as the set is more rustic and fuller and Mary's songs do add strongly to a decent performance.

After a brief sojourn witnessing the sludgy, riff-obsessed Oxes, droning in a style similar to Dead Meadow, I'm off to see Baltimore's Future Islands. Using drum machines, layers of synth and electronics, and live bass, they produce an excellent set, dominated by frontman Samuel Herring. With a vocal somewhere between Aaron Neville, TV on the Radio and Brandon Flowers, with heartfelt rasping in similar schizophrenic manner to Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart, Samuel oddly pounds his chest at regular intervals while subtle electropop melodies hum in the background. Lead single and one of the best songs of this year, 'Behind the Bridge', is electric and sums up a great performance, with Samuel seemingly determined to compete with Tim Harrington about how much mileage he can cover on-stage during their set.

In comparison, the newly reformed Archers of Loaf are a little disappointing. Sharing the same DNA as fellow early 90s US troubadours Superchunk and Buffalo Tom and led by Eric Bachman, who towers above the rest of the band, they produce a workmanlike but not exactly rousing set. Though many songs connect with the sizeable audience, their anthems steer too close to The OC or Dawson's Creek dullsville territory. However, the crowd don't care a jot and the reception at the close is emphatic.

Featuring members of post-hardcore legends Rocket From the Crypt and Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes take a more frenetic turn. With grinding rhythms, bludgeoning guitars and throaty vocals, they provide an abrasive, heavy, relentless performance. Though it is certainly powerful, the set is rather forgettable, with little differentiation between songs. The exception though is the excellent 'Suicide Invoice', taking a more mystical approach in the vein of early Trail of Dead.

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the opening day is how excellent Holy Fuck are. A four-piece, with live drums and bass and occasional, filtered vocal, they produce a hypnotic, driving set, that veers between chillwave meets Cluster, Neu! meets 2000s synthpop, and 80s police TV dramas, directed by John Carpenter. With only their signature tune ' Lovely Allen' falling just short, they produce an engrossing and engaging set that entices the audience into dancing along, providing a superb end to the day.

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