I’ll Be Your Mirror Monday 25 July, 2011

Musos. Geeks. Nerds. Normallos. I’m sure all of us have, at some point or another, discussed our fantasy gig line up. Fantasy is generally how they remain but for a few thousand freaks and geeks ATP and Portishead brought fantasy gig as near to reality as is likely to ever happen. Let’s start by stating […]

Musos. Geeks. Nerds. Normallos. I’m sure all of us have, at some point or another, discussed our fantasy gig line up. Fantasy is generally how they remain but for a few thousand freaks and geeks ATP and Portishead brought fantasy gig as near to reality as is likely to ever happen.

Let’s start by stating the obvious. Waiting for a Portishead gig is only slightly less futile than waiting for humans to evolve into psychic flesh blobs.

I love Portishead. Their music has been in and around me since I was seventeen years old and that accounts for very nearly half of my life now. So a Portishead gig is a permanent resident on the fantasy line up.

You know how you sometimes discover an album in your collection that you thought was OK but then it actually turns out to be ruddy amazing? Then you realise that you love the album so much and you really want to see the act in question performing live. Then you discover that they split up soon after releasing that much loved album. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with Company Flow. They live right next door to the Barrow, Gibbons and Utley household on fantasy gig street.

DOOM. One word. All caps. For those of you who haven’t been obsessing about obscure American rappers for many years let me inform you that this guy is just about as good as it gets. MF Doom, to give him his full name, doesn’t tour often and when he does he sometimes doesn’t turn up. Fantasy gig performer? You betcha.

Add PJ Harvey into the mix, put it all in the gorgeous Alexandra Palace and you’re about two miles inside the boundary of the realms of the impossible.

I’ve never been to an ATP festival but I already had a great love of the organisation for signing one of my favourite bands (Deerhoof) to their label. I expected great things and wondered if it was all too good to be true (a feeling shared by some of my fellow revellers).

So it was that we trudged up the (quite steep) hill towards Alexandra Palace. The first thing that hits you is the spectacular view of London from outside the huge building. Actually that’s a lie. The first thing that hits you is cramp (from the hill trudge) swiftly followed by a wave of sweat! The view is stunning though.

When we (eventually…late opening) made our way into the venue it quickly became apparent that we would spend most of the day lost, getting lost or finally finding the place we needed to get to. This seems like an opportune moment to get the bad bits out of the way so that we can finish on the good.

I’m sure there is a reason that we were so doggedly marshalled to the correct doors to go in and out of each area and room but some of it defied logic and at times became somewhat annoying. At one point (when I realised I couldn’t buy any cigarettes inside the venue) it took me ten minutes to get out of the building because of the circuitous route I was forced to take. Hrmph.

Food. It’s quite important. Especially if you’re going to spend the day pumping your customers full of overpriced beer. The day lasted from 1200-0100hrs approx. There were six food vendors at the start of the day. A pie shop, a taco shop, a chip shop, and organic tofu thing, and two hot dog stands! The taco shop was all out by about half five and after queuing for twenty minutes I discovered that none of the hot dog stands had any bread left by about half six! This is pretty poor really and riled a fair few people. It left many more very hungry and drunk.

So that’s the griping done. Onto the music…

Beak> are Geoff Barrow’s motorik psychedelic outfit. A meagre crowd watched them spin out hypnotic song after hypnotic song. Not much atmosphere but it was lovely stuff and a bit too early on for most people. Still Beak> said that they were used to playing to tiny crowds of about twelve normally so they clearly enjoyed it. Also became apparent just how much Geoff Barrow controls the Portishead sound. I could definitely hear melodic and textural similarities.

Next up. MF Doom. I loved it. I was right at the front. It was amazing. Many people that I was with didn’t seem that fussed (and made that quite clear). If you like him you would have loved it. If you haven’t spent hours listening to his albums over and over again you probably wouldn’t realise what all the fuss is about. Ostensibly he is a fat, middle aged, black guy who wears a gladiator mask and plods about the stage but to his fans (like me) he is revered like a deity.

So at this point we got some reggae grooving done with Black Roots and then pottered around outside smoking and waiting for PJ Harvey to start her set. Unfortunately I missed her set because I was trying to find where my mate had gone…only to discover that he had been kicked out for being hammered! I’ll admit he was drunk but I think it was probably exacerbated by the fact that he’s about 6’5” and weighs about 16 stone. Alas, PJ, I hear you played a blinder.

To be honest though it was something of a blessing because it meant I could get right to the front of the stage for Company Flow. The crowd slowly started seeping in from PJ Harvey and six tech guys played with the mixer and decks on the centre of the stage. Oh no. I started to wonder if it had indeed been a clever ruse to get us all to buy tickets. Eventually after fifteen tense minutes the tech guys started air punching and we knew it was a go! Well. What can I say? It was stunning. The crowd (where they could) got involved and everybody seemed to be really enjoying it. To be honest I have no idea because I was right near the front and I certainly wasn’t looking backwards.

After that it was the simple matter of Portishead. Which is never a simple matter. The great hall was packed and I had lost all of my mates by this point which is why I was lucky enough to be wandering to different vantage points in the crowd. I have seen Portishead once before and it is thrilling. Very few bands sound as good live as Portishead. The same level of detail that goes into their recordings goes into their live performances. They always have great images projected onto the back of the stage and onto the screens at either side and this was no exception.

The final thing to say is that when I was wandering about through the crowd I looked up and saw El-p (one third of Company Flow and a luminary figure of hip hop in his own right…also one of my all time greats!) standing next to me and I got to meet him and shake his hand. I was trembling like a kitten in a thunderstorm afterwards. Great stuff.

All in all the fantastic music saved the day of what seemed to be a reasonably well-run affair with some large culinary failings. Thanks to Portishead for having great taste in music.

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