Adrian Cooper has been unwell

Old reviews that are no longer available online, or from sites that no longer exist. The pen is dead, long live the camera.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

All Tomorrow's Parties, 2000

After a night of luxury spent cooking sausage and beans on toast without the risk of getting grass in the saucepan before settling down with a bottle of wine to watch the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Exorcist and Hellraiser, the last thing you want to be greeted by the next day is the promise of yet more carnage and spilling of blood. However, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead prove to be a much more appetising proposition than their moniker suggests, even if you can’t help but get the impression that you’d probably find them a lot quicker if you followed the trail of old Sonic Youth albums. The vibrant assault of ‘Richter Scale Madness’ takes their influences and throws them in the gutter, before jumping in there with them and rolling around a bit, as their filthy swagger and frenzied guitars exceed anything that Leatherface or Pinhead could have imagined in their most despicable dreams.

As a rule, Clinic just shouldn’t work. Not so much a manufactured band, more of a ‘here’s one I made earlier’ Blue Peter style invention created out of the leftover pieces of others - a droning bass line from here, a staccato guitar burst from over there, and that incoherent, slightly reluctant sounding vocalist that you found down the back of the settee, all held together with a cyclic drum beat and a bit of sticky back plastic. On paper they sound bizarre, a rambling mess of frustrated ideas and half-finished songs, but on stage it all makes sense, as krautrock and the Velvet Underground fall victim to a William S. Burroughs cut and paste job, as he invents the perfect band, before ripping them apart and putting them back together in a different order.

It must be hard to live up to expectations when your previous band has helped alter the course of American alternative music; but having done so twice, firstly with hardcore icons Squirrel Bait, and then with Slint, you’d have to forgive Brian McMahon if he chose to hide away from publicity and the public eye with the For Carnation. With each new incarnation, he seems to get quieter and more elegiac, and has now become so minimal that you have to hope that the For Carnation are his last band or we’ll all be buying records almost completely devoid of sound, but tonight their sparse instrumentation and funereal pace require too much hard work and concentration to be fully appreciated, especially when encountered in the middle of a marathon trawl between bands and stages.

Thankfully Shellac can be relied on to bring the noise, with their taut, angular onslaught resembling the aural equivalent of a brain haemorrhage, and their precise, jagged rhythms show why Steve Albini remains so well respected after so many years. Despite of the image that seems to have been built up of Albini as petulant and elitist, Shellac are willing to accept their position of entertainers as readily as that of as musicians, and Bob Weston even takes a break mid-set to take questions from the audience.

At a festival of bands so heavily indebted to them, surely we can expect the loveable, middle-aged noiseniks of Sonic Youth to use this opportunity to reaffirm their position in our hearts, to show their contemporaries how it should be done. You can feel the expectation in the room, as the opening barrage of ‘Contre Le Sexisme’ encircles us, building layer upon layer of noise, sounding like the end of the world. But then the contrary buggers go and ruin it all by continuing in the same vein for half an hour, and then follow that with another hour of static noise, before limping back on with their single concession to the desolate fans huddled at the back of the hall, and stumble their way through the still graceful ‘Sunday’.

Despite the tragedy of it all, you’re left not really sure if you should be complaining, having seen your favourite band perform what is likely to be a rare set of experimental songs, and relishing the opportunity to further establish themselves as avant-garde pioneers, while issuing a challenge both to their fans and peers. Even while accepting the valid arguments that you can’t expect someone to continue to play the hits every time they tour; that ultimately the only people they should aim to please are themselves; Sonic Youth need to remember that there’s only ever a thin line between art and arse, and tonight they only served to disappoint their faithful following by exposing them to a tortuous display of ignominious self-indulgence which is bereft of any function or purpose.