The job of curating ATP’s inaugural I’ll Be Your Mirror event has been allocated to Portishead, whose passionate interest in a diverse range of music has made them a tried and tested choice for curators. This year sees a predictably strong line-up, with the likes of Grinderman, Swans, Caribou and Liars playing on the Sunday, while Crossfire makes it down on the Saturday to see DOOM, PJ Harvey and a reformed Company Flow. Oh, and Portishead themselves, obviously.
After having told all those concerned that DOOM is a disappointing live act for the weeks leading up to ATP, it came as a huge surprise that the pot-bellied Masked Villain produced a sterling set to the crowd inside Alexandra Palace. Though his set offers no real back and forth with the audience nor does DOOM rely on any showing off, it was showcase of material across the spectrum of his releases, proving how diverse and thoroughly awesome a lot of his back catalogue is. From early MF Doom material such as Rhymes Like Dimes through Madvillain material [All Caps stood out] and onto his guest spot for Gorillaz and Benzi Box from the Dangerdoom record, his delivery was top notch and even though he failed to dive into the crowd as intimated, a lot of fun was had.
Following DOOM is PJ Harvey, whose exceptional new album Let England Shake is up there with the very best records released this year. With this in mind, our anticipation is high to see these songs performed live, and her set is drawn very heavily from the new material. Dressed all in black, she looks almost appropriately in mourning, singing songs about the horrors and devastating impacts of war to terrific effect. Eight albums into her career, by now PJ Harvey is a consummate professional and her voice is pitch perfect throughout. Highlights include Last Living Rose and The Words That Maketh Murder, while old favorites C’mon Billy and Pocket Knife are welcome additions to fantastic performance.
Company Flow were the sole reason I (Abjekt) bought the ticket for ATP. Having grown up listening to them only to continually curse my luck for never having seen them live due to their split in the early part of the last decade, it was such an event not to be missed. Having left Sleekly to enjoy the rest of PJ Harvey’s set and ensure a spot front-and-centre for Co Flow, I was left stood waiting for a good 20 minutes thanks to a faulty mixer, but once that first bassline dropped, there was no looking back. El-P and Bigg Jus’ chemistry hadn’t been lost, smiles shining from them both as Mr Len cut the tracks behind them and with the crowd made up almost entirely of fanboys and girls, they powered through tracks like Bad Touch Example, Vital Nerve, 8 Steps To Perfection, End to End Burners and Lune TNS.
When a member of the Ally Pally staff informed them they were to finish their set immediately because Portishead had started in the next room, El turned to the crowd and asked who had come just for Company Flow. A deafening shout of affirmation was hurled back, prompting the New Yorker to tell his would-be set killer that “Fuck that, even though I want to see Portishead, I wanna kill it for these guys” and launched into Patriotism after lambasting the Murdochs [James financed Rawkus in the 90s] from behind a lecturn. There is to be no comeback, no reformation, this was it. And boy, what a set it was. As they say themselves “I must be entirely too fucking nice” – Too right!
Finally, after a long day, Portishead take the stage and the tiredness in the crowd is collectively relieved by the band’s presence. As well as being brilliant performers themselves, impressive visual displays adorn the stage making this an all consuming experiences for the eyes and ears. Singer Beth Gibbons does little else on stage other than sing, but that’s all that is required, and as she begins those famous songs from the Dummy era that are now so ingrained in our heads, it’s easy to become lost in her words. Newer songs from the band’s 2008 comeback record Third are similarly impressive but for different reasons, showcasing a colder, more fragile side to the band. The likes of The Rip and Machine Gun are particularly impressive; the latter with its thumping drum pattern fills the palace with an air of imminent dread.
What’s especially great about Portishead’s performance, and subsequently this year’s festival, is that their set incorporates all the other music throughout the day. The band’s great heritage within hip hop, noise, and kraut rock have all co-existed harmoniously on this line-up, and these genres now come together in Portishead’s music and somehow make perfect sense. It’s spellbinding stuff, and quite simply, the reason that we continue to return to ATP year on year.
Sleekly Lion & Abjekt