Though the sourpusses who grumble that ATP hasn't been the same since the main festival upped sticks to Minehead are W-R-O-N-G (seriously, the return to Camber for Vs Pitchfork was fun and all, but the temperature in that main room was all kinds of awful), criticisms of overkill have a bit more substance.
I'd say three main events a year just about steers clear of too many (mostly because they're so damn fun), but I'm not sure about Release The Bats. Swollen into a three date, two city, eight hour, six band affair, it strains towards mini festival status, yet doesn't really have a serious USP besides offering a quick ATP fix a month in advance of Nightmare Before Christmas. It's old hands agogo – every band here had played at an ATP this year or last, all of them are white American males.
Which could still have been great, but it didn't quite work. Lightning Bolt are in a way the biggest disappointment: some satisfyingly shrieking lances of feedback peel up from the duo, buried deep in the restricted crowd permitted on the floor, but it's far too quiet. Even in the pit it doesn't smack home as savagely as it ought; I can't imagine anyone not familiar with them working out what the hell was going on, and I don't mean that in a good way. Pissed Jeans are more like it, getting into the Halloween spirit, a dragged-up Matt Korvette wiggling, twitching and vamping across the stage with a coquettish aplomb that suggests he's rather more in touch with his feminine side than one might guess. It's maybe a bit more fun than consistently brilliant – the sound is again on the ropey side – but a searing 'I'm Sick' is a high, black magic belted brutally out under blood red lights. Oh, and drummer Sean McGuinness's donning a life jacket before his customary end of set stage dive is just plum adorable.
Though reasonably enthused by Wooden Shjips' records, I steered clear of them at this year's festivals on the grounds that the odds of their sprawling Kraut-psyche being anything less than tedious live seemed pretty slim. Can't say as I was wrong. *OM* are definitely an improvement – and new drummer Emil Amos seems nicely bedded in – but a second helping of ponderous stonerisms isn't the ideal antidote to Wooden Shjips' soporific meandering. It's really not as gut-bucket heavy as it should be, either.
Tim Harrington plus Halloween equals a good time: Les Savy Fav's set kicks off with a cheerily baffling playlet involving the band (dressed as cops), Harrington (dressed as um, something weird, probably Tim Harrington) and various extras (in full zombie get up) before switching gears into Let's Stay Friends-heavy overdrive. They'll possibly never top last year's unhinged ATP Vs The Fans set (haircuts, blackface, madness), but this is still a chaotic jewel, Harrington's showdown with a glowering security guard injecting some real frisson into the night. His voice isn't exactly the strongest, but that's not really the point, is it?
Shellac do not dick around with their fancy dress. Todd Trainer is Dracula (he looks the same). Steve Albini is The Mummy and remains completely swathed in bandages throughout. Scariest of all, Bob Weston is wearing a suit. Oh, hold on, he's Frankenstein, and stays in character all night, addressing the audience in grunts and groans only, even during the Q&A. The sound isn't quite so militarily crisp as it should be, but screw it, this is Shellac, man – 'Squirrel Song' is a stinging slap, 'End Of Radio' is a strong candidate for greatest tune of the decade, and the wait was just about worth it, the peculiar mix of brutal precision and genuine hilarity finally capturing the one of a kind magic of the festivals.
It was a wait though – this would have worked so much better as a Shellac-Les Savy Fav double header with just one of the others in support. You can see what ATP are getting at: the venue is better decorated than last year, seeing the bands dressed up was really fun, they all make good music, and six of 'em for £22.50 is more affordable than 150-odd quid and your fare to Butlins. But whether through ambition or altruism, the night felt overstretched, dogged by The Forum's dodgy acoustics and surly security. The festivals are still more or less essential; Release The Bats is still a ways away from being the perfect monster.