Catherine A.D. @ Unitarian Church
At the opposite end of the (architectural) spectrum from The Providence – where we caught Times New Viking on the Friday night – the Unitarian Church with its Doric columns and abstract stained-glass bodes well for Catherine AD, an artist plenty fond of her keyboard’s church organ setting, in the past. For those who know her dark balladry from the be-ribboned EPs, she’s got an ability to imbue her songs of yearning with the sense that she’s a forlorn mediaeval heroine who’d be sainted for her persecution… if the songs didn’t then take such a lascivious twist.
In spite of the initial recalcitrance of “Mister Mackintosh” (the laptop, playing assorted sounds), Catherine and a stripped down band (playing e-bowed guitar + viola), make the most of the church acoustics for one of the best sounding sets we manage to see, all weekend. Led by a sludgy blues-riff on slide guitar, ‘Long Year’ groans its way out of the mangrove swamps, and Catherine’s sinister croaking growl over the song’s bridge seems to curl around the hall, right up to the rafters, like the wraith in ‘The Masque of the Red Death’. Moving to piano, a new song (‘The Heart Wants to be a Hammer’) sounds light and throwaway at first, but has a killer hook before the chorus (“the heart wants to be a hammer, a bulldozer, maybe a knife / the heart wants to be… / the heart wants to be… / dumb… da-da-dumb…”).
With half-an-hour apiece, most of the artists we’ve seen tend to play it safe, and play the hits, but Catherine manages to switch mood and tempo more than Patrick Wolf (to follow…), with a languorous flute solo on ‘Crave’, the intimate piano ballads in the middle of the set, the Bernard Butler produced theatrical pop via Fiona Apple that is ‘In Memory of my Feelings’, and the bombastic rock of (set-closer) ‘Hand to the Tide’. Re-worked with Liam Howe at the production controls, the latter has thunderous drums that create the unnerving illusion something’s about to crash through the wall. Maybe that’s the point: it’s time for Catherine AD to crash through.
School of Seven Bells @ Pavilion Theatre (Saturday)
Festival-goers will have had advanced warnings that the likes of Kasabian should be packing in the punters, but the longest line of more discerning fans leads to SVIIB, at the Pavilion Theatre. A DiS-favourite for a while now, SVIIB prove it’s not all about the production, by blowing a gale through the venue, to rival the weather outside. The new single ‘My Cabal’ soars and wooshes through the stratosphere. With stronger beats and basslines than most of the “Dreampop” acts they’re tagged with, and more rock than most of the Shoegaze in their musical DNA, SVIIB’s sound lies somewhere between Slowdive and Curve, as indeed do their soundscapes (sun-drenched and high altitude, but not yet in space, with its supernovas, and screaming meteors, the way Curve worked their guitars).
Previous single, ‘Iamundernodisguise’, follows – one of several with lyrics alluding to the otherworldliness of sleep, dream, hallucinogens, being under ether. The vocals convulse and contort, though, matching the aerial spirits of the lyrics; walking between worlds, in a way humans aren’t supposed to. Finally, the familiar two-note pulse of the band’s longest song starts up – their take on Daydream Nation – and if you haven’t started dancing yet, this is where you’re going to get en-tranced.
Patrick Wolf @ The Parlure Spiegeltent (Saturday)
That’s the “hall-of-mirrors-tent”, non-German-readers, and a perfect setting for Patrick Wolf to fulfil his pop ambitions. Yes, it’s a big-top circus tent with mirrored walls and multicoloured lights that make you feel like you’re inside a kaleidoscope. Despite hailing the genius of Patrick’s records from Day One (is Lycanthropy actually the best debut album by a solo artist, ever?) I’ve always been disappointed by his live-show. Around Wind in the Wires he was still building a fanbase who’d play along with his plans to film a crowd in fancy-dress for Hallowe’en, and (around The Magic Position) stark settings like the ICA just exposed how much his own costumes and gestures needed actual choreography and stage-dressing not to seem absurd. Somehow, the liveshow wasn’t persuading anyone… or the performances fell flat when Patrick looked out on a sea of faces that weren’t painted, devil-horned, and be-glittered.
Tonight may not look like Pride, or the Notting Hill Carnival, but the crowd are dancing from the first note, right to the back of the room. Led by a distorted loop of strings, ‘Oblivion’ opens the show and persuades us right off we want to follow this particular pied piper into any mountain, or over any cliff, like the glamorous doomed darlings we all are. Finally backed by a band who barely need to break between songs (or working the crowd well enough that we don’t notice), Patrick propels the set through songs from The Magic Position, classic single ‘The Libertine’, a version of ‘Battle’ (from the new album) that isn’t marred by shouty backing vocals, and only slows down a little for ‘Damaris’. Like the most revisionary and deliriously beautiful fantasy of Celtic legend, and with all the high drama of The Last of the Mohicans soundtrack, ‘Damaris’ is an epic lovesong: “goddamn Damaris! Betrayed with a kiss… goddamn Damaris, son of Spring…” Plus, it re-visits one of Patrick’s best songs (‘Teignmouth’), adding a chorus you can swoon to.
It’s hard to pick a best moment from the set – let alone the festival – but it’s probably ‘Tristan’, affording a chance to get your perv on, to its robotic groove, and yell the chorus “I am F$%£ed! And I am f$%£ing too! / My name is Tristan! / and I am ALIVE…!” with its bestial panting as the music stops – “huh-HUH-huh…!” – and then the 80s-tastic warbling when it resumes “yeah-eh-heh-eh!” For leering into your beloved’s ear – or at any one of the sweaty writhing bodies in vests and skimpy T-shirts that fill the dancefloor – it’s up there with anything from Midnite Vultures. So, that’s a relief – as a prodigy, Patrick’s new album (The Bachelor) consolidates everything he’s learned so far, and loses nothing in the course of boosting the production values. As a performer, he’s grown up disgracefully – just what we needed to see.
School of Seven Bells photos by Holly Erskine