I'll Be Your Mirror (featuring Slayer, Mogwai, Afghan Whigs and many more) at Alexandra Palace in London, England on May 25-27, 2012.
I'll Be Your Mirror is a recent off-shoot of the ever-popular All Tomorrow's Parties weekend blowouts, but instead of being held in a hard-to-get-to backwater at some crumbling holiday resort, it's held in an urban setting. This makes travel logistics easier, but also takes a bit of the "we're all in this together, and there's nowhere else to go" vibe away. Couple that with the growing influx of day ticket holders instead of the three day/all weekend pass, and you get a somewhat fractured congregation rather than the unified community of past events.
Another hallmark of the bills is a wide-ranging, eclectic swath of music styles. Again, this weekend would be a bit different. Friday was all metal, all the time, a bare-knuckled smack across your face and a kick to the gut, led by Slayer's only UK show of the year and a set that featured the entire thirty minute blitzkrieg of Reign In Blood. The rest of the weekend was more open to other genres (while still sneaking in a couple of heavy bands with Floor and Harvey Milk), and had the requisite 90s reunions on display as well (Afghan Whigs, The Make-Up, Codeine, Archers of Loaf) along with current indie and electronic acts. One notable exclusion was the complete absence of hip-hop, but not for a lack of effort on ATP's part. For assorted reasons, Ultramagnetic MC's, Death Grips, and El-P all ended up canceling.
Hordes of black-clad, inked metal fans endured the unusually blazing skies of London as the queue grew restless with delays in opening the venue. Once inside, the howls and shrieks of A Storm of Light greeted the early punters, with Josh Graham and band dimly lit with his trademark visuals displayed against the backdrop (Josh also does projections for Neurosis). Melvins were next, taking the stage in the neighboring Great Hall, a vast airplane hanger of a room that had surprisingly decent sound. Jared Warren always has an eye-catching outfit pulled from some thrift shop, and the pink and black tunic chosen for tonight was particularly hideous. He's also vying for the biggest afro title in the band, an endeavor that would normally be a fool's errand against King Buzzo but Warren's giving it a good show. Their set was a bit odd in that it was held in a lot of ambient light (Melvins are not a daytime band), and also a bit short due to time restrictions. Highlights were the massive amorphous blob of noise that started the set ("Hung Bunny") and the vicious cover of Wipers' "Youth Of America."
YOB is a band I'd seen play three times already this year, and if I had my way I'd like a monthly gig dosage from here on out. The term 'crushing' is one that is tossed out a lot when talking about heavy bands, but it's spot-on for the blackened fog of doom that Mike Scheidt, Travis Foster and Aaron Reiseberg drench the room with. And it's single-minded, with songs stretching vast distances; their three song set filling the forty-five minutes allotted to them to bursting point.
Sleep is another band who's been awakened back to life, albeit with a different drummer. Chris Hakius played the initial reunion shows as part of an ATP in the UK in 2009, but bailed on music afterwards, so Matt Pike and Al Cisneros recruited old friend Jason Roeder (Neurosis) to fill in.Riding high on the reissue of Dopesmoker, they were at the tail end of their European tour and any of the slight wrinkles from their initial show at Roadburn in April were well ironed out. Their set list was also hacked to comply with the time given to them, but generous chunks of Dopesmoker along with heavy hitters like "Dragonaut" and "Holy Mountain" showed that their time spent studying in the halls of the Iommic Research Center was well spent. The manic slashing of Pike, the mantric journeys of Cisernos, the pounding of Roeder...add a duffel bag of weed, set off for Nazareth and you'll be set for months.
After a dark set in both tone and relative lighting from Wolves In The Throne Room, Slayer came on to deliver a tour de force performance. They were one of the early thrash bands who gave more than a knowing look towards hardcore, and if you take away the amphetamine squeal of the guitar solos, it's pretty clear lineage to the surge of Ginn or Dr Know. Tom Araya seems no more worse for the wear since his neck surgery aside from a custom strap helping prop his bass up, but Jeff Hanneman is still battling the severe side affects of a spider bite so Exodus guitarist Gary Holt filled in at the stage right slot instead. The galloping pace would wear the hooves off most horses in the first quarter mile, but Slayer was up for running on stubs of bone and tendon. The highlight of the evening was the Reign In Blood material, and if "Angel Of Death" doesn't get you boppin' in the pews like these folks, you've got a different kind of wiring. It wasn't surprising that sweat, blood, and puke were remnants of tonight's performance.
The remaining weekend was to use the West Hall for the main stage, and an unfortunately too well lit area for the smaller stage, which kinda killed any sort of ambience lighting-wise. Still, the proximity of just across the hall meant that it was extremely easy to pinball between seeing Floor relive their molten core origins, over to see Irmin Schmidt share unearthed and soon to be released archival recordings from his band Can, then a quick dash to the sun-filled outside food court for a nice vegetarian rice bowl or a stilton and serrano ham slice of pizza.
Day two highlights certainly included Umberto's mashup of tension-filled B movie horror clips coupled to a new electronic soundtrack, and the bulging veins in the forehead vocals of Mark Arm and Mudhoney (no matter how many times I've heard it, the queasy, off-kilter opening chords of "You Got It" will always get my blood pumping and fist in the air). The deliberate delivery of Codeine made closeness feel a bit claustrophobic, as guilt and joy were brought in equal measures. Harvey Milk's set was the best I've seen yet from these Athens sludge merchants, a vibrant and upbeat set matched by Stephen Tanner's plaid trousers. Mogwai was the curator and headliner of Saturday, and their recent recordings have demonstrated a stretching of their skills, and they've moved on from their reliance solely on dynamics and into complexity of rhythm and tone. Listen to a song like "Rano Pano" and try to imagine how that might fit on Young Team. Though their set was strong and got stronger as it went, the clear winner of the night for me was The Dirty Three. This instrumental band from Australia gave us an emotional tour de force, a sweeping tide of power implied and delivered. Incredible force from just a violin, a guitar and a simple drum kit.
The final day had a distinct electronic start to it, with Forest Swords being an unlikely candidate to overpower the sound system and momentarily causing a delay, along with the eldritch stylings of Blanck Mass and a very creepy set from Demdike Stare, ably assisted with complementary visuals (as an aside, if an electronic act is going to have projected images as the main visual component, don't skimp on the content and recycle scenes during your set. Thanks) An exuberantly paced set from Archers of Loaf had them finishing their songs about ten minutes earlier than planned. Bass player Matt Gentling thanked the crowd for being at the start of their palace tour, only having booked one so far.
Yuck are a decent amalgam of 90s guitar bands; at any given song you could point to Yo La Tengo, Dinosaur Jr, or Teenage Fanclub influences, but they were a bit out of their element in the large room, a bit like a kid trying to swim for the first time without floaties and tossed into the deep end. Ian Svenonius showed how it was done, despite not being on a stage for more than a decade. The Make-Up singer was a perfect hybrid of James Brown R&B swagger and uptown Jagger sneer, moving faster than a scalded cat and kicking the air like a reincarnated Bruce Lee.
The capper to the weekend was Afghan Whigs, and the band slimmed down noticeably to fighting shape. Greg Dulli has equal debts to raw punk rock and smooth soul, and bridges those worlds better than anyone else. The bitter betrayal and wracked guilt of "What Jail Is Like" and "Debonair" show the blasted landscape of the grounds Dulli walks, barren scars across the psyche, riven by both involved parties. There are no innocents in Dulli's world, and tonight we all wallowed in the psychic grime. Welcome back, Greg.