ATP Mt Buller: Part 6

Despite only living in Melbourne, a reluctance to play anywhere near as north as Brisbane in a number of years makes Rowland S Howard a real personal draw-card. Having never seen him in the flesh his gaunt appearance is a bit of a shock, but he is in good humour, and with his excellent but sole solo album, ‘Teenage Snuff Film‘, coming up to being a decade old, it’s good to hear when he tells us that he will be playing some new songs and has started work on a follow up record. Mick Harvey is replicating his Teenage Snuff Film drumming duties but Brian Hooper, who played bass on the album isn’t present for a full reunion, but is ably replaced by J. P. Shilo. 

I get to see the first four songs of the set, which includes a new song, but as a result of Harmonia’s late starting and late finishing, I’m left with a dilemma; do I stay and watch the rest of Rowland S Howards’s set or do I go back up the hill to the other stage to see Laughing Clowns play for the first time in over twenty years. In the end there is really only one choice to be made and I reluctantly leave the Amphitheatre Stage, hoping that the promise of a new album isn’t too far from being realised and that some live dates away from Melbourne, and preferably as far north as Brisbane, might follow. I miss an apparently excellent cover of Talk Talk’s ‘Life’s What You Make It‘, but the rumours of Nick Cave joining him for a rendition of ‘Shivers’ prove to be unfound.

I can already hear Laughing Clowns playing as I start up the hill and reach the photo pit out of breath only to find Ed Kuepper thanking the audience and the band walking off… Luckily, they decided to play a song for their sound-check, although unluckily security count this as one song and so the we get kicked out of the photo pit after two proper songs. Laughing Clowns are nothing short of a revelation and that very rare occurrence of a reformed band that live up to the hype. Essentially, they are everything that The Saints should have been last night but weren’t. Unlike last night, Ed Kuepper is in a jovial mood and looks happy to be there playing these songs with these musicians. Although he adds vocals to the songs, his role in the band seems almost peripheral, with his guitar playing much more restrained than when normally playing an electric guitar and the focus of the band is shared between Jeffrey Wegener’s outstanding drumming intricacies and Louise Elliot’s sax playing. Growing up in the 1980s, when so much pop music was blighted by tasteless saxophone playing, it’s almost shocking to hear a saxophone being used to such great effect that it’s the true heart and soul of a band. They finish with ‘Eternally Yours’ and it sounds nothing less than astonishing. Everett True and Warren Ellis are both stood only a couple of metres away, grooving away, Warren is taking photos with his camera phone (don’t let security see you doing that…), the sun is shining, everyone is grinning like idiots. It’s possibly the moment of the whole weekend.

Before moving to Australia, Spiritualized were my most seen live band, nine times if I remember correctly; various shows in Newcastle, Birmingham, and London down the years, as well as at countless Glastonburys. It doesn’t take long for me to realise just how much I’ve missed seeing them play, possibly when ‘You Lie, You Cheat‘, segues into a typically sublime ‘Shine A Light’. They’re down from the 20-something piece band I saw them play with one time at Glastonbury to a seven-piece, and unlike previous, more recent encounters, Jason Pierce is stood up. Although he’s not sat down and Spiritualized have their usual epilepsy-inducing lightshow, they’re not the most exciting of bands to photograph, not that it really matters when they are in such stunning form.  It really makes you feel even sorrier for Sonic Boom (although rumours are that Spacemen 3 have already started on rehearsals).   The double whammy of  ‘Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space‘ followed by the very unexpected ‘Lay Back In The Sun‘ is the highlight.   The only thing that could have improved their set would have been the inclusion of ‘Medication‘, which for so long was a mainstay in the set, and maybe a dusting off of a few more songs from ‘Laser Guided Melodies‘, but time is fleeting and it’s all over far too soon, with an hour being nowhere near long enough.  However, it’s still more than the scandalously short 45 minute slot they get in Brisbane a few days later, with Brisbane, as usual, being overlooked for festival sideshows.


We all know we’re only got one song in the pit to photograph Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. What we don’t know until about 30 seconds before they start is that we have to be sat down in the seats along the back of the front barrier. When the pit isn’t very wide, the stage is over 5 foot tall and there is a wall of fold-back speakers on top, this is not a good thing. When the band come out onto the stage, most of them just can’t be seen from our vantage point. And when Nick Cave bounds onstage he is either perched on the edge of the stage, 10 foot above you and you are photographing right up his nose, with half his face obscured by his hand/mic or he has moved back into the middle of the stage and half disappeared from view . It’s very disappointing and the restrictions just seem overly melodramatic. As with everyone I photograph my aim is to get the best photo I can of them. When overdramatic restrictions like this are put in place it almost seems like it’s an act of self-sabotage to ensure that nobody gains anything positive from the experience.

The View Up Nick Cave’s Nose

Nick Cave vs The Stage

Cropped version of above photo

After all that, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds are slightly disappointing, something I wasn’t expecting on my first time seeing them considering how highly regarded their live shows are.  The set is a mix of what could be termed ‘Greatest Hits’ and a heavy dose of songs from ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!‘.  There is a strangeness about a Nick Cave greatest hits set as his audience is surely much more loyal and isn’t exactly a scenester crowd, only there for the ‘hits’.  It’s a similar set of songs to those that played on his solo tour last year, with ‘Tupelo‘, ‘Red Right Hand‘, ‘The Weeping Song‘, ‘The Mercy Seat‘ amongst the songs getting another airing, albeit this time with full Bad Seeds support.  the only real surprises being ‘Hard On For Love‘ and ‘Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry‘.  Although ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!’ was one of the albums of 2008, the songs played from it seem a bit flat when played live, not helped by the fact that after the ear-splitting volume of Spiritualized, the sound for the Bad Seeds seems very quiet.  (The ATP Brisbane show later in the week after Mt Buller is a completely different story, with the band being in stunning form and being what I hoped they would be, even though they play a very similar set of songs).  Ultimately, although they are the festival’s headliners, tonight is just not their night, with Laughing Clowns and Spiritualized jostling for the set of the day, if not of the whole weekend.

Even having attended countless music festivals down the years, including Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds, Phoenix, Falls Festival, Big Day Out, Splendour In the Grass, and Peats Ridge, ATP Mt Buller was an amazing experience, that easily outshone just about every other festival I’ve been to.  Near perfect, with an outstanding collection of bands, a truly stunning location, great weather, first rate organisation and the most pleasant festival crowd I’ve experienced in a long while, with not a single drunken, flag waving idiot in sight.  Hopefully it will be back next year, although the organisers have taken a massive financial hit in its inaugural year by only selling something like 3,500 of the 6,000 tickets that were available. I’ve seen nothing but praise and rave reviews from anyone who was there and based on those views you would hope that word of mouth would help sell it out much quicker in the second year.

The main issue is going to be who curates it and who could play on the bill. By having Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds curate and play and by having Australian bands with the pulling power of The Saints and The Dirty Three, the organisers could be accused of putting all their eggs in one basket in the first year, as there’s no Australian act with the ‘indie cred’ of Nick Cave, yet mainstream appeal needed for an Australian ATP, that could curate.  If Grant McLennan was still alive I think the Go-Betweens could be a possibility, but I don’t think Robert Forster on his own has the pulling power.  People have suggested The Drones, who I think would do a great job and were a surprise omission from playing this year, especially as they are signed to ATP’s record label, but they don’t really have the mainstream appeal.  Some people have suggested Crowded House/The Finn Brothers or Silverchair, but that’s just laughable and shows an ignorance as to what ATP is about.  Time will tell, but I would expect that ATP and an international act will co-curate.  As for me, I’m pinning my hopes on a Pavement reunion and My Bloody Valentine being included on the bill.  Whatever eventuates I’m already looking forward to next year and hopefully getting to photograph it again.

2 Responses to “ATP Mt Buller: Part 6”

  1. Great summary mate. Thanks for taking your time with this – it really was a special weekend.

  2. Justin says:

    Cheers Andrew. Got a massive backlog of photos to be edited and blogs to be written and at the moment it seems as soon as i finish a blog I’ve got another one to add to the bottom of the pile – 9 blogs atm, with another 2 gigs this week. Need more hours in the day!

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