Friday 7 January 2011

Gig Review - ATP Presents Strange Days @ London Hammersmith Apollo, 31/12/10

New Year's Eve always tends to be utterly disappointing, and so this year I decided to spice it up by attending a gig organised by the rather fashionable All Tomorrow's Parties - headlined by none other but the gods of noise rock themselves, Sonic Youth.

Considering that I made an extra effort to check out on record all of the many support acts playing tonight, I was a little bit disappointed to miss Factory Floor, whose ice-cold minimalist electronica would certainly have got the party started. Actually, scratch that last bit.

When we arrive at the Apollo - a lovely little theatre that, while a major London venue, is just intimate enough to ensure everyone gets a good view - The Pop Group are the first band we manage to catch. Though touted as an "influential" 80s noise-ska-jazz band, let's not mince words here: on record, I found them absolutely dreadful. I'm sure they must have their fans to be still playing shows over two decades on, but to me they sound like a bizarre mix of early Chili Peppers funk and walls of crippling noise - all drowned out by a raving lunatic with too much reverb on his mic.

Live, they only come off a little better: the funk may be danceable, but the lead guitarist appears to be hell-bent on destroying the song (as well as making a general racket with a distorted keyboard and guitar pedals between songs). The singer - now middle-aged with a belly - still jumps around the stage and refuses to sing anything vaguely resembling in tune. Suffice to be said, we were all very glad when they finally shuffled off stage.

Next up are Shellac. But first the bar, for ridiculously overpriced pints of Carlsberg. Urgh. I don't know if the Hammersmith Apollo was merely taking advantage of the British New Year's Eve tradition of getting hammered, or if their prices are always set high for their captive audience, but £4.20 is not an acceptable price for a pint.

Without warning - lacking an intro track or even tension-building dimming of the lights - Shellac walk onstage, pick up their instruments and start playing music. I'm not going to pretend to know Shellac very well (in fact, shamefully, I'd never even heard of them before buying tickets), but they're good. Really, really good. They don't even play the one Shellac track I know well, 'Prayer To God' - but with riffs so heavy, an atmosphere so thick and a crowd so intense, who needs familiarity?

At last, the time arrives. A couple of minutes before midnight, Thurston Moore walks onstage brandishing an open bottle of champagne and hands it to the crowd. As the rest of Sonic Youth take up their instruments, he begins to count down to midnight. At the stroke of midnight, the venue erupts with cries of "happy new year!", giant balls of glitter explode above us and begin to flutter down, and Sonic Youth begin playing 'Sacred Trickster'. I'm not entirely sure what happened during the next hour and a half. Most of the material was off the latest album The Eternal, although finishing with two tracks off Daydream Nation and the classic tune 'Kool Thing' was absolute bliss.

By the end of the night, I was bruised all over, soaked with sweat and my ears were ringing, but I can't think of a better way possible to ring in the new year.

Photo by DG Jones

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