big star, bombast n' balance

a late night attempting to use the worst broadband connection of all time to discover new bands on the line-up leads us to one of the oldest acts appearing over the whole week. we hear nick garrie's mad, wonderful 'wheel of fortune' tune in short bursts through laptop speakers and we know our first set at the auditori on thursday will be, at the least, interesting.

we show up early to snag our jeff mangum tickets for later on (2 euros a piece, 3000-ish capacity - a neat profit on top of the festival ticket everyone already bought with the promise of seeing mangum included, right?) and trot into the cool, refined dark of the beautiful auditory for nick garrie's first ever public, full band performance of his unreleased 1970 album 'the nightmare of j b stanislas'. the guy is a revelation. it's like keith baron turning up at your house and letting you know that, aside from duty free, he also made one of the great lost albums in modern folk and is a bit of a master of melody on the side too. a sometimes moving, always strange, totally refreshing set. check the cunt out.

the mangum situation is a shitty one. having pulled much of the crowd to the festival on his name (as atp have been doing for the last 9 months) they then ticket the shows which excludes many and further run the shows in a pathetically disorganised manner.

we join the snaking queue 20 minutes before stage time, tickets in hand. we are granted entry when mangum has 4 songs of his set left. the 4 songs are a joy and i can never get enough of him not only for his talent but more personally for how he transports me back to new jersey every time i hear him play, but we've been cheated of the real mangum experience as have others - several of whom are actually let in at the close of his final song. shame, shame.

rufus wainwright's overblown chamber pop does little for me back in the blaze of rays. i've grown to find him trivial and tiring over the years though the latter part of the set, more reflective and sombre, is quite enjoyable. he brings out teddy thompson. 'i think my mam likes him' says owens. hmmm.

harvey milk, who im assured i'm meant to like. are an ear-smashing shard of filth-rock that i find impossible to love. i dont see either the real humour or any genuine darkness to the band - it just comes across dumb and heavy. which is fine if that's what ya want, but i don't...

crushing news that next week's catcher-uppers may not be able to fly out to porto due to airport staff strikes pull the mood a little lower.

then there's the big star third show at the auditori. it's nearly impossible to describe this event. suffice to say it involved many of the most important musical figures of my life (members of wilco, yo la tengo, rem, teenage fanclub, posies and, as they say, many more) recreating one of the best albums ever made to an adoring crowd in the most loving, heart-shattering, joyous way imaginable. they play 'holocaust' and we crumble. it's an astounding, semi-spiritual experience. i find myself forgiving ken stringfellow for being a dick to me at the garage all those years ago simply because his work here is so amazing.

they drop september girls to close and the previously seated crowd fills the front of stage floor, dancing. theytake their bow, just a couple of feet away and my temptation to hug mike mills is thankfully tempered. thankfully. yeah it's just an ad-hoc band playing some songs but hey, it's been one of the most intense and wonderful experiences of my life. alex woulda been pleased, no doubt.

this all sadly makes the cure a dull and irrelevant experience. peppered lightly with hits their near-three hour set is awash in a sea of indulgent session player soloing and drab 80s drone. they are, it seems, rubbish. such a shame for a band with the ability to turn in a set of great tunes and sparse, spectral atmospheria - instead they turn in bloated, sluggish stadium toss.

the gang are not in love with codeine it has to be said. though i adore them once more and even spot atp will mopping the sweat from his forehead down the front. i fail to make contact with the mighty man himself and i don't see him for the rest of the weekend...

the drums do 'wafer thin, bland and horrific' as we shimmy past...

finally, recharged for the late session we rumble with brooklyn's 'the men'. they speed up, they slow down, they break strings, they don't replace them. they have a set of furious tunes and a good ol' fashioned 'mats attitude. exhilarating.

as we hit the taxi ranks it's the shadow of the work of big star, of chilton that hangs on me. i'll smile every time i think of this day and i'll cry a little too. just for the sake of balance.