Pavement top-out Saturday in fine style
Henge Photo: Scott M Salt

Oh look, there’s a man on the stage with a plasma globe on his head. He has a beard, a golden guitar and a cape. He says he’s from space. The bass player is from Venus and the other keyboard player looks like Rick Wakeman circa 1972. With a beard. This is Henge. And, oh yes, we’re at Bluedot. When two human-sized tardigrades come out to dance around, no one’s surprised. Later there are malfunctioning robots and aliens. Most Bluedot band ever.

We just catch the end of The Pictish Trail set. There’s ‘Far Gone (Don’t Leave)’, which Johnny Lynch explains is taken from the film ‘Fargo’, both his favourite film and the best film of all time – “It’s nice when things come together like that” cracks Lynch (12th ‘Hottest Scot’ according to The List magazine in 2010). He plays a sample from the soundtrack, then explains how he reconstructed it. “I’m not paying them money!” It’s a slow, string-laden doomy piece. The set closes out with the beefy krautrock number ‘Natural Successor’ from the album ‘Island Family’. It rounds off a set of lo-fi electronic-infused guitar-heavy psyche weirdness. The isolation up there on the Isle of Eigg must be quite something. “Come and visit! He shouts in a moment of benevolence he quickly reconsiders. “But not all at once…”

Dry Cleaning Photo: Paul Whitely

When Florence Shaw of Dry Cleaning takes to the stage with a gold lamé dress, it comes as a surprise. After all, this is a band whose album ‘Stumpwork’ spells out the album title in pubes on a bar of pink soap. Then you notice that the dress is just a facade, a front. She’s wearing it like an apron, slung over her neck. In this context it’s a protective layer, like her vivid red lipstick and detached silent movie performance, all eye rolls and sneers. The band itself feels like it’s been constructed from abandoned parts of other bands, The Fall, P.I.L. and something from the doom metal scene. The guitar’s plangent ringing tones on the likes of ‘Gary Ashby’ are as likely to enter into Keith Levene hacking and slashing, as on ‘Viking Hair’. The bass player gives off strong dark metal vibes, while Shaw intones, allowing the contents of her unconscious spill out of her mouth, like an indie Virginia Woolf, if Woolf concerned herself with heroin, sex and mentioned Alpen, the Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim in her work, that is. The fractured character of Dry Cleaning live feels like trying to light a fire on an icefloe. Hot yet chilly.

Sorry are another band whose iciness is the appeal, shot through as it is by the electronics and interventions of Marco Pini, whose own Glows project is a pretty glorious work of electronic sound collage. Sorry have so many influences and noises at their fingertips, it seems that anything is fair game for them to plunder. Whatever they do, whether it’s electronica, pop, post-rock, post-punk underground indie, there’s always an unpredictable noisefest lurking near the surface. If you listen to new single, ‘Screaming In The Rain Again’ you’d be convinced that Sorry are very sad people, whose solace in life is to create multi-faceted weirdpop to process their angst. But then there are the glories of ‘Starstruck’, which rips Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’ guitar line pretty successfully, for an irresistible glam racket delivered with a cool reserve.

Pavement Photo: Scott M Salt

Pavement, then. In the words of Dolly Parton, “Do you have any idea how much it costs to look this cheap?”. It’s not the 90s, and they’re not in their 20s anymore, but they still have the essential Pavement quality of looking and sounding like they just woke up and can hardly get it together, but in possession of an apparently effortless brilliance. Like Dolly, it must take a lot of hard work to look so slack. 

Earlier in the day they shuffled onto the Notes stage to take part in a Tim’s Listening Party for their 1995 album ‘Wowee Zowee’. They were received with rapturous applause and warmth, and proceeded to diffidently rake over the ideas and circumstances of the album’s creation. Malkmus, laconic and drily witty, rubbed his eyes and focussed on guitars and amps and effects. They often professed to not really remember that much about it. It was a band favourite, though, said Bob Nastanovich, because it felt like a record made by the whole band, and on stage tonight Pavement were a gloriously close-knit experience.

They spaff some big songs early, ‘Stereo’ is aired second, and sends the crowd into raptures, as do ‘Spit On A Stranger’ and ‘The Hexx’, two highlights from 1999’s ‘Terror Twilight’. Their haphazard stagecraft sees them bring on Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite to guest on a lively rendition of ‘Fin’ with the most minimal of fanfare, so most people who couldn’t actually see who it was would have been none the wiser. 

When they play ‘Stop Breathin’, the Can-influenced number from ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’, you can imagine Pavement holed up in a German Schloss, jamming at a new kind of non-blues with some German experimentalists, but then they bring out the country vibes for ‘Range Life’ and remind us that Pavement, for all their European slant (they namecheck David Gedge and John Peel at one point) are an American band, albeit one who are going obliquely diss Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots.

But Pavement remain our American band, their brilliance first spotted here in the UK and carefully attended to throughout the last decade of the 20th century and repaid in full in a field on a rainy Saturday night just outside Manchester.

They finish with ‘Cut Your Hair’, their enormo MTV (and everywhere else) hit from ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ and we head back to our tents, through ankle-sucking mud and the continuing rain, beaming.

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