Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Festival Season: Reading Review - Day 1

There is only one UK festival which is purely about the music. V Festival is about peddling as much corporate merchandise as can be stuffed in a rucksack in a weekend. Glastonbury and Bestival are more about the vibe. Reading Festival has none of these distractions and only mission is to cram as many incredible bands as humanely possible into a field to play to the most musically educated fans in the country. Quite simply, it has the best line-up of any of the major festivals this year. And here at BTA we bring you the highlights of the 3 days…

We kick off with Future of the Left, recompiled from the flesh and bones of Jarcrew and the much-mourned McLusky. They deliver a potent mix of raw raucous energy, mountainous riffs and the surrealist lyrics I’ve ever heard. They stimulate some impressive moshing for this early in the day, which is only intensified when the band start throwing out candy drumsticks for the masses to fight over.

Steve Lamacq introduces Pete and The Pirates as having produced the best British debut album of the year and it’s pretty hard to challenge that assessment. Having crafted a collection of quintessentially British indie pop songs with an abundance of hooks and melody they are consistently excellent. 'Knots' and 'Mr Understanding' are the standouts of this triumphant homecoming show, evidenced by the sizable crowd I’m confronted with when I turn around at the conclusion of their set

One of the festival’s new inventions this year is the BBC Introducing Stage, setup to showcase some of the bands tipped for greatness over the coming year. I’m here to see Situationists whose Britpop stylings had instantly grabbed my attention. I was a bit concerned that they tread a bit too close to Ordinary Boys territory for my liking but witnessing them live shows just how far off the mark I was, as they are much more angular and closer kins to a Good Shoes or Bloc Party. I’m rather taken with them and will be charting their upward trajectory with interest in the coming weeks/months/years.

One band I was really looking forward to was Be Your Own Pet. 2 albums in and having barely pricked the mainstream’s consciousness they’ve decided to call it a day and play a handful of final shows as a send-off. And now I wish I hadn’t bothered. They arrive totally wasted, announce they haven’t practiced in months, and proceed to make The Libertines’ early gigs look polished in comparison. The highlight is when the lead singer tries to pimp her guitarist out to the audience, which only generates minimal interest from the female contingent of the crowd. Good riddance.

Much more palatable to the ears are iTunes latest pluggers, Florence And the Machine. In a stunning emerald dress, Florence bounces around the stage like an elf with ADHD and is utterly enchanting. 'Kiss with a Fist', which Florence has been at pains to stress is not a song about domestic violence, is a bona fide hit.

I’d experienced Transgressive’s latest signing Esser a couple of weeks before at their summer showcase and since then 'Headlock' has been generating some serious buzz in indie land. All their songs seem to be about social embarrassment. 'Headlock' centres on being bullied; whilst 'Satsified' is about the inability to please a woman and 'Work It Out' laments over general relationship problems. I decide this is the oral equivalent of the genius TV series Peep Show, and thus succeeds in being both marvellous and cringeworthy at the same time.

Ida Maria comes on stage dressed as the female version of Pete Doherty, complete with requisite black top hat, tight leather jacket and dirty black hair. Brought to the public attention primarily through the juvenile 'I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked', it’s tracks like 'Stella', 'Queen of the World' and 'Oh My God' where she’s most endearing.

The Radio 1 tent is heaving by the time Andrew Van Wyngarden of MGMT appears in a truly vile Orange and Blue poncho. 'Time to Pretend' stimulates the first real euphoria of the weekend but amazingly that’s dwarfed by the mass love-in that 'Kids' inspires. Even as we leave the tent the kids are still bellowing out that keyboard riff in tremendous harmony.

Having waited many years to see them live, Queens of the Stone Age are hugely disappointing. Partly as the awful main stage sound makes them sound almost timid but also as they choose to base their set on Era Vulgaris rather than playing the best of set their position as co-headliners warranted. That said, hearing 'No One Knows' live for the first time was awesome and instantly made amends.

Onto the home straight now, and over to the Radio 1 tent for our final 2 bands on the evening. Although unlikely to win any prizes for pushing musical boundaries, with 'Moving to New York' and 'Let’s Dance to Joy Division', The Wombats bring unbridled joy to the tent and leave me with the biggest grin of the day, exactly what a festival band should do.

The evening ends with Babyshambles, and fortunately for the crowd, and the army of paparazzi lined up at the start of the stage, Pete decides to grace us with his presence and take us through a solid set of highlights from their 2 albums. They don’t quite have enough material to pull it off as headliners but there are some real standouts here. Especially 'Down in Albion' where we’re treated to white and red stage lights simulating the St George’s Cross and offer the first really touching moment of the weekend. That’s followed by a rousing 'Fuck Forever' which represents a fitting culmination to the day’s events.

Oh and if you’re eagerly waiting for a review of Rage Against the Machine’s return, all I can tell you was they were loud. Very loud. So loud that I could still hear them 10 minutes down the road after exiting the site…

BBC Radio 1 Reading & Leeds Festival Videos

Future of the Left - Manchasm
Pete and The Pirates - Mr Understanding
Situationists - We Are Weightless
Florence and the Machine - Kiss With A Fist
Esser - Headlock



Anonymous said...

"Oh and if you’re eagerly waiting for a review of Rage Against the Machine’s return, all I can tell you was they were loud. Very loud. So loud that I could still hear them 10 minutes down the road after exiting the site…"

heh, brutal.

Anonymous said...

ugh, i so agree with the start of this. i am sick to death of being looked down on because i'm going to reading not some other cooler festival. but ffs it does have the best bands. usual gripe - "yeah but i don't like anything on the main stage" who cares!? who wants to spend time at the main stage anyway it's hot and unfriendly even when theres a band on you do like.
bbc introducing stage was wicked this year too.
there we are comment over...

Anonymous said...

man, i love that kiss with a fist song.

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