Despite sticky mud, a near-death experience at the hands of The Vaccines’ fans and missing Brian May on stage with My Chemical Romance, it was off to the arena for another hard day’s gigging. Here are the bands I saw on Saturday.
NB: * denotes that I saw their full set.
Saturday, NME/Radio 1 Stage
Due to a pub ‘festival breakfast’ offer which took an hour to materialize (and even then was only comprised of sausage and chips), I only managed to get to the NME stage for the last 20 minutes of their set despite whizzing through the still-impenetrable mud as best I could (‘whizzing’ through mud equates to marching very quickly and trying not to fall over) to the arena, thinking “Please, please, please can they not have played ‘Get Away’ yet…”. And, to my absolute joy, the first full song I heard them play was the wonderful ‘Get Away’, which is one of the best songs I’ve discovered this summer. They sounded great, though I don’t know how much the relief/joy factor inflated how good they actually were.
2. The Pigeon Detectives
Saturday, Main Stage
Got back for their last few songs, which incorporated some of their biggest singles – ‘I’m Not Sorry’ and the like. As an owner of their first two albums, I’d come to expect that their singles were good, but their album tracks were generic indie fodder; I expected their singles to be well-performed and the rest of the songs in their set immediately forgettable. Right on the latter count and wrong on the former – their lead singer’s voice just didn’t sound up to it on the Main Stage. Very disappointing.
3. Big Deal
Saturday, Festival Republic Stage
I’d never heard of them, and was really only watching them to fill the wait before Seasick Steve came on, but they were your typical boy/girl softly-softly vocals duo that we’ve been seeing so many of recently (The xx, Summer Camp, etc) – easy on the ear, wispy on the eye and totally inoffensive, but probably not going to set the world alight. They released their debut album two days after I saw them, though, so at least I can feel cutting-edge now.
4. Seasick Steve*
Saturday, Main Stage
For a 70-year-old ex-hobo, he’s done incredibly well for himself, especially considering that he’s only broken the markets in the past five years. And considering his age again, his live performance is impressive, even getting a girl from the audience to come on stage so he could serenade her. Using a broom as an instrument on stage is awesome enough, but using it effectively is several levels above… Having watched him, it comes as no surprise that he’s become renowned for his live performances, though he was nearly overshadowed (quite literally) by the impressive four-person-high human tower which built itself near us.
5. Two Door Cinema Club*
Saturday, Main Stage
They’ve recently hit the big time (read: started being played on Radio 1 and as a result have reached the Monday morning masses), so I expected a large and enthusiastic crowd – which was just what appeared. They were alright – decent enough, interacting with the crowd, churning out tracks from their album – but the songs themselves all sound fairly similar. This means that, when there’s only really one song by them that you know (‘What You Know’), you think that every song is that song, which is awkward when you get excited and start dancing before realising you’ve never heard this song before. That is, until you’ve given up hope of them ever playing it and then recognise the opening chords and find yourself part of a huge outdoors indie disco.
So, to summarise; they were ok, but the songs themselves lacked something.
Saturday, Main Stage
I didn’t know most of the songs in their set – that is, until the last twenty minutes, at which point it went from a fun gig to a great one. I’m still at a loss as to why they were so low down the bill when they were at least the third biggest name on Saturday’s bill (for those who are more grey around the temples, like my dad, they were probably the only recognisable name), especially considering the bumper crowd and bumper audience reaction (i.e.: tens of thousands-strong karaoke party) to pop pearls like ‘It Must Be Love’, ‘Baggy Trousers’, ‘House of Fun’ and ‘Our House’. It definitely was worth the hour-long awkward feeling of “Do I know this song? I feel like I should know this song. No, Jen, you’re not just here for ‘House of Fun’ et al, you’re also here to learn their back catalogue… though I really do wish they’d play ‘It Must Be Love’ already… BAD JEN. I’M A FAILURE” through the more anonymous ska numbers at the beginning.
7. Cloud Control
Saturday, Festival Republic Stage [3rd row, stage-right]
We were really only there to get to the front for Smith Westerns, my first ‘must-see/get-in-my-way-and-I’ll-kill-you’ band of the weekend. [The other three were Pulp, Best Coast and Muse.] But we were early enough to see nearly all of Cloud Control’s set and, although I’d never heard of them before, I was very impressed. They’re a three-piece outfit with a distressingly attractive lead singer who specialise in indie folk – unlike Mumford and Sons, who I dislike intensely, they’ve got more interesting layers to their music (think church-like harmonies, oohs and being generally less lethargic) and are the lo-fi antidote to overproduced pop, plus they don’t have that bloody annoying banjo – and I definitely made a mental note to check them out when I got home. Their album is good, but it’s far more restrained sound-wise – they’re a lot louder and a lot fuzzier live. Very good indeed.
8. Smith Westerns*
Saturday, Festival Republic Stage [1st row, stage-right]
Smith Westerns, along with Best Coast, have been the soundtrack to my summer; their eponymous first album was on repeat when I was on holiday and lead single from their new album Dye It Blonde, ‘Weekend’, currently stands at a heady 6th place in my iTunes ’25 Most Played’ playlist*. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t play more songs from their debut album, though that’s just because I know the songs better. Hopefully most of the crowd (who didn’t seem to have a clue who they were or know any of their songs) will have felt about them how I felt about Cloud Control, and made a mental note to look them up; I thought they turned in a good show for their first English festival performance, translating their fuzz-toned sound well for the stage and, intriguingly, appearing to have a bassist without a face (though maybe it was lurking underneath his hair). I can only hope that those who hadn’t heard of them enjoyed it as much as I did…
9. The National
Saturday, Main Stage [5th row, stage-left]
Another ‘band-I’m-only-here-to-see-so-I-can-push-people-out-the-way-to-see-the-next-band-who-I-WILL-kill-you-if-you-get-in-my-way-for’. I haven’t listened to them much, though I’ve quite liked what I’ve listened to online, but I didn’t find them particularly inspiring to watch. Mind you, I wasn’t focusing too much on the performance; it was more of a tactical weave through the holes in the crowd to get as close as possible to the stage for Pulp. And in any case, I was way too excited about seeing them to really focus much on The National, though I think the majority of the front portion of the crowd felt the same way.
Saturday, Main Stage [3rd row, stage-left]
Well, this was my highlight of the entire festival. Even if I hadn’t known or particularly liked Pulp, I’d have still watched them; it’s universally agreed that their live performances are spectacular, and this one somehow managed to better my expectations. You see, a band can play their songs as fantastically as possible, but that’s not a substitute for wit, charisma and general star quality. The best performances are carried out by natural performers – like, say, Jarvis Cocker. A crowd that had been muted and staid during The National suddenly became hysterical as questions and phrases were projected onto a sheet in front of the stage, each designed to kick the hysteria up a notch; one of my friends thought this went on too long – it probably did – but, for the Britpop nostalgists who had forked out £190 on a weekend ticket just for this, it was the only way of making us more excited about it before they launched into the totally reunion-apt ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’.
A setlist mostly cobbled from the track listing of Different Class, with a couple chucked in from His ‘n’ Hers (including my favourite Pulp song, ‘Babies’) and one each from penultimate and last albums This Is Hardcore (the title track) and We Love Life (‘Sunrise’) was seamlessly threaded together in an oddly effective narrative structure by Mr Cocker, who punctuated the interludes with anecdotes, witticisms and number-crunching (namely, that it had been 17 years to the day that they had first performed at Reading and first performed a little ditty about class which just went on to be their biggest hit…). But that’s not to say that this is a great set just because of his banter; he – not forgetting the rest of the band, who may be overshadowed by their magnetic vocalist, but without who he wouldn’t be here – brings songs that often sound good but slightly flat to life. I’ve always thought that ‘F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E’ (try typing that when you’re rat-arsed…) was let down because it took far, far too long to get going, but on stage, the long intro brings it a compelling atmosphere. By the time ‘Common People’ gets going, you’ve forgotten what it’s like to have any personal space whatsoever, but you couldn’t care less – Jarvis Cocker is thrusting on speaker only metres away from you, thousands of people are yelling the lyrics in unison and bouncing around like resting has gone out of fashion, and you’re as close as you can get to it being 1995 again. My idea of heaven, basically. [Though as you will soon read, it could have been even closer to being a big old Britpop party.]
11. The Strokes
Saturday, Main Stage
Someone at NME that decided that The Strokes gave a better performance than Pulp. That someone was clearly blind, deaf and crazy. That’s not to say it wasn’t a decent performance – their songs speak for themselves – but it just lacked something that Pulp come lathered in; charisma. Jarvis Cocker is, as I’ve pontificated on at length, a natural performer, whereas Julian Casablancas looks like he wants to be moping in a corner with a glass of milk instead of being on stage in front of thousands of people. There was nothing wrong with them, but they were totally outplayed by Pulp – mind you, most people would have been. That said, Jarvis ‘n’ Julian’s duet for The Cars’ ‘Just What I Needed’ was inspired. Definitely the highlight of their set.
I’m probably the only person who was disappointed that the rumour about The Strokes cancelling and being replaced by Suede was untrue. Not that I knew this rumour existed until I got home, but now I know there was a chance of this happening… well, it nearly made me shed a little tear. Ah well, they were good enough for me to not have a full on weep-fest…
A review of the Sunday coming soon. I actually mean the ‘soon’ this time, mainly because I’m beginning to forget what the bands I didn’t watch for ages were like…
*TOTALLY IRRELEVANT RAMBLE: Sandwiched between the full version of Suede’s ‘Stay Together’ (which, admittedly, is nearly three times longer than ‘Weekend’) and Laura Marling’s ‘Ghosts’, which is the only other non-90s song in my top 11. You may be surprised to learn that my #1 song is not a Britpop song. You may not be surprised to learn that the other eight songs in my top 11 are. Name them all for a prize [NB: my LastFM isn’t totally accurate in this, so don’t go consulting there].