Reading 2011: Who Rocked and Who Sucked – Sunday

By now I was sleep-deprived, greasier than a late-night kebab and really missing the experience of taking a slash sitting down. Sunday saw me watch 13 bands, though the gulf between ‘good’ and ‘meh’ was more exaggerated than on the previous two days. This is shown by my inability to remember a lot of various sets (The View, Warpaint, Interpol). Even though I feel my ability to adequately review bands’ live performances has disintegrated significantly here, enjoy the article anyway…

 

 1.    Fucked Up
Sunday, NME/Radio 1 Stage
I was waiting for a happy, languid stoner band and ended up listening to a ‘hardcore punk’ band. They sounded much more hardcore live than they do on Spotify, mainly because you can hear their bonkers lead singer shouting instead of their rather good guitar riffs, and I have to admit I prefer the CD versions of their songs to the live equivalent – just because ‘fat man shouting’ is not my favourite genre of music. But, fair play to them, they really got the crowd going with a huge circle pit – if only more fans had been waiting for the next band, we could’ve done that too…

2.    Best Coast*
Sunday, NME/Radio 1 Stage [3rd row, stage-right]
When you’re dealing with hormonal weather which was at that point stuck on the ‘cold and gloomy’ setting, you really need to be drenched in 45 minutes of sunny Californian surf pop, and fortunately this was provided courtesy of the newest entrants to my ‘top 10 artists ever’*. Along with Tonbridge Angels FC, British music from 1992 to 1997 and my gerbils Polish and Pepper, Best Coast are one of the loves of my life. I’d become obsessed with them over the summer and been unable to stop playing their album, Crazy For You (much, much better than the Madonna song of the same name), plus I’d developed a little bit of a girl crush on lead singer Bethany Cosentino – not only does she have a strong-but-soft voice and an adorable cat called Snacks, but she’s just generally unassailably cool. And, thank God, she was just as captivating in the flesh, though she has a different type of performance charm to Jarvis Cocker’s – where he thrusts exaggeratedly on top of a speaker, she’s content to restrict her movement to playing her chords and insouciantly wiggle as she’s doing it. That sounds awkward, but this is what I mean by that (watch her guitar playing and you’ll see what I mean). We were treated to a run-through of most of the songs from Crazy For You, including the Drew-Barrymore-video-directed single ‘Our Deal’, a couple of older ones and some brand-spanking-new ones. The new material sounds fairly similar to the first album, but when that’s such a corker of a reference point, who’s complaining?
In terms of just playing the songs and sounding simultaneously like and unlike the CD versions (the same enough to be totally comfortable that you’re not going to be wrongfooted by a different octave, different enough to be worth being at the gig instead of sitting at home listening to the CD), they were the best performers I saw all weekend. As with Smith Westerns, though, the crowd were a bit flat. Fortunately I was near a couple of people who were bouncing around dementedly and clapping along to Ali Koehler’s drum rhythms, which gave me an excuse to do it too. If the crowd had been as besotted/active as I was, it might have threatened Pulp’s position as my best gig of the weekend, or indeed, ever… but, lazy crowd and all, it still makes my all-time top 5.

3.    Cage The Elephant*
Sunday, NME/Radio 1 Stage [2nd row, stage-right]
I knew about two of their songs, and hadn’t thought they were anything particularly special; live, they were something else. They had a straight-up rock approach to gigging, the ingredients for which involve jumping around a lot, high-fiving the crowd and crowdsurfing for long periods of time. Naturally, this went down a treat with a crowd who showed The Vaccines’ fans that it’s possible to have the full ‘enthusiastic crowd’ gig experience WITHOUT attempting to kill everything in your sight. As well as going down as the second gig where I’ve touched a lead singer (if I have never mentioned touching Keith Murray at a We Are Scientists gig to you, I have clearly never spoken to you), it was also my ‘best gig by a band I barely knew’ for the weekend. Excellent stuff, though I suspect the music away from the stage is relatively generic punk.

4.    Rae Morris
Sunday, BBC Introducing Stage
Girl with keyboard. Good voice, but the tunes are eminently forgettable. Still, ‘Wait A While’ is better than Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’, mainly because ‘Someone Like You’ is dirgey bollocks and sounds totally false (to me, probably because of the overproduction and being-overplayed) whereas Rae Morris does actually sound like she’s putting emotion into it… still nothing particularly special, but good luck to her.

5.    The View
Sunday, Main Stage
I didn’t watch them for long, because I’m not really a fan – there was nothing before Warpaint that I particularly wanted to watch, hence packing four bands into an hour. They looked fairly average, and I can’t really remember much about their set as a result. This is a pretty shit review of that, then…

6.    Tim Minchin
Sunday, Alternative Stage
When I got home from Reading, once my dad had trolled me by insulting Pulp and revealed his new-found love for My Chemical Romance, inspired by watching their set on television, he asked me if I’d watched Tim Minchin. Technically the answer is ‘no’ as the tent was so full I couldn’t see anything inside it. But I listened to some of his songs, so I said “Yes”. “He’s funny, isn’t he?” he asked, eyes gleaming with the joy of bonding over something other than a small but delightful local football club we both adore. “Errr…” You see, while most people do think he’s funny, I just don’t find him that rib-tickling. Perhaps I listened to the wrong song – ‘The Pope Song’ sounds like it could’ve been lifted from a poor episode of South Park – but I just don’t find him funny. Each to their own, eh?

7.    Courage Have Courage
Sunday, BBC Introducing Stage
To fill the fifteen minutes before Warpaint, I found myself back at the BBC Introducing stage to watch another band I’d never heard of before. Their breed of chirpy guitar indie is, like Two Door Cinema Club the day before, the sort of music that translates better to stage than CD; live, they were pretty good, but in the recording studio they sound fairly contrived. Interestingly, ‘All Night Long’ sounds fairly similar to the post-chorus riff on Blink-182’s ‘Up All Night’.

8.    Warpaint*
Sunday, NME/Radio 1 Stage
They’re one of those much-feted indie bands, but one that I hadn’t really been blown away by when listening to their debut album – though it seems I’m the only one. I left this gig still not blown away by their music, but remained on the fence (they’re ok, but not much either side of that) apart from one song, which I believe is called ‘Undertow’, which had a more memorable tune and sounded like ‘the hit’ to me. Good styling, though.

9.    Panic! At The Disco*
Sunday, NME/Radio 1 Stage
For a band who most people wrote off after 2006 (if they’d even written them on in the first place), I was expecting f-all apart from a mass sing-a-long during ‘I Write Sins Not Tragedies’. Despite finding a paper with all of Saturday’s football results in it, I still focused enough to notice the fact that Brendon Urie is surprisingly hilarious as a frontman – his on-stage banter was more filthy than Jarvis Cocker’s, as he promised to ‘come in [his] pants over all of [us – i.e. the crowd]’ – and has a very nice chest. Not that this influences my opinion of their live performance (much). My brother would have called him a ‘lad’ for his little ramble about getting absolutely hammered after the show: “If you see me after the show, either buy me a shot or punch me in the face, because I’m not going to remember it anyway…”.
But, in musical terms, to no-one’s great surprise their debut’s songs were the best received (along with second album lead single ‘Nine In The Afternoon’ and newer song ‘The Ballad of Mona Lisa’), and Urie was incredibly peppy. My only complaint: BRENDON, Y U NO PLAY ‘LYING IS THE MOST FUN…’?! Bit of a shame that was left out, really.

10.  Sam Sure & Giacomo
Sunday, BBC Introducing Stage
The only band I saw on the BBC Introducing stage who actually managed to get some kind of crowd enthusiasm going, this rap duo have a certain je ne sais quoi which sets them apart from your average ‘yo, blud, blingandcarsandwomenandguns’ rapper. It may be the fact that they don’t sing about those topics and instead have an EP dedicated to fresh air. In any case, for such an unknown band, they really knew how to get the several hundred-strong crowd bouncing and they’re now deservedly one of the top 5 bands whose clips are being shared from the BBC’s website. Who needs a big stage?

11.  Interpol
Sunday, Main Stage
I pretty much had the same reaction to them as I did to The View, except that I don’t know any Interpol songs (The View at least have ‘Same Jeans’ to fall back on in times of setlist trouble). They sounded more upbeat than I expected, but… yeah, by now the less-memorable performances are beginning to blur into one as I’m fairly tired and waiting around for Ed Sheeran and Muse. And some food. And a sit-down.

12.  Ed Sheeran
Sunday, Festival Republic Stage [actually getting into that tent was an achievement…]
Ed Sheeran is currently the big chart-impacting acoustic singer-songwriter du jour and the most lusted-after ginger since Ron Weasley (only more sensitive. And probably a better singer). The latter meant the crowd for this one was not only ridiculous (the tent was big enough for maybe a thousand people, and the crowd outside it was at least 70 people deep, if not more), but reminiscent of an old Britpop joke circa 1995 – “What’s 40 foot long, has no pubes and goes “Aaaaaaah!”? The front row of a Blur concert”. It was chock-a-block with teenage girls whose ovaries had been clearly overheating for him ever since big single ‘The A Team’ was released. But kudos to him, because he has great presence considering it’s really just him and a guitar, plus ‘The A Team’ is a bloody good song with a genuinely touching back story. So, definitely worthy of all the hype, and probably a performance that will go down in Reading folklore. At least, it deserves to.

13.  Muse*
Sunday, Main Stage
Every hardcore Muse fan I know is obsessed with Origin of Symmetry. Every hardcore Muse fan I know has expressed horror and discontent at the fact that I thought it was incredibly overrated (pre-gig, my opinion was that the first half is excellent and the second half is mostly dire, save for ‘Citizen Erased’ and ‘Feeling Good’. I never thought it was a bad album, it was just lauded so much by everyone that I assumed it would be an absolute eargasm, when in fact it was just… kind of good). Imagine my schadenfreude when I find out that Muse will be playing the entirety of Origin to us before launching into the hits. As you’d expect from a band whose live performances are legendary, the technology/backdrop/pretty lights and colourful/technical stuff and pyrotechnics were outstanding, and Origin’s later album tracks sound much better live than on CD (it helped that Matt Bellamy didn’t completely sound like he’d just been castrated, which is my main problem with the second half of Origin). But it’s not until they start playing the hits that the crowd gets going, and you realise how fantastic they are. Let’s face it, ‘Knights of Cydonia’ is basically the best song written in the past 10 years, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for a new generation. But even ‘Starlight’, which by Muse’s standards is pretty crud, managed to make me shed a little tear (it was incredibly poignant because they were playing it under the starlight, ok? Ok?!?! I wasn’t just a wee bit sad that I’d be leaving the land of gigs, crushed beer cans and people shouting “ALAN! ALAN! ALAN!” behind in 12 hours…).
Having said that, I think they could have been better – I feel that if I’d just gone to a normal gig and watched them play all the hits, it might have been better than Oasis. As it is, it’s #4 on my all-time gig list**, and they really are rather good live.

And thus my gigging adventures drew to a close after ‘Knights of Cydonia’, and it was back off to the piss-scented fields for some Ab-bombs (80% absinthe and Red Bull), watching people go ‘tenting’ and sleep. Actually, scrap the latter…

Tune in soon for my ‘Guide to Gig Etiquette’, and then I’ll shut up about Reading.

*IRRELEVANT LIST: The other 9 are, in alphabetical order, The Beatles, Blur, Elastica, Hole, Oasis, Pulp, Suede, We Are Scientists and Weezer. The Magnetic Fields, McFly and the Pixies deserve honourable mentions.
**ANOTHER IRRELEVANT LIST: #1 Pulp, #2 We Are Scientists @ Somerset House, #3 Oasis @ Wembley, #4 Muse, #5 Best Coast, #6 Hole.

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