A weekend at Reading, half of the fun

Live Review

Written By Rebecca Price Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Dananananaykroyd, Manchester Orchestra, The Virgins, The Airborne Toxic Event, Little Boots, Funeral For A Friend, Deftones, Fall Out Boy, The Big Pink, Placebo, Friendly Fires, Jamie T, Kings of Leon, Faith No More, Mariachi El Bronx, Fightstar, The Rakes, Eagles of Death Metal, Them Crooked Vultures, Patrick Wolf, Ian Brown, Maxïmo Park, The Prodigy, Arctic Monkeys, Broadway Calls, Noah and The Whale, Lethal Bizzle, The Living End, Metronomy, Brand New, Vampire Weekend, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Bloc Party and Radiohead. at Reading Festival

August Bank Holiday, and once again thousands flock to either Reading or Leeds to wear silly hats for three days of binge drinking, post-apocalyptic camping and occasionally a bit of music too. Here is your whirlwind guide to that latter part, starting with Dananananaykroyd, who are worth the stupid name. They’re gloriously chaotic fun as a live act and wake up the early attendees in the NME tent with their double drummers and tendency to play skipping games with lead wires or attack each other with microphones. Pity Manchester Orchestra can’t really match up, their slightly dull rock thudding on until the much hyped Virgins come onstage. Heard of The Virgins? You know, the oh-so cool New York band who play guitars and sing about girls and stuff? Don’t bother if you haven’t. They’re actually quite ignorable, but let the hipsters have their fun.

The Airborne Toxic Event are more interesting, even though they look a bit like they’ve been constructed from Arcade Fire’s cast off clothes and leftover instruments. They also share a similar taste for expanding pop rock into something a little more grandiose, but not quite epic yet. They do have a sizable cult following, so hopefully its A Sign Of Things To Come. Next Little Boots – seemingly the runner up in the current Pop Female epidemic – sings nice Kylie Minogue type songs that she wrote all by herself on a thing that looks like an etch-a-sketch with little bleeping lights on it (it’s called a Tenori-on, it makes music, it costs £789, I want one).

Now we move to the mainstage, only to find Funeral For A Friend playing stroppy sulky music to stroppy sulky kids – a surprise to those of us who assumed everyone must have grown out of them by now. Deftones provide a similar sort of thing, only louder and a little bit more metally, bless them, until Fall Out Boy arrive. Now, I’m 17. I know far too many people who think Fall Out Boy are the voice of our generation, with a sharp wit and some killer tunes too. I personally think they are shit, and the set they play at Reading seems to satisfy both sides. Kids in Vans shoes and skinny grey hoodies go wild at finally seeing their heroes, while I just feel old. I don’t get this. It’s whiny, dull, and nothing special, ok?

Time for something more obscure and credible, so off to the Festival Republic stage to see The Big Pink, who specialise in trippy guitars and cool noises, like My Bloody Valentine with the safety on. It’d be interesting to hear them on record. But then back to main stage for yet more teenage angst from people way past adolescence, as Placebo are providing a slightly older generation with their own whiny songs about girls and boys and painkillers via a grown man in eyeliner. Their set is thick with new material, unwise to play for a festival, and so they fall a little flat.

Back to NME to get some colour kicked into the veins, as Friendly Fires prove to be enjoyable, with crowds bouncing around and basslines throbbing, and then Jamie T comes on. Before Faith No More were announced, Jamie T was the Friday headliner for this second largest tent, even though he was the sound of three summers ago and has never really made a lasting impression on the general public, but he turns out to be better than expected – his songs are upbeat and he clearly is more talented than his cheeky busker reputation would allow.

Sadly once he finishes, the tent drains as everybody goes to watch Kings of Leon, but as I don’t really want to listen to a band whose biggest hit will be turned into a thrush cream advert one day (you know the song I mean), I stay for Faith No More. Smart plan. Although they are chiefly a heavy rock band often verging on metal, they are smarter than the average band, with a wealth of musical styles at their disposal – as anyone who knows them by that Lionel Ritchie cover should know. So while they open with their melodica-driven version of the theme from Midnight Cowboy, they then blast through a selection of pulsing, adrenalised classics, thus bringing proper rock to the festival on a year where it has been a little light, and still throwing in the Eastenders theme (twice) or a singing lesson when they feel like it. Superb.

Incidentally, Kings of Leon were apparently terrible. It says something that when the thrush cream song gets played over the speakers later in the week, the entire crowd boo so loudly they are forced to change the track before the singing even starts. Oh dear.

Saturday brings the sunshine, and Mariachi El Bronx set the mood with some vaguely flamencoey stuff, including the jackets, which does make the whole thing look a bit like a tacky side project (it is. The Bronx proper are playing another stage later). It isn’t bad though. Fightstar arrive, where the one with the eyebrows out of Busted tries to play grown up music, but fails – at least Busted could write a tune, even if they did have lyrics like Year 3000.

The Rakes come on, and are an improvement - their catchy indie guitar music is pretty good but they sadly ignore their more complex work like Suspicious Eyes. Eagles of Death Metal prove to be utterly pointless – the singer may as well shouted ‘I’m friends with Josh Homme, y’know’ and walked off. The biggest cheers are when the crowd see Dave Grohl lurking by the sides on the screens.

This proves to be the giveaway that the rumoured supergroup Them Crooked Vultures really are the mystery band playing NME later. They feature Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and John Paul Jones – all of whom have been in better bands than Eagles of Death Metal. There is a mass exodus to the tent, but first Patrick Wolf has to play, pretentious idiot. He looks like the opening act on a Spinal Tap gay cabaret tour. It’s possible that he can only fit into those outfits after tearing his own genitals off from the sheer thought of himself. No matter, he preens about the stage, climbing the lighting rigs, singing Madonna covers and other things with bleeps and strings and stuff that probably don’t sound as good as they did in his head. Never mind, because Them Crooked Vultures finally come out to a sea of camera phones and shrieks of ‘OhMyGodIt’sDaveGrohl!’(a living member of Led Zeppelin and the world’s only cool ginger are simply not impressive enough for these people). But the group do impress – these are still three very strong talents – and there will be hundreds of people pretending they came to see them later on.

Ian Brown proves to be a little saddening. It’s not that the music is bad – the solo stuff is pretty good, if unfamiliar, and the rolling bassline of Fool’s Gold makes the crowd do a ‘wow, a Roses track!’ double take. Sadly, it’s this old classic that highlights how poor his voice has become in the past twenty years. It sounds like a strained man attempting karaoke instead of the smooth whisper-hum of glory days. I’m sure my own inner 15 year old isn’t the only one feeling a little let down.

But cheer up, because Maxïmo Park are here to grab the attention of a crowd bored with the appearance of just-another-indie-band. Paul Smith gyrates around with his bowler hat, occasionally reading from books on stage. They’re a little more captivating than the Rakes were, anyhow, but this is a trivial comparision when compared to The Prodigy. My god, they’re even raving it up in the gourmet noodle stands. Far from pot bellied embarrassments, they still have the ferocious energy to make everyone from the age of twelve to sixty attempt to kill each other in large, wild circle pits. And if you think the set is crazy, try surviving the rush for water afterwards.

But now is the time for Arctic Monkeys. It seems like just yesterday they were those lovable northern scallywags, posterboys of the ‘MySpace Revolution’, who sounded like the coolest band in history to have ever played a youth club. But now they’re all grown up, with long hair and albums recorded in deserts, and the transformation really comes through. Allthough Humbug was only released the day most people arrived on site, the songs are well received, with a darker and more complex tone than the earlier hits, though those are of course the ones that get everyone singing along. The exchange of favourites such as Mardy Bum or A Certain Romance for obscure Nick Cave covers and large amounts of new material causes murmurs of agreement when somebody shouts ‘PLAY SOMETHING DECENT, YOU C***S!’, but never mind them. Arctic Monkeys have proven that it is possible to remain both fresh and well loved for years after that initial terrifying rush of hype. Well done.

Sunday is grey weather and a bleary-eyed collective hangover. I wander from stage to stage for the first bit, and the ones I stayed for thirty seconds of I’m not going to mention here. Broadway Calls are a bunch of Green Day rip offs – even their posture reminds me of their old videos. Noah and The Whale really surprise me – I couldn’t stand Five Years Time, and thought that the rest of their material would be the same. In fact, their music sounds like pale blue waves crashing on silvery grey pebbles, and as they don’t play any ukulele songs they alienate everyone in the crowd but win me over.

Lethal Bizzle’s moron rap keeps the crowds happy, but I instead make a few visits to the alternative tent for some comedy (Andy Robinson is one of those middle aged grumps who actually cross the generation barriers, Daniel Townes has his own obscene brilliance, and Jeremy Hardy should go away back to Radio 4). The Living End I didn’t see a lot of either, not that I seemed to miss much, but Metronomy’s furious maths rock beats make them the most attention grabbing band of the day so far – though Brand New’s use of feedback and guitar noises also prick up the ears.

Now we reach the Big Bands, the final few acts that everyone has heard of. Vampire Weekend are still cool, bobbing about with their second generation afro beat rhythms, and most of their new material promises much of the same (though there’s none quite like A Punk or Oxford Comma). Yeah Yeah Yeahs are mostly centred around Karen O’s bizarre costume (It’s a parrot! It’s a boiled sweet zebra! It’s a giant beach towel!), but the music itself is worth it. Although their new album drifted more into electro-pop, all aspects of their career are squished together wonderfully in one stomping performance.

Bloc Party have played roughly this same spot on the Reading/Leeds bill for several years – some wristband-toting veterans are getting a bit sick of them (as are most of the people who ever heard anything off Intimacy, let’s be honest), and while Mercury sounds even worse than it did on record, no one really minds – there are lasers and circle pits and those good old fashioned angular guitars and everybody is happy. Turns out that this is the 10th anniversary of key band members meeting each other at this very festival, and even though I can barely see the stage, they have got their act together live again with this homecoming, which is reassuring considering what that new single sounds like.

The final – and probably best – band of the weekend is Radiohead. They are unpredictable and surprising – they even start off with Creep – mixing all their styles and eras together. So the set may seem to concentrate on the later, electronic stuff, until you count up and realise they’ve played half of OK Computer (and just when you think they’re never going to play a certain song, they do). Their songs are filled with wonder and power, ever impressive and dazzling. And their stage set looks like they’re playing in the giant CCTV room of a lighting warehouse. There are moments for staring at the stage in awe, followed by songs where the audience all jump and dive at each other, disproving the idea everyone spends Radiohead shows with their arms folded, waiting to be impressed. But then, they are impressive.

Wonderful, exhilarating, beautiful, whatever, finished. The speakers tell everybody we’ll meet again next year, then turf us out into the Millets wilderness of the campsites on Tent Burning Night. This year could easily have fallen flat – a lot of recycled bands from recent years and a huge proportion of recently released material are not a good combination for any festival – but instead some superb headliners, strong supporting acts and nice surprises from the more obscure acts meant that 2009 has not been a weak year at all. Of course there’s been plenty of rubbish too – but half the fun is in mocking them, isn’t it?

Written By Rebecca Price Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

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