Reading Festival 2005

Once again I was off to Reading for a considerably dryer festival than last year. It also had a much better (in my opinion) line up, meaning I saw less random bands as there were so many I already knew that I wanted to catch.

First up on Friday, Do Me Bad Things (6). Last year they really impressed me as an unknown band on the tiny Carling Stage. This year, on the main stage, they just seemed to lose something. They just didn't sound, well, big enough to charm in the way they had done previously. But I'm sure they'll be back better in the future. They have the potential to be a great fun band, with great energy and comedy. But not today.

Another great "comedy" band are Goldie Lookin' Chain (8). I thought perhaps their time had been and gone, surely they can't continue to be funny with new stuff? But they were. The news songs are fantastic, even funnier than the last; with one set to the Grange Hill music, and another with the classic chorus "If you leave me now, can I shag yer sister?".

Up next the self-titled "semi-legendary" The Wedding Present (7) who played to a near empty field. Evidently the younger fans hadn't heard of them, and didn't stick around to find out who they are. But they put in a good, solid set that I'd have enjoyed even more if I were more familiar with their music.

Moving onto the main stage for the first time was the lovely ex-Blur guitarist Graham Coxon (8) who always puts on a good show. This was no exception as he whipped through a set mostly made up of songs from his last album. It sounds so much like Blur used to but he is proving he can really succeed on his own.

I made my way very close to the front in time for a band suited to sunny festival afternoons, and a band who continue to impress me with every album they release. They are Elbow (9) and they have a set of songs almost good enough to headline a festival. They create such a great overwhelming sound it's truly amazing. A band often seen as being "dreary" they are uplifting and always put a smile on my face. Today they filmed the crowd for their new video, doing a sort of mexican wave style thing with each row of people crouching down with their hands on their head. They also had the best confetti of the festival (even if most blew away in the strong wind), tiny bits of paper with "Elbow. Leaders of the free world" printed on it.

They were a hard act to follow, but with a greatest hits (so far) set, The Coral (7) did a good job. I saw them a few years ago and didn't think much of them, but now they are a very solid live act. They really seem to evoke that sense that they are real mates and that they enjoy what they do. A very happy band to watch, and one that create a surprisingly violent moshpit! I'm sure, however, that is wasn't a patch on the next band.

But being a bit of a wimp I retreated a little to enjoy Queens Of The Stone Age (7) in all their rocking glory. My expectations were perhaps too high, and I was mildly disappointed. I think to really enjoy their superb guitar sound you need to see them inside, and not in the summer sun. But they were still very good indeed.

I'm not a fan of The Killers (3), but stuck around to see them in order to get a good place for the headline act. They were appalling at V last year and I have to say not much better here. I don't know quite why I don't get them, yet so many other people do. Their music does nothing for me, with the lyrics not a patch on The Smiths style the so desperately try to emulate. 'All These Things That I've Done' is the only one I like, but even this they deliver live in such an unimaginative style. I find them very boring. But many other people seemed to be enjoying themselves.

And so the band I was most looking forward to. I was seeing them for the second time and knew there was no way they could disappoint. And they didn't. The Pixies (10) blew everybody else away. I cannot stress enough how great this band is live. Even if you only know a little of their material I swear you will love one of their gigs. Today they even talked! They seemed to really enjoy themselves playing a fantastic set of songs that I wished would go on forever. One of the best bands ever? Without a doubt yes.

To Saturday, which although without as many "big" acts I wanted to see, had a lot of dashing around the stage trying to catch as many of the bands I'd like to watch as possible. First up, playing to a packed crowd in the Radio 1 tent for such an early slot were Editors (9) who were far better than I though they would be. A dark band, with throbbing guitars and bass and haunting vocals that wash over you delightfully. They have been compared to Interpol who they undoubtedly sound like, but I think they could be even better than them with a couple more albums under their belts. The new Joy Division anyone? On this performance they will go very far indeed. A joy to watch.

Next The Longcut (5) who for me were the very definition of average. I don't know much about them, but they did nothing to interest or surprise me. Perfectly listenable but nothing special based on this performance (and my lack of good judgement).

The Cribs (6) pack a mighty punch and really do rock. I'm not a great fan (yet) for some reason and hope that if I get the album the songs might grow on me. But today they sounded good, but not great.

But I was just hanging on for the act currently being billed as "The new Nirvana", so no pressure guys, Nine Black Alps (8) another band who know how to rock. But in a more, well OK, grunge style. But they can do quite a variety of types of songs, even at this early stage. Their album is a real gem and they perform the songs from it very well live. Another band in line for much greater things I'm sure.

I stopped next at the main stage to catch some of Roots Manuva (6). His music really isn't my cup of tea (not that I could get that this weekend). I'm sure he's great at what he does, but I have little to compare him to, and his music doesn't interest me much. I should have got myself over to The Carling tent quicker, as thanks to the NME and it's none too subtle hype generation it was rammed and I was some way outside the tent despite trying to shove my way forward for Arctic Monkeys (7). Surprisingly they lived up to this hype rather well for such a very young band with very little released material to their name. However the crowd seemed to know all the songs anyway (the joys of illegal downloading I'm sure). They are of course pretenders to The Libertines hastily discarded crown (playing on this the "not quite The Libertines" day) and certainly have that classic indie band vibe. They stick to a well-worn path, but do what they do oh so well already. The songs sound catchy, the performance together but still exciting, and they'll probably be on the main stage as soon as next year, assuming they can get a debut album out.

Todays classic old band reformed again to play to a fairly small Reading crowd were Dinosaur Jr. (6) I really wanted to love this band, simply due to the classic status they have and reputation as a band who really did something. But today they sounded a bit tired and I'm afraid to say dated. Obviously again it would help if I knew their material but it simply didn't do much for me. But I really can't say anything too harsh about them.

A quick dash back to The Carling tent for the next bit of Libertine-eske action in the shame of their ex bassist John's new band Yeti (9) who, believe it or not, really are rather good. They have (silly phrase warning) a lovely jingly-jangly sound. Their music is lovely, poppy (in a good way) stuff with great lyrics, catchy tunes and gentle but fantastic guitar work. A great band in their own right, and I await their debut album eagerly.

And onto perennial festival favourites and general crowd pleasers, The Charlatans (7). You know what you're getting with them, all the great indie anthems you love but with little surprises to make them anything more than good. One to sit down and relax to with a nice pint of overpriced-watery-pisslike-C*rling.

I stuck around for the ever more popular Razorlight (7) despite being unimpressed last year. They continue to rise up bills as Johnny predicted, with still only the one album to their names. But they seemed a much tighter proposition this year, and really put on a good, hardworking effort to play as well as they could, with 'Vice' once again their standout track. And I enjoyed them, and hope that with a second album they can live up to the promise that I think is there waiting to be unlocked.

But I still nipped off early to make sure I didn't miss any of the highly-recommended-when-live Arcade Fire (8). And boy did they do well. With such a large band they create an amazing sound. Very different to other band, yet still with great songs that you could dance to all day. So much better than I expected, despite the dubious pretend fighting on stage (including one member acting cutting off another's head with a cymbal). Well worth seeing live and a band everybody in the tent was clearly loving.

The tent was then packed full to see the train wreck hurtle in to town. Would it turn up at all? What state would it be in? Well in fact Pete Doherty's band were on stage a point proving 5 minutes early. Sadly Babyshambles (2) lived up to their name. Whether he was on any drugs or not is irrelevant, Pete was still not in any good state for singing. The songs were mumbled through and the whole thing sounded frankly horrible, especially so high up on a bill. I know he has bags of talent, and when I saw The Lib's with him they were astoundingly good. But there was nothing here tonight. Most people quickly voted with their feet as the crowd visibly thinned out. As did I half way through, deciding I'd rather go find some "food".

I was spoilt for choice with headline acts tonight. I would have loved to go see both The Go! Team (who I'm sure would have been great their album is a stunner) or The Tears. But as I had somehow failed to see them before I felt I had to go see a band I've always enjoyed, Foo Fighters (8). They were fantastic as I'm sure you all know/would guess. They played a hit heavy set, with only 4 songs from the new double album. Dave Grohl clearly means it when he said he loves Reading, and played the drums (albeit only for one song) for the first time here since 1992, which was a lovely sight to behold. The crowd loved it, I loved it, although it wasn't in my opinion a classic performance and I'm sure they've done better. I don't know why this is, but make no mistake, I really enjoyed it.

Sunday was, as always "Rock" day at Reading and I'm not much of a fan of the "heavy" bands on the main stage so spent most of the time avoiding the sunshine in the smaller tents. I stopped by The Carling Tent to get a look at iForward Russia! (2) but only lasted one song as they sounded like a big loud mess with no real song or talent audible.

I moved on to Art Brut (6) who I didn't really know what to make of. Their "singer" talks most of his lyrics, most of which are urging people to form bands. They don't seem to mind that they don't sound that great, and there is something rather nice and refreshing about them. But I don't think they could ever really be that big, or that I'd actually pay to see them. But at least they were better than 80's styled Bon Jovi rejects Towers Of London (1), who were the best example of how a record contract can be given to somebody with no talent since Gareth Gates. Their songs are rubbish, they play and sing rubbish, and their egos are simply irritating.

we love towers of london!

Thank god then for the true troopers of the weekend The Rakes (8), opting to still turn up despite their lead singer/guitarist being absent through illness. They did a pretty good job with the songs without him, although it was hard to gauge how good they actually are. But they play their instruments well so I'm rather optimistic. And for the last couple of songs they managed to get 2 members of Bloc Party, one Tower Of London (to prance around like a twat) and the singer from Maximo Park to help out. The crowd loved the effort as did I.

Next up were Franz' mates, the ever impressive Sons And Daughters (7), today seemingly not quite in full flow and having a few technical difficulties. But they have great lyrics and very interesting rhythm. A lovely real "indie" band who are a pleasure to watch. I just managed to catch half of the fantastically named Test Icicles (7). A crazy varied act live, with frantic guitars, rap interludes and oodles of fun being had. They are very young, but can do it all. They may not yet have great songs, but here are another bunch of teens that really could go far. I wish I'd seem the start of their set.

I skipped Maximo Park, since they do nothing for me, and got some food inside me and thus missing the start of my one main stage act of the day, the on-early Iggy & The Stooges (5). Which means either they didn't play 'I Wanna Be Your Dog' or I just missed it. Here were another band I had really hoped would live up to their legacy but simply didn't do much for me in this festival environment. The guitars seemed far too quiet and uninteresting and even Iggy wasn't that charismatic. Oh well, I'm sure they were great back in the day.

Next was the oh-so-lovely Leila Moss and her band The Duke Spirit (7). I really love their album, which has great tunes and the always-useful PJ Harvey style vocals. They replicate this well live and are simply "cool". It was then I realised I had forgotten to bring a branch. Luckily two lovely kind ladies next to me gave me a spare bit of theirs and I positioned myself down the front for Brighton's finest nature lovers, British Sea Power (9) who were in fine form. They love the crowd and the crowd loved them with some great moshing had by all. Their set was made up of the pick of the material from their superb 2 albums so far and culminated in the appearance of a huge bear on stage that fought with most of the band. Part way through I felt something land on my head. I shook it onto my arm, it was a live caterpillar. Now THAT'S never happened at a gig before!

I crashed out at the back to watch some of LCD Soundsystem (7) was also not my kind of thing. But it seemed good to be and I enjoyed it. If you love dance-ish stuff I'm sure you'd love him. He clearly has a lot of talent. The band with the best chant of the weekend thanks to Kate Bush were the unstoppable Futureheads (6). Now, here is a band I've never really "got". They just don't seem to have that special something or particularly interesting songs. Granted they've only released one album but I'm yet to see what warrants them such a high slot. They seemed good, but nothing more. Pretty average I'm afraid.

But they were followed by a band who I promise will go on to headline this festival one day, probably after another 2 albums. They closed the festival in style and go by the name of Bloc Party (9). Their album has grown on me and it's one of the best I've heard in recent years. But when gigging they are something else. It's the guitars. Such fantastic riffs are awesome live. And the shouty lyrics really come into their own. I was blown away with just hoe good they were despite be relative newcomers. Despite what certain music magazines may say the band love their fans and were enjoying it every bit as much as we were, and purposefully thanked us for supporting them during "the best year of their lives".

A great end to my best Reading yet. Roll on next year!

Alan Smith
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