Reading Festival 2007
Opening this years Reading Festival were The Pipettes (7), the first of many bands this year who weren't really at home on the main stage. In fact there are relatively few who can adapt to such an unnatural gig venue. They did their best to impress a half empty field of festival goers and put in a solid set. Little Man Tate (5) faired less well, one of several bands this weekend for whom the word 'average' can truly be used. Generic and unexciting, they were a nice safe bit of background music for the casual music fans setting up their camp chairs for the day and settling into their first Carling, but nothing more. Over to the Radio One tent I trudged, in search of something a bit more lively and challenging. And Sparta (7) certainly had more life in them. They'll forever be the "other ones" from At The Drive-In, tagged with being the boring ones who didn't want to be crazy like The Mars Volta. But there really is plenty to admire about them as on their own merits they are a decent energetic band with a concrete live set. They also knew how to please an audience "Who here hates George Bush?" being a sure fire way to get them on your side. With the scary sounding Aiden on the way I dashed to The Carling Tent to see if any new talent would impress me. And impressed I was. Manchester Orchestra (8) are, naturally, a guitar band. They make wonderfully written heartfelt monsters of songs and I only hope they go far. Just as I do for Blood Red Shoes (8) who were on after them. Despite being a two piece they produce a huge raw sound that gets back to basics whist still creating their own lively sound. Plus they were throwing out free t-shirts, my only freebie of the weekend.
Having sadly missed Gogol Bordello, and with no interest in the likes of The Gossip I took a quick arena break (and having a lovely chap in the urinals try to garner a look at my tackle) before returning for 1990s (6) who were exciting but hardly mind blowing. They are a band I don't really know, and a lack of familiarity with their material probably hindered my enjoyment. Talking of a lack of enjoyment Maximo Park (4) still do nothing for me. I want so badly to like them, and they seem like a nice bunch, but I just don't find anything about their music that stands out or is genuinely catchy. Reverend And The Makers (8), however, have hooks galore amid their dance tinged vocal driven rock which is clearly starting to take hold amongst the masses. The huge crowd in the tent loved it and so did I. The main stage beckons for them I feel. The crowd weren't loving the next band on the main stage though, the atmospheric monstrosity that is Interpol (6). They are another band who just can't make their brooding sound big enough for a festival stage, and certainly weren't helped by a mostly empty field of disinterested onlookers. I'm sure they produce some great gigs, but this just wasn't one of them. I wished I'd gone to see Cajun Dance Party, who by all reports showed they are another great future prospect. The Subways (9) put in the best performance of the weekend so far. They are such a delightfully simple prospect, but perform with such enthusiasm and really "rock out" with a set of back to back pop rock classics. The new stuff (finally here!) sounded great, even on first listen, and they had the crowd in the palm of their hand from the moment they bounded on stage.
They were matched for quality by a completely different type of artist, Patrick Wolf (9), who I can't recommend enough. His new album is mind-blowingly good, and his stage performances aren't too shabby either. Do whatever you have to to see him. I'd by then left it too late to get into Ash so had to make do with catching Razorlight (5) on the main stage. I have to be fair to them, they don't have the quality to be worthy of headlining, but they gave it their all, put in a good show with a single driven setlist and did they best they could. They were only hampered by unfortunately still being Razorlight. So a few gems amid a great deal of averageness on the first day.
Brakes (8) were the first band I dragged my sleep deprived body out of my tent for on Saturday, and they supplied their usual quality. I'm a big fan of this "supergroup" and have seen them several times as they come from Brighton where I live. Most of their songs fall well short of the 3 minute mark meaning they managed to cram in a huge setlist which they rattled through masterfully. Strangely, in honour of their song "Porcupine Or Pineapple" they threw real pineapples into the audience. Still safer than throwing Porcupines I suppose. Dead 60s (5) were still dragging on upon my arrival at the main stage. Much like Little Man Tate yesterday this was another tour de force of average guitar based music. This time with more stolen from The Specials than is acceptable. I thought Eagles Of Death Metal (6) would take it up a notch or two. Sadly it was only the one notch. A bit more lively and a great crowd pleaser of a band, but still not with any particularly original or varied songs. The rumour mill suggested this would actually mark a surprise appearance by Foo Fighters. Sadly no such luck.
The Shins (8) were a band I had been looking forward to and they didn't disappoint me. But most other people there didn't seem to feel the same. This is because The Shins ooze with quality and are everything a proper indie band should be, but one thing they are not is immediate. Their songs are gentle and take time to fall in love with. And 40 mins on a huge stage just isn't sufficient. But it was still great for a fan like me. Fans are a thing Foals (8) won't be short of for long. In fact after their performance I think everyone in and around the packed Carling tent can be added to their fanbase. They have it all perfectly set up for them. A great sound, mixing most of what is popular at the moment, good lyrics, clearly a bit of talent and a connection with their audience. Another to book for next year's main stage. Tokyo Police Club (8) probably won't go quite as far, but can match Foals for talent and quality. They are like The Libertines mixed with The Strokes. A slightly faster, furiouser (not a word) Strokes. Their recent mini album was superb and they know how to produce a pulsating routine live.
Now Bloc Party (9) had a point to prove in their third billing on the main stage. They have garnered (in no little part thanks to the NME) a reputation as a miserable, fan-hating band. And for no real reason. Tonight they showed this to be complete bollocks. The broad smile plastered across singer Kele's face throughout was a telling sign of just how much they appreciated and were astounded by the huge crowd's immense love for them. And how much it means to them. The set was flawless, and a vast proportion was sung back at them by the admiring crowd, who embarrassed Russell with their chanting of his name. Bloc Party showed that they truly belonged to be up there, unlike any other band over the weekend.
Topping them was hard, but achieved by possibly the most gifted band on the planet, Arcade Fire (10). With two rightly critically acclaimed albums now to their name they have a wealth of material to create a sublime set from. Surely nobody could dislike this band? They were the best band in terms of me having my mouth wide open and simultaneously smiling throughout. Brilliant. Surely the headliners couldn't beat that? Nope. Red Hot Chilli Peppers (1) gave a lesson in how to throw it all away (or should that be Give It Away?). I've never been a huge RHCP fan but in the face of little other option (The View anyone?) I thought I'd give them a go. I thought they'd put on a good show, play all the hits over a huge 2 hour slot and at least be pleasantly enjoyable. I was way back at this point as they drew the largest crowd of the weekend by far and I'd lost my spot having nipped off for some food. So what went wrong? Firstly they played a setlist dominated by album tracks from their latest. Not what a festival crowd wants. I knew they wouldn't play much old stuff but only one pre Californication song and the emission of crowd favourites such as Under The Bridge seemed insane. Add to that the extended, low quality jams between every song which meant you got roughly 15 songs for your 2 hours and the complete disinterest of the band (including clear animosity between Anthony & John) and you have a truly dreary, unimpressive gig. One saving grace was that the sound quality was so poor you could barely hear it at the back (where people either chanted "Turn it up!" or simply booed during the between song gaps). It might have improved during the encore (although internet reports suggest it didn't) but I didn't hang around to find out, preferring a nice beer back at my tent.
I started Sunday with my final visit to the Carling tent (thanks to Peter Bjorn & John clashing, like Klaxons, with Smashing Pumpkins later) for I Was A Cub Scout (7). They are a nice little two piece, doing their own little indie thing, and being more than a little enjoyable. Sadly this years Tit Of The Weekend was present in the form of a stage manager of some kind. IWACS cut the set short and had to finish ten minutes early. However they tried to stop them before starting their final song. IWACS asked "Who wants to hear us play one more song?" and Tit shouted "Who wants to hear the full set of the headliners tonight?". Not sure what he expected to happen "Oh yes, that man has a point!", but it shows what a state the music world is in where the people backstage deem headliners more important than other bands. As if they wouldn't make up the time, they still finished 10 minutes early.
As the main stage had a stream of drivel (as is usual) for most of the day I, like many many other people (i.e. every indie kid on site), decided to find a nice space in the radio one tent and settle down for the afternoon. Of course it was rammed. Usually I can rely on Sunday (rock day) having a nice stream of guitar bands in the tent. Sadly this year they went "new rave". Don't you just love random genres that tie together relatively random bands? Anything with a) guitars and b) a beat was included. Sadly most new rave bands tend to be repetitive guitar music that relies on dancibilty not songwriting / a tune. Hadouken (4) had a huge (dancing) crowd but were exactly as specified. Strangely the hotter tipped New Young Pony Club (3) lost the audience due to a lack of hooks in many of their (derivative) songs. The Sunshine Underground (6) were better having produced a great album more akin to The Automatic than any bands here today.
The Maccabees (7) got a one-off introduction from a clearly besotted Steve "Lammo" Lamacq. They didn't really fit with any of the other bands here as the latest quality band to start making it big out of Brighton thanks to a solid, if unadventurous, debut album. They more than did said album justice live. Cold War Kids (7) drifted further from the stage's theme (resurrected later for CSS & Klaxons) with their dark brooding creations topped off with a strangely high pitched singer to produce a very enchanting sound. Devendra Banhart (6) was a bit of a mixed bag. He is clearly a very gifted individual but we didn't get to hear as much of his own delightful little folky/hippy creations as we'd like thanks due to him letting his band members play their own songs and also getting audience members on stage to play their own songs. A very worthy and enjoyable thing to do, but perhaps not when you only have a 40 minutes slot to begin with.
As thousands of people then appeared eagerly awaiting the inexplicably popular Jamie T I made my exit and, safe in the knowledge Fall Out Boy were long gone, made my way back to the main stage. Bizarrely most people seemed to be leaving the arena. A strange phenomenon brought about by the lack of many genuine metallers at this years festival, and the young emo/rock fans obviously not knowing much about the older acts about to appear. They all missed out. Nine Inch Nails (Nine) know how to put on a show. Typically their "type" of music isn't my cup of tea but I can make an exception and love this band as they have such great talent and a uniquely awesome dark and deep sound. Everyone around me seemed to be surprised by how good they were as they rattled through a hits set accompanied by the best lighting of the weekend including a section where they all played obscured by a giant screen with that fuzzy TV appearance. Smashing Pumpkins (9) had a lot to live up to after that and they only just coped. Luckily they were rocking hard straight out of the bag not relying too heavily on new material (take note RHCP!) and also taking care not to overdo it in terms of slow ones as well. Happily they played Stand Inside Your Love, unexpected and one of my favourites for some reason. Sadly Billy's Star Spangled Banner went down less well and was the only part of the show which felt dated. Media reports Billy called American women sluts, but this is the usual misconstrued joke which I can't be bothered to explain. Billy was actually in great jovial form and evidentially enjoyed being back on the Reading Stage rattling through all the classics, with Tonight, Tonight unsurprisingly standing out. They ended with Cherub Rock, with no time for the planned Muzzle as they had already overrun by 20 minutes. An awesome end to a weekend of gems amongst the mundane. And not a single main stage firework display for once.
By Alan Smith, pix from http://www.efestivals.co.uk
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