Sorry, late start, Fightstar avoidance tactic, so we pick things up with The Long Blondes third from bottom in the NME tent. First listen convinces that the hype and meteoric rise probably is justified. The chiming retro guitar underpins some solid tunes and a Courtney meets Karen O vocal, more shall doubtless be heard from these lads and lasses.
Drama at the Main Stage as Panic! At The Disco frontman Brendan spends the opening minute agilely running to catch bottles hurled at the stage only to cop one on the side of the head knocking him out cold for 5 minutes. Children, you’ve been warned about that before – but you can’t be blamed when the singer is making a sport of it. And at least the paramedics added a dash of fluorescent yellow to contrast with the Panic! regimental black clothing. The rest of the set is very well presented including a curious Karma Police stolen from a local band. The hero quotient displayed makes this an easy win for the yanks and the line up make you realise you just don’t see enough cello on stage these days.
Following on the Main Stage, great things are expected from The
Subways who have had time to surface for a leap to the mainstream
overground, but Charlotte Subway’s ill-judged change of hair colour and
sheathing of the longest legs in rock plus a rather annoying bass interlude
during Oh Yeah leave us wanting less. Billy Subway tells us it’s
nice to be back “listening to proper fucking English”. Errrrrrr.
Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly! display not only only this years fashion accessory – the exclamation mark but an ability to fill the Carling Tent to bursting for their mid afternoon set. Featuring the usual drums, laptop and trumpet combo, they get the crowd singing with gusto and the refrain continues long after the Cape have left the stage.
Said crowd thins noticeably for Little Man Tate who burst on stage with their carn’t-believe-me-luck grins. This newly breaking outfit are somewhere between The Clash and The Who with an interesting way with lyrics a la Mike Skinner, the vociferous pit of affecionadoes are whipped into a frenzy. Crossdresser could be a mash up of My Sharona and Sister Ray – interesting concept.
Back at The NME tent, The Mystery Jets give us a work-a-day performance of their “we can be Razorlight too” set. At times the sound gets densely layered and complex which is good, at other times your mind wanders off wondering why they’ve still got dad on guitar. There’s hope for us all.
Gobsmacking highlight of the early afternoon are Secret Machines visiting from Planet Prog. Guitar, drums and keyboard cut sharp silhouettes through the dense pea souper dry ice, SM kick up a classic storm of Hawkwind-esque noise and can’t be far from claiming the vacant Verve throne as their own. Go see/listen.
Karen O, legendary fashionista front chick of NY’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs gives 20,000 drunkards a colour blindness test with her Green and purple metallic pixie hotpants ensemble complete with stegasaurus fins and orange spacesuit collar (according to my fashion editor!). She yelps her way through the YYYs classics off both albums (yeah, and that debut EP) and gets 10/10 on the diva spectacle scale. Curiously the addition of that second guitar doesn’t seem to have added anything to the sound at all.
As late additions to the NME Tent line up The Vines show a harder, more thunderous edge than apparent from their previous lacklustre Main Stage appearance a few years ago. At times they recall nothing less than a slowed down pomped up Spandau Ballet fighting Pearl Jam for the angst pills. Solid rock magic. They also have a side battle with demons, hair and weight.
Oh My God, on the Main Stage are the Kaiser Chiefs. Previously they could do no wrong as a live act but Ricky – orchestrating your own Mexican Waves is a sign of either an ego disappearing up its’ own back passage or perhaps the material isn’t up to scratch . The new stuff faces a hard time when the old I Predict A Riot and aforementioned OMG get the whole crowd sing-a-long treatment. At least the new songs seem to have the required ooooooo waaaaaah backing vocals which had supposedly been kicked into touch. Maybe they’ll grow on us as well or else we will really become an Angry Mob and force them to take the High Road. Oh nevermind.
The NME tent was a great place to be if you fancied yourself as a white speed-rapping hoodie from the ghetto but frankly Dizzzeee Rascal leaves us cold. Surely rapping about Puff The Magic Dragon and Happy Happy Talk is just taking the piss. And what’s with the white cloth down the front of the trousers, looked like a cod piece, only smaller.
No danger of Bobby G, Mani et al letting their trousers slip down off the back of their arses. Primal Scream maintain this year’s astonishing form and blow the NME tent away. Opening with Movin On Up, Dolls (la la, lah la la lah la!), thowing in classics such as the noise assault of Kill All Hippies, Vanishing Point and Swastika Eyes and culminating in Country Girl and Rocks, the Scream prove there are no finer traditional rockers today in these shores, it’s time you all forgave them last year’s Glastonbury muck up.
Finally, one to ponder, who actually eats those Vodka jellies?
First thing you’d want any morning is an Irish folk punk band, isn’t it? Nope. So, sod Flogging Molly, the best thing to follow your cornflakes is the plug in and play tent where Krakatoa sound reveille. The lead singer is absent (probably still in bed, it looked a bit early for this band) so the guitarist steps up to do a perfect Pete Shelley impression. Scuzzy punk at its best and all the better for being un-expected.
Breakfast time on the Main Stage is properly saluted with the power chord uber riffing Wolfmother taking us to another dimension. Axel Rose and Mungo Jerry must be quivering over the results of the singer’s DNA test and Jack White has copyright on that vocal howl. There should be a law againsat such cracking rock being played so early in the day.
The Cribs play a passable but very generic guitar set on the Main Stage and don’t detain us for too long so it’s over to Tilly and The Wall in the Carling Tent. Fresh from Nebraska or somewhere, Tilly is a 5 piece guitar/keyboard/two tap dancer/three chick outfit playing gorgeous lo fi drone rock somewhere between Stereolab’s Jenny Ondioline and the Raveonettes. They show remarkable audience awareness with their “thank you guys”, a bright future is predicted.
Goodbooks are competent filler but leave little about which to write.
The Noisettes let their enthusiasm get ahead of them as their tune up threatens to break into their actual quirk rock set. This year’s female vocal template is obviously the Karen O/Suzie Sioux banshee yelp showcased in staccato jerky rock.
Crossing over to the NME, and leaving behind bands that have to do their own Roadying, The Automatic pack the tent to overspill and get the loudest acclaim to date for the classic Monster (amusingly, reprised by the crowd on Sunday before The Kooks appear for their slot).
The Fall are predictably thrilling and shambolic in equal parts in the NME tent. Half way through the set, at which stage we believe the line up through to the end of the set has been finalised, Mark E is doing his damndest to tweak his guitarist amps off the scale whilst stealing their microphones and singing into at least 2 of them simultaneously. Many rumours abound about exactly which tracks, if any, are played but The Fall are in stunning perfectly shambolic form as usual.
Staying put in the NME Tent, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah miss a perfect exclamation mark opportunity but shake us to the core combining Arcade Fire with Peter Hook bass, not to mention a multi-talented Dr Mac off Green Wing look-a-like on keyboards and occasional guitar. Easy to see what the buzz is about, there is musical talent in abundance here and this is one of the most enjoyable sets of the weekend, definitely to be added to the Amazon wish list.
Any temptation there might have been to visit the Main Stage is killed by spotting The Street’s Mike Skinner on the screens. We add Skinner to the list of those first up against the wall for his “and I’d like all the crowd on this side to……”. Suitably disgusted we swerve off to the Carling Stage for The View. More thrashy punk, the kids love it. Yawn.
Then the day’s highlight for many on the Main Stage is the Arctic Monkeys. The little scruffs look lost on a stage this size and the music sounds a bit puny for this slot. The album is basically played but no Riot Van. A small number of non-believers depart wondering exactly what it is that the vast majority are seeing here that separates the Arctics from any spiky 3pm Carling stage fodder.
Normally over-indulgent long-winded noodley prog rock gets contrarily brief reviews but that would be a massive injustice to Coheed and Cambria go far out man in the NME tent. Musically, well, thinking Floyd’s Welcome To The Machine, would be reasonable because it seemed that’s what they actually did play. We are treated, on top of the obvious fiddly guitar and power chords, to Guitar Played With Bow! Pretending to ignore his Jimmyness’ trade mark on that is like wearing a crown and hoping no one has noticed the Queen has got one. However, the MOST remarkable thing about “The Coh” is the hair. Not poodle hair, not even “Big Hair” would do it justice, we are talking wearing a weeping willow on your head, adding a haystack then blowing it up with dynamite. The effect is like watching the Magic Roundabout’s Dougal trying to bite the head off a microphone.
Completing the day on the NME Stage are The Raconteurs.
The first thing you have got to know is they are a band, a band with
Jack White in, not Jack White and a band. White and Brendan Benson
share lead vocals and stagefront position and Benson probably gets more
that his fair share. The material is hot, rocking hard with more
sophistication than The White Stripes typical stuff. The fireworks
are metaphorical rather than actual but a great set confirms that Jack
White’s talents work even better in the context of a more conventional
band line up.
Nervously we apply our kohl eyeliner and warm up the ritual sacrifice ovens for what is traditionally the most rock orientated day at Reading. Goths are hiding from the daylight but the Domain Of The Grebos, formerly the Main Stage, is likely to be full of fat men with faded tight teeshirts who remember when is was all metal round there ‘ere parts. Avoid until after dark.
The On Offs are pretty much as it says on the tin, on, fast guitar, off.
Following them are The Switches. The opening track featured a fantastic fuzz/slide guitar the likes of which not seen since Canned Heat’s Let Work Together. Future single Every Second Counts may be dedicated to the singers girlfriend but as a song it works. Plenty of simple effective guitar music with pleasing harmonies.
Obviously the next band should have been Razorlight, but instead Humanzi put an end to bands named after electrics and illumination. Punk is the key, good to see the return of low slung bass wielded like a weapon of war, and vocal and musical links back to Joy Division are thinly disguised.
On the NME Stage Forward Russia! trump other mere fashion followers by starting their name with a keyboard challenging inverted exclamation mark, damn show-offs. Fast indie music with a shouty vocal is beginning to wear a little.
You Say Party, We Say Die! play more energetic fast punky guitar music with the twist this time of a shouty female vocalist, though that has already been done quite a few times this weekend. Consider chopping ears off.
Who is going to dare to be different? Step forward The Dresden Dolls, an electric piano and drums duet. Dramatic pounding keyboard arpeggios alternating with stacatto Keith Moon-esque blitzes and shrieking, I-take-no-prisoners female vocals sounds wonderfully interesting. Ear mutilation put on hold.
The next round back in the Carling Tent is the Semifinalists. The Dot Allison Waif Rock revival starts here. Featherlite whimsy at times recalls Bowie’s Memory Of A Free Festival and the female vocalist appears to be playing the 4 socket plug extension.
Hope Of The States play pretty impressive melodies and my notes promise that they were memorable, it turns out that was a tat optimistic.
And now for something completely different, we discover the Dance Tent for the first time. Coldcut are bleeping, pounding and sampling away, a pleasant and insistent diversion.
It is impossible to miss the glutinous sludge pouring over the field courtesy of Slayer on the Main Stage. They use exactly the same tune recycled by every monitor straddling guitar fornicating speed metal merchant ever to annoint these fields, the lyrics go “Roarrrr Roarrrr Roarrrrrrrrrr ........Readiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing you M.......F....................rs". Thanks mate.
Nosing into the Plug In And Play tent for a change unearths Cornish threepiece, subsequently revealed as normally being a fourpiece though the absence of lead guitar today wasn't explained, Powderstrip taking their nervous bow. Vocals are handled by the tiny Kate Bush clone on orchestral sounding keyboards whilst drums and bass appear to be playing a different demo track. This is much more dramatic, interesting and listenable than most of the indie-by-numbers endured thus far. They should have stayed on stage to enjoy their warm reception a bit longer instead of fleeing, (poor dears looked over-awed by the 50 people in the tent!) though if this is a just world, there should more and better appreciation in the near future.
Back to the serious stuff, on the NME Stage Broken Social Scene pack variously 5 guitars, up to 7 wind instruments, oneviolin and 2 drummers into the mix. Two words – Arcade Fire – and being Canadian perhaps thats more than mere coincidence. Great music, big sound, recommended for intelligent listening.
Boy Kill Boy return to the NME stage after serving up the breakfast slot same place last year. The sound is richer and warmer than recalled but at this stage of proceedings its just one more nearly-punk guitar band too many.
Placebo overcome set halting technical problems to serve up a blistering combination of the old (Nancy Boy, Bitter End) to the new (Meds etc) on the Main Stage. The backdrop is ultra-monochrome, the band look Chaplinesque as always but the music is gorgeously technicolour. Most people will remember this set for the intermission entertainment, which handily is now available at www.varioussizeandshapejugs.com.
Fleeing from the crowds, it’s back to a less than full NME tent for The Rakes. The music sounds ok but the vocals have gone missing in action. The crowd chants “Louder louder” but the knobs on the sound desk are un-touched.
Now for the big big headliners, Pearl Jam and Mr Eddie “Over-sincere” Vedder who apologises for being American and assures us he comes in peace. The Pearl deliver a stunning set of the old, the compulsory (Even Flow, Jeremy. Alive) and the new (Worldwide Suicide). Pearl rock fantastically, like they really owe us something, though nothing can distract us from the posturing antics of the lead guitarist or forgive the 2 minute drum solo.
The effort required to find a decent listening spot during Pearl Jam underlined the usual serious drawback of festival crowds. Firstly, a bunch of girls nearby got bored and gave everyone within 10 yards a dialogue on the pros and cons of maintaining their complexion at a festival whilst surrounded by mud. Moving on, the next spot was hogged by a twit about 5 feet away whose inflatable Scooby Doo kept getting in the way. Moving another 20 yards produced satisfaction until 2 idiots further forward decided to annex Berkshire for the Isle of Man by hoisting a pair of flags with the three legged triskelion on. Further efforts to get forward were halted by that stupid new barrier across the middle of the field – what’s it for? Presumably not just to double the chances of a crush against a barrier. Sadly, the barrier seemed to have a magnet attraction for big lunged word perfect buffoons who couldn’t hold a tune to save their lives. A curse on them all.
Finally, a curse on Security who kept the main gate locked until 1145 despite a huge rebellious crowd of folk desperate to make the train back to London. This was mindless cretinous antagonism mainly by a bitter guard in blue just because he got trampled the previous night when the crowd rushed the gate – I know cos I was the one who picked him up. He did look a twat though when someone chucked a half eaten noodle dish at the gate which exploded over his head. Small victories.
No Lions In England
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