Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Reading Festival Review - Saturday

A day that featured no less than three outstanding performances from three very different acts, this was almost worth the weekend entry fee in itself. The great thing about Reading is that you can flick from great comedy to music, and this proved it: even missing the likes of Kevin Bridges and Jason Byrne, Frank Turner and Pendulum; there was still more than enough going on on Saturday to keep me thoroughly entertained.

3OH!3 (NME Stage)

Having spent the morning enjoying the sights of Reading town centre, I only made it back to the festival for 3OH!3 at 2.30. It might have been the two times within a minute that I could hit by cups of (thankfully cold) liquid, or the fact it was the first band of the day, but this set really didn’t do it for me. They played the hits and got the crowd jumping, as well as making a 3-0-3 gesture with their hands (you join your thumbs and index fingers in a circle to make the ‘o’ in the middle, and then raise the other fingers to get three on each side. Sneaky eh?), but their back catalogue of songs were far less impressive – getting the crowd to sing along with lyrics is normally a winner, but I honestly couldn’t stomach publically chanting such profound lines as ‘I'm gonna have a house party in my house / I'm gonna pour booze down my mouth’. They were far from bad, but also far from as good as I was hoping, although that was possibly because I was subconsciously hoping Katy Perry and/or Kesha might be there…

I’d have paid… rating: £7. It’s hard to pick out why, but they just didn’t wake me up.

I Blame Coco (Festival Republic Stage)

Putting aside Gaggle the day before, I’ve always really enjoyed seeing bands on the smaller tents – you can get a lot closer, its louder and the atmosphere is a lot more intense. I Blame Coco, fronted by Sting’s daughter Coco Sumner, were a good example of this – musically they were nothing too special, but the atmosphere in the tent was really good. The highlight was ‘Self Machine’, which is well worth looking up for its catchy chorus that shows off her voice well. In general female singers at Reading are such a rarity that when they are around they make a welcome change.

I’d have paid… rating: £7. In fairness, the fact that they were worth as much as a band with two recent top 10 singles is pretty impressive for a band I’d never heard before

JJ Whitehead (Alternative Stage)

This was only a short portion of his set, when we arrived early for Milton Jones. There was some of the funniest material of the weekend here (‘Breast size for guys is like Coke vs Pepsi: we’ll express a preference, but really we’ll have whatever’s on tap. As long as its not flat’), but equally some jokes bombed and he came across as fairly uncomfortable and nervous – on more than one occasion he complained about the noise from the main stage, which is one of the problems of situating any spoken-word venue in an arena where rock music is also being played. Perhaps under difference circumstances he would have been better, but its always hard to get into a comedian who doesn’t seem confident in his own material.

I’d have paid… rating: £2. Assuming the first part of the set was at the same level as the bit we managed to catch, he’d definitely be worth a fiver to see at a comedy club, but isn’t at the level where he could fill a theatre.

Milton Jones (Alternative Stage)

I was torn what to expect with Milton Jones – on the one hand some of his one liners on Mock the Week are absolutely hilarious, but equally I have to admit I was sceptical he could last a full set of such short jokes without repeating older material, especially after that affected Steven K Amos for me the day before. In the end though I couldn’t have been more wrong – the material was from start to finish at the very least laugh out loud funny, on more than one occasion worthy of applause, and probably the most entertaining comedy I’ve seen live, certainly at Reading. Particular highlights include an ongoing joke about his many Grandparents, but genuinely almost the entire set was brilliant. His style of comedy might divide people, but if you’re into one-liners he was every bit as good as Jimmy Carr was when I saw him last year

I’d have paid… rating: £25. After a fairly slow start to the day, this set really got us going. The comedy line-up was really impressive on paper this year to the point where on the poster Milton Jones wasn’t even a headliner, however for me he totally stole the show.

Darwin Deez (Festival Republic Stage)

Our otherwise excellent clash-finder (from website www.clashfindergeneral.co.uk – it’s definitely worth printing one off rather than paying £7 for the official programme, which is handily worn around the neck so everyone can see you got ripped off…) mixed up the stage time for Darwin Deez, so it was purely by chance that we found out when he was playing. Given I only knew (and wasn’t especially impressed by…) ‘Radar Detector’ this probably wouldn’t have bothered me too much at the time, however with hindsight would have been a travesty: this was (up until this point) probably the single best set I’d seen in two and half years at Reading. The music was surprisingly good, but it was totally overshadowed by the show that the band put on: they repeatedly got the crowd involved and performed hilarious choreographed routines worthy of an OK-Go video. We managed to cut through the crowd to be just a couple of rows from the front, and the atmosphere was brilliant – everyone in the tent couldn’t help but have a smile on their face. By the time ‘Radar Detector’ came on everyone, myself included, had been completely won over, and it provided a fitting singalong to end an incredibly entertaining gig. Picking out a highlight is tough when the entire gig was consistently so good, but the moment when they got a security guard up on stage to dance with them sticks in the memory. Also a special mention to the very attractive (if scarily androgynous) guitarist/dancer, who managed to pull off a baggy t-shirt and pink hat better than any girl I’ve seen. An outstanding set.

I’d have paid… rating: £30. What made these guys even more impressive is that they were so entertaining on a budget of literally nothing – bands on the Main Stage could learn from their example of bringing entertainment in a form that wasn’t an over the top light show or some clich├ęd fireworks.

Dizzee Rascal (Main Stage)

I have to say, while I like a fair few of Dizzee’s singles, I’ve never been convinced by non-rock music at Reading – it’s great to dance to in a club, but perhaps for that very reason it doesn’t transfer that well to a live performance simply because it’s nothing special. To be fair to him he played to his crowd with a Nirvana based mash-up and the (enormous) crowd were all jumping for ‘Bonkers’, so clearly a lot of people enjoyed it a lot – bear in mind it wasn’t so long ago that 50 Cent lasted barely 10 minutes at Reading. So no offence to Dizzee who did a very decent set, it just wasn’t especially my thing. Also the number of people on each others shoulders where we were meant that even a glimpse of the big screen was a rarity, let alone seeing Dizzee in the flesh (although he was handily dressed in bright red, presumably for maximum visibility).

I’d have paid… rating: £10. It’s undeniably fun to be in an enormous crowd singing along to ‘Bonkers’, but for me it just wasn’t especially more entertaining than doing the same in a club – it was just as sweaty and you got about as good a view of the man himself.

The Libertines (Main Stage)

While I’ve heard a lot about them from various older and wiser people than me, my limited gigging/festival career had never yet produced a genuine ‘you just had to be there’ show; probably the closest I’ve come was Rage Against the Machine at Reading two years ago, who had an absolutely mental crowd, but unfortunately just weren’t my type of music at the time. On that night, having watched the breathtaking Guantanamo Bay themed start to their set, I went to the NME Tent and watched Pete Doherty’s Babyshambles perform what I thought was a very entertaining set to an almost empty tent. So perhaps it was meant to be that two years later, that very same man was at the centre of what will surely go down as the set of the festival, one to perhaps rival Rage in 2008 as the best of recent years.

I have to admit I didn’t know very much of The Libertines before the festival, the only song I knew at all well was ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’. When my friends persuaded me that I had no choice but to see them I had youtubed a few others and been very impressed, but given the band split up when I was barely even a teenager I have to say I was totally unprepared for the completely unreal atmosphere of anticipation they inspired in the crowd. At Leeds the night before they had had to briefly halt their set because the crowd was crushing so much, and even before the set started it was totally clear why. As the band came on to the vaguely surreal but still incredibly poignant sound of Vera Lynn (I think?), it had already become clear that this was something special.

With no new material to slow down the set, the band played what I later learned was essentially a greatest hits set, and it came off perfectly. The crowd around me knew every word to every song, while I had the advantage of being constantly surprised by a string of songs with great melodies and lyrics that even I could see the emotional resonance of – I’m definitely not the first, or even the thousandth, person to point it out, but it was impossible not to connect to a recently reunited band famous for their rock’n’roll antics singing ‘What became of the Likely Lads?’. That song was one of my favorites, along with the beautiful ‘Music When the Lights Go Out’, and ‘I Get Along’ was an outstanding finale. I don’t know the band’s back catalogue well enough to know if they could have pulled out another thirty minutes of material, but if they could have then this would have been a headline set that far outdid any I’ve seen in its atmosphere and scale. Magical.

I’d have paid… rating: £60. In fairness the case could be made that, for a genuine fan at least, seeing this gig would have been bordering on priceless – it’s still unclear if they’ll ever play together again. Alas my student-sized wallet couldn’t stretch too far, but even though I almost felt like a trespasser in a religious ceremony, this was still something very very special.

Arcade Fire (Main Stage)

Even as I begin to write this, I can already feel the combined wrath of everyone with any musical influence, given that every review I’ve read of this set so far has been almost rhapsodic in its praise, but I just didn’t get the hype. Perhaps it was the come down off The Libertines, and the fact that the crowd where I was (on the second barrier, which in fairness had been manic just thirty minutes earlier) weren’t especially into it. Their music wasn’t bad at all, but it felt, to me at least, as if they should have been playing a 3rd of 4th headliner slot – for 45 minutes or so it was fine, but the total lack of any recognisable hit for a non-fan meant it lost momentum and in the end I left to go and see Ash. I humbly accept the criticism of everyone who knows anything about music, and if it salvages any credibility I have to say I watched some of their highlights on TV and slightly regretted missing the second half of the set, but on the night it simply didn’t do it for me, and having failed to get into the enormously overcrowded Festival Republic tent for Ash I called it a night. Sorry.

I’d have paid… rating: £15. Well I wouldn’t really, had I somehow gotten hold of a ticket I would have sold it for £15 to a fan and let them laugh at my stupidity and enjoy their night.

Overall Value: £156.

After a slow start this was definitely the best single day I’ve ever seen at the festival in three years: Milton Jones set the bar high; Darwin Deez pushed it up a little further, and The Libertines smashed the bar into tiny little pieces. If that much metaphor mixing makes sense…