Reading Festival 2010 (August 27-29th) – Friday & Saturday Review
Note: I only attended the Friday & Saturday at Reading this year as none of my friends wanted to go Sunday (and I can’t blame them as the line up hardly floated my boat) so I can’t comment on the camp site. Other than to say it was incredibly muddy this year and 5% of the camp site flooded.
Reading is one of the UK’s (and the world’s) longest running music festivals. It’s origins date back to 1961 and the National Jazz Festival before it transformed into Reading 1971 and later, Reading & Leeds in 1999. While it’s always been a music festival, it has tended to learn heavily towards hard rock, alternative and indie. Reading’s brief dabble with pop in 1988 headlined by Meatloaf and Bonnie Tyler was a disaster of epic proportions leading to wide scale bottling and abuse. Over the years Reading has played host to some of the greatest and most historic headline sets; Nirvana in 1992, New Order in 1989, Neil Young, Bjork & The Smashing Pumpkins in 1995 and more recently Rage Against The Machine and Metallica in 2008.
Along side these classic headliners are the timeless moments good and bad; Daphne & Celeste getting bottled off stage, Arctic Monkeys drawing the biggest crowd in Reading History to Festival Republic stage, Morrissey’s live return opening with “How Soon Is Now” and the legendary Stone Roses implosion on the Main Stage, to name but a few. Reading Festival for better or worse captures the spirit of rock and roll in all its druggy, sleazy, dirty glory. This is my seventh Reading, it was my first festival, and while I may have fallen out of love with it in recent years; I do very much hope it will be my last (whenever that time comes).
Organization & Atomsphere:
I decided to take a year off Reading last year (despite my beloved Radiohead playing) so this was my first experience of the new layout, and I have to say, I was very impressed. In the past; the crowd size was expanding and the site seemed to be shrinking. There was no room, the Lock Up Stage and the NME stage were dangerously close and it was hell getting between them (especially if one band was finishing as another started). With a few subtle changes all these problems have been rectified, and I genuinely have no complaints. The site is genuinely spacious and you have easy access to pretty much everything (even the side of stage toilets).
I also have to compliment the security and medical staff. My friend was completely paralytic after drinking way too much, and they gave us all the right advice, and even let us go back stage, as carrying him through the crowd would have been too dangerous. When we got him to the medical staff they were really tremendous and truly caring and helpful. So I can’t thank them enough.
Now while the layout may have improved the sound system has completely gone to pieces. The left side (stage right) of the main stage was a nightmare. There were pockets of complete inaudibility, with the left speaker (stage right) seemingly breaking down for almost all of the Saturday acts. Even on the much better balanced right hand side the sound was still far too quiet compared to past years and other festivals. Certain bands (Arcade Fire) managed to get loud sharp sound while others (NOFX, Gaslight Anthem, Lostprohets) struggled terribly with sound issues. Chants of turn it up were common place until around mid day Saturday when things seemed to improve. It was truly bizarre you got better sound quality at the back of the field by the burger vans than you did in the front section. This was very annoying and a real disappointment as part of the reason I always favored Reading festival above others, was because of its normally top notch sound quality.
Finally the atmosphere and I have some very mixed feelings. The crowd was certainly friendly this year, it was easy to strike up conversations with random people and to dance around with random girls (and boys for that matter). The crowd was also very helpful when my friend was in a horrendous condition. However, despite their pleasantness this years crowd was noticeably less musically knowledgeable. There were lots of annoying shouts of “play a song I know” and the crowd seemed to only know big hit singles (on the main stage particularly). Now this might sound normal but Reading used to have one of the best crowds that would sing as passionately to indie outsiders The Wedding Present as they would to the commercial juggernauts the Foo Fighters. Those days seem to be long gone, Reading feels like just another festival, almost like a fashion show, “the place to be” rather than a meeting of passionate music fans. Now I don’t mean to be a grumpy old man, everyone had a great time, and I was certainly having the time of my life jumping around, but with each passing year you can’t help but feel that the special “Reading atmosphere” is or already has disappeared.
Note: I was accompanied by a huge Guns And Roses fan so we decided that we’d camp out on the mainstage to get a premiere spot for today’s headliners. (Yes I sacrificed seeing my beloved LCD Soundsystem, Pheonix, Yeasayer, Girls & The Big Pink for my mate). So apologises for a less varied review.
After a long and tiring journey NoFX (The Main Stage) did little to raise my spirits. Unfortunately I found myself in the black hole sound vacuum on the left side of stage. Sadly it seemed like I wasn’t the only one as large portions of the crowd occupied themselves by shouting “turn it up, turn it up, turn it up”. However, a larger portion of the crowd had fun bouncing around in one of the days biggest circle pits. Musically NoFX were largely uninteresting blasting out punk jams with hazy stoned sloppiness while exchanging “ironically” offensive, but ultimately unfunny, jokes with the crowd. While they certainly weren’t to my tastes or particularly interesting it’s hard to deny the silliness of “Murder The Government” or the infectiousness of relatively newie “Creeping Out Sara”. Having seen their appalling 2005 Reading set I can confirmed that they haven’t actually gotten worse live, but they haven’t got much better either.
For while it appeared Lostprophets (The Main Stage) would suffer the same fate as NoFX; as they struggled with a moody crowd and inaudible sound that continuously flickered in and out. Four tracks in frustration took hold and we moved back behind the barrier to the middle of the crowd and were surprised to find it had suddenly improved. With the improved conditions we soon found ourselves surrounded by a genuinely passionate crowd and watched an entertaining conclusion to a short set. “Rooftops”, “Burn, Burn” and even the cringe inducing “Town Called Hypocrisy” sounded exhilarating in the sun (and mud) drenched field. It’s always a shame to see “Shinobi…” dropped from the set list, but with only forty minutes to fill it’s hard to complain. Yet despite the big sing-a-longs and hand in the air moments you can’t help but feel that you were watching a band in full on decline.
If Lostprophets are in commercial decline then Biffy Clyro (The Main Stage) are approaching their zenith. They certainly appeared confident as Simon Neal swaggered on stage sporting his new bleached blonde hair and beard. They’re set was utterly triumphant if a little disorganized. It was clear their new fans were interested in Only Revolutions materiel and moaned their way through even Puzzle era tracks. Equally more than a few older fans rolled their eyes during “God & Satan”. Despite these minor quibbles Biffy still triumphed with “The Captain” getting the crowd bouncing as one. “Living Is A Problem Because Everyone Dies” unleashed the crowd’s previously pent up energy, while “There’s No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake” rewarding those fans with a longer memory (and longer beards for that matter). However, It was a gloriously sexy rendition of “Born On A Horse” that really stole the show and got the crowds hips waggling in unison. Despite the inherent success of the show a word of caution should be sounded; if Biffy ever want to be more than a third from top band, they will have to focus their sound and stop pandering to all corners of their fan base. This may be bad news for old fans (myself included) but if Biffy want to rule the roost it’s apparent that Only Revolutions is the only way to go (for better or worse).
After the tedium of their 2008 set Queens Of The Stone Age (The Mainstage) pulled out all the stops to redeem themselves in 2010. Queens have two modes; drudgery or visceral insanity, and this Friday at Reading was definitely a case of the latter, as Queens ripped there way through each and every track. “Feel Good Hit Of The Summer” set the tone, and even a miserable disinterested crowd couldn’t help but be won over by their slick grooves. The highlights were endless; “The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret” remains timeless, “Little Sister” & “Go With The Flow” were fired out with rough dirty energy and of course “No One Knows” had the crowd bouncing and humming that riff for the best part of ten minutes. Obvious highlights aside, it was actually the sexy thick rib shaking rumble of “Misfit Love” that initial got the crowd moving, before “Sick, Sick, Sick” unleashed the crowds brutal aggression culminating in the punishing beat down of the undeniably brilliant “Song For The Dead”. On this night the Queens were Kings, easily their best performance on a UK festival soil since ’07.
1. Chinese Democracy
2. Welcome To The Jungle
3. It’s So Easy
4. Mr. Brownstone
6. Richard Fortus Guitar Solo (James Bond Theme)
7. Live & Let Die
8. This I Love
9. Rocket Queen
10. Dizzy Reed Piano Solo
11. Streets Of Dreams
12. You Could Be Mine
13. Ballad Of Death (DJ Ashba Guitar Solo)
14. Sweet Child O’ Mine
15. Another Brick In The Wall (Part II) Instrumental Jm
16. Axl Rose Piano Jam (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road)
17. November Rain
18. Night Train
19. Better/Paradise City (Power Cut/Acoustic/Megaphone/No Audio)
So somewhere between 30-60,000 people (give or take) had just enjoyed a great set by Queens Of The Stoneage, Yeasayer, The Get Up Kids or Atari Teenage Riot and now they were ready to have good time with the ultimate in rock and roll filth; Guns n’ Roses. Ten minutes before they were due on stage the crowd were starting slow claps and (even though they’ll deny it now) were chanting “Axl, Axl, Axl”. Twenty minutes later they were still clapping and chanting, but people were beginning to look around anxiously. Then the booing started, then the Slash chants started, then the “Fuck Axl” chants started, oh and then the silly rumors started. Axl had pulled the footage from the BBC (true), Axl demanded a gym be built backstage so he could warm up (not true), Axl was fucking with Melvin Benn for his public statements (true), and there were many more including ones about Axl being unable to chose the right outfit (possibly true).
Now for those of who did not know Melvin Benn had promised to cut Gn’R’s sound if they ran over curfew or even turned up late. At the festival BBQ that I failed to attend he confirmed that he would cut the sound should they over run (according to my sources), and understandably after standing around for forty minutes the crowd were worried that Axl wasn’t coming. The boos were seemingly endless. While I didn’t boo or cheer, I was incredibly tired and bored as hell. When Axl and Co finally stumbled on stage an hour late (as opposed two 2 hours later at Leeds in 2002) he was greeted by a wall of boos and a disinterested crowd. One blast of “Welcome To The Jungle” soon turned the jeers into cheers and got the crowd bouncing in unison, but it was clear the crowd was tired and disenfranchised. “It’s So Easy”, “Mr. Brownstone” and “Sorry” were treated to muted reactions and little to no movement. The crowd were happy to see the show, but their energy and enthusiasm had been completely sapped. More than any hit single or killer solo it seemed like the one thing the crowd wanted was an apology, for Axl to say “sorry we made you wait” but it never came and the crowd never really warmed to the Gunners subsequently.
Even though I shouldn’t use retrospection to judge a live performance, it has come out since the festival that Axl turned up an hour late to “punish” Melvin Benn for his public statements about cutting their power prior to the gig. Really? So you punish the organizer by treating your own fans like meaningless pawns, leaving us waiting in the cold. I don’t blame Melvin he’s doing what he had to do, and what he’d said he do; it was Axl Rose who decided to dick 50,000 people around just to get back at a man whose paying them millions of dollars for one performance….ugh.
Back to the music; the bizarre decision to pull fan favorites “Don’t Cry” and “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” from the setlist in favor of Chinese Democracy staples “This I Love”, “Streets Of Dreams” and “Sorry” hardly helped matters. It’s a shame, while these numbers left an already cold crowd frozen; they actually showed Guns at their most natural. Axl was clearly excited to be singing new materiel, as his vocals were clearer and more passionate, and the band sounded genuinely tight. Had they not left the crowd waiting for an hour I imagine they might have one over some new fans and got people interest in 21st Century G’n’R. Unfortunately because of Axl’s own stupidity the crowd was in no mood for overlong balladry and stood motionless even at the very front (trust me I was there).
“You Could Be Mine” barely registered and Axl really butchered it, which was a great disappointment to me personally, but luckily Axl had an ace up his sleeve in “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and had the crowd back in the palm of his hand almost instantly. Finally the crowd were excited, “November Rain” burst out in all it’s epic OTT idiocy, and “Night Train” actually got the crowd bouncing once more; and then it happened. Axl shouted “If your not get let me play I don’t know why we even bothered turning up”. With that he threw his microphone up in the air and read a security guard the riot act.
The band attempted to come back on for an encore but there was no sound. The crowd booed, Axl tried and tried but the power was not going to come back on. He tried to sit in until the power was returned but Melvin wasn’t budging. They got the acoustic guitars out and the megaphone to lead the crowd in a rendition of “Paradise City” but even two rows from the front you couldn’t hear a thing. It was a comical sight as Axl dropped to the pit with no grace, and even less dignity, to meet his crowd face to face. A stage invasion was prompted but failed to emerge and things rather petered out s Axl shouted “We won’t be playing Leeds”, and right on cue, Melvin cut the lights blacking out the stage. Axl waved goodbye and walked off as the crowd sung “Paradise City” to themselves.
Now drama aside, this was not a good set; Axl’s vocals were patchy at best, he seemed engaged in the new tracks and the ballads but offered up horrible renditions of “Mr. Brownstone” and “You Could Be Mine”. Axl ultimately spent as much time changing outfits as he did leaping across stage. The end result was approaching a debacle, but thankfully there were enough high points, and frankly enough drama to make it worth while. We all left with a story to tell, even if it wasn’t a particularly happy one. So while it was definitely a thumbs down show, it wasn’t a total nightmare. My friend and life long Guns fan said it was kind of a disappointment but worth seeing all in all, and that’s about right from the critical perspective. (Oh and if you were wondering, despite the twitter war, Axl turned up to Leeds and only eight minutes late)
Now for your beloved author Friday was the warm up to my birthday present on Saturday. A line up of bands I was genuinely excited to see, headlined by the transcendent Arcade Fire. However, if Friday’s line up taught us anything it’s that what looks good on paper isn’t always so great in reality. Obviously Rollo Tomassi (The NME/Radio One Tent) didn’t get the memo; as they ripped through as set that was improbably better than listening to their sublime second album Cosmology. Their set melded together hardcore chaos and progressive expansion beautifully. There was the brutality of “Party Wounds” and “I Love Turbulence” sitting alongside the gorgeous “Kasia”. It was a triumph from start to finish with circle pits galore and a wall of death that was a sight to beyold, as they got the crowd to run from practically outside the tent into one another.
The Futureheads (The Main Stage) had the unenviable task of following The Walkmen and unfortunately they found themselves battling the same sound problems that plagued both NoFX and Lostprophets the previous day. The left side of the crowd was treated to a wishy washy mess while the right hand side of the crowd was treated to a parade of classic blasts of short sharp infectious indie pop. Bradford’s own Random Hand (The Lock Up) had no such trouble as they blasted through their feel good punk with trademark bombast. A huge circle pit soon developed as it seemed whatever stage you were at this morning you couldn’t help but have a good time.
The Mystery Jets (The Main Stage) somewhat halt the momentum as they continue to sound lost sonically; as they bounced between works from each of their albums with no one tone really managing to connect. Their performance ultimately felt enthusiastic but ineffective. The Gaslight Anthem (The Main Stage) on the other hand have never had a problem connecting with their audience but today, like so many other days, they struggled with sound issues. Having seen Gaslight underwhelm at the Brixton Academy just one month prior to this gig, I was genuinely deflated to hear the same limp sound softly echo out of the speakers. It was a real tragedy as Brian Fallon was in great, affable form, and managed to get (yet another) disinterested crowd jumping and singing in the hot afternoon sun. As usual it was the beautiful “Here’s Looking At You, Kid” that brought a tear to the crowd’s collective eye.
If The Gaslight Anthem struggled to get a reaction out of a remarkable disinterested crowd then true alternative legends Modest Mouse (The Main Stage) never stood a chance. A smallish crowd, didn’t deter Isaac Brock however, as he ripped through a killer set highlighted by a rambunctious variant of “Bukowski” and a wonderful wide screen show stopper in the form of “The Whale Song”. It may have been disappointing to see “King Rat”, “Parting Of The Senosry”, “3rd Planet” and even “Dashboard” dropped from the setlist, but in front of such an unfamiliar crowd it hardly mattered. An early highlight.
There’s one thing everyone has to do at Reading; and that’s check out a hype band. So in 2010 I put on my best scenester hat on and ventured forth to see Chapel Club (The Festival Republic Stage). I have to say I was glad I did, while Chapel Club are hardly going to revolutionize the music industry it’s easy to see why people are getting so excited. Think Glasvegas with less raw emotion, more obvious hooks, and a bigger wall of noise and you’ll be on the right tracks. The lead singer certainly has a relatable down to earth but cocky swagger as he declared “No disrespect to the Music Press, but they compared us to Editors, no disrespect to Editors but erh….have you read my lyrics lately?”, you had to smile.
My Forever (The BBC Introducing Stage) were staggeringly polished for a band in their infancy. Their vocals were certainly whiny (and more than a little generic) but the band as a whole clearly had a flair for broad anthemics. While I wasn’t excited by their creativity they certainly have the potential accessibility to cultivate a sizeable following. Speaking of sizeable followings; Kids In Glass Houses (The NME Stage) managed to draw a mammoth crowd to the second stage for their mid afternoon set. While their indie/punk/pop proves to be popular it fails to provided a single note of artistic merit. The Maccabees (The Mainstage) recently overcame this issue of artistic growth; evolving from lightweight debut Colour It In to their emotionally weighty follow up Wall Of Arms. On the Main Stage it was their new materiel that triumphed, whether they are capable of actually producing anything genuinely great remains to be seen, but they appear to be on the right track.
Any aspiring Indie Band would do well to emulate The Cribs (The Main Stage). They started as rough around the edges indie noise nicks and have blossomed into an intelligent emotional band that at their best flirt with the avante gaurde. Fittingly it’s a mesmeric performance of the frankly jaw dropping “Be Safe” that leaves the crowd speechless. The Cribs keep getting better and better, it may be hard to believe but maturity really suits them. Speaking of models for success; aspiring grime artists should pay CLOSER attention to Dizzee Rascal’s (The Main Stage) rise to fame. Sure he made the big time with the help of Van Helden and Harris, but all that good will that allowed him to cross over to mainstream, was built on the back of one revolutionary record (Boy In Da Corner) and two great follow ups. Credibility is earned; Dizzee can now have his fun and be the nation’s party starter because he earned his respect the hard way. Those attempting to cash in quickly with shallow “party records” will soon find themselves falling out of fashion while Dizzee will continue to command huge crowds. And boy oh boy did he draw a huge crowd; who lapped up every moment of his near hour long set; great stuff..
1. Horror Show
2. The Delany
4. Last Post On The Bugle
5. Tell The King
6. Boys In The Band
7. Music When The Lights Go Out
8. What Katie Did
9. What Became Of The Likely Lads
10. Can’t Stand Me Now
11. Death On The Stairs
12. The Ha Ha Wall
13. Don’t Look Back Into The Sun
14. Time For Heroes
15. The Good Old Days
16. Radio America/Up The Bracket
17. What A Waster
18. I Get Along
The Libertines greatest talent was always their ability to narrate and foreshadow their own destiny, demise, and ultimately, their own mythology. “Can’t Stand Me Now” was the anthem that typified their chaotic implosive nature and their tragic demise. Their downfall wasn’t just written on the wall, it was there for all to hear on The Libertines. Tonight however it was “What Became Of The Likely Lads” that formed the perfect end chapter to their storied history. As Carl and Pete looked into each others eyes and crooned “What Became Of The Dreams We Had” you couldn’t help but be struck by the poignancy of the moment. Ironically it’s at the moment in time when the Libertines mattered least, when their influence was all but negligible on the UK scene; that they finally get it together and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat one last time.
The fact that their set was sloppy and rough shot hardly mattered (in fact it added to the charm), this was a historic moment from the minute Carl and Pete sang into the same microphone. An hour turned out to be the perfect length as their limitations as artists, and as musicians, were largely hidden as they blasted through anthem after anthem. The reaction was so intense that “Time For Heroes” had to be stopped, it was just that riotous. “Vertigo”, “What A Waster”, “Last Post On The Bugle”, “Tell The King” and “Good Old Days” were my highlights but everyone in attendance will have their own personal favorites. Interestingly though, for those who weren’t Libertines die hards the reaction was mixed; the consensus among the unconverted was that “the moment was magic, but the music was tragic”. The energy, the chaos, the visceral edge and the sloppy charm was all there, but watching the Libertines sub headline in 2010; it truly struck home that their influence and potential will always out weigh their actual achievement and artistic quality.
1. Ready To Start
2. Keep The Car Running
4. No Cars Go
6. Modern Man
8. The Suburbs/The Suburbs (Continued)
10. Crown Of Love
12. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
13. We Used To Wait
14. Power Out
15. Rebellion (Lies)
16. Month Of May
17. Wake Up
It seemed rather ironic that on Reading Festival’s most populist year, surrounded by boyish brain dead visceral thrills, and nostalgic reunion shows, that Arcade Fire should take to the stage smack bang in the middle of the weekend. During Reading’s most retrospective and poppy year to date; Melvin Benn and co decided to take the gamble of booking their most fringe art house headliner since the Pixies in ’05. Win Butler seemed as in tune with the circumstance as the rest us as he declared “I don’t know what the fuck we’re doing here, we’ve never a had hit song…but at least we’re punctual right?”. It was a great moment of class and humbleness from one of the world’s biggest bands, and it was one of those endearing moments that Axl Rose could really have learnt from. One simple apology or acknowledgement could have saved his set, but he was off gallivanting in his own little world whereas Arcade Fire where preparing to blow the Reading Mainstage crowd’s collective minds.
Now before we get to the music, we have to discuss the crowd; there was a lot of talk about whether Arcade Fire we’re the right sort of band to headline such a populist festival as Reading. Well unsurprisingly faced with stiff competition from Pendulum, Bad Religion and Ash they drew a smallish headline crowd. Arcade Fire proved to be a respectable draw. Pulling a bigger crowd than The Pixies’ (2005) and Franz Ferdinand’s (2006) headline crowds, and massively bigger than Razorlight’s epic debacle in 2007. Think Iron Maiden in ’05 and you’re on the right tracks. In the end the booking worked out perfectly as it seemed everyone got to see the headliner they wanted to see, and each act was given an attentive crowd who genuinely wanted to be there.
After the initial worry of who would be there and how many had subsided Arcade Fire set about delivering the best and most beautiful headline set that this reviewer has ever witnessed. This was my twenty fourth festival and I can honestly say I have seen none finer. The opening chords of “Ready To Start” signalled that this would be a special night, as the Arcade Fire crafted an emotionally rich set that took you on journey from start to finish with their typical French Canadain understate élan. Starting with the euphoric highs of “Ready To Start” and “Keep The Car Running” they soon moved to the sweet “Haiti” before slowly taking us down to the emotional depths with “Modern Man”, “Rococo” and a heartbreaking rendition of “Crown Of Love”. The latter truly stole the show leaving members of the audience (especially in the front row) in tears; it was that kind of night.
As the night progressed Arcade Fire showed the world why they were a cut above the rest as their rich arrangements swelled; getting ever more complex and layered as the built to epic crescendo after epic crescendo. Win was even so impressed that he broke from character and dived into the crowd to share in the love. From that point on Win held an unfamiliar but intrigued crowd in the palm of his hand as he and Regine slowly got everyone moving from the front to the back with one final epic crescendo of pseudo hits. “Sprawl II: Mountains Beyond Mountains” got Regine and the crowd grooving to new wave synths before “Power Out” and “Rebellion” finally got the sceptical but enthralled crowd in singing in full voice. From that point on victory had be achieved and Arcade Fire could no longer fail. “Month of May” was a rip snorting mash of Queens Of The Stone Age propulsive grooves and Ramones-eske energy before “Wake Up” gave the crowd that beautiful hands in the sky moment. That, after all, is what festivals are all about, and while they may have had to earn the crowd’s respect with an hour of beautiful arranged quasi-religious anthemia, by the time the final half hour rolled around the crowd was one unified emotive force. Quite simply the best band on the planet at this moment in time, putting on the best headline set imaginable. So was Reading the wrong festival for them? Probably, but who cares, it seemed like whatever choice you made on Saturday night you simply couldn’t go wrong.
The 411: The worst rainfall and mud since the floods of 2004, a passive, friendly but seemingly un-knowledgeable crowd, and a whole host of organizationals mishaps could not stop Reading Festival from ultimately being itself. As I stated in the introduction; Reading Festival is rock and roll, and 2010 typified this point. It was chaotic, it was ramshackle, it was dirty, it was full of disasters, but it was also full of incredibly beauty, visceral energy, and dirty sexy rock and roll. Even the festivals low points, and the Guns and Roses catastrophe, seemed endearing in retrospect, and across two days I didn't see a single band that now I regret watching. It ain't pretty, it ain't classy, and it damn sure ain't what it used to be; but for better or worse Reading Festival is still the UK's definitive rock and roll experience.
|Final Score: 7.5 [ Good ] legend|