Tuesday, June 26, 2007

glastonbury 2007: the review

Say what you like about Glastonbury Festival, it's never anything less then a huge event. I was there for the forth time in a row this year, and have now written a review of it. For you to read with your eyes and that.

It all starts at 10:20 in Nottingham Broadmarsh Bus Station with Harriet, and the beginning of a deeply unpleasant coach journey. Before setting out we're warned that the air-conditioning isn't working. No big deal when we're getting nice air flow through windows whilst pelting down the motorway, but just you wait for the 2 hours spent at crawling speed once you get near the festival. Sweltering does not even begin to describe it. Still, we're uncomplaining people, and at least Harriet's got a few links on Radio 1 to do to keep us entertained for a bit (which would include us both singing 'The Wheels On The Bus' to Edith Bowman's 4 million listeners, as well as getting Divine Comedy - National Express played, something I'm particularly proud of).

So 2 hours on the swelterbus pass, and we approach the festival's makeshift bus station. Except, in a momentary confusion our silly coach driver mistakes a warden's 'come on in' hand signal to mean 'go that other way please', and the coach makes it's way in the opposite direction despite passenger protest and another long queue that we are now roaring past. The coach has to go find the nearest roundabout before rejoining the queue, and we have to spend an extra hour and a half rapidly dehydrating aboard that humid hell hole. FTO National Express: please stop subcontracting out lucrative festival operations to idiots. Thank you.

Still, we're there, and the next 36 hours are the expected mix of exploring and drinking, and then it's Friday and time for some bands (for most of us anyway, Jess would be throwing up most of the day and only recover in time to see Fatboy Slim's headline DJ set).

We see promising little bits of The Cribs and Modest Mouse in between ducking off to do more links for Radio 1. This time including a rendition of Busted - Year 3000 - truly we are cool - and Lucy giving a big mention to the fact that we're going to try and play some SingStar in The Q tent later. (Actually, if Lucy had been the DJ giving SingStar such a mention, Sony's PR people would've been so pleased they would've sent round a free PS3 to the radio station within a couple of hours. Get in touch please, Sony people.)

All that done with, it was time to see Bright Eyes, who delivered a perfectly pleasant set, which I now have no other recollection of. Not the most memorable performance then, obviously. Then it was over to see most of The Magic Numbers set, who were hitting all the right sunshine-pop buttons, even if their current album is crap. Perfect mid-afternoon festival entertainment, regardless.

The same, however, can't be said of Bloc Party, who fall flat. A poor sound mix doesn't help, but they fail to grasp the logic of playing to festival crowds, with minimal interaction and a refusal to play two of their singles (I Still Remember and Two More Years), which must amount to festival suicide. They still just about manage to get people moving, but this was a lazy and naive performance.

No such arrogance from The Fratellis, who's party-rock vibe is exactly what needs injecting into proceedings. It's an admirable set from a band on only their first album, they're visibly giving it their all, and everybody enjoys themselves.

Arcade Fire are billed as one of the main events of the weekend, but something is missing. This may be my fault: I'm late entering the crowd and have to contend with knocking about at the back where the crowd is middle-aged and the sound is lacking a satisfying level of volume. Then again, Win Butler's taunting of the apparently sedate crowd would suggest blame might lay elsewhere. Any Arcade Fire show is always something special, but this wasn't close to the legendary performance they're capable of.

On a day of two of my favourite bands underwhelming, thank the Lord himself for Damien Rice. One could happily spend the evening with the embarrassment of riches headlining other stages (Bjork, Hot Chip, Damien Marley, Fatboy Slim, Spiritualized or Arctic Monkeys), but at the Acoustic Tent Rice is performing above even his usual standards. It's a blazing, vitriolic show that is impossible not to get caught up in, and away from the technical difficulties of the main stages every beat of sound is perfect. In short: the best set of Glastonbury 2007.

Saturday comes, and The 'somehow-haven't-found-mainstream-success' Pipettes have an early start on the Pyramid stage. They attract a sparse crowd, but entertain them well with their collection of three-minute pop ditties.

Three-minute pop ditties aren't quite what Guillemots excel at. Instead they play with an added sense of occasion and scale layered on top of their already unique gig proposition. It won't help them gain widespread success, but they are very deserving of their cult status.

CSS play to a huge mid-afternoon crowd on the other stage, and rise to the occasion with balloons floating from everything and anything on stage. Ever-dedicated leadsinger Lovefoxx still suffers from a voice that suggests the record company are working her into the ground, but the energy she brings is remarkable, and as it proves, infectious. They will have made many new fans here.

It's a different kind of energy next from Klaxons, namely: drunk energy. Performing right on the edge for the full hour, it's a gloriously chaotic and haphazard set from three guys who are clearly loving every minute.

It's back to the tent for a bit, as I'd rather eat toenail clippings then stick around for Babyshambles and their unique bout of Kate Moss duetting hyperbole.

Returning for Maximo Park is a necessity though. As Paul Smith himself says: "we haven't got special guests, balloons or cheesy moves, all we've got is some songs we think you might like", which sounds like as perfect a summary of the band as is possible. Indeed, Maximo are in danger of getting lost on a bill as big as Glastonbury's, but they just about have the quality of songs to see them through.

Editors are a band moving away from their previous label of indie also-rans, if their new songs are anything to go by. Given that the audience don't know many of the songs on offer here, and that those songs aren't exactly snappy catchy pop gems, they are a remarkable success.

And then it is to the Pyramid Stage for headliners The Killers, who are the four hundredth band to suffer technical difficulties. At times the sound volume is dire, and the rest of the time just irritatingly quiet. The band are performing well, if failing to make the audience connection the legendary headliners of the past have (Coldplay, Paul McCartney, Radiohead, The Flaming Lips). By no means a disaster, lump it with Oasis's 2004 set as one of missed opportunities.

Sunday arrives, and this hungover and sleep deprived festival goer manages to muster the energy to see The Sunshine Underground, who prove to be well worth the effort. They do nothing different from their usual live show, but that show is so good they don't need to. Well worth checking them out if you're curious.

Then it's back to bed, to recuperate for a heavy evening session, that begins with a phone call from my brother - who announces I've got a 2:1 in my degree - just before seeing The Go! Team on the Other Stage. Needless to say, I'm in the party mood, and Go! Team are the perfect accessory to any party. It's a sparse crowd for an evening slot, but those present lap up new songs and old alike, and they are a real highlight.

Then, one of the real events of this year: Pendulum in the East Dance Tent. New live band, rare live performance, and a feverish level of expectation. Which they subsequently rose to. None of us stop dancing for the full duration, and it's the most enjoyable act of the weekend. Only it's brevity - they played for just 50 of their billed 60 minute show - stopped it being the set of the festival. Quite simply, nobody was yet ready to say goodbye.

Chemical Brothers are left to round off the weekend, which they do with all the slickness you'd expect. The sound was still too quiet, but by then everybody was used to the problem and we didn't let it ruin anything.

Then it was to The Park to further celebrate, followed by a 4am walk across the site in torrential rain wearing just a t-shirt and jeans. A mad predicament, but then, it wouldn't be Glastonbury without it.

Right, that was Glastonbury 2007. Who's joining us for 2008?

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