(Note to non-Iirsh readers – that’s not a mis-spelling. They really do spell it Oxegen). If there’s one thing that Ireland has in plentiful supply, it’s good festivals with bad line ups. Without meaning to insult anyone’s efforts, it’s the vibe of places like Knockanstockan, Castlepalooza and Vantastival that make them worth the effort. The line ups certainly aren’t bad, but they rely in large parts on bands that play Dublin at least every month, so for the locals they’re not going to set the world alight either. Oxegen is probably the opposite. Sure, it’s got a lot of dreadful pop tat propping up the latter end of the build, but dig deeper and there are some sizable bands playing minor stages (even The Strokes found themselves second from top on the second stage this year). As Glastonbury proved, though, having the Black Eyed Peas on the line up doesn’t in itself make for a bad festival. Hell, you could even get away with having Paolo Nutini, Bruno Mars and Swedish House Mafia, too. Having a crowd made up almost entirely of ‘straight from high school’ types having their first night away from the parents, though, is enough to destroy any festival. The number of times I saw people throwing up by two in the afternoon made me almost embarrassed to be part of the audience, but at least I could console myself with the journalistic ‘observation’ role. Quick tip for anyone thinking of going: if you really are going purely for the line-up, carry on. If not, and you want something even approaching a good time, you’d better hope you were born in the 90s.
Oxegen, for what it’s worth, is excellent backstage. It probably had to be to persuade the various media types to actually send people to cover it, but there’s a serious temptation to only walk outside of the media area to watch the major acts from the media viewing points and then drift backstage to play a bit of pool or mini golf and try to find someone interesting to interview (I caught the brilliant Fight Like Apes, result!). Like I said, though, ignore the pop tat (amusingly, Black Eyed Peas performance was so awful that their fans are criticizing them for it. That’d take some doing given how bad they were when they got praised last time I saw them…), and there’s some great stuff. The Strokes, Foo Fighters, Grouplove and The Minutes particularly impressed me. The ‘let’s be as offensive as we can’ rap of Odd Future was mildly entertaining; Primal Scream are just incredible and Two Door Cinema Club were basically born to play Oxegen, and played an absolute blinder once again. I’ll paste all the reviews below, to save a full-on description of each act.
Once again, there were serious problems in the campsite, with five people stabbed on the very first night. Oxegen is the same weekend as the orange marches up in Northern Ireland, and the rumours go that Belfast parents send their kids down to get them out of trouble. They just cause trouble down here instead. I went up and down in the bus every day; it’s probably the only festival I’d never even contemplate camping at, despite the significant extra expense of not doing so. Don’t get me wrong, there are some redeeming features. Most of them are in the backstage area, but then there’s the same special moments when a band plays an absolutely blinder that you get at other festivals (though it might be to a reduced crowd because there’s some laptop tapper on around the corner), the record fair has a lot of great stuff and you do get to watch Primal Scream or Glasvegas from very nearly the front row as the entire crowd prefers to watch, say, Bruno (cringe) Mars. I’ll probably be back next year if there’s a pass on offer, purely because the line up’s so good. I won’t be holding my breath on a better atmosphere, though.
Photos by the ever-impressive Kieran Frost.
REVIEWS (as published by State.ie)
Peter Hook – Heineken Green Spheres
Peter Hook and The Light are simple and traditional in the way the present a rock show. Strumming against a backdrop of a run-of-the-mill light show and focusing heavily on their big-name frontman, the group’s celebration of Joy Division – who came to their tragic end just over 21 years ago – features all the classics from the bands two albums Unknown Pleasures and Closer. They might not be much to look at (original bassist Hook certainly lacks the brittle and compulsively watchable stage presence long-deceased Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis was so famed for), but the reproduction of the band’s materially aurally is absolutely nailed on. Hook throws in ‘She’s Lost Control’ early on as a crowd sweetener, but saves the two truly massive smashes, ‘Transmission’ and ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ as mammoth closers, at which point the Heineken tent crowd absolutely lose it. It’s dingy, direct and entirely lacking in niceties, but Joy Division tracks wouldn’t seem right performed any other way. Close your eyes, and it could almost be 1979 again. And there’s not a glimmer of New Order to be found.
Weezer – Main Stage
Weezer, then, have some act to follow, and they open slowly. The Californians have always been something of a collection of alt. rock misfits, and today’s no different. Opposite end of the spectrum covers from Wheatus (‘Teenage Dirtbag’) and Radiohead (‘Paranoid Android’, with that very apt ‘rain down on me, from a great height’ line sitting fantastically) punctuating a career-spanning set. ‘Pork and Beans’ and ‘Island In The Sun’ provide the early set highlights, as well as a mass sing-a-long to that ode to the rich and famous, ‘Beverly Hills’. Rivers Cuomo conducts the crowd from all corners, strumming beneath the big screens or shaking hands in the front row, before the big hitters come out for the finale. The set on the whole is a bit of a geek-rock fiasco, lacking the punch that would draw in those who are only curious, and a little too heavy on the band’s childish edge. In ‘Hash Pipe’ and ‘Buddy Holly’, though, Weezer have two genuine rock classics, and – for ten minutes at least – they’re every bit as good as a fan base that’s travelled from across Europe today would have you believe. Just don’t mention that “a million dollars to stop recording” offer they had not so long ago…
My Chemical Romance – Main Stage
Next up are one of the most divisive bands on the modern music scene. If there’s one big plus that’s come from My Chemical Romance’s recent dalliances with the concept album, it’s that it’s significantly developed their musical range. Today’s set lacks the almost Gorillaz-esque cartoon accompaniment that’s been a feature of MCR’s arena tours, and instead returns to a simple band and audience scenario, one in which Gerard Way seems to thrive. Several of the newer tracks have rhythms that border on ska, or draw on Cuban influences. On the other hand, they do still pedal tracks that are titled with an endless stream of ‘Na’s, (the opener), and emotionally tinged rock certainly remains the dominant force.
The Irish crowd, clearly, are still into their oldest material above anything else. ‘I’m Not Okay (I Promise)’ and ‘Welcome To the Black Parade’ are set highlights, between which Gerard thanks every other band on the bill, professes his undying love for our country and sings a few tracks from the stage runway, hovering over the crowd and delivering vocals in a way that at times genuinely feel like he’s talking to each member of the crowd individually. You can’t argue with the stage presence: Way is fast becoming iconic, frail yet compulsively watchable. He rarely puts a foot wrong vocally, and performs with the ease of a front man who’s clearly used to holding sizable crowds in the palm of his hands. While he doesn’t always succeed in winning over the festival crowd entirely, My Chemical Romance are pure rock and roll theatre. Today’s live show doesn’t quite do enough to justify their incredibly adoring fan base, but in this kind of environment, few would. It certainly gives a great taste of just what all the fuss is about.
Fun Lovin’ Criminals – Main Stage
Huey Morgan is one smooth, smooth man. The first main stage act of Oxegen Festival 2011’s front man can entertain an entire field of people with nothing more than some comic on-screen facial expressions. Of course, Fun Lovin’ Criminals are about far more than that, and their eclectic take on New York life delivered in Huey’s unique, silky, bordering on spoken word style has something for everyone. Early single ‘Scooby Snacks’ is, as always, the highlight, and FLC are certainly not afraid to trawl the more aged end of their back catalogue, with ‘King Of New York’ and band theme tune ‘The Fun Lovin’ Criminal’ also given an airing. Suited and booted, Huey and drummer Frank Benbini close their set by running on and off stage egging on a crowd that’s baying for just one more track. It doesn’t come, but FLC’s raucous brand of hip hop meets funk certainly opens the festival in style.
Readers Wives – 2FM / Hot Press Academy
Dubliners Readers Wives are still very much a regional name, and take their Oxegen chance well on the Hot Press stage. Channelling The Smiths and clad in trench coats, the indie four-piece come across as alluringly moody and lyrically witty. There’s a moment or two when getting the substantial audience to wave their hands from side to side becomes a bit too much of a focus, but who can blame them: local acts get precious few chances to impress at mainstream festivals, and all for all the dingily witty lyrics, Readers Wives – static but instrumentally impressive – certainly make the most of theirs. One to watch out for.
Cherri Bomb – 2FM / Hot Press Academy
Cherri Bomb, on the other hand, seem a little lost, both in terms of fitting in with the rest of the bill, and their actual location. The all-girl punk band’s lead singer Julia thanks ‘Dublin’ throughout their set, but it’s easy to forgive her geographical issues when the pierced, leather-clad rockers are so impressively boisterous and make such an alluring racket. This isn’t for the faint hearted: Cherri Bomb are a proper no-holds-barred style punk-rock noise merchant. They sound a lot like The Donnas after they graduated high school, discovered biker bars, whiskey, boys with too many tattoos, and got dumped on the eve of their prom. Sometimes those guitars seem absolutely all over the place, but there’s a nice rhythm poking through the mayhem. We wouldn’t like to meet them in a dark alleyway, but they’re certainly worth a listen.
All Time Low – Main Stage
All Time Low, on the other hand, probably aren’t. Perhaps we just weren’t in the mood for such shenanigans after Cherri Bomb demonstrated how heavy music should be done a few minutes earlier, but All Time Low come across as Blink 182-lite, lyrically churlish and catchy only insofar as they can clearly write a decent riff. On the plus side, they do perform with a relentless energy, hopping, skipping and jumping their way through a set that – should you choose to dance along – has a strong redeeming feature in its role as a wakeup call. They’re pretty boys who play guitars, so they’ll be fine.
The Strokes – Vodafone Stage
Latest album Angles might have been met with less than critical adoration, but that certainly hasn’t affected The Strokes live show. Bracketed by a stark yet beautiful stage set up consisting of lit up chevrons(angles, presumably?) and a pixelated screen that channels ’80s video games, Casablancas and co. are in no mood to mess around, launching into a set stuffed full of their biggest hits and mercifully thin on the ground when it comes to newer material. Julian struts his stuff in leather and sunglasses, and times ‘Reptilia’ to coincide with the sunset and the breaking of an absolutely monster storm, creating the perfect festival moment. ‘New York City Cops’, ‘Someday’, ‘Juicebox’ and ‘The End Has No End’ are scattered through a set characterised by the slurring vocals of the ice-cool lead singer and infectiously stark riffage.
When gratuitously misspelt early hit and second-to-last track ‘Last Nite’ kicks in, the mosh pits open up down the front, Casablancas ice cool demeanour breaks for long enough to reveal a mammoth smile and all hell breaks loose down the front. It’s been some time since we’ve been graced with The Strokes presence on these shores, and their return stands out as a massive triumph, showcasing every ounce of the heady, abrupt brand of garage rock that rushed them into the limelight a decade ago. In keeping things simple and concentrating on what they do best: play genuinely moving, socially affecting rock songs to massive crowds, yet somehow make things feel intimate, The Strokes set will take some beating this weekend. Who knew the slick, crisp, vocally quirky style of New York’s coolest band was so well suited to a Kildare field?
Glasvegas – 2FM / Hot Press Academy
The Strokes are followed by the pre-headliner lull (yes, we have no idea how they’re not even headlining the second stage, either), during which we catch a little of Noah and the Whale unveiling a live show that’s impressively boisterous next to their sedate recording style. The crowd waiting for Glasvegas are then treated to the bizarre aural mish-mash of Swedish House Mafia and their manic, Morse-code-ish light show in one ear and the sugary pop of Black Eyed Peas in the other. Swedish House Mafia’s throbbing beats are dwarfed from afar by their stunning laser show and what looks like a full on stage-front smoke screen. Nice. When the Allan’s and Co do finally emerge, though, it’s a triumph.
Frontman James loves a good, blunt image. His lyrics are those of the emotional yet hardened modern man, delivered in a pronounced Scottish drawl from beneath his shades. The Scots have brought their own ‘Vegas lights for tonight; huge, Blackpool-style monstrosities that flash in time with their brute-ish chords. They play a good blend of tracks from their self-titled debut and this year’s follow up, Euphoric Heartbreak. Glasvegas are fast becoming one of those beloved cult bands, with a dedicated following established in part through the pages of NME and in part through their genuinely different approach to producing an indie rock track.
James struts about the stage with his lit-up tapeworm microphone wire draped around his body, and mixes in adapted children’s nursery rhymes and a strutting stage presence in the kind of melting pot that will either irritate or blow your mind. For us it’s a festival highlight, with early smashes ‘Daddy’s Gone’ and ‘It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry’ delivered with the raw emotion that made them such fan favourites in the first place. This is indie rock for the emotionally tender, performed with a simple yet memorable image and packed full of sing-your-heart-out crescendos. James lies on the floor, collapses to his knees and regales us all with indecipherable tales of his homeland, without ever losing the sense that this is a band built around his overwhelming stage presence and unique vocals. All in, it’s an absolutely storming end to the night.
The Pretty Reckless – Heineken Green Spheres Tent
In the odd category of non-music-based celebrity performers today, The Pretty Reckless (or The Pretty Rockness, as the Green Sphere’s tent’s line up poster lists them) is the clear winner. Sure, that’s largely because the competition if absolutely dire, but to be fair to Gossip Girl’s Taylor Momsen, she really can sing. At 17, fronting a heavy rock band in your underwear and what looks like a motor-racing crash barrier see-through dress takes some balls, but Momsen brings what really matters, in screeching and squealing her way through a set that feels a million miles from celebrity self-indulgence. It works, and while it might feel slightly wrong to the post-teens like ourselves in the audience to watch such an overtly sexualised performance from a woman of that age, this certainly is heartfelt and at times manically yet tunefully heavy. There’s an air of a model version of Courtney Love to Momsen, fragile yet pointedly aggressive and sure of herself in a kind of backwards, assertive way. She’s not about to break up the rock n’ roll hierarchy, but the band is very, very watchable. And yes, we do mean in the musical sense.
Eliza Doolittle – 2FM Hot Press Academy Stage
Eliza Doolittle and her four-piece backing band and two backing vocalists draw a huge crowd on the Hot Press stage, and if one things for certain, it’s that the pint-sized singer has one of the best voices on offer this weekend. At just 23, it already seems like Eliza’s been around forever, and she plays like she’s strolling down a street in a fashion commercial. Strangely, that comes across like she absolutely owns the stage, especially when shes goes tearing down the front row offering high fives, or perches briefly at her tiny piano before leaping back into action. It’s a delicate yet confident performance, one reliant on a boisterous cuteness that permeates both her lyrics and general demeanour. Of course, the entire set is a build up to closing, monster single ‘Pack Up’, but tracks like ‘Rollerblades’ and ‘Go Home’ certainly don’t let the side down, either. Based on today’s show, Eliza probably deserves a touch more attention than she gets.
Beady Eye – Main Stage
Ah, Mr. Gallagher. Beady Eye’s debut Different Gear Still Speeding might be a passable effort if you’re into the Brit-Pop throwback thing, but let’s face it, it’s hardly a dramatic change in style. Throwing in a touch of blues piano on top of the front man’s trademark gurning, crowd-abusing collection of on-stage affronts creates just one feeling: it’s like watching Oasis, except 20 years after their peak, and minus every iconic track they ever wrote. Sorry Liam, but for all the attitude in the world, Beady Eye – and your vocals in general – belong to another era. Without the classics, this just doesn’t cut it. File under ‘you never know, they might reform for the money’ and hope Noel does better, as Beady Eye –like Oasis’ less notable moments – are just dull.
The Vaccines – Heineken Green Spheres Tent
Now this is how a rock show should be done. The Vaccines are fiery, snappy to the point of abrupt and – lyrically – so inane it’s almost embarrassing. Having said that, spend a few minutes in front of their live show and you’ll see just why the odd media outlet has them tagged as the saviours of rock. We’re not sure rock needs saving, but the likes of ‘Wreckin’ Bar’, ‘Post Break-Up Sex’ and ‘If You Wanna’ cause the kind of manic front-row leaping that has even the bouncers cracking a few wry smiles. Any signs that front man Justin Young might still be struggling with those delicate vocal chords are brushed aside in a blaze of glory, with smooth, leery vocals and on-stage bounciness the band’s greatest live assets. And that’s before the even get to ‘Norgaard’, which is as good as 90 second piece of accessible rock music’s ever likely to be. Put aside the fact that most of their lyrics are genuinely, comically awful and these guys are lovable as hell, and we can’t ask for much more than that. Though Young’s exes might…
Foo Fighters – Main Stage
Rock and roll legends don’t come much more ‘larger than life’ than Dave Grohl. Growling, flicking his mane back and forth and firing his way through a frantic selection of Foo Fighters classics, the front man is on absolutely top form. His early set promise to “play until we’re asked to stop” ensures a set of at least fifteen tracks, riddled with Foos classics such as ‘Monkey Wrench’, ‘All My Life’, ‘Best Of You’, ‘Breakout’ and ‘My Hero’. There’s a relentless feel to the set; a manic, riff-tastic flow from track to track that sees the rock legend live up to his reputation as an incredibly giving performer. The crowd return the love in huge multiples, screaming and leaping their way through a set that’s visually simplistic – lights and side screens only – but needs nothing on top of what the Foos themselves have to give.
There’s an inarguable sense of respect between audience and band: the Foos occasionally stop simply to soak up the atmosphere, with Grohl cocking an ear to the crowd as the volume rises to a huge peak, or allowing entire sections of tracks like ‘Wheels’ to ride on the peak of the audience’s emotional wave. ‘Stacked Actors’ sees an absolute beast of a guitar battle commence, with Grohl and Chris Shiflett facing off across the stage, or eyeballing each other at close quarter as they try to outdo each other, and quip “this is some commitment shit now”. At the best part of 100 minutes, the band are as good as their word, too, showing seemingly genuine adoration for the crowd, many of whom have clearly made the trip just for the occasion. Closers ‘Times Like These’ and ‘Everlong’ might be at the slower end of the Foos manic rock spectrum, but they’re the perfect emotional, sedate close to a set that’s packed full of songs from the Foos genuinely huge and classic-ridden back catalogue. Would they actually have gone on all night? After a performance like that, we wouldn’t put it past them.
Arctic Monkeys – Main Stage
Since their Arctic Monkeys followed their near-spoken word poetry debut-album intro to rock n’ roll, they’ve never entirely convinced me. The assorted style changes have resulted in inconsistent records and some big highs and lows, including a less than compelling Alex Turner solo career, but it doesn’t take much of today’s set to see that the live arena is where the band really comes into their own. Turner – who no longer wears his guitar Buddy Holly high across his chest – now has the swagger and sophistication of a major league front man, strutting and snarling his way through a career-spanning show that lifts the level of the main stage. Fused together into one abrupt, menacing menagerie of tracks, Monkeys four albums seem to meld more enticingly live, forming a heady if sometimes slightly atonal sing-along.
While many of the highlights still come from the debut (‘I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor’, of course, but also ‘Still Take You Home’ and fans-favourite album track ‘Mardy Bum’), the likes of ‘This House Is A Circus’, ‘Crying Lightning’, ‘Brainstorm’ and even bizarre new single ‘The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala’ sound stronger, more substantial and spicier in a live setting. There’s no doubting its Turner that makes it: the rest of the band are performers to his ringmaster, and the frenzy kicking off in the few front rows revolves entirely around the charismatic frontman. His lyrics might have waned from the brilliant observational to the eclectic and occasional downright bizarre world of his inner thoughts, but live it doesn’t seem to matter one jot.
Two Door Cinema Club – Main Stage
Just when I thought Two Door’s old material as starting to wear a bit thin, they come out with an absolute monster of a performance. Yes, ‘Do You Want It All’ is still a track with all the lyrical sophistication of a mobile ringtone, but lay that small blip aside and Two Door are just about ready to claim Oxegen as their own. Last year’s late move to the Main Stage proved to be essential: they drew one of the biggest crowds of the entire festival, and if anything this year’s is even bigger and better. Trimble and co. blend tracks that are fast becoming pop-rock classics like ‘Something Good Can Work’ and ‘Undercover Martyn’ with a spattering of new tracks (as well as confirming a forthcoming hibernation and new album in early 2012), and demonstrate thoroughly to those ready to write them off as a one-album flash in the pan that there’s plenty more to come.
Then there are the stage antics. Kevin bounces, sways and machine guns the crowd with his guitar like he’s playing a one off show in his favourite band. Alex is chock full of cheesy compliments, and produces a whopper festival moment when he persuades large parts of the crowd to climb on each other’s shoulders and watches on as the security try to work out what to do about it. It’s not like we haven’t seen this before, but Oxegen is clearly Two Door’s territory, and today’s set is a show of flair and self-confidence that even last year’s triumph was lacking. It goes down in front of a crowd that won’t be matched until the headliners, and only the most hardened can resist a leap, a sway and one beast of a sing-along.
Cashier No. 9 – Heineken Green Spheres Stage
Cashier No. 9 might still be firmly in their northern counterpart’s shadow, but they’re already turning into an impressive pop band. Filling the Heineken tent with a brand of twangy pop-rock that’s more sincere and less bouncy than Two Door, they open with EP title track ‘Goldstar’, and follow through with an earnest, downbeat set that showcases just why the UK press has begun to fawn. Sure, it’s bordering on sedate, and brings with it only the occasional moments of boisterousness amongst the lyrical sincerity, but there are still signs of a sing-along. The sound doesn’t do Cashier No. 9 any favours – they’re a little less crisp than they’d probably hope to come across – but there’s no doubt that this act will be one of the next to step off that conveyor belt of Northern Irish music success stories.
Amanda Brunker and Gitano – Vodafone Stage
News sweeps around the media area on Saturday morning that shocks no-one: Amanda Brunker and Gitano’s set will start 20 minutes late, as they don’t have the material to fill the full block. The ‘performance’, it turns out, is no more than three songs. Spanish guitar act Gitano, to be fair to them, are great at what they do. They open with a classical, summery guitar number backed with bongo beats, before welcoming their special guest, Ms. Brunker. And then the furore begins. It soon becomes clear is that if Amanda has rehearsed her performance, it was probably in a karaoke room. She sings just one song, a lyrically thin on the ground and horrendously out of tune rendition of U2’s ‘With Or Without You’ during which the ex-model seems more intent on showing us she can move her hips than actually using her voice. That’s probably for the best: the melody of the track has been entirely changed to suit Amanda’s voice, and frankly she’s still not getting close to tuneful. Thankfully, for the third and final track, she decides to simply sway at the front and punctuate some otherwise impressive backing music with the occasional squeal. Just one song of actual singing, then, and even that she manages to skip half of. Let’s hope Amanda’s musical ‘career’ is cut off before it starts: the brutal truth might be hard to swallow but it’s also undeniable – pick a person at random in your local pub after a few drinks and they’d give a better showing. You’re right, Amanda, you should turn off Twitter after that. Leave it to the professionals, next time?
DJ Church and Gordo – Red Bull Electric Ballroom
Not content with one celebrity trying to gatecrash the Oxegen party with a show of ‘music’? Answer yourself this simple question, then: who makes a better DJ – a. a DJ or b. a rugby player. Clue: it’s not a trick question. DJ Church – also known as Ireland rugby international Cian Healy – is not in Brunker’s category of horrendous, but his brand of dance is certainly limited on the mixing front, and seems to mainly involve the pushing of a play button. At least he’s got the guns for the ample fist-pumping that goes with it.
Viva Brother – 2FM Hot Press Academy Stage
Sure, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but Leonard Newell and his band are certainly no roses. With all the strutting and the collection of ludicrously-patterned shirts, we could hazard a guess that he’s heard the phrase ‘peacocking’ a few times. Still, with the addition of ‘Viva’ to their name, Brother do seem to have calmed down a touch and there are no obvious signs of that famed arrogance on display today. They’re growing musically, too, with ‘The Darling Buds Of May’ and ‘Still Here’ sounding like proper, snarling, substantial rock tunes. Even their previously borderline-superfluous backing girl seems to have found a nice little vocal groove in amongst it all. We’d still put the State office on them not being the bigger-than-the-Beatles’ act Newell seems to be touting, but – dare we say it – watch this space…
Chase & Status – Heineken Green Spheres Tent
If the Heineken tent has seen a bigger crowd than this all weekend, we weren’t part of it. Chase & Status’s set is an impressively substantial, smooth-sounding dance show, channelling a grimy London sound straight from a euphoric warehouse rave and threatening to punch holes through the canvas with their bass. It’s not really our cup of tea, but when they make the effort to bring a huge DJ platform, back-up bassist and drums to avoid the laptop-tapping cliché, and succeed in whipping the crowd into a frenzy that Manumission would be proud of, it can’t be a bad thing.
Grouplove – Heineken Green Spheres Tent
Welcome to Ireland, Grouplove! If today’s first Emerald Isle performance is anything to go by, we might be seeing this group from L.A. on our shores quite often in future. The five-piece have plenty of rock n’ roll credentials, featuring the son of Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin, but focus on an infectious style of summery indie-pop, performed by multiple vocalists on sometimes ludicrously small guitars. There’s a cracking energy to the oddly-named group, and a smiling demeanour that belies the title of their up and coming album, Never Trust A Happy Song. On that basis, don’t trust Grouplove as far as you can throw them. But do go and see them; these happy-go-lucky lively hippie-pop-rock lovers are going to go very, very far.
Crystal Castles – Heineken Green Spheres Tent
Alice Glass is an absolute lunatic. Tell you something you don’t know, right? Glass comes complete with her own security man to help with front row stability, which Alice needs while she writhes around atop those on the barrier, or bows and shimmies her way along to track after track. The Heineken tent is packed to the rafters for Crystal Castles’ set and the pulsing lighting, indecipherable vocals and throbbing bass lines are nothing if not bounce-along euphoric. Scenes down the front as the two-piece and their live drummer blast out the likes of ‘Crimewave’ and ‘Celestica’ are only a touch short of hero worship, while Alice adds a nice flourish to her bordering-on-hysterical performance by standing atop the drum kit and assaulting it with her microphone. It’s crude and, at times, an absolute aural barrage but – as difficult a proposition as they are live – Crystal Castles’ live show is absolutely awesome.
Slash – Main Stage
Slash is quite a character, isn’t he? Few people can exude quite the level of charisma the legendary guitarist exhibits by doing little more than taking his shirt off and wearing a ridiculous hat, and his work on the ol’ axe is unsurprisingly epic. In terms of actually engaging the audience, though, the guitarist’s Axl-a-like singer takes the lead, aside from a couple of brief and vocally dodgy tracks featuring Black Eyed Peas notoriously awful live vocalist Fergie. There’s preciously little new stuff here, and while it’s all very nice when it comes to a bit of a sing-a-long (let’s face it, that’s what we’re all here for), we might well be getting to the point at which Slash can join Axl in Guns ‘N’ Roses coverband-ville. ‘Paradise City’, ‘Sweet Child Of Mine’ and ‘Mr. Brownstone’ are epic, anyhow, and all served up on a nice shiny platter of main stage festival staples, but it’s a far cry from the general cheese-free, guitar-heavy theme Slash goes for when he’s playing to his own crowd.
OFWGKTA – Heineken Green Spheres Tent
Wow, Scroobius Pip would not approve of this lot. You’d have to be living under a musical rock not to have heard about Odd Future and their glorified front man Tyler, The Creator over the past few months. They’re (self) billed as the saviours of hip-hop, and while Tyler might have rebranded Pip’s precious four pillars as something along the lines of ‘gratuitous violence, misogyny, aggression and deep vocal layering’, there’s certainly something about them. On stage, OFWGKTA are like a lyrical tornado, with even Tyler (in his lower-leg cast) unable to sit calmly for more than the few seconds it takes to flex his bare abs and then hammer his cracked ankle against a wedge. Sure, the group are barely able to get through a sentence without screaming either “bitch” or “Wolf Gang”, but when your name is built so heavily on controversy, perhaps that’s to be expected. When things get up to their full, brutal force, Odd Future really do have a quite ridiculously boisterous, bordering on violent sound. The front rows are so into things that when one of the rappers walks along the front barrier he’s held so fast by the crowd that he appears to throw a punch to free himself (though we couldn’t absolutely swear it wasn’t just a firm shove). What’s undeniable, though, is that this new brand of outrageously livid hip-hop might be backed by a memorable beat, but it’s the sheer outlandishness of it that brings in most fans. Having seen the likes of Metallica, System Of A Down, Slipknot and Insane Clown Posse in concert, this is probably as raucous and fierce a crowd as we’ve come across.
Manic Street Preachers – Main Stage
It’s a set chock-full of classics but Manic Street Preachers might feel like they could play anything today and be met with faint indifference. James Dean Bradfield plays along, coming out with wisecracks like ”come on, sports fans!” while Nicky Wire struts about behind his flower-coated mic stand, smiling inanely to himself throughout. The sound is still exceptional: ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, ‘Faster’, ‘You Love Us’ and ‘Everything Must Go’ all come in studio-perfect, but Nicky’s customary political ramble and some brave attempts to gee-up the crowd fall almost completely flat. Don’t worry, we still love you, lads.
Primal Scream – Heineken Green Spheres Tent
How often do you go to a gig knowing exactly what’s going to be performed, and mostly in what order? Primal Scream can get away with that kind of stunt, especially when the album in question is Screamadelica. The crowd might be congregating elsewhere, but Bobby Gillespie is in the mood for a full on psychedelic dance off. The walls at the back of the stage seem to flow with multi-coloured paint or swirl away in trippy rotations of that sunny logo, while the band deliver the likes of ‘Come Together’, ‘Loaded’, ‘Higher Than The Sun’ and ‘Moving On Up’ in full-on, extended form. While Gillespie spends the set strutting and swaying, there’s some truly outstanding gospel backing coming from the stage wings, and a slow-building atmosphere that’s all about the tasty rhythms and dreamy, spaced-out atmospherics.
The Screamadelica tour is certainly not for the casual fan: it’s far from short and snappy, and leans heavily on extended rhythm sections and an appreciation for the general atmospheric of the album rather than its hits. Many of the tracks extend into six to eight minute beat pieces; a heady mix to the say the least. For all its mellow rhythms and an undeniable lack of the punch that Primal Scream have been known to exhibit, this is a show packed with mind-melting melody and mashed-up, upbeat stage antics. All is not lost on the rock out front, either: we’re treated to that burst of energy at the end, in the form of ‘Country Girl’, ‘Rocks’ and ‘Jailbird’. They’re three bouncy cherries on top of one exceptionally euphoric cake. Happy 20th, Screamadelica!
The National – Vodafone Stage
Being tasked with performing at the same time as Beyoncé is certainly not an enviable one, and The National’s Vodafone Stage appearance is greeted with a predictably tiny if enthusiastic crowd. Don’t get us wrong, High Violet is one of the musical highlights of the past year or so, but this is just not The National’s favoured setting, and on a tired Sunday evening, Matt Berninger’s dingy baritone comes across as intensely morose and somewhat difficult listening. That’s not particularly surprising in context. The National have always been a band that thrive on dark atmospherics somewhat better than muddy fields, and sing-a-longs to the likes of ‘Conversation 16’ and ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ just aren’t enough to lift the show out of intensely dour doldrums for anyone but the front few rows. When Berbinger jokingly suggests that the band cover ‘Single Ladies’ and instead fires up another moment of poorly mixed mournfulness we almost – cringe – wish they had gone for the Beyoncé cover. As loved up as those down the front seem, from around the field a less-than-perfect sound layering and performance that’s unusually static and drab don’t quite cut it. Especially next to, their brilliantly stark Olympia and Electric Picnic performances in the fairly recent past. It’s just not really The National’s day.