Wednesday, July 09, 2008

SWSL Glastonbury 2008 Diary

Friday 27th June

(Thanks to Mel and Del for the photos.)

I made it back to the tent, then...

The joy at still being alive is soon tempered by the way I feel. And I look exactly how I feel - a man with an extremely tenuous grip on reality.

It's very difficult to make a bad bacon sandwich - particularly for someone who feels that only greasy fried pig can prevent Death's hand from reaching the doorknocker - but somehow the Fresh Baguette van at the Other Stage accomplishes it with aplomb. I resolve to use it as a meeting place for the rest of the festival, but never again as a source of sustenance.

Never let it be said I'm instantly and unfairly dismissive of bands. Oh well, OK then, but not in the case of GLASVEGAS (John Peel Stage). At the Jericho Tavern in February, I was left distinctly underwhelmed by a band who, in theory at least (The Jesus & Mary Chain do doo-wop), should have had me drowning in my own saliva - so here I am, giving them another chance to win me over, even if I'm unable to do much other than cling to the floor. Sadly, the performance corroborates rather than confounds that first impression - they're one-paced, and nowhere near as good as they should be. Still, with Columbia's clout behind them (which also translates into a bombardment of emails for anyone signed up to their mailing list, rereleased singles and the abbreviating of all songs on their MySpace to one minute), they're destined for bigger things - and all while The Raveonettes are shunned. Sob.

From one wildly hyped new band to another. Of the two New York outfits on the weekend's bill who claim to be influenced as much by Afrobeat as by The Strokes (the other being the frankly rubbish Yeasayer), VAMPIRE WEEKEND (Other Stage) might be annoyingly smug interviewees but at least they have a handful of decent pick-me-up songs, and frontman Ezra Koenig appreciates that Glastonbury is largely about being thankful for all the attention and encouraging audience participation ("Blake's got a new face", apparently - bully for him). All the same, you suspect that if they hailed from Chingford rather than the Big Apple they wouldn't be afforded quite such acclaim. Plus someone should have a word with drummer Chris Tomson to let him know that wearing a Maradona T-shirt isn't the done
thing if you're trying to win over the English.

Part of the beauty of where the tents are pitched this year is that the Park Stage is barely a five minute walk away, the acts on it clearly audible from beneath our gazebo. Not that one of our party is pleased to hear the opening bars of 'Darling', SONS & DAUGHTERS' stab at perky eyelash-fluttering pop. Only after it's finished is it deemed safe to venture out into the drizzle and discover that Adele Bethel is wearing a shiny gold dress she'd never have got away with in Arab Strap and that, actually, some of the new songs from This Gift (particularly 'Goodbye Service') do stand up to the old songs, even if 'Ramalama' is the best moment of the set.

Now that I'm firmly back on terra firma, how appropriate that THE YOUNG KNIVES (John Peel Tent) should kick off a superabundance of material from Superabundance with a song of that very name. 'Up All Night', slyly stealing the chorus from Rocket From The Crypt's 'On A Rope', packs a punch and 'Current Of The River' is a powerful way to finish, but recent single 'Turn Tail', performed with live string section, feels like the trio trying on an ill-fitting hat, aiming for profundity but ending up with ponderousness - especially disappointing when it means that the likes of 'She's Attracted To' and 'Here Comes The Rumour Mill' are dropped to make way. Henry Dartnall refers to his brother, bassist The House Of Lords, as "a big fat loser" and later tells him to sing 'The Decision' properly and not to be "lazy". The talk may be sharp (if all in jest), but the Knives themselves are a little blunt.

There's entertainment everywhere you turn at Glastonbury - witness the group huddled under an umbrella and amusing themselves by watching people stumble and slide into a muddy pothole in the path. Certainly it's a lot more fun than trying to get over the narrow footbridge and up the hill through the Dance Village when the entire site seems intent on converging on the John Peel Tent to for a momentary glimpse of the hair of one of The Ting Tings. This festival doesn't have many flaws, but scheduling is one.

We walk past a group wearing matching spoof new rave T-shirts reading "Kings Of Neon". Here to see Neon Neon tomorrow, then.

The parallels are uncanny. Like Sons & Daughters earlier in the afternoon, THE DUKE SPIRIT are appearing on the Park Stage to promote material I wasn't totally convinced by on first listen back in November. Like Sons & Daughters with 'I Wanna Be Your Dog', they drop a short section of a punk classic into one of their own songs ('God Save The Queen' in their case). And like Sons & Daughters, their feisty and attractive frontwoman is wearing a gold dress. But all is not equal, Liela Moss and her boys triumphing over their peers by virtue of furious opener 'Send A Little Love Token' and alluring single 'My Sunken Treasure'. The chorus to 'The Step And The Walk' - "Without joy, joy, joy in the rain I could feel forever the same" - could have been written for Glastonbury, and moments like this.

We've had Vampire Weekend's 'Oxford Comma', we've had The Young Knives - Oxfordians via crisp capital Ashby-de-la-Zouch - and now we've got the latest locals with whom the good burghers of the city of dreaming spires are smitten. Math rock on this stage and at this time in proceedings might easily fall as flat on its arse as Winohouse after an all-day bender with Pete Doherty, but in the capable hands of FOALS (Other Stage) there's neigh danger of that. The late-running Duke Spirit set may mean we only see them when they're in the final furlong, but when even a song as lyrically sinister as 'Electric Bloom' can get a whole mass of strangers spasming in sync you know they're onto something.

The vendor by the John Peel Tent has earned my custom, I feel - if you want to buy a falafel, you want to buy it from a place called Just Falafs. Delicious it is, too, even with raita in place of houmus. Mind, the proprietor wants to be careful about the Trades Descriptions Act - those soups and smoothies on the side could bring about the downfall of the empire. Then who'll be falafing?

Over the last six months, no band has bemused me as much as MGMT (John Peel Tent). 'Time To Pretend' is a clear contender for single of the year (a bizarre amalgam of The Flaming Lips, Abba and the verse from The Bangles' 'Manic Monday', which even more bizarrely somehow works), and they've got the odd other passable moment, But tonight the malevolent synth of 'Time To Pretend' (the best thing about it) is bafflingly muzzled, and for every one of those passable moments (notably opener 'Weekend Wars' and 'Pieces Of What') there's half-baked Fleetwood Mac pastiche 'The Handshake' and the downright gruesome Scissors Sisters style funk-disco of 'Electric Feel'. I'm clearly in the minority, with everyone else singing the hook from 'Kids' as they leave the tent, but I can feel puzzlement has hardened into dislike.

Overheard on our way to the Park: "You're on acid, aw!", said as though the next word was going to be "Bless!" and the speaker was a pensioner talking to her five-year-old grandson.

No, I'm not going to pass up the opportunity to see a former member of The Velvet Underground in the flesh. And see JOHN CALE (Park Stage) I do, for all of about three minutes, which is enough to be struck by how strangely conventional the song he's playing is and decide to head barwards. Unfortunately, service turns out to be considerably slower than an intellectually challenged slug dragging an anvil, and by the time I emerge Cale is long gone.

"Surprise!" Hmm, I think not, Alex - the fact that FRANZ FERDINAND are the evening's special guests on the Park Stage was only a surprise for anyone who hadn't read the Q Daily, hadn't heard a single between-set announcement in the Park and hadn't had a flyer pressed into their hand by a member of the band worried there'd be no one there. One recipient of a flyer, refusing to believe Alex Kapranos was who he claimed to be, challenged him to name the area of Sheffield they're from, and it was to her that 'Take Me Out' was dedicated, dragged rather awkwardly into the middle of the set. As had been anticipated, the opportunity to blood some new songs is seized upon - the news being that while 'Kathryn Kiss Me', 'Ulysses', 'What She Came For' and 'Turn It On' are very recognisably them, Nick McCarthy does seem to have largely swapped guitar for keyboard. Quite how he and his band manage to concentrate through their short set culminating in 'This Fire' when there's a flag bearing the message "Fist me Jesus" fluttering right in front of them is beyond me.

The appearance of Jay-Z (or "Jay-Zed", as he's known to us all weekend) on the sacred Saturday night turf of the Pyramid Stage tomorrow night has sadly but inevitably overshadowed the fact that our very own homegrown rap superstar is also here to rinse it for the G-bury massive. I don't really know what that means, and I don't really know what he's saying - words must leave his mouth before they've even fully formed in his brain - but, together with DJ Semtex and a group of accomplices, DIZZEE RASCAL (Park Stage) is brilliant. He's probably never played to a field of white Glastonbury-reading welly-wearers before, but the aggression and relentlessness of his delivery can't fail to impress. A shame he has to wheel Calvin Harris out at the end for new single 'Dance Wiv Me', though, and during 'Bubbles' I can feel my inner Green Fields dwelling hippie tut-tutting disapprovingly: "Come on now Dizzee, you may jus' be a rascal, but less of this glorying in consumerism and machismo".

Look, I was queuing for some food, OK? Blame it on the burrito. That's how I came to be present in the same field at the same time as PETE DOHERTY (Park Stage). Or maybe it's because I've developed a subconscious attraction to convicts since going to Australia... Either way, young Peter's been through a lot since last year's appearance fronting Babyshambles - a messy break-up with Kate Moss, time doing porridge - but sadly not singing classes. 'What A Waster'? 'Can't Stand Me Know'? You said it mate...

Bands or performers I would have liked to have seen in an ideal world but missed due to clashes / rearranged running orders / the elements / my own sheer laziness or stupidity: Be Your Own Pet, Candi Staton, Jimmy Cliff, The Gossip, Editors, We Are Scientists, The Kills, Santogold, Operator Please, Arthur Smith, Jeff Green.

* * * * *

Next time: Black Lips, blue skies and a green door.


Del said...

Be Your Own Pet weren't there, so you missed nothing. We headed bright and early to the Other Stage to find the fucking Rascals there instead. We headed straight back to the Peel tent in disgust. Anyway, good stuff. Reminded me of some bits I'd forgotten about myself!

MGMT... Hmmm, saw them live at the Astoria, and they were infuriating. I couldn't stand seeing them again.

mike said...

Points arising:

1. Never has a single tumbled out of the charts so quickly as Glasvegas's "Geraldine". Well, not since the advent of download sales, that is. Evidence of fragile hype? I rather think so. Enjoyable enough when I saw them at The Social a few months ago, but nothing *that* special.

2. Oy, I bloody LOVE that Yeasayer album! Slow burner of the year, that.

3. Oh, so you noticed that Young Knives "On A Rope" steal as well? Naughty boys.

4. I saw The Duke Spirit supporting Duran Duran on Sunday night at the Arena. They struggled badly, and were needless to say completely lost in such a huge venue. Up in the VIP boxes, they didn't even bother turning the tennis off.

5. Yes, I love "Time To Pretend" as well - but for a band with such a colourful image, how come MGMT are so ditchwater dull on stage?

6. Such a shame that Dizzee's worst ever single is also his biggest ever hit.

7. Yes, I'd like to see Operator Please as well.

ian said...

7.45pm. I hope you're ashamed of yourself for that awful pun.

Ben said...

Del: Glad that's one band I can cross off my list as not having missed...


2. Slow burner perhaps, but it was instant dislike in my case - that would take a bit of getting over to really give them a chance, and there's just too many other things I want to hear...

3. A bit naughty, yes, but it's a great riff and not exactly the most complicated.

4. Sorry to hear The Duke Spirit were a disappointment. Not exactly suited to the venue or crowd, though, I'd imagine. Have you heard the album? Lots of very strong (if not totally spectacular) songs.

5. Yes, exactly - and hasn't NME been going on about them being incredibly exciting live? (Not that I really know what's going on with that comic these days.) Don't believe the hype!

Ian: As a regular reader, surely you should know by now I have no shame? And in any case, the proprietor started it...