Thursday, July 01, 2004

Friday 25th June

A bottle of water and a greasy bacon sandwich seem like the best things in the world. The same cannot be said of the mewling rendition of ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ drifting over to us on the breeze like some foul and pestilent fog in what is otherwise an almost perfectly blue sky.

It’s great to be drunk at this time in the morning”. BRIGHT EYES (Pyramid Stage) aka the prodigiously talented indie pin-up Conor Oberst – think Tim Wheeler on downers – is busy beguiling a sleepy audience with gorgeously ramshackle and occasionally angry Gothic Americana, ably assisted by his band which today features a harp player and Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitar waif Nick Zinner. Every now and again his lyrics trespass onto dangerous territory marked ‘Sixth Form Angst: Keep Out’, too emo to stomach, but thankfully for the most part he is a consummate world-weary wordsmith with a wonderful line in couplets: “No-one chooses to sleep in the gutter / But sometimes it’s the most comfortable place”, “I could have been a famous singer / If I had a different voice”. In truth Oberst’s voice is possibly Bright Eyes’ greatest asset – impassioned, perpetually in danger of cracking, and utterly unique. “Enjoy the rest of the festival, and don’t die”, he warns us. Sound advice indeed.

Burrow Hill Cider – flat, 6% volume and, at £2.50 a pint, cheaper than lager – is the Devil’s own apple juice. I love it.

Nearly half an hour into their set and I’m slowly warming to WILCO (Pyramid Stage). Jeff Tweedy and company may be afforded cult status among the indielligensia, but I’ve never heard them before and at least at first I’m underwhelmed by their straight-down-the-line good-time bar-room bluesy rock ‘n’ roll. But then things start to change for the better – the songs seem to get longer and more experimental in structure, packed with twists and crescendos. From what I’ve read, I’m guessing this material is at the heart of their new record A Ghost Is Born, which, from the sounds of it, might well be worth a listen. Eventually a revelation, then, albeit a quiet one.

Ah, New York, New York. It’s all swings and roundabouts, I suppose. What THE WALKMEN (New Tent) have over Interpol by having a permanent keyboard player, they lack in terms of vocals and sheer songwriting. ‘The Rat’ is a fine single, though, and the lashings of familiar yet still delicious shimmering and echoey guitar lines charm the masses gathered to watch them to such an extent that they make those who handed them this lowly slot look increasingly foolish.

While The Walkmen might be in denial about their Washington DC roots, THE RAPTURE (Other Stage) are the real Big Apple deal. We arrive just in time for genius party anthem ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’. Bez and his amazing monkey limbs might be sadly missing this year, but broad grins still abound, not least upon the faces of Luke Jenner and Matt Safer on the stage.

I spot possibly the finest T-shirt of the festival. It simply reads: “I like things”.

I’ve got a sunburnt face and the ground’s dried out so much that they’re spraying the road with water to keep the dust down. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll turn out fine.

OK, own up. Whose bright idea was it to ensure that PJ HARVEY (Pyramid Stage) and Franz Ferdinand clash EXACTLY? For me there was only ever going to be one winner – I’ve seen the eight-legged Glaswegian art-pop beast several times already – but for others the temptation of hearing current SWSL Single Of The Year ‘Take Me Out’ in the flesh must have been too much, leaving poor old Polly Jean with far fewer onlookers than she deserves. Most of the choice cuts from new album Uh Huh Her – ‘The Letter’, ‘Cat On The Wall’, ‘Who The Fuck?’, ‘The Life And Death Of Mr Badmouth’ – get a welcome airing, but my personal highlights are Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea tracks ‘Big Exit’ and ‘Good Fortune’, songs I love unconditionally. The cider having taken control of my body and mind, I spend most of the set nodding and gawping at the stage – as if the songs weren’t enough to arrest the attention and quicken the pulse, she’s wearing a Spice Girls dress and pink stilettos. One thing that discomforts me, though (and this stands as a comment on Uh Huh Her as much as on this performance): just as ‘The Letter’ recalls The Kills, ‘Who The Fuck?’, her dress and stage manner all strikingly bring to mind the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Karen O. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed her set and the album has the usual irresistible allure, the increasingly dark and rough-edged sound no doubt a natural and justifiable response to the polish of Stories… and to hanging out with Josh Homme – but there’s just a creeping sense that one of the most original voices in British music over the past ten years might be in danger of following an already-trodden path rather than leading the way.

I take one bite of my chilli-filled enchilada which is liberally topped with hot salsa and jalapeno peppers, and feel my bowels shift gear. There may be trouble ahead…

For a band who seem to get so many people feverishly excited, KINGS OF LEON (Pyramid Stage) are unfeasibly fucking dull – quite a feat when you consider the potential in their Southern-boogie-meets-The-Strokes schtick. It doesn’t help that there’s precious little evidence that they even excite themselves, or that they can cope with a slot of this magnitude: “We don’t like talking, so we’ll just keep on playing”, says a nervy Caleb. Of course, neither does it help that they just don’t have a sufficiently substantial back catalogue to rely on.

No-one in their right mind would go to see SPIRITUALIZED (New Tent) expecting Jason Pierce to be a garrulous frontman – the most we get from him in terms of audience interaction or even acknowledgement is a round of applause as he leaves the stage at the end. The scales finally fell from my eyes with regard to Pierce’s outfit when I saw them at Rock City in January, my first and thus far best gig of the year, and this was pretty much more of the same: ‘Electricity’ to open, followed by an immaculately structured and performed set of snarling revved-up bruisers – ‘She Kissed Me (And It Felt Like A Hit)’, ‘Come Together’ – and enchanting and expansive gospel-inflected gems like ‘Broken Heart’ and ‘I Think I’m In Love’. It all ends, as seems utterly natural, with a meltdown of sound and light of awesome intensity. I leave the tent with a sore head, sore neck, sore eyes and a smile a mile wide.

The excesses of the previous two evenings take their toll and I retire for what is, relatively speaking, an early night. Camping near the Glade does have its disadvantages, though – such as DJs and crowds intent on “having it large” until daylight breaks and thus depriving you of sleep.

Bands or performers I would have seen in an ideal world but missed due to clashes / rearranged running orders / excessively packed tents / my own sheer laziness or stupidity: Elbow, The Concretes, Franz Ferdinand, Goldfrapp, Electrelane, Simon Munnery, Tindersticks, The Chemical Brothers, Phil Nichol, Tony Benn.

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