Thursday, June 28, 2007

SWSL Glastonbury 2007 Diary

Friday 22nd June

(With photos courtesy of Olav, Sarah and Owen.)

Rain, rain, go away, come again another day. Like Tuesday, for instance.

Reawoken by the sound of mics being tested. The tent may be a bit of a hothouse, but does that bear any relation to conditions outside?

Not really.

The rain is pretty much incessant, though not too heavy, at least. Sheffield's answer to Kasabian, the Arctic Monkeys-endorsed REVEREND AND THE MAKERS, are wrapping up on the Other Stage as we make our way down Pennard Hill. It's not even midday and I've already spotted a hapless dead-eyed drug casualty, staggering around gesticulating down at the mud and muttering "I'm going down" to anyone foolish or drunk enough not give him a wide berth.

Talking of people temporarily taking leave of their senses, here's Ryan Jarman of fellow Yorkshire scruffs THE CRIBS (Other Stage) declaring "They want us to speak out about global warming, but the biggest problem is the attitude of some indie bands" before going on to play a song called 'Hey Scenesters'. Jarman's subsequent attempt at explaining himself - "I was just making a flippant remark about how, in my opinion, the mainstream mindset of most 'indie' bands these days is the real scourge we should be against" - not only constitutes a repetition rather than retraction of the original offending statement, but also conveniently ignores the fact that, on this evidence, they are very much pots calling kettles black.

Our first visit to The Park. Emily Eavis' baby, this brand new area within easy reach of Pennard Hill and the Other Stage boasts its own stage, a couple of bars, generators that run on recycled chip fat and a man in a wooden boat up a tree intermittently sending down and hoisting up a bucket in which people can place wishes written out on scraps of paper.

Nothing but nothing will prevent LOS CAMPESINOS! from winning over hearts and minds (including those of Swiss Toni and Lord Bargain) - not the elements, not xylophone beaters breaking under duress, not even a brief power cut during which Gareth shares his knowledge of the Welsh language with us. 'International Tweepop Underground', despite its dismissal of Ian Mackaye and Henry Rollins, is definitely growing a set of gnashers, while the sun has the good grace to poke its face out from behind the rainclouds for 'You! Me! Dancing!'. The punch of the air at the reference to Twisted By Design feels even better than normal, too - this is like Cardiff on tour. A grinning Gareth thanks us all for being here - "I would have rather seen Modest Mouse myself" - before going for a barefoot walkabout amongst the assembled throng during 'Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks'. Later in the afternoon, at a burger bar near the Other Stage, I overhear one convert report back to their friends that Los Campesinos! "are the sort of band who put a smile on your face". Amen to that, brother.

We meet up with Steve and Corinne, for whom Glastonbury 2005 was something of a busman's holiday during which she had to try and coax something interesting out of James Blunt, and something coherent out of a completely out-of-it Goldie Lookin' Chain. No such thankless tasks this year.

Quick, run for cover! And not just because Kate Nash is due on next - it's bucketing it down!

We find shelter in the nearest bar tent, where The Charlatans' Tim Burgess is among those enjoying keeping dry to a reggae soundtrack. There's nothing for it but to sit it out and press ahead with the wine-drinking.

In 2004, Conor Oberst aka BRIGHT EYES opened the festival on the Pyramid Stage in the sunshine and, assisted by Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner amongst others, was brilliant. A year later, closing things out on the John Peel Stage, Oberst was drunk, obnoxious and shit, firing off jibes about the Make Poverty History campaign and Peel himself between songs to a predictably disgruntled audience. So, would it be Jekyll or Hyde on the Other Stage this year? And how would he go about setting things right? Well, Oberst is evidently very fearful of saying anything controversial that might potentially cause offence, but, given the worsening mud under our feet, the bright white suits worn by him and his band (this time featuring ex Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss) are an instant slap to the face. For the most part, their lush, slow-burning Americana (much of it drawn from new record Cassadaga) is a joy, but, as Steve pointed out earlier, Oberst seems incapable of penning a really strong chorus. A large banner demanding "More cowbell" is held aloft, and a man in a hang glider passes overhead, everyone looking up mid-song to wave back, before the set comes to a bizarrely abrupt and anti-climactic close.

It's been a tricky decision, but I've plumped for THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS (John Peel Stage) over prime festival acts The Magic Numbers and Super Furry Animals. Turns out that Ray and Debs, friends of Dead Kenny, and assorted members of Los Campesinos! have made the same choice. At the realisation that Neko Case isn't on hand to lend her vocal presence to A C Newman's bittersweet pop-rock songs - imagine The Shins with a dash of Cheap Trick - I'm slightly regretful, but the finale of 'Sing Me Spanish Techno' (the only song of theirs I've heard before) and 'The Bleeding Hearts Show' lift the performance out of the ordinary and get me thinking that forthcoming LP Challengers might be worth investigating. A word to the wise: be careful looking them up on the internet, kids...

Another direct clash, and THE CORAL (Other Stage) win out over Bloc Party. Both were pretty insipid two years ago, but we plump for the Scousers partly in the hope that the material from their forthcoming fourth LP is better than that on the patchy A Weekend In The City and partly because the Pyramid Stage is such a long trek. In the event, all we get by way of a preview of Roots And Echoes is solid new single 'Who's Gonna Find Me' (which I mishear being announced as 'Who's Gonna Fight Me'...) and a couple of other tracks. 'Spanish Main' takes us back to where it all started in 2002, with 'Goodbye' and 'Simon Diamond' following quickly on its heels. 'Pass It On' (the only song from Magic & Medicine) and particularly 'Dreaming Of You' get predictably huge cheers, while disappointing third album The Invisible Invasion is represented by its choicest cuts 'In The Morning', a superb 'She Sings The Mourning' and malevolent set-closer 'Arabian Sand'. Time will tell whether the weighting of the set in favour of older material marks creative bankruptcy for a band who perhaps had too much too young, but just at the present moment, with the skies now almost clear, it'll do for me. Could have done with the Beefheartian insanity of 'Skeleton Key', though...

A man walks past with a T-shirt bearing the legend "Sex 'n' drugs 'n' sausage rolls".

In 2005, RUFUS WAINWRIGHT (Other Stage) had the unenviable task of being the first performer to try to entertain me after Brian Wilson's set, and against all the odds he succeeded. And here he is again, this time the appetiser rather than the dessert, bringing a sense of class, glamour and theatricality to proceedings with tracks from the celebrated Want One and Want Two as well as new album Release The Stars. It doesn't take long for us to fall under the sway of his voice. "I'm feeling very overdressed", he confesses, " - or maybe it's you who are underdressed". I look at him in his brash red and white striped suit, and then down at my own torn jeans and clarty boots and can't help but conclude that it's a bit of both. With hindsight, the climax of his set is possibly as good as anything else I will witness all weekend. A minute after everyone has left the stage, he returns in a white bathrobe to run through a cover of 'Hallelujah' on the grand piano, joined by sis Martha. And then it all gets very surreal, as he affixes earrings, applies bright red lipstick and puts on a black hat before removing the robe to reveal a short skirt and suspenders. The carefully choreographed rendition of Judy Garland's 'Get Happy' that follows, accompanied by his entire band in evening dress, has some of our party blinking and worrying about the strength of the various substances they've been ingesting.

The sun is setting, dusk is falling, anticipation levels are sky-high - the time is ripe for something extraordinary...

Right on cue, it's THE ARCADE FIRE (Other Stage), creators of arguably the best album in living memory - from my point of view, at least. Neon Bible ain't bad, either. The Montreal ensemble were made for moments like this, their music energised by a potent and exhilarating tension between dark and light, apocalyptic doom and dogged idealism. 'Black Mirror' is a relatively understated opener, though, and it soon becomes clear that any triumph will have to be hard-fought - put simply, it just isn't loud enough. Epic songs demand epic sound, and as Martin quite rightly puts it, the sound engineers "have got to realise there are that many people on stage for a reason". A pipe organ is wheeled out for 'Intervention', the most tempestuously passionate and arresting track on Neon Bible, but disappointingly it lacks the sheer force of that deployed on the album. All the same, this is The Arcade Fire we're talking about, and they just don't do bad songs. 'Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)' and the reworked 'No Cars Go' are personal highlights, but all attention and emphasis naturally falls on the concluding trio of Funeral singles 'The Power Out', 'Rebellion (Lies)' and 'Wake Up', each more thrilling than the one before, and we find ourselves caught up in a communal euphoria that sweeps away all gripes about the volume levels earlier in the set. OK, so there's no room for 'Crown Of Love', 'Vampire / Forest Fire', 'Windowstill', 'In The Backseat' or 'Keep The Car Running' - but the only way they could have avoided disappointing me was by playing their entire back catalogue. Make no mistake, this is a band at the very top of their game. I feel privileged to have seen them at last.

Like Bjork, SPIRITUALIZED are behind schedule and end up running significantly over time - but, unlike the Icelandic pixie, Jason Pierce isn't subsequently held responsible for breaking the festival's noise curfew, presumably at least in part because his is an Acoustic Mainlines set encompassing Spacemen 3 material and covers too. Pierce sits side on to the audience as usual, but here he's accompanied not by his usual band but by a bevy of musicians forming a miniature orchestra. 'Lord, Let It Rain Down' is magnificent two songs in, but about halfway through the set we finally succumb to the cold and make a beeline back to camp for more booze, from where I enjoy a version of 'I Think I'm In Love'.

No-one's finding it very easy to stand up, and rogue guy-ropes and the stickiness of the mud are only partially to blame...

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: Bloc Party, The Magic Numbers, Super Furry Animals, Gogol Bordello, Modest Mouse, The Hold Steady, Tokyo Police Club, Good Shoes, Hot Chip, Asian Dub Foundation, Martha Wainwright, MIA, Robin Ince, Jeff Green.


Ian said...

Re: the New Pornographers: Twin Cinema, which has both "Sing Me Spanish Techno" and "The Bleeding Hearts Show", is fantastic all the way through.

Anonymous said...

"Sex and drugs and sausage rolls" - already been done. By Twiggy, on a Welsh flag, at Norway v Wales April '04.

Ben said...

Yeah, of course - should have known, Dan. The Welsh always do things first and best and biggest and longest. You're starting to sound more and more like your brother. Yeah, thought that'd nettle you... ;)