Tuesday, July 03, 2007

SWSL Glastonbury 2007 Diary

Saturday 23rd June

(With photos courtesy of Sarah, Rob, Owen and Jenni.)

Showers, and not of the hot, cleansing kind. A lie-in it is, then.

I gingerly slip on yesterday's jeans caked with cold, wet, squishy mud. Perhaps it's time to crack out the wellies - this, for me, is a festival first. I console myself with breakfast in the form of a large bag of pork scratchings. Can't help thinking that seeing The Pipettes on the Pyramid Stage would have had more nutritional value.

It's back to Cafe Tango, the scene of Thursday night's experimental lager-and-vodka punch (and a punch it certainly was - to the side of the head, with knuckledusters on). This time it's all much more sedate. Slurps of restorative coffee are accompanied by three men dressed as chefs playing a Weird Al Yankovic cover of Michael Jackson's 'Beat It'.

Doves frontman Jimi Goodwin - possessor of what would be a fine festival beard if it wasn't permanently resident on his chops - wanders past in the direction of the backstage area. Surely he must be both deaf and blind to be oblivious to the charms of THE LONG BLONDES (Other Stage), one of the most conceptually perfect bands to grace this year's festival. Steve Mackay produced the Sheffield quintet's debut album Someone To Drive You Home, and it's not hard to trace Pulp's influence in both the archly raised eyebrows and suggestively seedy undertones of their effortlessly slinky new wave pop songs. They're equally at home writing tales of bitter envy and frustrated sexual desire (take the singles 'Giddy Stratospheres' and 'Weekend Without Make Up', for a start) as songs inspired by paintings in the Tate which reference Czech literary titan Milan Kundera ('The Unbearable Lightness Of Buildings'). And in Kate Jackson, today resplendent in best red frock and towering heels, they have a magnetic presence up front. OK, so the conditions today don't suit them, and there's a bit of a mid-set lull (too many slower songs), but why hasn't everyone gone mad for them? I'm scratching my head. At least the excellent new song about guilt - an even more perfect take on Parallel Lines era Blondie - suggests they've got plenty more in the arsenal.

By contrast, BIFFY CLYRO are a band with an ardent following I've never been able to comprehend. Does anyone need another poor man's Foo Fighters, now that Dave Grohl's mob have become their own poorer selves? In truth, the trio make a convincing start, administering an effective shock to the system, but the twitchy QOTSA riff of 'Who's Got A Match?' from new album Puzzle marks the beginnings of a slackening-off which results in my attention wande ... ooh look there's Stephen Merchant from off of 'The Office' and 'Extras', all 6ft 7ins of him. (Turns out he's here in his capacity as a DJ on Radio 6.) The Scots are responsible for perhaps the most bizarre onstage comment of the whole weekend, though; one commends us for not allowing the weather to stop us having fun, before another adds, "When everyone here dies, God'll give us all a handjob or something". Er, right - best play another song, and quick...

£6 exits my festival funds in exchange for an enchilada crammed full of enchilada, jalapenos and spicy guacamole. Not exactly a wise move given the state of the toilets, but what the hell.

Where's Andy? Oh, he's just left the Other Stage to see politico-folksters Seize The Day. A shame as CSS (or Cansei De Ser Sexy if you're not into the whole brevity thing) are right up his street. Oh yes, the Brazilian nuts are here to bring the party, fronted by a woman called Lovefoxxx (not, one assumes, by her parents) who strips out of one multi-coloured catsuit to reveal another underneath, dances like she's copying an exercise video, loses her headband in attempting to crowdsurf and finally bids us farewell in a tiny high-pitched voice having inhaled one of the helium balloons with which the stage is festooned. Who needs The Flaming Lips anyway? Their persistent, playful electro-pop isn't quite all it's cracked up to be, I don't think, but their bastardised / mashed-up version of L7's 'Pretend We're Dead' brings a smile to my face and set-closer 'Let's Make Love And Listen To Death From Above' is a stroke of genius (even if by rights it should be 'Let's Make Love And Listen To Death From Above 1979', pedantry fans...), which approximates how Blondie probably sound in James Murphy's head. Yep, that good.

After that particular injection of fun, though, it doesn't take long for the comedown to set in. I'm waiting for KLAXONS (Other Stage) to impress me - and I wait and I wait. They're on stage, in case you're wondering - it's not just a long set-change. I cannot for the life of me fathom what's got everyone so excited about them. Being "nu-rave" pioneers seems to consist of peddling some very ropey non-descript Bloc Party knock-offs with the odd car alarm effect chucked over the top of it, and having a drummer who looks like the bloke from Kajagoogoo. 'Golden Skans' is half-decent, but even then that's purely for the vocal line, while they don't even have the good sense to finish with 'It's Not Over Yet', their not-exactly-radical reworking of Grace's 1995 club hit. By far the largest Other Stage crowd of the day are lapping it up, though, feeling the very definitely chemically-enhanced love from the stage, declared between every song in a risible "You're my besssht mate, you are - you all are" kind of way. Near us there is a man who has been enthusiastically blowing a whistle and waving a glow stick throughout. In his excitement at being invited (along with all the rest of us) to a barbecue at Jamie Reynolds' place, he drops his wallet into the mud. I enjoy a moment of Schadenfreude.

'Let's Make Love And Listen To Death From Above' is proving itself to be an earworm of the most tenacious kind.

BABYSHAMBLES (Other Stage). Can I be bothered to even feign interest in Pete Doherty's scabby rag-and-bone-man fag-end-in-the-gutter indie, at the way he keeps making eyes at Kate Moss at the side of the stage, or that Lethal Bizzle has just strode on stage? Nah. I've got much better things to do, like trudge over to the John Peel Stage...

... where I get my very first taste of BAT FOR LASHES. Paradoxically, it's precisely because Natasha Khan is so unusual, such a singular talent, that so many other artists are routinely evoked when critics try to get a handle on her and her otherworldly music - Bjork, PJ Harvey, Cat Power, Kate Bush. And of course that's why none of the reference points go anywhere near to doing her justice. Songs like 'Trophy' (which today is sadly lacking the backing vocals of Josh T Pearson, ex Lift To Experience) are cleverly fashioned out of keyboard, chimes and handclaps, but it's Khan's hauntingly rich and resonant voice that stands out even more than her headdress, a siren call drawing us willingly closer and closer to the dark whirlpool, the water rising over our heads...

But, unfortunately, owing to the scheduling, it's a spell I have to snap out of. For back on the Other Stage the sun is out (yes, really) and MAXIMO PARK are here to entertain us with some taut, wired tunage straight outta Geordonia. "We haven't got balloons or special guests, just some songs we think you might like". Paul Smith may be unhappy about being unable to hear himself, but he doesn't let that sour the occasion, leaping and high-kicking his way around the stage with that bowler hat from which he seems inseparable these days somehow staying perched atop his head. Meanwhile those behind him do an excellent job of reminding me why their debut A Certain Trigger was one of my favourite albums of 2005. To this end 'Now I'm All Over The Shop', 'The Coast Is Always Changing' and of course 'Apply Some Pressure' are all especially rapturously received by one increasingly inebriated individual jigging about near the vegan falafel stall. What's more, they also convince me I really ought to pay a good deal more attention to second LP Our Earthly Pleasures; 'Nosebleed' and 'Karaoke Plays' in particular benefit from live performance, though 'Books From Boxes' continues to seem a slightly strange choice of single and I'm a bit mystified as to the absence from the set of arguably the album's most anthemic song, 'Sandblasted And Set Free'. Still, it's an otherwise unmitigated triumph.

The rain may have stopped a few hours ago but the mud is still deep and sloppy, and I find myself reflecting on the fact that my wellies may just be the best £1.50 ever spent. (Yes, you read that right - £1.50, snapped up by Jenni from a clear-out in Wilkinsons on the eve of the festival.) Meanwhile, the song going round and round in my head is 'Let's Make Love And Listen To Death From Above'...

The dark is descending, so let lugubriosity reign! Following on from the success of The Back Room, EDITORS (Other Stage) have a new album, An End Has A Start, to promote. Slick singles 'All Sparks' and 'Blood' both make early appearances, and from the new record 'Escape The Nest' is particularly strong, but they find themselves performing for a crowd which has dwindled dramatically since Klaxons left the stage. They've done themselves no favours with the timing of the new release, either, as it coincides almost exactly with Our Love To Admire, Interpol's return to the fray; in a straight head-to-head battle of the transatlantic black-clad Joy-Division-influenced gloomsters the New Yorkers are always likely to emerge victorious, even if hamstrung by Paul Banks' legendarily awful lyrics. They're certainly not bad, but after around half an hour of what increasingly comes to seem like pseudo-profundity (witness that album title, for starters) my limbs are itching for animation.

Thankfully !!! (pronounced Chk Chk Chk, don't you know) are close at hand, a short squelch and slide away in the Glade. It's fair to say they're a revelation. Rather like LCD Soundsystem, they show Klaxons up for the half-arsed charlatans they really are and in the process lend further credence to my old belief that North Americans, far from being scum, very often make music that is significantly superior to that of their British counterparts. Lairy party animals bounding about the stage, hammering out the funkiest of beats with force and conviction, whipping up an ecstatic (in both senses of the word) crowd into a sweating, frenzied mass through a combination of swirling visuals, aggressive strobes and climactic whistling synths - THIS would actually merit being called "nu-rave", if it hadn't become a debased and derogatory term.

Klaxons might be flavour of the month at the moment, but they would do well to take note of the vagaries of fashion. In 2002 and 2003, in the wake of The Strokes' Is This It, you couldn't move for garage rock bands, all taking their cue from The MC5 and THE STOOGES. And yet, only a few years later, the latter, headlining the Other Stage, draw a disappointingly small audience. For many, the lure of The Killers' glossily superficial synth-driven pop-rock has proved too strong - more fool them, because what those of us who stick around witness is something quite spectacular. The Stooges may be getting longer in the tooth, but for someone like me who would argue they're the best punk band ever to exist on either side of the Atlantic there's no shortage of evidence to call on, '1969', 'I Wanna Be Your Dog' and 'TV Eye' following each other in quick and thrilling succession. Their self-titled debut album was released shortly before the Rolling Stones' cataclysmic Altamont gig in December 1969, and The Stooges were in many ways just as representative of the death of the hippy dream - a dark, violent howl of rage. Needless to say, then, that they're completely at odds with the peace 'n' love Glasto vibe, a point underlined with 'My Idea Of Fun', the cartoonish first single from new album The Weirdness: "My idea of fun is killing everyone". Guitarist Ron Asheton is quietly business-like in his Hawaiian shirt, while ex Minuteman Mike Watt is a gurning madman on bass, his back up against the speaker - but it's really all about one James Newell Osterberg. He may have turned 60 (yes, SIXTY) earlier this year, but Iggy Pop is still an absolute loon, a wild-eyed streak of long hair and sinew writhing about on top of the amp within a couple of songs, a medical marvel upon whose naked torso a lifetime of self-destructive behaviour is written. And inevitably it's he who is responsible for the set's defining moment, urging security to allow a fan who has vaulted the barrier up on stage during 'Real Cool Time'. Soon, the bewildered stewards are overrun, and by the end of a splendidly ironic 'No Fun' the entire stage is full of revellers, the band no longer even visible. When the song finishes, Iggy discovers there isn't even room for him to clamber back up. Confusion ensues, everyone wanting a moment with him, but security and a minder fending them off with arms and mic stands. Eventually, the stage clears, and the show goes on - and, against the odds, gets even better, with Funhouse saxophonist Steve Mackay appearing for '1970' and 'Funhouse' itself. Iggy slips on the mud from someone's welly and crashes to the floor but picks himself up for an encore of 'Not Right' and a second helping of 'I Wanna Be Your Dog' before they disappear into the night, leaving us to reflect that hell has very definitely been raised.

I'm sharing Graham's 8% wine (it tastes a bit like Ribena gone wrong, if you're wondering) when a friend calls. He's been watching the highlights on TV and is raving about The Stooges - and that's when it really hits home that tonight we've seen something that will go down in Glastonbury legend, even if it does mean that they won't be invited back. How many people who opted to see The Killers can say that?

Perhaps in homage to Iggy Pop, some of us have spent the day doggedly pursuing a course of self-destruction. Witness, for example, Exhibits A, B and C...

My sleeping bag is calling - and STILL 'Let's Make Love And Listen To Death From Above' refuses to leave my head...

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: The Pipettes, Patrick Wolf, You Say Party! We Say Die!, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Guillemots, K'naan, Phil Nichol, Jeremy Hardy, Simon Munnery


swisslet said...

I have 3 things to say:

1) I like "Books from Boxes" - for me one of the highlights on that (very good) album.

2) I am still laughing at the lyric from the new Editors album "There are spiders in your room / But their always will be". How's that for pseudo-profundity? Roll on interpol.

3) I really regret not having made it to either the Stooges or the massively over-subscribed "secret" Madness gig in Lost Vagueness. It's not that Rodrigo Y Gabriela aren't good - they are - it's just that I saw them about 4 weeks ago and they have their set cut short by about 40 minutes because of technical issues and then the curfew. When C. turns around to me and tells me she would rather have seen the Killers if she knew this was going to happen, I nearly screamed.... her wish to be here being frankly the only reason I am here. Tsk. What can you do, eh?

Thank God for the cider.


LB said...

I semi-accidentally saw most of Iggy's set, and I thought they were brilliant, even though I can't frankly abide any of that loud shouty nonsense.

His interview on the BBC with Whiley and Radcliffe was also something of a highlight...

Ben said...

ST: Don't get me wrong - I think 'Books From Boxes' is decent enough, just not a standout track of the sort you'd expect to be a single. Those Editors lyrics are dreadful - perhaps they're trying to imitate Interpol lyrically as well as musically... As for the Saturday night headliners, I think I made the right choice - I would like to see Rodrigo y Gabriela at some point, because you, Mike and some of my fellow Glasto-goers have all raved about them, but there was only really going to be one winner on the night.

Lord Bargain: "Loud shouty nonsense" = my idea of fun, as Mr Osterberg himself might say...