Monday, July 21, 2008

SWSL Glastonbury 2008 Diary

Sunday 29th June

(Thanks to Del and Sarah for the photos.)

That's it - it's too hot to stay in the tent. I crawl out and under the gazebo and remember to be grateful to the gods of weather.

Lounging around recovering from the evening's excesses would be so much more pleasant if we weren't being subjected to the Redbridge Brass Band's take on 'Is This The Way To Amarillo?' from the Park Stage. I flick through the programme to discover the band we're missing open the Avalon Stage are the delightfully named Prison Love.

If Friday was Oxford-flavoured, and Saturday belonged to Cardiff (you could add performances by Duffy and Cerys Matthews to those by Los Campesinos!, Neon Neon and Shakin' Stevens), then today is Canada Day, upon us a few days early. BLACK MOUNTAIN (Other Stage) not only fit the bill by having "black" in their name, but also by hailing from British Columbia (Vancouver, to be precise). Suffice it to say they're not how you imagine a former Coldplay support act to sound (even if the tour in question was called Twisted Logic). Their slow, somnolent and occasionally pastoral approach to Black Sabbath's legacy, perfectly suited to a Sunday lunchtime, must inevitably earn them comparisons with Dead Meadow, but the arresting (though rather underused) vocals of Amber Webber mean they also call to mind a less psych Bardo Pond. I'm entranced long before their set comes to an end with a 25-minute-long swansong.

The swelling crowds make trying to escape the Other Stage an infuriatingly complicated business. "I didn't think I could hate Newton Faulkner any more than I already did", says a companion. At least there's the consolation that, like the stagehands who were irritatedly gesturing at their watches, they've had to enjoy Black Mountain at their most obtuse.

Anyone who's seen 'DiG!' will appreciate that, like the decision to give Mark E Smith the opportunity to read out the classified football results live on a Saturday, the decision to give Anton Newcombe of access to a microphone on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury is tantamount to handing a terrorist a hand grenade in a very public place. Danger lurks every time the self-styled genius opens his mouth to speak. To his credit, though, he seems as baffled by it all as anyone, moved to comment: "I can't say we [THE BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE] deserve to be here, but thank you". Having missed Winohouse last night, I'm in the mood for a chaotic and tempestuous set, but surprisingly it doesn't quite pan out like that. Like Jason Pierce, Newcombe stands side on to the audience, keeping a watchful eye on his band as they knock out their unremarkable Kinks-influenced psych-garage, while maraca-shaking loon Joel Gion is remarkably reserved. With every song much like the one before, they manage to be the last thing I'd have expected: a bit boring.

The only thing better than Burrow Hill cider at Glastonbury? FREE Burrow Hill cider at Glastonbury! It's all about who you know...

A man dressed as a milk carton walks past. I'm guessing it's either a homage to the video for Blur's 'Coffee & TV' or he works for the Milk Marketing Board.

Believe me, I don't say this lightly, but JOHN MAYER (Pyramid Stage) may just be the worst thing I've ever seen at Glastonbury - and I've seen Jools Holland. I’d honestly rather be scuba-diving in a long-drop tank. You see Jennifer Aniston's current squeeze deals in that nauseatingly awful and typically American brand of white boy's blues funk with horribly mannered vocals that mercifully never normally makes it across the Atlantic. How exactly can one so young (well, he's less than two months older than me – so yes, young) want to play the sort of music that makes Eric Clapton erect a tent in his trousers? Three songs in and he’s already moved onto a cover, George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’. Sweet Jesus indeed. Perhaps this is someone upstairs having a good laugh at us for giving the shitfest that is the afternoon line-up on the Other Stage (Jack Penate and Scouting For Girls following hot on the heels of Newton Faulkner) as wide a berth as possible?

It really is saying something when lame Christian emo-pop is a significant improvement. Does anyone in the tiny crowd inside the John Peel Tent know anything at all about THE ROCKET SUMMER? If that makes me sound like I'm interested, I'm not. If only the buzzing powerlines overhead were a little bit louder they might drown it out.

Barely a month since seeing Amy Millan and Evan Cranley perform as part of Broken Social Scene, here's an opportunity to catch them doing their day jobs in STARS (John Peel Tent). Not one I'm about to pass up, having received an excellent introduction to them in the form of 'Elevator Love Song', which featured on the first Shuffleathon CD I got, nearly two years ago. So personally speaking it's a bit of a blow that it's 'Elevator Love Song' that kicks the set off, and one from which they (or rather I) never quite recover. Dressed up in their gladrags and preferring a stage bedecked with flowers rather than the Black Lips' pigs' heads, they entertain without ever, well, truly shining, and certainly never come close to replicating the rapture of a BSS gig.

Regular readers may be aware that, having seen them three times in the last year and a half, I have quite a thing for BLOOD RED SHOES (John Peel Tent). The circumstances might not be ideal - they're late replacements for The Long Blondes, whose guitarist Dorian Cox is suffering from serious illness, and the set is dedicated to him - but then, as those present at the Cardiac in April can testify, the more-of-the-punk-than-the-art art-punk whirlwinds are not unaccustomed to triumphing in the face of adversity. Neither bandmate Laura-Mary Carter's pre-gig warning nor any sense of shame at embracing rock star cliche can prevent drummer Steven Ansell from fulfilling the teenage dream of uttering the words "Hello Glastonbury!", but otherwise it's business as usual - a blistering grunge racket with enough clout to kick some serious hippy arse, bookended by 'It's Getting Boring By The Sea' and 'I Wish I Was Someone Better' with 'Forgive Nothing', 'Doesn't Matter Much' and 'Try Harder' the highlights. That isn't to say it's all visceral thrills, mind; Steven's dedication of 'Say Something, Say Anything' - key line "How long can you miss someone?" - to his late dad, "who should be here, and isn't", is a powerchord on the heartstrings and brings a lump the size of a tennis ball to my throat.

A messy fajita + alcohol-induced clumsiness = redecoration of shoes with an array of various sauces.

Canada Day continues after that brief Brighton blip with another duo, one who seem to have made a habit of polarising opinions. Geniuses according to Del and Phill, talentless and shameless plagiarists according to piqued members of the "chiptune" community, Alice Glass and Ethan Kath aka CRYSTAL CASTLES (John Peel Tent) make brutal electro-pop that sounds like a malfunctioning amusement arcade. To say the red-stockinged Glass is a livewire would be an understatement, her scaling of the speaker stack during 'Alice Practice' leading to nervous stage staff temporarily pulling the plug on them. Ordinarily I might approve, but on this occasion the mood just isn't right.

No, when the sun's making its way gracefully down on a Sunday evening at Glastonbury, only a certain kind of artist will do - and this year that artist is LEONARD COHEN (Pyramid Stage). He may be getting on in years - no longer resembling a morose Adam Sandler, but instead a dapper Mafiosi pensioner in his Sunday best, clutching his grey trilby to his chest and beaming a thankful smile at the end of every song - but there's no doubting the old magic is still there. The cameramen focus on the backing singers, but more remarkable is the way Cohen turns sideways and, adopting a stooped, hunchback pose, seems to sing directly to his seated flamenco guitarist as though performing a very public serenade. Opener 'Dance Me To The End Of Love' - a song inspired by "just hearing or reading or knowing that, beside the crematoria, in certain of the death camps, a string quartet was pressed into performance while this horror was going on", lest we forget - is as compelling as anything I witness all weekend.

There's still time for the festival scheduling to claim another victim: SPIRITUALIZED (John Peel Tent). As anyone who's read a recent interview with Jason Pierce will know, though, that they're here at all - and in support of a new album, the characteristically wryly named Songs In A&E - is a minor miracle, Death's breath having tickled his neck rather too closely for comfort in 2005. I can't think of another band whose back catalogue I've explored and embraced so enthusiastically in recent years (except perhaps Yo La Tengo). The fire started smouldering with the purchase of Amazing Grace on something of a whim in 2003 but turned into a fully fledged inferno when I saw them live early the following year. Tonight's truncated set means that disappointingly few of the tracks from Songs In A&E are given the opportunity to prove themselves in the exalted company of their earlier material, but the blazing triumvirate of 'She Kissed Me (It Felt Like A Hit)', 'Come Together' and 'Take Your Time' are the best twenty minutes of my festival. "C'mon people, get yourselves out of it", sings Pierce in the latter - we've been doing it without any encouragement all weekend, Jase, but thanks for helping to ensure an out-of-body experience even when things are supposedly winding down.

The John Peel Tent compere announces he's run out of beer and asks if anyone would be so kind as to pass some up - "or wine, or drugs".

THE NATIONAL (John Peel Tent) were always destined to be an anti-climax, and sure enough their crescendos, which to these uninitiated ears at least seem to swell at exactly the same place in every song, pale in comparison to Spiritualized's imperious haze of sound. But even still I can't deny there's something strangely magnetic and alluring about their darkly dramatic rock which has Elbow, The Walkmen and Interpol as touchstones. No knockout punch from the band whose latest album is called Boxer, then, but instead a gradual wearing-down over the course of ten rounds and an eventual points victory over me.

A late-running headline set from MY MORNING JACKET (Park Stage)? No such luck - we roll up and right on cue Jim James and company wrap up, leaving me to lament the fact that their evil urges didn't extend to fucking the curfew.

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: My Morning Jacket (more than just the last 30 seconds...), Martina Topley Bird, The Whip, Friendly Fires, White Denim, Caribou, Vetiver, Threatmantics, Sky Larkin, Congregation, Tony Benn, Billy Bragg, The Shortwave Set, Robin Ince, Andy Parsons, Josie Long.

Monday 30th June

(Thanks to Dan for the photo.)

The music may be over for another year, but it's a glorious day and we're in no hurry to leave. Strange to think that I end up with more of a tan from a weekend in Somerset than from a fortnight in Australia, but there you go.

My remaining finances stretch to just two (admittedly excellent) bacon and egg sandwiches. And what have I got to show for all that expenditure? A sore head and a disgruntled liver.

We're packed up and almost ready to go, but climbing up the hill to the perimeter fence for one last look down on the emptying site proves irresistible. Same time next year?


Sarah said...

Same time next year indeed.

Nice write up, Ben. Looks like the only place our paths would have crossed on the Sunday is - embarrassingly - John Mayer. Eeek!

Ben said...

I hope you found yourself there by accident rather than out of choice...

Ben said...

And thanks again for the use of the photos - much appreciated!

Del said...

Not sure I'd call Crystal Castles genius. Well, certainly not on the strength of that performance. Oh well. The Whip were good though. Still v annoyed i missed Leonard Cohen. Oh well x 2.

Spiritualized were amazing though. More than made up for it. And I have to say I succumbed to The National. For a band with 4 albums behind them, you've got a point about them being a bit formulaic. But the stuff from The Boxer is wonderful.

Ben said...

You didn't think that much of Crystal Castles, then? On another day I'm sure I would have loved them.

My enjoyment of The National may have been a consequence of osmosis from standing next to one of their biggest fans, Olav. Must buy Boxer, though.