Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Reading Festival Review - Friday

Given it began with walking out of my opening set of the day after less than 2 songs and ended with Axl Rose shouting into a switched off microphone, this was actually a very very good days music. Flitting between 4 stages I managed to catch a lot of different acts, from the comedy of Steven K. Amos to the mosh pits of Lostprophets, with other great performances from NOFX and Mumford and Sons along the way.

Rather than some boring scale of grading acts like a score out of 10, I've opted to give each band the amount of money I would be willing to pay to see them, based on the set they gave. I wanted to see if, even if the camping experience was ignored (which is in some ways priceless, and in other ways muddy), I managed to get my £192.50's worth out of the weekend. This takes into account a lot of things - I'd obviously pay more to see a band I hadn't seen before, or a band I wouldn't be able to see again.

Enjoy the review.

Gaggle (Festival Republic Stage)

Seeing that, while every other stage had music starting at midday, “Gaggle” were supposedly starting at 11.30, we decided to check them out. In the end they were delayed half an hour anyway, but we figured we’d stick around. Our expectations for the band on the bottom of the bill of one of the smallest stages at the festival were obviously low, but in the five minutes that I saw Gaggle managed to undercut them. For those who don’t know this act, Gaggle consisted of approximately ten girls in fancy dress chanting to the accompaniment of very loud drums. Two of the girls were carrying a large sign, which read ‘This is merely a distraction from the inevitable’. I can only assume this was a self-deprecating pun, the aforementioned ‘inevitable’ being their total lack of tune. To be fair on them, friends who stayed for the whole set thought they got a lot better after the opening two songs. On the other hand, I couldn’t even last those opening two songs…

I’d have paid… rating: £0. You would genuinely have to pay me to see them again.

Young Guns (Main Stage)

I missed the opening few minutes of these guys because of Gaggle, but what I did see was fairly impressive. The music was decent, if uninspiring, and they did their best to get the crowd involved. Also you got the feeling that they were genuinely incredibly excited, almost to the point of being overawed, at the chance to open the festival – something I found made me warm to them. On top of this they engaged with the crowd with some fairly amusing banter including a Reading-residents-specific joke about playing at the Face Bar (a dive of a venue in Reading) which showed that they knew their crowd and also probably explained why playing the main stage at Reading was so exciting to them.

I’d have paid… rating: £5. They were nothing special, but were definitely entertaining and made an effort, and compared to Gaggle they were mindblowing.

Surfer Blood (NME Stage)

With a name like that, my expectations of this band were floating in some bewildering nether-space between Jack Johnson and Death Metal. Sadly they weren’t quite that interesting – the atmosphere where I was was fairly muted. Entertainment was provided by the drummer/pianist with an enormous mop of hair, who managed to hit his cymbal so hard that it fell over leaving a roadie to desperately scramble to remedy the situation. If that doesn’t sound interesting, you probably wouldn’t have liked this band,

I’d have paid… rating: £2. Staying until the end was at least partly due to their being not too much else on.

Emo Phillips (Alternative Stage)

I only caught the very end of his set when arriving for Steven K Amos, but it only served to maintain the impression I got of him from my youtubing him: I really don’t see what the fuss is about. What I saw seemed to mainly consist of saying uninteresting things in an incredibly annoying voice, which just didn’t do it for me. A friend of mine said he was an ‘acquired taste’ and he was advertised as one of the biggest comedy draws, so perhaps I just need to see more

I’d have paid… rating: £0.

Steven K. Amos (Alternative Stage)

Having seen (and been very much impressed by) Steven K Amos on Live at the Apollo, and knowing that he was coming straight from a well reviewed show at Edinburgh, I had pretty high expectations of this. It was funny, and in particular he improvised to the audience very well (an unfortunate pair of girls who chose to leave midway through the set from a position right in front of the stage were repeatedly asked why their were being racist, which they dealt with by putting up their hoods and refusing to make eye contact. Unfortunately a lot of the material was stuff I had heard before, which I guess can be the curse of appearing on TV as a comedian. Still, definitely worth watching though.

I’d have paid… rating: £8, although had I not seen him before I’m sure it would have been more

NOFX (Main Stage)

I must admit that a significant part of the reason I went to see these guys was to get a good space down the front for Lostprophets, but with little idea what to expect (my only previous experience of them being their absolutely hilarious song ‘She’s Nubs’, which I was gutted they didn’t play) I was very impressed. They combined their energetic and well received music with a near constant string of jokes and banter with the crowd, and were generally very entertaining. Particular highlights were ‘Eat the Meek’ and ‘Franco Un-American’ (you know a band has done well at festival when you liked them enough to look up song titles when you got home a few days later), and also a string of Mexican and Jewish jokes set to music (“what did the Mexican boy get for Christmas? My bike.” being probably the closest to being repeatable in polite company). Unlike a lot of bands on all stages they genuinely put on a show, so even for those who didn’t know them they were a very entertaining use of 45 minutes.

On top of this, they also played a secret set in the Lock Up Tent on Saturday night, which according to a friend was even better than the mainstage, as well as a lot heavier. I’d have been tempted to go, but unfortunately they clashed with the Libertines…

I’d have paid… rating: £15. One of the few music acts that would have been entertaining even had their music been awful, I’d have been paying for comedy and music all in one.

Lostprophets (Main Stage)

In a line-up that almost entirely stretched beyond the grasp of my limited music knowledge, Lostprophets were one of the few familiar names on the bill – I’d already seen their headlining set last year on the NME stage, as well as watching youtube highlights of their Main Stage 2007 set countless times (definitely worth checking out). Playing in front of a huge banner that simply read “MEGA MEGA LOLZ LOLZ !!!! !!!!”, the band played hits such as ‘Burn Burn’, ‘Rooftops’ and ‘Last Train Home’ which could have been written just for such a festival occasion. The atmosphere down the front was electric and everyone was jumping (except when literally stuck in the mud in the areas that hadn’t been covered with wood chips) and singing along. I heard afterwards that their were some sound problems, but where we were it was plenty loud enough, and you won’t hear me complaining about a set with an atmosphere like that where I knew every word, other than the superfluous Guns N Roses cover.

I’d have paid… rating: £26. It would have been £25, but not only was the atmosphere great but I also succeeded in finding a pound in the mud on the floor. Great success.

Biffy Clyro (Main Stage)

Seeing as we were at the front anyway, it seemed a no-brainer to stay their for Biffy – I saw him from the back two years ago and was very impressed. I don’t know if it was the come-down from Lostprophets and NOFX, but this set seemed to slightly lack something – for large periods the crowd were fairly flat and lead singer Simon Neill seemed to lack the charisma to go with the peroxide blonde beard and bright pink jeans in which he was dressed. It wasn’t bad by any means, and the hits got people moving, but it just didn’t really come together as well as it might from where I was standing, particularly given this was a third headliner.

I’d have paid… rating: £8. I’m aware £8 wouldn’t get me into a Biffy Clyro concert. Which is why I don’t think I’ll be going to a Biffy Clyro concert.

Mumford and Sons (NME Stage)

I’ve become more and more of a fan of this band since I first heard ‘Little Lion Man’ about a year ago, and judging from the size of the crowd they had here a lot of other people felt the same. It’s often a struggle to get near the front for big acts in the tent, however here it was a struggle to even get near the tent, with the crowd spilling out on all sides. Having arrived just as the band were started I had to settle for a space just outside the tent on the right hand side near a big screen – normally this would have ruined the atmosphere but the enthusiasm of the crowd overcame this – one enterprising group of kids near us improvised their own mosh pit made up entirely of their group. The band have a very different sound to the majority of acts at Reading (my Mum watching the highlights at home described them as ‘folk’), and it most certainly worked – the atmosphere for songs like ‘Awake My Soul’ in particular was electric. The experience was probably slightly inferior to what it would have been in the tent itself, but was still enchanting in its own way – they certainly outplayed Biffy Clyro who had their third headliner spot on the Main Stage.

I’d have paid… rating: £10. This takes into account the lack of view – for a space near the front it would probably have been at least double this.

Guns N Roses (Main Stage)

What a mess. There’s so much to say about this set that its hard to know where to start. We had been joking all day about the chances of Axl Rose showing up on time, so it was probably optimistic to arrive early, but it meant we got a reasonable space in the middle of what was (initially) a very large crowd. As the minutes ticked by the atmosphere turned from excited to annoyed and finally to despairing – the group I was with lost half its members during the wait. I heard some people afterwards defending the band and saying it was ridiculous to expect Gun N Roses to be on time, however I think this misses the point. This wasn’t their gig, it was a festival, bands had chosen to see them when they could have been elsewhere – a friend of mine who did choose to see a different act and arrived an hour late got their in time to see the whole set. It was totally disgraceful and arrogant, and the lack of apology meant they had lost the crowd from the start – they came on to a chorus of boos, which continued sporadically throughout.

That being said, when they were on stage they put on a very entertaining show. The entertainment varied from the hits (by this point I knew ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, thank you Lostprophets) to spectacular guitar solos, particularly from DJ Ashba (or ‘Not Slash’, as my section of the crowd persisted in calling him), to the hilarity of Axl Rose’s array of costume changes, which only seemed to include variations on ‘pimp’ and ‘cowboy’. Bits of the set were as good musically as anything else in the week, but the crowd were cold and wet and the atmosphere was very and up and down, particularly during technically impressive but unentertaining piano solos. The stage set, so ridiculed by NOFX earlier, was spectacular if bewildering: the big screen behind the band alternated between showing live footage of the band, animations of fire, videos of women at least 20 years too young for Axl Rose and, most perplexingly of all, footage of Formula 1 cars. Overall it was definitely worth seeing, but equally far from perfect.

In most gigs, that would be all there was to say, but Guns N Roses had a finale that was certainly more interesting than any other act across the weekend. Having already overrun by 30 minutes, the organisers literally pulled the plug on the band before the encore, leaving Axl Rose to rant noiselessly through a switched off microphone. The band do deserve credit for staying around to play an acoustic version of ‘Paradise City’ through a megaphone to fans at the front (we couldn’t hear it, a friend who could said it wasn’t bad at all given the circumstances), but equally the situation was entirely of their own making – not only were they an hour late but they also padded their set with the aforementioned costume changes and instrumentals. As a non Guns N Roses fan it made for a fascinatingly farcical spectacle, but for fans of the band it was a lost half an hour of music, which is a shame.

I’d have paid… rating: £25. It was incredibly flawed in so many different ways, but it was a genuine musical event in its own way, as well as featuring some brilliant music. Of the £25 most would go to DJ Ashba, some would go to the effects team, and about 50p would go to Axl Rose on condition he didn’t change outfit in the process of receiving it.

Overall Value: £95

Not at all bad for the first day of three, wiping off almost half the ticket cost already.

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