Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Reading Festival 2008

This was an odd event, not just because of the number of bands who cancelled, or because of the strange weather which meant that the sound levels on the site had to be reduced, but because it was the first time I have tried to attend a gig with an 11 month old in tow. Which means that, for the first time, you get to read Cheese's views on the event, too.

Cage the Elephant

Can someone explain this to me, please. For no obvious reason, Cage the Elephant singer Matt Schultz is running manically around the stage, dressed only in a pair of boxer shorts and a large tutu. Across his chest is written the legend 'No Pants Party'. If it wasn't for them being from Kentucky, you would think that this was the most blatant attempt to get a knicker shower ever.

Schultz is, in fact, almost the ideal frontman. He's entertaining whilst never detracting from the songs. Not that the songs are impressive in their own right. The band wear their musical influences on their sleeve, with recent single 'Ain't No Rest For the Wicked' borrowing heavily from Beck and other songs stealing from the Chili Peppers and even Scissor Sisters, whilst 'In One Ear' is delightfully silly. In terms of pure entertainment, one of the best acts of the weekend.

Cheese says: I was scared to start with and hugged my cuddly elephant very tightly, but I liked them by the end

The Music

In the mid-afternoon sun, The Music get to play a gig which they probably couldn't have bought six months earlier. All of that changed with the success of single 'Safety in Numbers' and, after several troubled years, the band are back.

To be honest, this is a show which could've been performed by any number of other similar bands. There's nothing particularly distinguished about 'Take the Long Road and Walk It', 'The Truth Has No Words' or even 'Safety in Numbers' itself, but the Music have come here to entertain and they do just that, singer Robert Harvey stalking the stage like an angry but hyperactive toddler as guitarists Adam Nutter and Stuart Coleman grind out that relentless rhythm beside him. Now that they are back, the Music have every intention of staying.

Cheese says: Sorry, was busy eating during this one


Another year, but pretty much the same story? Well, to a certain extent, yes. There's not much different about their show or their sound - it is still all driving guitars, wailing keyboards and James Smith bouncing around like Tigger after the Ritalin has worn off. The difference is in attitude. Twelve months on and it is as if Hadouken! have won the battle for recognition and they know it. This means that there is more focus on the songs and less on trying to show how good they are. The whole show is smoother and more coherent, and Smith barely speaks to the crowd at all. Of course, having songs as good as 'Crank It Up' and 'Leap of Faith' (the latter almost unrecognisable from the radio friendly version), but you sense that this is a band who have decided that they are here to stay.

Cheese says: I love Hadouken! Forget glowsticks, squeaky giraffes are the things to shake at one of their shows

Lightspeed Champion

This shouldn't work, either. Lightspeed Champion is Dev Hynes. Who was 1/3 of Test Icicles. Who were as hopeless as their name. And part of his backing band is Mike Siddell, who was in Hope of the States, who screwed up their final Reading show two years ago. So why is this such simple, summery fun?

The quality of the music is, of course, important. Whether it is old songs like 'Dry Lips' and 'Galaxy of the Lost', or new ones such as 'Marlene', the standard of Hynes' writing is high. More than that, though, the sheer force of his personality pulls the gig through. The crowd are willing the man in the furry hat to succeed and they react raucously to the Star Wars medley which ends the show.

Cheese says: A nice gentle way to start the day. I spent my time smiling and saying 'hello' to everyone around me

Alkaline Trio

Someone, somewhere in the Festival Republic organisation, badly underestimated the appeal of Alkaline Trio. Despite the dubious attraction of Bullet For My Valentine playing next door, the Lock Up Tent still has a crowd at least ten deep trying to get in even as the band take the stage.

Despite being billed as Matt Skiba's band, the group is as much about bassist Dan Adriano as it is about the guitarist, as the two share lead vocals and take turns to banter with the crowd. The set draws heavily upon the acclaimed new album, 'Agony & Irony', but also features old favourites such as 'Mercy Me', 'Private Eye' and 'Crawl', with Skiba even praising the crowd for clapping along in time to 'Time to Waste'. All they need now is a bigger stage to display all of this on.

Cheese says: I've grown up with Alkaline Trio and they worked like a lullaby on me. Lovely.

Seasick Steve

It is hard to know why it took the world so long to discover Steve Wold. He's everything it usually looks for in a musician - a character, a raconteur and he even comes with the bonus of being talented, too. Today we get stories, we get jokes at the expense of his drummer and, of course, we get his unique take on Mississippi blues music. Some of this comes from his forthcoming album, 'I Started Out With Nothin and I Still Got Most of it Left', but we also get old favourites such as 'Dog House Boogie' and it all adds up to a fun afternoon.

Cheese says: He was a funny old man who made me laugh when I saw him on the big television, but I was a bit tired and went for a little lie down whilst he was finishing

Los Campesinos!

Has there ever, in the entire history of music, been an occasion when a band's set was delayed because of a problem with the sound levels on their xylophones? Assuming the answer to be 'no', Los Campesinos! made history before they even started.

When they do start, things are pretty ramshackle. 'Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats' is all over the place and 'Don't Tell Me To Do The Math(s)' is scarcely better. After that, though, they settle down to turn in a storming performance. Gareth prowls the stage during 'Death to Los Campesinos!', which is no mean feat given that it is barely big enough for the seven of them. Sensibly, they keep the crowd onside by only playing one track from their mooted new album, 'We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed' whilst 'International Tweexcore Underground' gets a rare outing. They close with a typically raucous and exhausting 'Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks' and everyone goes home tired and happy.

Cheese says: Oh yes! I had such a great time dancing and shaking my buggy to this lot.

The Mystery Jets

I didn't intend seeing the Mystery Jets, but ended up doing so. Which pretty much sums up their entire career really - they're the sort of band you end up listening to even if you don't mean to. Not that this is a bad thing. They kick off with 'Hideaway' before inspiring an audience singalong to current single 'Half In Love With Elizabeth'. We Are Scientists' Keith Murray joins them for 'Diamonds in the Dark', but they don't really need that kind of assistance when they have an audience to provide vocals for songs like 'Young Love' and 'Two Doors Down'. After all the recent health scares over singer Blaine Harrison, it was definitely good to have them back.

Cheese says: They didn't upset me, but they didn't get my bottom shaking.


One of the most eagerly awaited sets of the weekend for some reason turns out to be one of the shortest, as Santogold rattles through nine songs in little more than 25 minutes. Bravely, she throws 'L.E.S. Artistes' in as the second number, but it scarcely matters as the frenetic pace keeps the crowd royally entertained through numbers such as 'I'm a Lady' and 'Creator'. The musical spectacle is enhanced by dancers, a DJ and a five piece backing band wearing grey shirts and pink bow ties. Without doubt, it was all over far too soon.

Cheese says: Not my favourite act of the weekend, but I had a good time

British Sea Power

Credit British Sea Power for novel thinking. I doubt that anyone else has ever shamelessly used the Reading Festival to make a pitch for the Mercury Prize. Because that is exactly what BSP do here, playing a set that is almost exclusively drawn from their Mercury-nominated album 'Do You Like Rock Music?'. In fact, only 'Carrion' is brought out to represent their two earlier releases.

Performing to a crowd bedecked with tree branches - an echo of the band's early stage sets - BSP kick off with 'All In It' before hammering into 'Atom' and 'Lights Out'. 'No Lucifer' and 'Waving Flags' produce mass singalongs and the whole set ends with the extended jam of 'Spirit of St Louis' - and with Yann and Hamilton doing handstands on stage.

Ultimately, it is all a little disappointing. It would have been interesting to see how a large festival crowd greeted songs like 'Remember Me', 'Fear of Drowning' or 'It Ended On an Oily Stage'.

Cheese says: I liked them and had fun shaking my rattle along to 'No Lucifer'

The Automatic

Let's face it, the reason so many people are here to see The Automatic is that they want to see how they fare without eccentric keyboardist Pennie. The answer, it seems, is that they have decided to cover for the absence of the manic shouty one by getting louder and heavier. Which is ironic, given that Pennie left to - amongst other things - spend more time hanging out with Gallows.

New man Paul Mullen acquits himself well on the new songs, but there's definitely something lacking when they play the mandatory old songs 'Monster' and 'Raoul' and you wonder just how much of their back catalogue they are going to be able to rely upon when they come to play longer sets. More significantly, though, new songs such as 'Magazines' and 'It's a Fix' don't have anything which distinguishes them from a number of other, newer, bands out there - which is going to be a problem, no matter how fast and loud they play them.

Cheese says: I loved them so much, I bounced myself off my feet and bashed my face

Rage Against The Machine

It would be very easy to get caught up in the hype surrounding the return of RATM. Having spent years holding themselves out as America's most political musicians (which Serj Tankian, at the very least, might have something to say about) it is hard to escape a slight feeling of unease at a reunion which owes more to money than the feeling that there is anything new for them to say. All of which means that, for all of the good points, what we really get tonight is RATM-by-numbers. We get the silent protest - in this case, standing, heads bowed, on stage wearing orange jumpsuits and with black hoods over their heads whilst an air raid siren plays. We get the controversial statement, as Zack de la Rocha explained his view that George W Bush should be tried for war crimes and called for Tony Blair to join him. And, of course, we get 'Killing in the Name' - which is what at least 50% of the crowd were here for anyway.

None of this is to deny the almost magical chemistry which exists between the four band members. Despite their differences, the act works with them together in a way in which it just doesn't when they are apart. De la Rocha as a solo artist was just a ranting polemicist. The others formed Audioslave with Chris Cornell and were, frankly, more boring than a wet Sunday listening to Radio 3. Put them all together and, suddenly, the ability of Tom Morello and Tim Commerford to counterpoint de la Rocha's raving by coaxing their guitars into making sounds they were surely never meant to becomes more than appealing.

There's no doubting that the musicianship here is exceptional. They don't take those hoods off for opener 'Bombtrack' and there aren't many bands who could play that well with little or no way to see their instruments. The problem, though, is that it all gets a little wearing after a time. There's very little light and shade in RATM's music and over an hour of being shouted at gets a bit wearing. With consumate showmanship they save 'Killing...' until the last song of the encore and, frankly, that is enough for almost everyone.

Cheese says: They took so long to come on stage (they were over 15 minutes late) that I dozed off. Glad I woke up in time to shout along with 'Killing in the Name', though.

Vampire Weekend

Posh students slumming it in a Berkshire field? It's not likely to be anyone from Reading Uni, so it must be Vampire Weekend. Quite how such an enormous hotchpotch of musical influences tapped into the zeitgeist will probably never be understood, but the rapturous reception which greets opener 'Mansard Roof' indicates that this is one band who won't have to work to win over their audience this weekend. In fact, it is almost indecent that a band with only one album to their name should have so many good, crowd-pleasing, songs to their name, but the following salvo of 'Campus', 'Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa' and 'M79' not only has the entire tent on their feet, it has people running from outside to join in. Lead singer Ezra Koenig says very little at all during the set, but the broad grin he wears throughout betrays just how lucky he and the rest of the band feel to be here.

Cheese says: I wasn't sure about them at first, but that 'Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa' really got me shaking my bottom.


Hmmm. Given the slight suspicion of prog-rock tendencies which hangs over MGMT, was it really such a wise move for Andrew Vanwyngarden to take the stage dressed like a junior Rick Wakeman? This is the sort of idle thought that crosses your mind during a set which, frankly, seems to lose it's way during the middle five or six numbers. Opening with 'Electric Feel' gets the band off to a flying start, but then it all begins to sag like a bad 70s perm and there's no standout moment until they blast into 'Time to Pretend' at the end.

Cheese says: Seriously bouncy at the start, seriously bouncy at the end, boring in the middle - good job I had a bottle handy as I needed a drink

Ida Maria

Well, from something not as good as expected to something far better. Ida Maria performs to a crowd somewhat smaller than you might expect for someone who has just had a number two single, but possibly a number of people made the mistake I did of thinking that she was a one-or-two trick pony. Far from it, because there is enough in the performance she gives here to think that she could have a very successful career indeed. 'Morning Light' is full of bouncy enthusiasm, like a new puppy; 'Louie' is an extended thrash on a par with it's better known namesake and 'Stella' is plain simple fun. Of course, she ends with 'Oh My God' and 'I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked' and the crowd go wild, but then they were always going to.

Swedish girls who wear bowler hats and sing about getting naked will never be everyone's cup of tea, but frankly the problem is with them, not Ida Maria.

Cheese says: Bouncy, shouty music is always fine by me, so I loved her.

Thomas Tantrum

I may be missing the point, but this isn't at all what I was expecting. Acting on numerous tip-offs, I headed for the new BBC Introducing stage to see a band I first heard about six months ago. But I was expecting to hear a loud, angry band fronted by a very hacked off Hayley Thomas. Instead, this is pure indie pop music with a hint of a calypso rhythm. I'd love to say something good about them, but frankly it all sounded a bit cold and uninspired.

Cheese says: So good that I threw my rattly caterpillar at them. Twice.

The Duke Spirit

There are some bands it is always good to have around, and The Duke Spirit are one of them. There's no particular reason why their dark, blues-tinged sound should work on a bright sunny afternoon, but it not only does, it serves as an antidote to the pathetic tripe which preceded them. Not only does Liela Moss shimmer serenely in her gold dress, but the rest of the band sound tighter and more powerful than ever before.

The set draws heavily from new album 'Neptune', but loses nothing for it. A few old favourites, such as 'Love is an Unfamiliar Name' and 'Welcome to the Floor' are thrown in, but are robustly supported by newies such as 'Into the Fold', 'My Sunken Treasure' and new single 'The Step and the Walk'.

All in all, a great return from a band with much to offer.

Cheese says: Sorry, I was still asleep from the previous band. Whoopsie.

Be Your Own Pet

Dear God this is rubbish. Not just ordinary rubbish, but rubbish on a scale so gargantuan it would need a landfill the size of Reading itself to contain it. Having announced that they were splitting up, the stench of contractual obligations being reluctantly fulfilled pervades the air. Heck, Jemima Pearl can't even be bothered to throw up on stage anymore. And attempting to get your drummer laid is not only tacky, it's dated - L7 auctioned theirs on stage at least a decade ago.

What we get, therefore, are frantic songs played by four people who really couldn't give a toss what they sound like and seem to just want to get the whole sordid business over with and go their different ways. Which does mean that we get 18 songs in a very short space of time, but not even old favourites such as 'Damn Damn Leash' and 'Bunk Trunk Skunk' stand out from the whole horrible mess.

Cheese says: So boring I fell asleep, despite only having had a nap an hour or so earlier

Blood Red Shoes

The third time I have seen Blood Red Shoes and the second time that there has been a vast improvement in their performance from the last time. What's different? Mostly, that they seem to have calmed down a little bit. It is odd that this has made them a better band, when one of the things which is so attractive about them is their frenetic energy. The plus side of this, though, is that the music sounds clearer and you can actually understand what Laura-Mary is singing.

The new approach certainly works. They draw one of the biggest crowds of the weekend to the NME/Radio 1 stage and are greeted rapturously. Steven apologises for having almost lost his voice, but you really cannot tell. With only half an hour to fill, they stick to the tried and trusted and only throw in one new song, but frankly it doesn't matter when you have songs as good as 'I Wish I Was Someone Better' and 'Its Getting Boring By The Sea'.

Cheese says: Wow! I love their music. I couldn't stop bouncing and was exhausted by the end.

Pete & The Pirates

Rarely, if ever, can Reading have had two of it's own bands playing on the opening day of the Festival it lends it's name to. Whilst Does It Offend You, Yeah? may have garnered all of the publicity over the past twelve months, if anything the stock of Pete & The Pirates has risen higher and faster during that time. Unknown last August, they opened the Festival on the (then) Carling Stage. Now they find themselves on the NME/Radio 1 stage and confronted with the biggest crowd of their lives. They do not disappoint and the crowd go justifiably wild for the likes of 'Little Death' and 'Mr Understanding'.

Cheese says: I had been napping on the way over, so I was a bit disorientated and didn't really get into them until the very end. Pirates are always cool, though.