Manic Street Preachers, The Flaming Lips, Super Furry Animals, Mars Volta Kinesis
[l-zone1]We approached the Old Trafford Cricket Ground – the venue for this thing they just call ‘an Urban Event’ – in a state of considerable excitement, memories from last year’s debut (one of our all-time highlights) flooding back. To recap, the basic idea was to transplant the best bits of a festival (atmosphere, music, eclectic line-up, lazy afternoons in the sun, etc.) into an urban environment (in this case, the newly re-generated buzzing metropolis of Manchester), leaving the negative aspects (mud, travelling, ‘basic’ conditions, etc.) behind.
Last year’s event was headlined by David Bowie, Paul Weller, Green Day and New Order, and we had an absolute ball. We were interested to discover, however, if that initial success was down to a combination of chance factors (such as having a number of personal favourites on the line-up and meeting Johnny Rotten!) or whether the organisers (Virgin Trains) had actually discovered a revolutionary new formula for festivals…
Upon entering, the arena resembled a cross between Guilfest and Wimbledon (the tennis), with a sun-soaked crowd divided between cross-legged picnickers lounging on the pitch and VIP’s bathing in their public status on the bleachers around the perimeter. To create a more ‘intimate’ setting, the stage had been brought forward half-way across the pitch. The overall layout was clearly well thought out, enabling a great viewing position from almost anywhere.
[r-zone2]First band of the festival were our mates Kinesis, delivering their trademark ‘Manics-when-they-were-good’ routine to splendid effect, with an emotive set that included MTV2 favourite ‘Billboard Beauty’ and recent top 75 ‘hit’, ‘Forever Reeling’. The Mars Volta were, to an extent, wasted here. The brilliance of their debut opus ‘Deloused In Delirium’ failed to elicit much more than a civilised clap, by an ever-reddening audience, clearly comatose by the unrelenting (and, in these parts, unfamiliar) sun. Still, the good half of At The Drive-In made a respectable effort to get the show off the ground with their finely sinewed, firey prog.
Super Furry Animals‘ playground indie with bells was as fragrant and colourful as ever, but you feel that maybe The Flaming Lips have beaten them to it with the entirety of Toys R Us’ fluffy toy section up on stage with them, not to mention the big balloons and inflatable robots…
[l-zone3]This surreal, exquisite performance must be what happens when childhood meets LSD, goes into rehab, finds God and suddenly has access to oversized costumes and celebrities to get inside them. Allegedly Virgin Trains Festival organiser Steve Perry was the reindeer, but Santa’s identity remains a mystery. We are also confident that Super Furry Animals (the band) would not forsake the irony of participating in this twisted ritual.
At one point, there was some quite disturbing head-swapping going on; Mother Nature knows best; tigers’ heads just don’t look right on gorillas’ bodies. Throughout the set, which included faves like ‘She don’t use jelly’, ‘Yoshimi battles the pink robots’ and new single ‘fight test’, Wayne Coyle doused his own face in fake (we hope) blood. Which was nice. He then began to inflate a giant red balloon which grew impossibly large afore bursting over the rapturous crowd with a shower of confetti, shiny paper and glitter. Marvellous.
At Glastonbury a couple of weeks ago, it took a band with the stature and incomparable qualities of Radiohead to follow the Lips in a way that did justice to their own set. Sadly, tonight, the Manic Street Preachers have an uphill struggle ahead of them before they have even set foot on the stage. We just hoped they changed the set after the b-side boreathon at Glasto.
[r-zone4]Fortunately, they did (slightly) and rather than boring b-side after boring b-side (the intent being to promote a forthcoming b-side compilation), we were treated to a sequence of boring b-side-followed by classic a-side. The A-sides included (‘Tsunami’, ‘Everything Must Go’, ‘If You Tolerate This’, ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ and ‘La Tristessa’ amongst other gems. Bizarrely, they decided to perform one of the worst songs ever recorded (‘Judge Yourself’, understandably rejected from the Judge Dredd soundtrack) – again. Acceptable compensation came in the form of Guns N’ Roses cover ‘It’s So Easy’.
[l-zone5]The extremely short set (less than an hour) just served to reinforce the clear impression that the band didn’t really want to be there tonight. Gone was the passion and strength of spirit that made their headline performances back in 2001 so legendary. The Manic Street Preachers bear all the hallmarks of a broken band now – jaded and washed up, and it’s genuinely sad to watch. We can only hope that they find a way to re-ignite the flame that burned so intensely for the first decade, or young upstarts like Kinesis will be only too happy to steal the throne.
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