Reading Festival 2003

The Carling Weekend: Reading Festival did it again, a truly seismic finale to another UK summer festival season. We're still crawling from the wreckage, but boy was it a blast...

[r-zone1]Having spent last year’s Carling Weekend at Leeds (instead of Reading) Festival being mercilessly harassed and then nearly being burned at the hands of rioting yobs, a return to the familiar toils of Reading looked like the only way to end this year’s season in high spirits. The ultimate rock festival, Reading 2003 proved to be one mighty weekend (and from what we’ve heard, so did Leeds!). Despite the seemingly patchy Main Stage line-up, the vibe was chilled and smaller stages packed with top bands.

Friday’s early afternoon wander however, was really a case of picking peanuts out of the trash. InMe and Violent Delight‘s evident popularity is no excuse for the kind of sub-Silverchair slop-rock tripe they churn out. Carling Stage openers Colour Of Fire are where it’s at – pretty boy flame rock, a cross between Muse and Sonic the Hedgehog.

[l-zone2]The rest of the early afternoon’s line-up is made up of turgid novelty cock rock of the All American Rejects variety, and after watching Alien Ant Farm do their overweight Michael Jackson cover for the third year in a row, we opt out of heckling the humourless Mull Historical Society for a bit of Less Than Jake, who have the first decent sized crowd of the day.

[r-zone3]The open air seems to have expelled the last remaining drops of novelty from The Datsuns, and though they play songs that aren’r on their LP, they can hardly be described as ‘new’. Still, at least they’re not offensively dreadful, like Staind. As with Electric 6, The Darkness have two really fucking great songs, and quite why they appear before whiny little Brian Molko is beyond us. Everyone at Reading comes to see The Darkness, and in truth, it’s one of the moments of the weekend.

[l-zone4]Forgoing the frills that Blink 182 offer (c’mon, there must be some!), Elbow get all deep and meaningful with us in the Radio 1 tent, the crushing wistfulness of their new LP ‘Cast Of Thousands’, proving to be totally lush. Guy Garvey‘s preciously tearful vocals underpin their swathing, emotionally brash melodies that are a lot more worthy of headlining that the next act. The cartoon cult of The Polyphonic Spree may not have sold enough records to secure a new deal, but fest-wise they’re pretty much unbeatable, unless the competition consists of Chester Beddingfield, his swollen gut and Linkin Park‘s debut Reading performance.

[r-zone5]A majestic stage set complete with their trademark standing blocks hosts the biggest rock phenomenon since Nirvana, and they just about pull it off. Chester seems to seemingly overestimate the crowd’s knowledge of their songs – there’s embarassing semi-silences when he gets them singing along to some of their verses, but come the end of the night, Mike Shinoda‘s video game rapping is all in good spirit. Naturally, ‘Crawling’ is what we came for, and it’s what we duly get. Same time next year? We doubt it, but then pop is only as good as your last album.,[r-zone1]Saturday, and a BHS breakfast in town is what’s needed to prepare us for a day of spotting the various members of Hundred Reasons and The Cooper Temple Clause who populate the backstage area. Main Stage openers The Sleepy Jackson sound lovely. All dreamy and sunfilled, much nicer than the jagged Gang Of Four rehash The Futureheads kickstart the Radio 1 tent with. Concrete Jungle Stage openers, Funeral For A Friend have a healthy little crowd too.

[l-zone2]Stellastar‘s fake English accent is laughable, but people seem to lap up their Cure-induced rock, however fake it may be, and as Junior Senior fat up the Main Stage as people lie in wait for their ‘hit’, The Sun blitzkrieg the Carling Tent, become the best new band we see all weekend. A firey quartet from Columbus, Ohio, it’s not garage rock (!) – more a Weezer tinged rugged explosion, blessed with some top tunes. They’ve just signed to B-Unique (Har Mar/Hot Hot Heat‘s label)…

[r-zone3]Fellow Warner act Jet would like to believe they’re the new Stones/Oasis. It’s all retro-fuelled hairy tuneage, but they still gotta define and find their own style before anyone, save the NME, takes them seriously. The Libertines – having proved that press saturation doesn’t equate to record sales, put in another sub-standard festival showing, and, avoiding the deluge of garage crap that’s infested much of today’s lower bill, we vacate to the Smirnoff Blue Room for ice-cocktails and comfy sofas. Yay.

[l-zone4]With Jack Osbourne glomping round backstage and Meg White there to see her bloke (one of the Soledad Brothers), we nod along to the sex-attack scree of The Kills – (The Rapture sadly pass us by), before The Thrills scrappily, yet happily, take apart their own debut record. It’s as sun-bitten and West Coast as anything from Ireland could possibly be, and is a welcome respite from much of the dirge.

[r-zone5]Back over on the Main Stage, and Mike Skinner is in his element. “Down another pint of Carling/Budda-budda-bing, one for the lads like/His face a sad sight…” We’re all listening to The Streets and next thing we know The Cooper Temple Clause are blasting our guts out with their ‘New Toys’. More pulsy, and slightly trippier, the new material isn’t light years ahead, but performance-wise, the homeown boys are tighter than they’ve been. Though we’re not too sure about Didz’ bright red jacket. ‘New Toys’ especially, is fantastic, although new single ‘Promises, Promises’ does pale in comparison to ‘Panzer Attack’ or ‘Let’s Kill Music’.
,[r-zone1]Over on the Main Stage, Beck is minimising. A stripped-down band all dressed in black (including the normally exhuberant Beckster himself) with no DJ, backing tapes, sound effects or crazy costumes emerge to no intro tape whatsoever, kicking straight into ‘Novacaine’. The funky shape-throwing remains, however, as does Beck’s ability to electrify and effortlesly steal the festival. “Did you see Beck?”, was the greeting call of Reading 2003, “How cool was his Beyonce ‘Crazy in Love’/ Nelly/ Justin/ Tatu medley?”. The sun came out for it. Bottles and cans. Bottles and cans. Bottles and cans, just clap your hands.

[l-zone2]Busy bathing in the afterglow of this true magnificence, we manage to miss most of BRMC (typically enough, they were the main band we wanted to enjoy!), but what we do see is awesome. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are as miserable as a one-legged homeless drawf living in Bognor, but the rock clouds of new LP ‘Take Them On, On Your Own’ gather, burst and pour down in gloriously dark feedback. Never burdended with charisma, the Mary Chain-Oasis collaboration is now more finely tuned, and BRMC are definitely riding high.

[r-zone3]On then to headliners Blur. Faced with a slightly different situation than the last time they played in 1999 – riding high profile and playing a storming set after Catatonia (who were BIG then), Damon, Alex and Dave go about things in the only possible fashion: by getting wasted, falling off the stage and encoring with Phil Daniels. Still, before we get to the rendition of ‘Parklife’ (which, for some unknown reason, replacement guitarist Simon Tong doesn’t play on), we have to endure some misery.

[l-zone4]’Think Tank’ is undoubtedly a great record, but not for a Saturday night at Reading. The songs they pick from it tonight range from the pastiche-Song 2 of ‘Crazy Beat’ and ‘We’ve Got A File On You’ to the downright turgid rendition of ‘Ambulance’ which opens things up. It’s a typically arrogant showing it must be said, as the majority of the new tracks are incredibly mellow. Many fans find themselves walking away during the shit songs – (‘On My Way To The Club’, for example) only to be stopped 4 minutes later when hits such as ‘For Tomorrow’ and ‘Popscene’ are brought out.

[r-zone5]We take the good with the bad though, and with the fantastic rendition of ‘Beetlebum’ improved considerably by Damon falling off the stage, 50,000 people hearing the bump of the Ego landing. It isn’t the same without Graham, though. This is most obvious during ‘Song 2’, a nostalgic ‘End of a Century’, a sentimental ‘Tender’ which Damon even credits to Graham, its creator, and the awesome closer from their new album, ‘Battery In My Leg’. His style is truly inimitable, and any imitation will only be just that.

Amidst the two hour gig, which included obscure album tracks like ‘Badhead’ and ‘Trim Trabb’ were the more obvious Blur moments. Culminating in the karaoke blast of ‘Parklife’ it was a timely reminder that Blur are still a band of ages.


‘Girls & Boys’
‘Gene By Gene’
‘Moroccan People’s Revolutionary Bowls Club’

‘For Tomorrow’
‘Good Song’
‘Out Of Time’
‘Crazy Beat’
‘Brothers And Sisters’

‘Song 2’
‘End Of A Century’

‘Trimm Trabb’
‘Battery In Your Leg’

‘The Universal’
‘To The End’
‘On The Way To The Club’

‘My White Noise’
‘We’ve Got A File On You’

‘This Is A Low’,With the typically weak Sunday line-up, and a combined two-day hangover to contend with, we initially plan to spend today ‘chilling out’. The weather’s hotter and venturing over to the Radio 1 Stage early on, we’re not sure if it’s the chaotic scree of Kinesis or the acetic stench of the mosh-pit that slaps us round the chops and wakes us up.

[r-zone1]It’s by far and away the best Kinesis set we’ve ever seen (and we’ve seen quite a few). Bolton’s finest are one of the country’s leading new rock bands, and with new single ‘One Way Mirror’ (a Muse-y scrawled political-rock epic) leading the depth-charge ahead of their debut LP, Handshakes For Bullets, it’s no wonder that this youthful rock massacre attracts such a huge crowd. With his Fran Healy haircut, guitarist Conor looks even better than ever, too.

Following that, Serafin were never gonna look like anything other than and also-ran-also-ran of the sub-Muse indie variant. Shame, as The Raveonettes are no less plagiaristic, but they have more grit and a lot more personality. Plus, seventies blues-woosy sex rock is a lot cooler. White Light Motorcade could well be huge soon. All leather jackets and NYCool, they play the Brit-rock game exceedingly well. At times sounding like Pixies playing Mansun, it’s certainly blessed with some beauty.

[l-zone2]Over on the main stage, The Used and Godsmack are hopefully getting the bottling they deserve, whilst the kids rally round Biffy Clyro, egging them on to overcome the mediocre Idlewild-sucking schmindie mess they purport as ‘new’. As Good Charlotte‘s set is cut 20 minutes short (due to bottles), Radio 4 are tearing up the Radio 1 Stage. It’s all pop-funk-rock-spunk guitar wielding from possibly the best East Coast band of the day. Shame about Hell Is For Heroes though, who’s wet-metal makes InMe look like Nirvana.

[r-zone3]Given the surge of trans-pond retro-rubbish you’d have thought at least Primal Scream could save us. Well, they would have, had the line-up not been designed by an idiot. Sandwiched between Good Charlotte and Sum 41, the kids that don’t evacuate the Main Stage immediately stay to bottle the living fuck out of dear old Bobby, who joins Mani in practically offering out the whole crowd. This isn’t the way to treat heroes. Still, at least the Primals know they’re worth twenty five Linkin Parks and a bag of crisps. Now to teach the kids…

[l-zone4]While Har Mar is slapping his sweaty arse cheeks together on the Carling Stage, the rest go to sing ‘Bandages’ with Hot Hot Heat in Radio 1, and it’s like being back at Electric 6. ‘Alright lads, don’t worry about yer album tracks….’. Grandaddy are fucking great, pulsing through their new stuff, giving it a rawer energy than the compressed lethargy that the LP secretes. Not quite as energetic as Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but then they don’t look like a tragic witch beaten around the face with the ugly barbed-wire batton, singing bad Stones covers. Hope Of The States too, may not be oil paintings, but their set is full of masterpieces. Swirling and dreamy, intelligent and occasionally prog, what they maybe need is a bit more of an instantly recogniseable calling card. Their numbers will definitely be up soon.

[r-zone5]Smirnoff Experience Dance Arena headliners, Lamb are probably the best band we see all weekend. Louise Rhodes and Andrew Barlow have a top class session band with them, and Manchester’s longest serving trip-hop troupers get an astounding reception from all the Hoxtonites and anti-metallers. Their effortless cool and wonderful presence blow away any preconceptions about live dance music, and with the DJ set from Futureshock that closes proceedings here, it’s a truly class end to a wonderful weekend… almost.,[r-zone1]”Likeable” is not something you can accuse METALLICA of being, but they are the biggest headliners one can possibly imagine for the Reading Rock Festival. Despite the introduction of more and more dance music, it’s the rage and fury of heavy rock that this festival demands. And none can cater to those two emotions as naturally as Metallica. Legions of ‘Tallica T-Shirts have stalked the festival for days waiting for this moment.

[l-zone2]The band’s first advertised show in England for 4 years has drawn an immense crowd. Many have bought 3-day tickets just for this one performance. As the strains of Enzo Morricone‘s ‘Ecstasy of Gold’ plays out, the crush, which has not abated, since System were on, becomes near-unbearable. As the lights kick in and the group stand assembled, there’s barely the chance for a cheer before they tear into ‘Battery’ followed by ‘Master of Puppets’.

[r-zone3]Forget the ballads and attempts at commercialism in the ‘Load/ Reload’ era. What is showcased here is old skool, brutal, harsh – classic Tallica. ‘Creeping Death’ and ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ taken from Ride the Lightning, ‘Seek and Destroy’ from Kill ’em All, ‘Welcome Home’ from Master. The oft-underrated …and Justice For All contributes such classics as ‘Harvester of Sorrow’ and a rousing ‘One’. The only ballad tonight is ‘Nothing Else Matters’ which has a get-out clause due to its raw beauty.

[l-zone4]Even the new ‘tunes’ from St Anger are relentless slabs of crushing riffs. As the pyrotechnics and fireworks go off for ‘Fuel’, we’ve been given fuel, we’ve been given fire, we’ve been given what we desire. And that’s what all the Metallica-haters of recent years need to sit up and take notice of. Metallica are on top form and playing solid gold again. And they’ve got plenty of it. They’re back on Dec 20th at Earls Court. Be there. We sure as hell will.