Probably the most eagerly anticipated music event on the Scottish calender, boasting some of the most mad for it festival heads and one of the best line-ups of the summer!
[r-zone1]With the waft of burger van food, the feint sound of a band you recognise but can’t identify, some tents, stalls, and a litter-covered field, entering Balado Airfield is just like stumbling across any other festival in the world. But chuck in a sea of Tennents lager, about 8 million Scottish flags, and a few legendary bands into the mixer, and you can only be at T In The Park.
[l-zone2]A weekend of the weird and the wonderful is clearly in store for us as we take our first steps into the usually serene green fields annually invaded by drunks, groupies, music lovers and raving reviewers like ourselves. Where else could you find the Scissor Sisters on the same stage as punk-pop gurus the Pixies? Where else could you replace David Bowie‘s headlining slot with The Darkness of all people without having a full blown riot? And where else could you be covered by a barrage of dark clouds all weekend and still get sunburn? Nowhere.
After a bling battering of diamond and jeweled horror from Big Brovaz, the Beta Band bring some sense to Balado, Steve Mason dryly describing this outing as: “Strictly a greatest hits set – all our number ones and all the hits.” Whatever, it does the trick, proved by the crowd’s reaction to songs such as ‘Out-Side’, ‘She’s The One’ and ‘Dry The Rain’.
[r-zone3]Greatest hits is about all the Black Eyed Peas can muster too. They make a slow start to their Scottish festival debut. But a few twists and shakes later from the stunning Fergie and suddenly half the crowd don’t seem to care what the four piece is singing. Once they get into their stride, with the infectious ‘Smells Like Funk’ and Latin flavoured ‘Hey Mama’, they begin to gel with the Main Stage crowd and it’s not long before we’re hailed as ‘the best audience in the world’… Yes, we know. Over-the-top compliments and Fergie’s toned bare mid-riff aside, The Black Eyed Peas also have the dance moves and stage presence to keep the masses from wandering. ‘Shut Up’ and the chart hugger ‘Where Is The Love’ close a blinding set.
[l-zone4]It’s not often that pop bands, especially arena fillers like The Black Eyed Peas and Pink, are prepared to play as little more than openers at festivals, so it’s refreshing to see both acts making the most of their slots and enjoying the unique atmosphere. Pink promises she will keep her clothes on and let the music do the talking. And with hits like ‘Just Like A Pill’, ‘Family Portrait’ and ‘Last To Know’, even the most sex-starved of us can’t complain about the lack of flesh. ‘Let’s Get The Party Started’ may sound like an odd choice to close a set, especially as the party started the previous evening, but the bounceathon continues to the last note.
[r-zone1]In a festival almost criminally lacking in metal, it’s no surprise that Welsh emo quintet Funeral For A Friend are greeted onto the NME stage with the kind of reception usually afforded to the mighty Maiden or Metallica. FFAF are the weekend’s only real hope of some mosh pit antics and no rock fan is prepared to miss out on. Fortunately they deliver with style. ‘Bullet Theory’ is blinding, fans’ favourite ‘Art of American Football’ has limbs flying in all directions and closer ‘Escape Artists Never Die’ is simply stunning. All that noise from a frontman who looks 15 years old, dresses in the dark, and supports a hair cut straight from the Cecil styling manual. Magnificent.
Wu Tang Clan playing in Scotland? Who would have thought it? If it wasn’t for the fact The Pixes are to be gracing Balado just a day later, the appearance of America’s legendary rap collective would easily be the catch of the weekend’s bill. Much like Dr Dre, Snoop Dog, Jay-Z etc, etc, the Wu Tang Clan tour the UK about as often as they volunteer for police community work. To witness the rare show is pure joy in itself. Throw in a couple of the ‘Killer Bees’ biggest hits, including ‘Oh Baby I Like It Raw’ and ‘Gravel Pit’, and you get a classic T In The Park moment.
Now there’s no denying Keane are good. And there’s no denying that they are liked. A lot. However, their Saturday afternoon set does nothing to enhance either of these claims. They may well be hungover, but come on guys…get a grip. It’s not every day you get to play to the biggest crowd drawn to the NME stage all weekend. ‘Everybody’s Changing’ is the only song that shows us what they are capable of, but it is still nothing spectacular. We can’t help thinking that their mediocre performance would have been better suited to a night-time slot, with lighters waving in the air and a bit of smooching going on.
Resigned to the fact that we aren’t going to get in to the big blue tent to see Ash, we stand outside, listening intently while imagining the goings-on inside. Then, all of a sudden, ‘Oh Yeah’ starts playing and with lyrics like, “Oh yeah, it was taking me over” almost instructing us to get involved, we burst through into the King Tuts pleasure tent of beer, sweat and Ash. (Yes, that’s right, they were letting people back in by that point). The kings (and queen) of Ireland play an amazing set, slamming down old classics like ‘Kung Fu’ and sing-alongs like ‘Shining Light’ with a supreme confidence. It’s easy to see why these 20-somethings are already indie veterans.
[r-zone1]Anticipation builds for the coming of the now stream-lined Libertines. How will they perform without the burden/inspiration of Pete Doherty? The crowd seem more nervous than the band, who march on stage triumphantly, accompanied by stand-in guitarist Anthony Rossomando, and dedicate first song and new single ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ to their missing frontman. It’s obvious friend and co-singer Carl Barat is missing the troubled star and the set is riddled both by uncertainty and sporadic moments of raw brilliance. ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ stands out as the dusk settles over Balado and new track ‘Whatever Became Of The Likely Lads’ whets the appetite for many more to come on The Libertines soon-to-be-released self-titled album. The band show they can definitely play without Doherty, but its difficult to see them journeying onwards towards their supposed destiny as generation savers until the current situation is solved.
Like The Libertines, Muse have been riddled with an honest emotion and bare-all passion since day one. So it isn’t surprising that, in the wake of their recent tragedy, the band display a beautiful rawness unseen in the majority of bands. Opening with ‘Hysteria’, the crowd are relieved to see how Muse have dealt with the death of drummer Dominic Howard’s dad by channelling all their anger, sadness and pain straight into their sound. Muse become the music. It isn’t long before a mosh pit is formed and it becomes obvious that every member of the crowd is loving Muse. From the explosive chorus of ‘Plug In Baby’ right through to the painfully gorgeous ‘Sing For Absolution’, Muse give it everything they have.
[l-zone2]And so to The Darkness, who play out their now globally lapped-up combo of sweaty 70s stadium rock and shrieking trouser pop. Justin Hawkins scissor kicks his way through the set, his spindly legs spanning much wider than the band’s, by now, hugely predictable sound. It starts off well enough but runs out midway as the initial novelty wears off. The rockers finally reveal a new song, ‘Hazel Eyes’, from their hotly anticipated follow-up to ‘Permission To Land’ which offers much of the same and hints that The Darkness are in no rush to drastically alter their well-tested formula. But the band continue to make good viewing, as Justin’s charms are complimented with fireworks, a marching band, and even a tin whistle solo by bassplayer Frankie Poullain. Songs like ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ and ‘Friday Night’ lift the crowd up again and the encore cover of Radiohead‘s ‘Street Spirit’ is truly inspirational. However, while giving us all a good time, you can’t help thinking that Bowie’s absence left a gap which The Darkness had real trouble filling.
[r-zone1]Native Scots Franz Ferdinand‘s get a massive home-coming welcome. We know there would be a bit of interest, but don’t expect to be watching them from the King Tuts tent. Playing practically every song from their greatest hit-style debut, the boys perform in true (modern) rock star style, complete with pin stripe shirts and skinny ties (what ever happened to ripped jeans and a T-shirt?). But at least they succeed in raising the pulses of every teenage girl within a 10-mile radius. Our pulses almost explode to the sound of the anthemic ‘Take Me Out’ thundering across the surrounding land and filling the ears of more than 60,000 fans. Although many adoring Fredinanders think their set the greatest thing since Tennents lager, we can clearly see it’s the lads themselves who end up getting the biggest buzz from their performance. And why not?
Goldfrapp are the perfect band for a lazy Sunday afternoon, sitting drinking beer in a field. The sound of sultry, almost whispering vocals, coupled with chilled-out grooves, are more soothing than getting your toes sucked. Playing songs from their latest album ‘Black Cherry’ and gems from debut ‘Felt Mountain’, Goldfrapp entrance their audience with hypnotic bass lines and eerie instrumentals.
Damon Gough, the man more commonly known as Badly Drawn Boy, ditches his luxurious accommodation on Saturday night for a wander round the campsite to play music with fans. Five minutes into his enthralling set and it isn’t difficult to believe; the guy may be a star but he is also a man of the people. Putting two fingers up to the greatest hits path to monotony, we are treated to some new material and some brilliant off-the-cuff songs. “Can I hear it for Scotland?” The cheers go up. “Wales?” Cheers. “Ireland?” Cheers. “England?” Boos. “Another England cheer for me?” Boos. Likeable guy but obviously not a miracle worker.
[r-zone1]The miracle workers of the weekend, of course, came in the form of the legendary Pixies. Knowing that we are just feet away from Frank Black and the gang is enough. So you can imagine our delight when they go on to give us the best performance of the weekend. As well as playing all the spine-tingling classics such as ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’, ‘Debaser’, ‘Gigantic’, ‘Where Is My Mind’ (need we go on?), the band also fly the flag for dignity and treat all their hardcore fans to cuts from ‘Trompe Le Monde’. The no-chat attitude employed by the band shows just how damn cool they still are.
[l-zone2]The Pixies don’t have to try and, without dissing a band who probably influenced every punk and grunge band since the 80s, they don’t. Frank Black is hardly in competition looks-wise with the Julian Casablancas of this world, while the once highly desirable Kim is showing her age, but none of that matters. The screams from both the man himself, and audience alike, of “then God is seven” show exactly how The Pixies possess a kind of rock stardom most bands can only ever dream of. And what do they think of their amazing performance and the adoration of their fans? They’re not letting on, but the smile on Kim’s face says it all.
[r-zone3]It’s unfortunate The Strokes have to play after the Pixies. Being huge Strokes fans, we don’t think we’ll be able to cope with the double whammie of greatness. However, as it turns out, we just about manage, as they can only be described at best as good, and at worst…well, we’d rather not say. To be fair, they play all their fantastic sing-alongs like ‘Last Nite’ and ‘New York City Cops’, and, totally star-struck, we can’t help but dance, cheer and clap. But there’s just something missing in their performance, charisma perhaps, or lack of it.
[l-zone4]Singer Julian Casablancas ought to have gone to the Frank Black school of between-song etiquette, as there are only so many times you can hear “You’re the best audience in the world. We love Scotland” without wanting to vomit. He should brush up on his chat, or just learn to keep quiet. The highlights of the set are undoubtedly ‘Last Nite’ and ‘Take It Or Leave It’, but overall we’re more impressed by the hot air ballon which floats on by, and the fireworks which light up the sky and bid a fond farewell to T In The Park for another year.