Witness 2001 Review – Saturday

Stepping on a plane to go to a festival makes me feel as sophisticated as Marc Bolan must have done driving his purple velvet roller into Glasto in 1970. That feeling soon subsides during take-off as I disolve into a pool of vomit, tears and brandy. Why am I doing this? Because I’m going to Dublin’s WITNNESS festival, set up just last year as the gaelic answer to Reading and Leeds. Anything slightly cosmopolitan about this experience ends on arrival at Dublin. There is no indication of where I need to go and it seems bizarre that I can travel bewteen two countries in 45 minutes but getting to Fairyhouse racecourse seems to take forever. An hour long queue of traffic leading to the site (way out in the sticks) leave you wondering whether it was worth the hassle.
Eventually I arrive and fight my way through hordes of pissed up paddies to collect my pass (VIP no less!), I finally manage to set up camp and find my way to the main arena as Neil Finn hits the stage.

It’s a sad truth that no matter how hard he tries, he won’t be able to shake off the stigma of being desperatley unhip. But if you can’t be bothered to listen and make up your own mind then more fool you. Finn is as credible a songwriter as your Elliott Smiths or Neil Youngs. From his pen flows uplifiting songs which suit sunny afternoons such as this – ‘Distant Sun’, ‘Pineapple Head’ and obviously, ‘Weather with You’ from his Crowded House days prove the point as well as more recent solo stuff including ‘She will have her Way’ and ‘Wherever You Are’.

Up next are the Waterboys, apparently deserving themselves a spot on the main stage because of their nationality – (if you’d forgotten this band, they had a hit with a really crap song called ‘Whole of the Moon’ in late eighties) – there surely can’t be another reason why this sad old band of has beens are allowed to inflict such aural displeasure on the crowd. Ironically, midway through their set the heavens open with pelting rain threatening to drive them back to the hole they came from and a huge (really quite impressive) thunderstorm, forks of lightening piercing the ground tantalisingly close to the stage.

Those members of the crowd who survived being struck down are by now very wet and miserable, having been left waiting a long time between sets. The only band who can pull off conditions such as this – Muse – reap forgiveness by pulling off a jaw dropping gig. They don’t have much to say but the music speaks for itself, driving everyone into a frenzy with their fusion of Heavy Metal and Classical exemplified particularly in ‘New Born’ – imagine Beethoven being zapped by a cattle prod and you’re somewhere near.

Matt Bellamy looks particularly demonic with new bright red hair as his voice warbles toward the places that others simply can’t reach in a rendition of Nina Simone’s ‘Feel Good’. Bodies fly through the air along with giant, Prisoner-style white balloons. The sight of steam rising from the mosh pit just about sums it all up. It’s the highlight of the whole weekend and probably one of the last times the band will appear in a ‘supporting’ role.

As the calm descends after the storm, a huge double rainbow breaks out across the sky accompanied by an outbreak of leprachaun lookalikes in giant green felt hats and Irish flags. What they’re after is not a pot of gold but pint after pint of Guinness. (Actually, it’s all you can buy here!) By this time everyone’s in high spirits and a big crowd has gathered to watch the Charlatans.

Tim Burgess apparently believes he’s Axl Rose, swaggering onto the stage with a ‘We’re Guns ‘n’ Roses and this is called Forever..’. The song is one of those that was inveneted to be an opener. Those Chords! That rumbling bass! The sexy guitar riffs that follow Tim’s orgasmic cries of ‘Forever!’… Long before Liam Gallagher, Tim was hopping around like the little sex monkey he is, giving the mic some lip in the way that only madchester bands seem able. But now he’s decided to change his vocal style into a pseudo Prince caterwaul for the new album, in particular ‘Love is the Key’. The audience react to this in the same way you might react to a friend who has just had a very bad haircut and asks for your opinion – ‘weeeell, it’s not *that* bad…’ but it is that bad, so I decide to check out Starsailor, who are supposed to be the next big thing according to NME and XFM.

Whether the band have slipped up their arses amid the hype is unclear, but they are nowhere to be seen in the rising tent. Lead singer James Walsh explains that the rest of the band are having a rest backstage, too stoned to perform after too many spliffs. Aside from that, what can I tell you about this band? You could try imagining the immense dullness of David Gray and multiplying that to infinity, or what it might be like to work in a yawn factory in yawnsville, USA.

With Catatonia’s Cerys in re-hab, the only musical delights left to sample this evening are the Stereophonics. The crowd by now has largely dispersed to leave a throng of flushed young ladies swooning up at ‘manmouse’ Kelly Jones on the main stage, whilst he growls his way through the Phonics’ mediocre back catalogue. At Reading last year the band managed to redeem their dullness by pulling out Tom Jones for an encore of ‘Mama told me not to come’ – Alas, no such treat here in Dublin. It’s all a bit pipe and slippers really and much more fun is to be had on the campsite afterwards where the 9 o’clock ‘Bollox’ is in full swing and everyone’s sliding around in a squelchy quagmire of mud, piss, puke and Guinness to the drifting sounds of Faithless on the main stage.