First Review: The Great Escape 2011

Friendly Fires, DJ Shadow, more play Brighton festival


Photographer:Al De Perez

United Kingdom United Kingdom | by Chris Swindells | 15 May 2011

Chris Swindells escapes to the seaside for some sun, stormy seas and mile-long queues.

If it's the freedom of the one-size-fits-all-wristband that's so appealing, then Brighton’s Great Escape Festival has done itself no favours in selling ‘privileged’ access to the biggest names on its 2011 bill. Pitching Friendly Fires, Sufjan Stevens and DJ Shadow as your headline acts then demanding subtle surcharges to see them is frankly the worst in cynical festival profiteering.

Beyond this underhand change in tact for 2011 nothing much else has been altered for the seaside festival, which celebrated its sixth anniversary this May. It still overruns the city from dawn to dusk and brings together the usual eclectic mix of fresh-from-the-womb, publicity-hungry acts, complete with the obligatory business-card-hustling-managers, alongside the equally publicity-craved guff of the more established rank (read: Guillemots).

As the weather held out, the opening Thursday fanfare promised a weekend of lighthearted fancy throughout. Dry the River (7/10) played the first of what seemed like a dozen scheduled, unscheduled and rescheduled shows over the one long weekend. Sounding somewhere unlikely between Mumford & Sons and At The Drive-In, they play too early for anyone to feel truly comfortable with the intensity of their rabid folk-core. Considering their debut album is still to see light of day it is however a promisingly assured, passionate opening set, oozing self-belief.

Later Grouplove (10/10) steal the limelight in the criminally-overlooked Haunts venue, with a set devised heavily from their debut self-titled EP. It was even more impressive as the show came only 366 days since their first ever live gig together. The new songs they preview sound as strong as any of their recorded material and as the room fills to capacity so did people jump to the tables and chairs to bathe in a show soaked with the innocence of a free love movement of sixties psychedelica.

DJ Shadow’s headlining show at The Dome is from the very first note of the opening day a sold out affair and many festival-goers feel the sense of betrayal as they toy with the other option of seeing Example (6/10) kickstart Concorde 2 - no contest.

Formed at a similar time and juncture to the Camden Crawl, the Great Escape’s London rival has always found it hard to match it for choice of thrills and hedonistic pleasures. Great Escape 2011 boasts churches and hotels amongst some of its more illustrious venues and the backdrop of sky-high pier rides and the four-foot seagulls make The Great Escape about nothing but pure unadulterated escapism.

That said there is no escaping that the second night of the festival suffers with as many full-capacity venues and curb clinging queues as the first. Where fans can’t get close to seeing Friendly Fires (8/10) deliver one of the first airings of their forthcoming second album 'Pala’ they queue patiently next door for Josh T Pearson. Hours later and that queue has only grown, leaving hundreds of festival punters to walk disappointed from the Pavilion Theatre, having missed both Pearson’s heartfelt blow-by-blow performance of his unsettlingly-personal debut album and Ireland’s newest over-sung heroes Villagers that followed.

After-hour leisure and recreation are amply dealt with by official Great Escape club nights and those alternative nights with sponsored line-ups from Vice, Coda and Moshi Moshi. Trophy Wife (8/10) take to the stage for the latter, and demonstrate that playing a nightclub crowd gone midnight isn’t a recipe for a musical suicide note when they set the venue on fire. Well, to a warm ember then.

Elsewhere at the festival The Soft Moon (4/10) are reminiscent of a bad parody piece for A Place To Bury Strangers. Suuns (7/10) are an overall more sanely orchestrated Battles. Plaster Of Paris are a well-titled band and Rhob Cunningham (8/10) is the tip to next break through in the Irish singer-songwriter stakes.

From the bottom of Brighton Pier, the alt-rock revivalists Yuck (9/10) get the closing say at Horatio’s Bar. Jet-lagged and over toured, the four-piece look like they’ve lost nothing of the original charisma and charm they clearly share with a great affection for each other. Their first singles 'Georgia' and 'Suicide Policeman' never sounded so good and it’s no surprise that as they play their final few tracks people are still queuing outside for a piece of this band.

After all that’s what you’re lucky to get from the Great Escape: just a piece of your favorite band. When it comes down to it the festival is for the nonchalant opportunist, the experimental searcher in you, because if you want to see the biggest selling acts that you know and love you’re only going to be disappointed. Keep your mind and ears open and you might discover a real gem - just at the end of that queue.


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