Rock Werchter 2007
Four days featuring bands that you'd expect to see separated over four festivals, it's a no brainer. Nip down to London, jump on the Eurostar and with free train travel included in the festival ticket it's all plain sailing.
Travel once in Belgium is easy; a train then a shuttle bus to the site, a total of 90 minutes from Brussels.
Then there's a little bit of a walk to the arena with a chance to set up your tent in one of the many campsites (15 altogether)
dotted around the road to the arena entrance. There is a wristband system for each campsite; you are only allowed in one of
them, so if you are to meet up with friends it is best to arrange which one first.
There are many shops and bars along the road to the arena, selling cheaper goods than inside. The arena has food and drinks tokens ('bons' and 'bonnen') which equal two Euros for nearly half a pint of beer, water or coke (I was begging for more variety after the four days) and around five Euros for a usual festival-sized meal. Unlike neighbouring Pukkelpop you can drink the water from the taps (well there were no signs to say otherwise, and I am not ill yet), which, believe me you need to do to keep up with drinking the strong Stella from the famous local brewery.
The first bands I catch the ends of are My Chemical Romance (with statements from Gerard Way like “you want to kiss your best friend but sooner or later his face will get blown off”, I decide to leave them to it) and Air. Marilyn Manson has his usual face paint on for his set, wielding a knife-shaped microphone to ‘Tainted Love’ and ‘The Beautiful People’. The arena only has two stages, which are not very far apart (you can see both sets of screens in certain areas). The main outdoor stage overpowers the smaller stage, which is in a small tent with one screen over a wooden dance floor. This is ok for some bands, but when the next artists of today, Bjork and the Beastie Boys, clash there are a lot of disappointed people left outside a tent to watch the New York legends play both hip hop and rock sets. Bjork in turn does a good set, dressed at the start as a lion (with a backing brass band in robes and feathers). Muse end the night on the main stage, which finishes at 2am (you’ve got to love the stamina at these European festivals, and the neighbours!). ‘Starlight’ and ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ are well received, even though a few are worse for wear from the mind-bendingly strong beer. Some wives will be beaten tonight.
We wake up to realise why people camp so far away from the arena as the sound check
starts around 9.30am. Not good for a hangover, and the cloudy skies would have allowed a lie-in rarely found in a hot tent
before the music actually starts after midday. Enter Shikari are on the main stage mixing their techno and
emo metal, though I feel the crowd are not feeling the same as the hype surrounding them suggests. Kings of Leon
apologise for the rain which starts during their set, while Joan As Policewoman wows in the undercover Pyramid
Marquee (the crowd may be due to the rain, but hey). Kaiser Chiefs
have an early set, but this doesn’t stop the crowd lapping up ‘Everyday I Love You Less And Less’, ‘I
Predict A Riot’ and ‘Ruby’, as Ricky Wilson dances around the stage and plays the cowbell much to drummer
Nick Hodgson amusement. Bloc Party are loving the Belgium vibe and return the favour with songs like ‘Banquet’.
The highly anticipated Queens Of The Stone Age bring a little coolness to the main stage, with Josh Hommes saying, “Here’s one we never play”, before jumping into ‘No One Knows’ and ‘Go With The Flow’. It’s onto the second stage for a continuation in the grand line up with Satellite Party; the new incarnation for Perry Farrell and his missus. They look to be having a great time, with Perry drinking copious amounts of red wine and treating us to original songs like ‘Ultra Payloaded Satellite Party’ plus ‘Been Caught Stealing’ and ‘Stop!’.
One of the main reasons for travelling to Belgium for me are the headliners for this Friday evening. Pearl Jam are ending their European tour here at Werchter, meaning a set list crammed with greatest hits. Songs like the rarely played ‘God’s Dice’ and ‘Smile’ fit seamlessly into the classics ‘Alive’, ‘Evenflow’ and ‘Worldwide Suicide’. Eddie Vedder’s trademark voice is a little knackered after the tour, so Josh Homme appears on stage to help out with the final song ‘Teenage Wasteland’ (originally by The Who). Easily the best performance of the festival.
Saturday comes early again, as the lively campsite never seems to bed down. Skipping and limbo are the chosen past times at 4 am. Heideroosjes (the name means meadow flowers!) are from the Netherlands and are the only true punk band encountered all weekend. There is a huge following here, with many of the young festival-goers wearing their t-shirts. As a tribute to Johnny Cash, they do an excellent punked up cover of ‘Ring of Fire’. Over in the Pyramid Marquee are the excellent The Hold Steady, who are slowly growing to the attention of many people with their relentless touring. Playing many songs from ‘Boys And Girls In America’, like ‘Stuck Between Stations’ and ‘Party Pit’, the lads are enjoying every minute, with Craig Finn humorously mouthing many words in-between the lyrics and Tad Kubler running into the crowd as the set finishes. There are plenty of opportunities to watch these at various festivals this year, I advise that you do.
Amy Winehouse is one of the odd additions to the line up of this otherwise rock festival (Rufus Wainwright is another), but her distinctive voice belts out ‘Rehab’ and a cover of The Zuton’s ‘Valerie’. Snow Patrol are a lovely thing to listen to as the sun tries to break through, while The Killers have an unusually early slot at 6.15pm - far more fitting than as Glastonbury headliners. Peter Gabriel is to Werchter what Shirley Bassey was to Glasto - the old legend you have to see perform to cross off your list. Not wearing the same sort of attire that he did in the Genesis days, Gabriel is backed by his daughter Melanie for a set including ‘In Your Eyes’, ‘Big Time’ and of course the classic ‘Sledgehammer’.
Returning to the second stage to see Damon Albarn and his supergroup The Good the Bad And The Queen, it's impossible to get into the tent so we resign to watching a single screen outside. Keane can be heard to my right due to the ambient noodlings of Albarn and co, so I decide to collect some beer cups to exchange for beer tokens. Twenty cups get you a beer and this can become quite addictive (especially over four days). I gather enough for a few beers before The Chemical Brothers hit the main stage with a mix of hits that include ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’. ‘Push The Button’ and ‘Hey Boy Hey Girl’. Psychedelic images and green lasers hovering over the crowd mean you can take it all in even if you don’t like their music.
The final day. It feels like a struggle
as !!! wake us up early again, but tonight is the turn of Metallica
to headline and the excitement acts as a cleansing tonic. The type of crowd varies over the four days. The hard core campers
are still here but the majority of the crowd have day tickets. So while Thursday saw a mixture of people, Friday was the turn
of the rockers, Saturday the dance fans and today the metal fans. The sun is out, so the black clothes are not the best attire
to be wearing, but Mastodon’s metal gets people in the mood for later.
The Kooks have an early set compared to what they would back home, and the sun stays out for their set including summer tunes ‘Naïve’ and ‘Ooh La’. Frank Black of Pixies fame has been placed in the Pyramid Marquee, though his punk styling and funny vocal styles (yelps and screeches) are more suited to a smaller crowd. Lets just say the microphone is very dinted after being thrown to the floor several times! Meanwhile, Incubus are on the main stage at the same time, playing signature tune ‘Drive’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’. Brandon Boyd is sporting a Depp style moustache and white vest; good news for the ladies!
With an hour between Incubus’ and Metallica’s sets, Damien Rice has one of the premier slot of the festival, which again is odd for this sort of line up but at least provides a respite. ‘Michelle’, ‘Cannonball’ and the other acoustic songs wash over the rock fans, despite the addition of distorted effects on the vocals.
Metallica are on stage 20 minutes late. After a clip from the film The Good, The Bad and the Ugly it’s into ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’, ‘Kill ‘Em All’ and a fantastic encore of ‘Sad But True’, ‘Nothing Else Matters’, ‘One’ and ‘Enter Sandman’. Of course that’s not it, as they are back for ‘Seek And Destroy’ and ‘Last Caress’. James Hatfield’s voice is poorly, so the vocal range is missing, but the crowd help along. Each band member gets to do a solo, there are a few mistakes with timing and such, but this is classic Metallica and they prove themselves as headliners with plenty of fireworks and flying plectrums. In fact they don’t want to leave the stage!
Over on the Pyramid Marquee Tori Amos is changing wigs and dresses and playing beautiful piano along to ‘The Waitress’, ‘Secret Spell’ and ‘Cornflake Girl’. Faithless finish the festival, over running by an hour or so. ‘Insomniac’ and ‘God Is A DJ’ are the real hits, and the festival ends with lots more fireworks. I mean lots, at 2.30am!
This festival is all about the bands, the toilets are the cleanest I have ever seen at a festival with free toilet roll, and the hundreds of little freebies are great (how many festivals give you the chance to brush your teeth in the arena with a free toothbrush and hat?!). Though there is not a lot to do between bands, the line up should keep you interested and for the price you can not beat it.