Reading Festival 2008 - Main Stage
Little John's Farm, Reading, 22-24 August
Daniel Fahey - 27 August 2008
The hollowed oval of Reading's main stage is a cruel mouth: it can create legends (al la Kurt Cobain) or it
can destroy the most hardened of egos (see ya later 50 Cent), so with another 27 bands brave enough to attempt to slay the
historic stage and face the unpredictable crowds we unpick the valiant and watch that first bottle fly.
The year is 1861 and like many Travelling Medicine Shows before him System Of The Down singer Serj Tankian is dressed in a white suit, complete with position-affirming white top hat. "Praise the lord, pass the ammunition," he squeals in faux-Christian disillusionment as he hypnotises fans with an Evanescence epic rock crowned by his infamous falsetto. 'Sky Is Over' sounds righteous and grand, but it takes a theatrical rendition of Abba's 'Money Money Money' to really kick off the main stage.
Have Biffy just finished their post rounds? It's the only explanation for all three of the band wearing sky blue trousers. The Scottish trio are greeted by a large afternoon crowd as well the usual sea of Scottish flags that follow them until each festival. 'Who's Got A Match' burns the brightest during the first half of the set, but a glorious 'Mountains' and a grinding version of 'Living Is A Problem Because Everyone Dies' wrap the set up like a special delivery parcel. First class.
You can't falter the working class ethos of this Midlands trio. In front of Union Jack speakers, lead singer Tom Clarke swaggers around the stage in a Harrington jacket like he means business. Unfazed by the huge rally of fans in front of them the trio open with a thunderous cut of 'Away From Here' before guitar problems delay them from performing what turns out to be an assertive version of 'We'll Live And Die In These Towns'. It's a shame that someone hits Clarke's guitar during set closer 'It's Not Ok' – he must've been waiting for The Fratellis.
Queens Of The Stone Age
With a new shaved head Josh Homme brought his Queens Of The Stone Age back to Reading for the first time since 2005. Opening with a scuzzy and raw slice of 'Go With The Flow' the band made sure the sun fell on the first day of the festival to a wall of sound. As the set progressed the band melted into likeable self-indulgence but 'Sick Sick Sick' and 'In My Head' get the stage lights flickering like an epileptic nightmare. "You're the best damn audience in the world," Homme gushes to the thousands in front of him, "I mean it," before devouring them with back-to-back heavy blows of 'No One Knows' and 'Song For The Dead'.
Rage Against The Machine
They may've already played Oxegen and T In The Park, but Rage's return to Reading was always set to be the big one. Walking on stage eight years to the day since they last left it the 2000, the quartet are dressed in orange Guantanamo Bay-style boiler suits and brown bags over their heads to execute a note-perfect version of 'Bombtrack'. With mass crowd surges from back to front the band destroy everything that has touched the stage before hand as they plough into 'Testify' and a squeamishly good version of 'Bulls On Parade'. The guitars on 'Know Your Enemy' screech as poignantly as its lyrics and by the time they play 'Wake Up' there surely can't be anybody in any other part of the arena. Finishing on a menacing 'Killing In The Name' the band take to the night and suddenly eight years has never felt so short.
Dirty Pretty Things
With ex-Libertines band mate Pete given the honours of headlining the NME/Radio 1 stage last night; you have to ask where it all went wrong for Carl Barat's latest project. A fairly small and subdued audience welcome Dirty Pretty Things to the main stage crowd as they mix old and new to try and rouse their fans. "We're going to do a song by an old band for you now," Barat announces with Libs fans screaming for anything by his previous band, but instead they play a nonchalant version of Nirvana's 'In Bloom'. 'Bang Bang You're Dead' is riotous but Barat is still in search of the Good Ol' Days.
We Are Scientists
Look among the long drops and you'll find 'Keith Murray for Prime Minister' scrawled above the urine-soaked toilet seats, but that was obvious written before We Are Scientists decide to play Ace Of Bass's 'All That She Wants'. But the trio-now-quartet have never taken themselves seriously, which is where they come across best. ‘'Nobody Moves Nobody Gets Hurt' sounds as lethal as it's lyrical content, while set closer 'The Great Escape' leaves the bouncing main stage crowd wanting to do anything but.
What Editors lack in banter and showmanship they deliver in sheer note-perfection. The quartet take to the stage with their most recent acquisition: Tom Smith's thick black sideburns. At one-point 'stage spontaneity' leaves Smith on his knees on the piano but it's a stiff and acute cut of 'Sparks' that gets the crowd chanting along.
"It's all been fights, new members, new babies and a new record," declares Kele Okereke before the band thump into latest single 'Mercury'. Live the track loses the heavy sharpness that flows neatly on the record, but the catchy lyric loop gets the crowd chanting along. 'Hunting For Witches', 'Banquet' and 'Two More Years' keeps the momentum going - giving headliners The Killers food for thought - but 'The Prayer' and 'So Here We Are' trip the set into a subdued cul de sac. Okereke slips Prince's 'I Would Die 4U' into the vocodered-crippled 'Flux' before the Party drill home a triumph set with 'Helicopter' – the day's highlight thus far…
…and this Las Vegas quartet struggle to achieve anything as close. Opener 'For Reasons Unknown' drags but is quickly forgotten as the band roll into a storming version of 'Somebody Told Me'. Tracks like Joy Division's 'Shadowplay' and 'Sweet Talk', that proved positively-underwhelming on record, equally do so live. Lou Reed duet 'Tranquilize' feels pedestrian, but Brandon Flowers and Co redeem themselves by saving the best until last with the mass sing-alongs to bruising renditions of 'Mr Brightside', 'Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine' and finale 'All These Things That I've Done'.
Like this morning's weather Alexisonfire are blowing hot and cold. Lead singer George Pettit has already got his top off, tattoos showing, and is bouncing around the main stage along with the front portion of the crowd. 'This Could Be Anywhere In The World' gets the plaudits for the first sing-along of the day, but their appearance lacks depth for those other than real fans. Luckily Pettit name checks other Canadian bands like side-project Fucked Up to get the crowd cheering.
Plain White T's
The Plain White T's manage to join the official 'bottled at Reading' club in the early afternoon. Dressed in all black, including black sunglasses, lead singer Tom Higgenson spends the majority of set dodging pints, piss and loo rolls. Big hit, sorry, only hit 'Hey There Delilah'attempts to save the set, but apart from a few crooning along at the front, this is a forgettable performance.
Entering to the sound of traditional Irish folk music, Boston's Dropkick Murphys are every bit as Celtic as any of their native contemporaries. Dedicating a track to fellow folk-punks stalwarts The Pogues is the opportunity for Dropkick's seven-piece become eight by bringing on a member of Shane MacGowan's troupe before lead singer Al Barr has a pop at Avenged Sevenfold's cancellation: "You won't see me cancel a show due to throat strain. I've been singing with throat strain for twenty years!" And for a band that seems to be constantly on tour – he can't be far wrong.
How are Feeder still so far up the bill? Sure Slipknot have pulled out, but the band haven't made a decent record since the death of drummer Jon Lee. However they've drawn a huge legion of fans for their sunshine set. 'Buck Rogers' and 'All By Myself' are obviously highlights, but when we're supposed to be watching mask-wielding hardcore rock it feels like Daphne and Celeste are back. Perhaps that's why Nirvana's 'Breed' is chucked in for good measure.
Comedy and music have never really been a harmonise marriage, but with most of the 15-year olds in the campsite shouting "butt scratcher" and "bollocks" to hysterical acclaim Tenacious D's huge crowd is hardly surprising. Jack Black enters the stage in a wizard's outfit and Kyle Gass in a lizard's costume and you know it’s set to be a laugh a minute. The band sing most popular track 'Tribute' to a devil that appears onstage and 'Fuck Her Gently' and 'The Metal' get large cheers. Even a irking version of 'Sweet Child O' Mine' seems to please the fans and Black seizes his opportunity to support, in his words, "the greatest metal band of all time."
So how do you beat the show stopping performance of RATM? Simple, turn everything up to 11 in an attempt to make the fans' ears bleed. Despite most of the band being in there 40's they still rock harder than any of the young whippersnappers that have graced the stage over the weekend. 'Enter Sandman' yields a glorious and intense mosh pit as the band attempt to sew in upcoming tracks from their ninth album 'Death Magnetic' with classics like 'Nothing Else Matters', 'One' and a raucous 'Seek And Destroy'. With a set that makes even the most conservative festival goer jump around like Tom Cruise on Oprah, Metallica annihilate Little John's Farm. A year just doesn't seem long enough for it to recover.