With a range of bands that stretched from Faith No More to Lethal Bizzle, Little Boots to Frank Turner, we take a look at best sets in the tent from the weekend...
Faith No More
With bright red drapes and a suit to match, it looked Mike Patton like may’ve been expecting more of heroes’ welcome to Reading. Instead, with most of the festivals’ GCSE-demographic piling towards the main stage as if they were expecting Caleb himself to give out their exam results, Faith No More only filled half the tent.
Undeterred, Patton and Co showed dexterity and charm as they ran through hits like ‘Midlife Crisis’ – cut short by cover of the Eastenders theme tune – and a rousing rendition of ‘Epic’. The much used Lionel Richie cover ‘Easy’ was dusted off and softly presented – “it’s okay…you can sing…” – but it was the gentile ‘RV’ that showed metal’s more delicate side. DF.
Walthastow grim star Lethal Bizzle is one of Britain’s most entertaining performers and the sheer size of the crowd in the NME tent showed his popularity. “Congratulations for getting in the tent. You’re going to witness the best fucking set of the festival,” quipped the rapper as he took to the stage.
His pantomime-style interjections played on the rivalry between Reading and its sister festival, “I’m going to be honest. Leeds are winning, just being honest,” and his music, all accompanied by shout-a-long choruses, demonstrated why the rapper pulls enormous crowds year on year.
‘Bizzle Bizzle’, ‘Fire’ with The Spinners ‘It’s A Shame’ sample and ‘POW!’ all received rapturous applause and in between songs there were endless chants of the singers name. But it was single ‘Go Hard Hard’ which is remixed with Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ that really got the circle pits started. AF.
At first Little Boots passed this writer by, intentionally you understand. Hype can normally mean PR churnalism: so Auntie Beeb, please accept this review as a formal apology for every doubting you.
This year the BBC gave Victoria Christina Hesketh a huge leg up onto her pedestal when they plastered her name at the summit of the Sound of Music Poll 2009. And the hype didn’t tarnish her performance at Reading.
Firstly, she’s incredibly stunning in the flesh and dressed in an over-the-top slivery peaked shoulder number complete with cape she really did resemble the First Lady of British music. The NME stage will not be this busy again over the weekend and yet every single person sang along to every single line of every album track she played: enough to make even the shiest reveller smile and swing their pants. Long live the dirty beats of Little Boots. DS.
The ex-Million Dead lead singer still has a passionate following despite his defection from post-hardcore to acoustic folk. The resonance of the aggressive guitar playing are still there, but Turner’s solo effort sees him working the stage, smiling and very much at ease.
Backed by a band, which bolsters the sound, ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’ got an enthusiastic response and demonstrates Turner’s talented word play and tongue-in-cheek humour.
A tender version of ‘Long Live The Queen’ brought out the subtler side to Turner’s song writing whereas ‘The Road’ made the most of the backing band, Turner and his guitarist just inches away, facing each other during the solo.
The band became redundant for fan favourite ‘The Real Damage’ but Turner really didn’t need them, he had the buoyant revellers at his mercy. AF
Completely discarding their first album, The Horrors’ instead treated the Radio 1/NME Stage to their epic second offering ‘Primary Colours’ in rich anthemic surroundings. Smoke and well engineered lighting lent as much to the performance as the songs did with singer Faris Rotter arching over the crowd like an iconic Rasputin figure.
The group slowed down ‘Who Can Say’, which, as great as it sounded, slithered like a snail, whereas commanding opener ‘Mirror’s Image’ was yelped out by Rotter like Morrissey in his Smiths days.
Finishing with acid-tinged album closer ‘Sea Within A Sea’, the band successfully shut out any sunlight that peered into the tent; marking their claustrophobic return to Reading with a whirling repetition of synths that Orbital would be proud of. DF.
The Airborne Toxic Event
Music festivals are fantastic events for many reasons. Somewhere on the top of that list is their ability to introduce you to new bands as you sit on dried grass drinking a pear cider - hence the discovery for this journalist of The Airborne Toxic Event.
Any apprehensions held after hearing the band’s name were swept away with the march-y but peculiarly British sounding ‘Does This Mean You’re Moving On?’ The indie knees-up was relentless and had everyone in the NME tent clapping and singing in time with a great big slice of glee. The Britpop inspirations rang through ‘Happiness Is Overrated’. Lead singer Mikel Jollett borrowing a lot from the Blur vocal school but uplifting music. Modern but definitely not rubbish. DS.
Shooting the hand that feeds you – or fed you - seemed to be the cliché that circled around the Gallows show. They’ve conquered the Lock Up Tent in the past – Frank Carter has the tattoos to prove it – but the stubborn Radio 1/NME crowd was a little harder to win over.
“Conor’s going to Top Gear magazine, that says it all. This magazine will go back to music,” Carter aired in reference to departing NME editor Conor McNicholas before a crushing version of ‘Belly Of The Shark’ - one so good that it would have the wheels falling off McNicolas’ Ford Escort.
The onstage theatrics didn’t stop there either. Their mums made a traditional return onto the stage with the band before Carter jumped from the gantry into the mosh pit - something his old dear must be used to – but then the singer began to cry, something Ms Carter may not have seen in a few years. “This is the greatest day of my life,” the frontman blubbed before he left ‘Orchestra Of Wolves’ and ‘Grey Britain’ to do the talking at the end of the set. DF.
Florence and The Machine
Florence Welch's 22nd birthday was spent playing a late afternoon set at Reading and it's definitely a birthday she won't forget. Her flaming red hair, hot pants, five inch stilettos and freakishly long legs transfix the overflowing tent as she belts out most of her Mercury Music Prize nominated album 'Lungs'.
Her voice was spectacular throughout with highlights including 'Dog Days Are Over', 'Kiss With A Fist' and her cover of Candi Staton's 'You Got The Love'. It's hard to narrow the highlights to just three as there isn't a single bum note during this set. With all the new young rock chicks emerging at the moment, Miss Welch is the clear leader. AK.
Back in 2007, The Maccabees were still in their infancy, yet it was their Radio 1/NME Stage show that highlighted the need for screens outside the tent and a better bottleneck deterrent, with thousands flocking to get a glimpse of the group.
Now, back with an arsenal of bigger tunes that were built for billings such as this, the Brighton band went one better. Opener ‘No Kind Words’ took now prisoners and by the time a slashing ‘Lego’ resonated over the sea of fans on shoulders, Felix Week’s grin was a giveaway as to how it was going.
“This is the best crowd we’ve ever played to,” an overwhelmed Weeks went on to conclude and the set may just be their best festival show ever, if not, it certainly was of this year. ‘Toothpaste Kisses’ pirouetted around as a crowd pleaser before they beefed up their exit with a ‘Love You Better’ singalong. DF
Beth Ditto started the band’s Saturday night headline set by heading straight to pit and singing to fans at the barrier. Always one to get the party started, it takes minutes for her to turn this tent into a full on rave.
Looking the true diva, her tasteful sparkly black dress and new short red haircut she owned the tent and everyone in it, if only for an hour. An extended version of 'Standing In The Way Of Control' saw a stage invasion from everyone watching from the side of the stage. It’s a near riot with a backing singer taking vocal duties before Ditto re-emerges from the melee to finish the song.
Beth Ditto is still outrageous, but the new slightly refined Ditto ensures you'll remember her for the music instead of just the big girl who used to take all her clothes off on stage. AK.
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