This British summer's long-entered the autumn of its life, taking the British festival season along in tow. It's been pretty miserable at times - heavy, pluvial skies pathetic fallacy for debut all-dayers and long weekenders that have sometimes spluttered rather than flown out of the traps.
The weather and the times - to an extent at least - brightened last weekend, with the traditional sign off from music in the sun that is Reading and Leeds. Burnt rare for the first time in months, DiS' memory of last weekend has already taken on that warm glow of nostalgia, even if it lacked the air of chaos and surprise that has pervaded Berkshire fields in times already past.
And that, I suppose, is reason enough to break from cynicism just this once. It was a bind, but there were finer times. Time to gather thoughts and lighten brows...
Name: Kev Kharas
Previous Years at Reading/Leeds: ‘01-‘07
Band of the Weekend: Arcade Fire
If there were to be no surprises at Reading this year, at least it would seek to break the themes of festivals past by lulling us with moments of sweet sentimentality. Morally objectionable...? Perhaps. But at least those moments of simple pleasure don’t grate when they touch in through the blare of two finger rock horns and the frat turd idiocy of ‘the Chilis’.
Arcade Fire were to provide the most gut-warming of these moments, taking the main stage after Bloc Party; a band whose quality was similar in its reliability. Light changing overhead in the fading span of a vapour trail, the Canadian troupe ploughed on through a set thick as it was familiar. ‘No Cars Go’, ‘Keep The Car Running’, ‘Antichrist Television Blues’ - tracks immediately received by the parts of your brain that trap melody on their release in March and bedded down in the ‘Neighbourhood…’s of Funeral. All nice, all known. A twilight drive pushed on by a drummer whose view is revealed by camera shots to be the best in the world, over tens of thousands of heads and out into the sunset beyond the gates. Talking Heads and drama in my diaphragm.
Runners Up: Jamie T & LCD Soundsystem
Jamie T triumphs. He fits on Reading's second stage. Predictable? Yeah, in my choice and in his set. But the best live performance he's shared with me and his band is a predictably boisterous wash of sweat and shout. It fits.
LCD's half of this paragraph should really be shared with Klaxons; the incalculable, lost minutes stretched over their sets sharing a strange charge. That charges blew with the locking of lips locked Sunday night in a blue-lit haze, and now the memory turns heads back towards wist and instant, dreamy nostalgia. This in mind, James Murphy's 'All My Friends' shades 'Not Over Yet' as a soundtrack to tonight and to Reading 2007.
Name: Raziq Rauf
Previous Years at Reading/Leeds: '99-'03, '05, '06-'07
Band of the Weekend: Biffy Clyro
I'm not sure if it's a no-brainer or an obvious choice to cite Biffy as the cherry on the sunshine-filled icing of this weekend but them's the facts. It's a cult; a call to arms; a pilgrimage to see this band anywhere. At a festival, where the clans of the country unite, it's a grand celebration of all things Biffy.
While you might hear a London crowd chanting "Biffy! Biffy! Biffy..." at Brixton Academy, you'll hear the exact same thing in Glasgow Barrowlands and Manchester Academy. When you hear it in the Radio 1 tent at Reading it has a resonance and feeling of unquenchable desire that means that when the trio appear onstage you're beyond raptures. You're beyond excitement or fulfilment. You're not quite sure what this is meant to feel like.
The final public airing of the heart-obliteration-beyond-comprehension recent single, 'Folding Stars', is just another reason to etch this in your memory forever.
That they make you almost forget your tears with a guitar-burning finale of 'Glitter & Trauma' is just another point at which you realise this is not just a band. This is a religion.
Runners Up: Nine Inch Nails & Cold War Kids
Everyone watching Nine Inch Nails' incredible audio-visual-extra-sensory-perception-filled show knows that the set finale of 'Hurt' is not a Johnny Cash cover though. Don't they.
It's that bassline from 'Hang Me Up To Dry' that does it. It's pre-sex dance music for indie kids and it makes the lengthy walk to Cold War Kids through the oversold arena well worth it.
Name: Tom King
Previous Years at Reading/Leeds: A ready virgin
Band of the Weekend: Klaxons
Of course, the tent was full of people getting the wrong end of the glowstick; neon clad kids (presumably dressers in the dark) moving like lava lamps, the drunk and the soaring staggering. Urgh. But that’s all really beyond the point.
What mattered was the sense of occasion, atmosphere, theatre. The (JD) Balla(r)dry of it all! The Kids drown out The Band, The Beat goes directly to my feet, and yes, I can see hands in the air. Glowsticks fly towards the stage like metal to magnets and Klaxons scream across the airwaves like toxic skid marks. I’ll be buzzing until the winter breathes a collective comedown…
Runners Up: Jamie T & Nine Inch Nails
a) He makes a song and dance out of MY life.
b) His existence proves ugly people can be successful.
c) There’s eloquence in screaming ‘Lonnndaaan’.
Secondly, the Sunday was terrible. I dropped my phone in a shower puddle, got hit by a pissile, lost my press wristband to a Jamie T crowd surfer’s shoe buckle, and the chafing of my tighty whitey boxer shorts became unbearable.
Anyway. Topless, wet, and impotent in the face of security, I assumed a foetal position outside the press area. Focus on every beat, I told myself, and you won’t die. It didn’t work; I fell in and out of feverish sleep to their metallic gurge. But upon waking, ’Hurt’ seemed like the greatest song ever written.
All praise be to Sean Adams, who rescued me out of this depraved situation moments later.
Name: Sean Adams
Previous Years at Reading/Leeds: '98-'07
Band of the Weekend: Panic! at the Disco
They weren’t built for these times and places. Aging kids still excited about the prospect of Chilli Peppers playing anything pre-Californication and posturing-fluro post-tweenies desperately trying to separate themselves from anything resembling gorgeous melody and none txt talk lyricism. Following last year’s bottle hail, on the surface the P!@TD ‘show’ is somewhat stripped down to Seth Cohen -some checked shirts, scuffed trainers and barely noticeable traces of eye liner or top hats. What extra we get is songs that stand up for themselves, the bottle rain clearing after a couple of numbers when noticeably the meat heads get in a spin. It’s pure emotion tinkling entertainment, blasting, soaring and teetering between Duran Duran and Incubus, for almost an hour with a killer riff here and a ridiculous lyric about wet dreams for webzines there. The whole show - even with Ben Foldsy new songs – is tighter than a posh prick tease.
Honed, brave and really aspiring to push the envelopes without a hint of compromise or flux for their inevitable all-encompassing for stadium-rock stardom in such a way that every other rock and mall-emo band for the rest of the weekend seems irrelevant. America finally has their own Muse. Give them their own forward-thinking festival and let’s dance like idiots all over again.
Runners Up: The Shins & LCD Soundsystem
The Shins looked like they hadn’t seen the sun for a decade but proved why they’re one of the most poignant, inspiring and important bands in indie, whilst the crowd threw shapes similar to those thrown during Weezer’s Greatest Hits set a few years back. No James telling us to “siiit daaahn” this year but Mercer and Murphy more than make up for it. LCD ram out the Radio 1 tent, the highlight coming with ‘All My Friends’ sounding like New Order sky-diving peacocks gradually transmorphing into cowbell munching woodpeckers.
Name: Ben Marwood
Previous Years at Reading/Leeds: '98-'03, '06
Band of the Weekend: Frank Turner
Completely ramming the Carling Tent despite the festival being a mere few hours old, Turner proves that funkloads of touring is not only a decent substitute for big-budget ad campaigns as a way to get yourself noticed, it also helps you make a few billion friends along the way. Today playing his 333rd show and looking obviously stunned that not only have more than five people turned up, but they also know all the words, Turner and the three-quarters of Dive Dive that comprise his band race through all the suitably band-based moments from debut album Sleep Is For The Week as well as a handful of others.
The key to the success here obviously isn't down to any light shows, pyrotechnics or choreography - this is more about community spirit and audience participation, singing along to Frank's indie-folk tales of drinking ('The Real Damage'), constant touring ('Vital Signs') and the state of the nation (as the singalong during 'Thatcher Fucked The Kids' deafens a nearby five year old). This is probably a rare moment - today's set is not so much about performance, more about the atmosphere - the songs ignite the crowd, and their reaction in turn fuels the act, as Turner grins almost disbelievingly at what's going on around him like a rabbit in the headlights. Only, in the headlights of a really, really big carrot. There is footage on YouTube - go seek.
Runner Up: Ash
Headlining the Radio 1 tent might be a step backwards in comparison to Ash in their Main Stage heyday, but after the departure of Charlotte Hatherley they should probably be thanking their lucky stars that they're even still here. Furthermore, they're looking and sounding much more confident than during their shows back in March and whilst hits like 'Burn Baby Burn' and 'Orpheus' are never going to sound the same without Hatherley's harmonies, it's not necessarily what this crowd are here for.
Tonight is all about trading on memories past, and Ash have those in abundance, with added showmanship to boot. From the these-days extended mid-section of 'Kung Fu' to the singalong moments in 'Girl From Mars' and 'Oh Yeah' – the former lifting the entire tent into the air in unison – the crowd are at the mercy of this band's finest pop-rock moments, with even Tim Wheeler's voice in good form. As long as they can remember how to play 1977, Ash will probably always have a future here, though the alternative is underlined as they announce their last song to be a new one and people instantly stream from the tent.
Name: Rob Webb
Previous Years at Reading/Leeds: ‘01-‘02, ‘04, ‘06-‘07
Band of the Weekend: Grammatics
With noisy guitars, dashes of cello and blunderbuss drumming, plus huge, skyscraping choruses, Grammatics are currently an underground revelation that might just cause a sizeable splash in a sea of lowest common denominator indie chart music. As angel voiced singer Owen Brinley delivers set-closer 'Broken Wing', it's genuinely frightening to think that one of the most beautiful pieces of music we've DiScovered all year is only a B-side. Oh, and they don't even play their best tune, 'The Vague Archive'. Pretty fucking special.
Runners Up: The Shins & Seasick Steve
Finally, a festival performance to justify why The Shins are so high up on my Last.fm. Add to that the watching of one man captivate an entire tent for an hour with just a few battered guitars and some gnarled, authentic blues.
Name: Gareth Dobson
Previous Years at Reading/Leeds: '97,’99-'06,
Band of the Weekend: Smashing Pumpkins
Naturally, the Smashing Pumpkins also won Worst Band of the Weekend too. On Friday in Leeds, they were sullen bastards, grinding out shitty new songs and creating a smelly melange of a set-order that saw the likes of ‘Tonight, Tonight’ fall flat in front of the smallest mainstage headline crowd ever assembled. I spent the following two hours lying under a bench sobbing for my lost youth and berating passers by for having the temerity to look like they were having a good time.
Closing the event at the spiritual home of rock (screw you, Donnington), though, they were a completely different proposition 48 hours later. Billy’s grinning with the carefree abandon of a happy yokel, the set’s been rejigged, the attitude has been severly adjusted and possibly humbled by the Disaster of Yorkshire, Corgan seems to understand that out of place and out of time, the Smashing Pumpkins have to work hard in order to win the acclaim that was meted out to them a decade hence.
Thusly we get the magic of ‘Drown’, a one-for-the-fans nod to their appearance on the Singles, film soundtrack, a brutal pair of ‘Zero’ and ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’, a magnificent ‘Tonight, Tonight’ and a early set bona-fide generational anthem in ‘Today. When they finish up with ‘Cherub Rock, the obituary so gravely penned hours before has been torn up.
Runners Up: Jimmy Eat World & The Maccabees
Doubling the crowd-pleasing mainstage slot with a for-the-fans headline set in the Lock-Up tent, we get all the right songs in all the right places from Jimmy Eat World. Thusly, 30,000 people get to dance and holler to ‘The Middle and 6,000 rabid fans get to swoon to the sounds of ‘If You Don’t, Don’t’.
The Maccabees provoke the sort of hysteria that their blued-eyed naïve romance deserves. ‘Precious Time’ is just one of those lovely festival events where you want to clutch the moment to your heart and forget that you smell like Pigpen.
Name: Christopher Alcxxk
Previous Years at Reading/Leeds: '00-'03, '05-'07
Band of the Weekend: Frank Turner
I've put off going to see Frank with his full band for ages. Seeing him front a band that isn't Million Dead would just feel wrong, and a solo show without the spontaneity of his covers-filled acoustic sing-along shows would be boring. How wrong I was. Every single song in the set is an impassioned anthem for young Britain in the least jingoistic manner possible, the band just adding further resolve and conviction to his tales of growing up a punk, the dissolution of British society and such. He's a national treasure and a tent filled with screams of THATCHER FUCKED THE KIDS knows it.
Runners Up: !!! & Panic! At the Disco
Although occasionally slipping into generic party funk band mode not far distant from a tie-dyed wedding band, !!! really have got the whole 'making people do dances' thing down pat, especially on their fizzing, electrohousey build ups and explosions, and refusals to let their tracks end on anything less than cataclysm.
While this year's cover of The Band's 'The Weight' doesn't quite measure up to last year's 'Karma Police' in terms of WTFactor, Panic! At The Disco's set is still a glorious demonstration in what happens when ultrapolished pop meets ridiculous syllable enunciation. A "wonderful carry-ac-a-ture of intimacy" you say? Fab! And really driving home the gleefully misogynistic leanings of 'I Write Sins...' with a scream of "FUCKING SLUT!" before the chorus? Classy!