What to expect from Green Man 2009? Well, our recent Festival Preview & Spotify Playlist might give you some idea, but if you’re reading this, chances are you experienced its myriad joys for yourself.
This year, convention was defied and the sun shone gloriously, highlighting the natural beauty of its setting that Andrew Bird was quick to point out come his headline set in the Far Out Tent (adieu, Folkey Dokey Stage!). Green Man 2009 certainly was “steamy, mossy and fecund”; it was also absolutely fantastic, offering an eclectic line-up that ranged from the delicate charms of new songstress Blue Roses to the elemental power of Oz veterans Dirty Three; lost ‘70s icon Rodriguez to blog-busting critical darlings of the moment Animal Collective and a veritable fleet more.
As well as the Far Out Tent, new additions included a relocated and expanded Pub Stage, late-night comedy and dance and an actual wicker ‘Green Man’, which met a fantastically fiery end come Sunday evening. DiSsers James Skinner, Sam Lewis and Paul Gregory had a ball, and if you were there, we hope you did too.
Click here for Green Man 2009 In Photos.
This year’s opening honours go to Green Poll winners We Aeronauts, an Oxford/Brighton-based octet whose emergence on the Main Stage coincides perfectly with the arrival of the sun. “Coincidence?” they cheekily posit, before charming the assembled crowds with a set of winsome indie-pop, where accordions, violins and trumpets coalesce into an occasionally amorphous whole. It’s very sweet – and keyboardist Anna Wheatley is positively effervescent – although they collectively spend some time rubbishing various critical interpretations of themselves. I better watch myself then, but don’t think it’s too out of hand to suggest an agreeable union of Los Campesinos! and Fanfarlo (who played a similar slot here two years ago) is what the band are striving towards. They may not be there quite yet, but they’re certainly well on their way – they make for a heartening start to the festival, indeed. And the sun is ACTUALLY SHINING. Woo! JS
Now, here’s a surprise. Last time this particular DiSser witnessed this Edinburgh septet was in an upstairs club off London’s Tottenham Court Road, amid a clamour of A&R types and faintly interested crowd. Cut to the Brecon Beacons on a gorgeous afternoon and it all feels a bit different. In a set that feels wonderfully lighthearted given the somewhat po-faced nature of their debut album, singer Jamie Sutherland graciously fends off a request to disrobe (“trust me, there’s absolutely nothing you want to see under there”), and profusely thanks the crowd for their engagement while acknowledging the disparity between their “sad bastard songs” and the beautiful weather. By the time they reach ‘A Good Reason’ mass jigging has been incited front centre-stage, and the band have displayed more than a fair glimpse of the sonorous potential that got so many tongues-a-wagging in the first place. JS
Emmy The Great
Emma Lee-Moss and her band are something of a regular fixture at Green Man, and while this year sees them graduating to the Main Stage with aplomb, it does lack something of her usual between-song sparkle. No matter though: ‘First Love’ is perfect given the surrounds (“the sky the was so much bluer!”), and there’s a glorious moment early in the beguiling ‘Short Country Song’ where the sound screeches and dies only to bloom back into life come its central lyric. Joe Strummer’s birthday (today) is honoured, the pin-sharp loss of ‘Edward’ sounds as heartbreakingly fine as ever, and the closing ‘Everything Reminds Me Of You’ is met with resounding applause. Introduced as a ‘drinking’ song – albeit of the commiserative rather than celebratory variety – it sees them out in a haze of slide-guitar prettiness and longing. JS
There’s something comforting about seeing a group of grizzly men on stage, paunches hunched under guitars, making deeply sludgy, melodic rock. Particularly under the auspices of the ‘Far Out Stage’ tent, with its dim, evening light and musky atmosphere. Wooden Shjips’s music trudges nicely along, always hypnotically repetitive. The market for this music is there, lots of blokes nodding their heads sagely, and although the band seem accomplished and somehow timeless, it does all seem slightly pointless to me. Still, strangely comforting. SL
Gang Gang Dance
To watch Gang Gang Dance is to be mesmerised by Liz Bougatsos. As ‘Vacuum’ slowly builds from a thunderous opening into something honestly resembling the cataclysmic, she whirls, jumps, hollers and pounds the stand-up drums flanking her with such zeal it’s almost impossible to take your eyes off her. The band hit with tribal force today; dubby, sexy, massive – kaleidoscopic joy informing almost everything they do. ‘House Jam’ (replete with immeasurably elevated levels of percussion) is incredible, but this is a set more about said mood and groove than any single composition, unequivocally uniting band and crowd (I’m even witness to an outbreak of smile-inducingly terrible breakdancing at one point). Barely pausing for breath throughout, Bougatsos only directly addresses her audience on entrance and departure; her sheer irrepressibility, however, speaks volumes. JS
The crowd gather expectantly for the coming of the newly-crowned alt-rock kings, a band that like, say, Björk, leave you wondering how a group this weird became this big. Still, Merriweather… seems to have captured some sort of zeitgeist, everyone here bursting like flames into joy when the first bars of ‘My Girls’ bound into view. But I wonder if they really know the band, have heard those loud, loud, early albums, have seen them meander on stage before, lost in the intricacies of their own expansive universe. People seem sad when the pop songs drift into other tracks, a wilderness of loops and clicks, only to reemerge later, different and strange – I want to say, "this is what they do!", but then it makes me sad too - sometimes the band find their groove live, the noise patches only serving to increase the beauty of the melodies, when they come – tonight it never really gets going, the levels feel wrong, the vocals too quiet. Only at the end, when the band’s tour manager bursts on stage, Bez-like, with a flag, dancing a frenzy to ‘Brothersport’ does it feel cohesive. But by then it’s kinda too late. SL
In spite of being only mildly impressed by erstwhile DiS Single Of The Week ‘Zorbing’, scrambling across the campsite in order to catch Stornoway’s early showing on the Main Stage proves a brilliant decision. With a collection of songs that come off universally bolder (and significantly less cute) than the aforementioned, they utterly charm the crowd, singer Brian Briggs also reeling off an impressive amount of facts about Wales between songs. An improbably nostalgic number (potentially entitled ‘Drive On’) impresses the most, seeing him deftly sketch nine-year intervals in the life of its subject to bewitching effect. ‘Protest’ song ‘We Are The Battery Human’ transcends its Flight Of The Conchords-esque trappings with ease and ‘Unfaithful’ sounds huge, though the biggest applause comes when Briggs informs all present that he was a punter at the festival two years previously, and “dreamed of the day” he might later perform here. A genuine delight. JS
Playing as a trio today on the newly expanded Green Man Pub Stage, Blue Roses’ set is by and large captivating. Laura Groves’ crystal-clear voice and unaffected pleasure in playing her songs is contagious, though it’s at her most mournful she excels. On ‘I Am Leaving’ her voice ripples with emotion, while extended passages featuring naught but piano and violin go down a (quiet) storm. The violin is handled with virtuosic skill by Sadie Anderson and by the time [research fail] joins on drums for the closing ‘Rebecca’ all in attendance (save perhaps the crying child next to me) have been emphatically won over. JS
The key moment in Broderick’s set comes early, when after but a deftly executed, loop-verse of a song, the volume of applause overwhelms him to the point of halting his performance to blurt out “you guys are really nice.” Of warmer voice than on previous live outings, his performance is something of a revelation, albeit one that doesn’t pinch this critic until the final hurdle; his compositions certainly lovely, though overwhelmingly sedate at times. Seeing him so overwhelmed by the crowd does soften this viewpoint however, and by the time he’s commanding a cappella bursts of song on his farewell, the idea that he should eschew the minor key for pastures anew seems almost obsolete. When melancholy is this exquisitely wrought, why fix it? JS
I always admire bands that have a ‘sound’ – whereas other groups have an inherent wanderlust that prevents any particular style or genre sticking to them, others have found their niche, their groove, and they ply it wonderfully. Beach House are such a band – those gothic synths, the stuttering, sad drum machine, the reverb-laden, aching vocals. Frontwoman Victoria Legrand, all long wavy hair and brusque shoulderpads, simmers over the mic, rich melodies and melancholy lyrics abounding. No one else sound like this, this is the Beach House sound, and it’s very, very good. SL
It’s an opinion that sits at odds with DiS staffers, hip-hop luminaries and the general internet-at-large, but here goes: (stay with me now!) I don’t think Grizzly Bear are that amazing. Sure, they’re impressive, technically adept, and from what I can gather exceptionally nice dudes, but their music just doesn’t click with me emotionally, like. I hoped the situation might be rectified by this afternoon’s performance, but in all honesty it’s only driven home. For while ‘Southern Point’ and the cacophonous spirals of ‘Fine For Now’ sound pristine – and a guest spot from Beach House’s Victoria Legrand on ‘Two Weeks’ is fine indeed – by the end of the set I’m still waiting for that elusive human connection. Maybe next time ‘round. JS
It’s not without a keen sense of anticipation DiS impatiently awaits Andrew Bird’s headlining set in the Far Out Tent. Situated front-centre about four rows deep, it takes all of two minutes – an extended, percussion-heavy lead-in – to realise that however high expectations might be, they’ll be more than met this evening. Flamboyant, charming and utterly virtuosic, Bird’s performance thrills and impresses in equal measure, much of the ineffably gorgeous Noble Beast receiving an airing over the following 70 minutes, alongside a choice smattering of earlier material.
Ably backed by long-time players and flitting effortlessly between violin and guitar, he mixes up the set list as he goes; ‘Anonanimal’ is glorious, ’Oh No’ injected with dizzying energy, and ‘Effigy’ introduced with the story of its inspiration – “the guy at the end of the bar who makes everyone uneasy”. Perhaps the key track from its parent album (and Bird’s own favourite), ‘Natural Disaster’ also receives a rare festival outing; “it’s not really…” he explains, makes a grabbing gesture, then suggests it “fits in with the landscape so well” that to not play it would be foolish. Joking with the crowd – at one point having to insist on no clapping (“seriously, this is really tricky to play”) – he completely transfixes all and sundry, and come a stunning solo encore of ‘Weather Systems’ I’m agape, absolutely, beautifully lost. JS
I have to admit to disliking the very concept of Bon Iver. Why should it matter where the guy recorded his album? For all I care the thing could have been written and recorded in Clinton Cards, if it’s a good enough album who needs the ‘authenticity’ of a log cabin? It’s as if the music isn’t quite enough, we have to know that he really feels it. And boy does he make it clear. Those whiny, needy vocals, the dry melodrama of the songs. Two drum kits! Two! And yet, and yet…somehow I find myself liking it. The crowd give him more reverence than any other act, the whole main stage field falling deathly still as his falsetto hovers over the valley. Like an old film critic, crying at the end of The Time Traveler’s Wife in spite of himself, I find myself moved, thinking of excuses to tell my friends afterwards, why I found the songs, at that moment, really rather touching, sincere rather than forced. I feel strangely converted and happy. SL
Oh Jarvis. You were once so cool, so fresh. For me, growing up in the nineties, your greasy hair and thick rims almost embodied the era, alongside Albarn’s curtains and Gallagher’s parker. Yet unlike Morrisey - that other effete, oddly sexualized frontman - who carried the previous decade on his shoulders, your muse seems to have dried up with the disbandment of your band. Here you wander around the stage, aimlessly, flailing gangly limbs, uttering the odd wry aside, but it all feels rather patchwork. Sometimes, when the band drum up a Lou Reed-esque rhythm, the music suddenly clicks, but mostly it just doesn’t feel right. What do you stand for any more? Why do you make music? What do you have to say? Do you even know? SL
Joined onstage by a drummer, Francois Marry on trumpet and guitar and Rachel Dadd on backing vocals, Rozi has gathered something of a Bristolian lo-fi supergroup for her performance. The larger band lends a more polished, driving push to the songs, themselves sometimes too nice for their own good. Here, by the end of the set, with the drums pounding and the band all hand-clapping furiously, you see the glorious potential of group musical endeavour, as well as the sincere beauty of Rozi’s music, very clearly. SL
Swanton Bombs are a young duo from East London. Eugene McGuinness’ lil’ bro’ Dominic plays guitar and sings. Brendan plays the drums. And my word, they make a racket. This is a good thing: in their scuzzy, abrasive nature they excise any festival cobwebs that might have begun to form by now, and simply get on with a no-frills take on punk-rock that occasionally exhilarates. Certainly far louder onstage than on record, Brendan’s brothers are given a shout-out and a guitar string is broken, before the closing ‘Tanks’ offers welcome respite from the set’s abundant volume. Not for long, mind – pretty soon Dominic’s screeching “get your tanks off my lawn!” and flinging his guitar behind him to finish. Good work sirs. JS
Camera Obscura undoubtedly write good pop songs – no, great pop songs. Every tune in the set tonight reels with pitch-perfect melody and ideal aesthetic construction. Yet, for a live band, you feel like you need more, some chink in the armour. The hits are reeled out, one after the other, faultlessly; yet there’s something strangely uncharismatic about the group, nothing to draw your eyes or latch onto. Of course, some people have no problem with that, and I don’t really either, but it would make it more interesting to watch, good songs or otherwise. SL
The myth surrounding Sixto Diaz Rodriguez is a strange and multi-faceted one: self-sabotage, a drop off the map, repeated attempts to run for office and a prolonged return to higher education ultimately resulting in a young, steely talent squandered. That is, until burgeoning popularity in Australia and South Africa took hold, and the rest of the world gradually began to take notice. This afternoon, it adds up to a beatific grin on the man himself, some fantastic songs (not least ‘Sugar Man’ and ‘Rich Folks’ Hoax’), and an occasionally bemused group of session musicians, affably led by an alert lead guitarist.
Rodriguez evokes the ideals and styles of many greats in his style – Dylan’s sense of social injustice, for example, or Scott Walker’s playful lyrical turns and melodrama (before it all got a bit out of hand), though in cuts such as the simple ‘I Wonder’, he sounds very much his own man. There’s a degree of magic to his performance – despite having to be walked out onto the stage, assisted with his guitar and evidently not surrounded by the most practiced of musicians; with songs of this enduring nature (and a smile of such infectious qualities) you really can’t go wrong. JS
As the Dirty Three take to the stage the light is fading from the day, and the rain is beginning to fall for the first time, tiny drops illuminated by the swirling stage-lights. They launch into ‘Sea Above, Sky Below’, and the crowd fall reverentially silent, Warren Ellis’s screeching, phophetic, blasphemous violin scratching and sighing and murmuring onstage, as its almost gypsy-like master, hair and beard flailing, kicks the air to punctuate the music. Jim White on drums is the opposite, a wonderful image of zen serenity, open collar and blazer, deep jowls, he spins his sticks in the air mid-beat as if it’s the most natural thing. Meanwhile the music hovers over us, enraptured, trapped in the bowls of a cloudy Welsh valley, the songs longing for the sea and an open, free sky. SL
Josie Long really is the perfect ‘indie’ comic, in thrall to Jeffrey Lewis, short cut bob hairdo, endearingly cute mannerisms and, above all, a sincerity so earnest that it would make David Attenborough look like Russell Brand. Still, what sets her apart is her openness, there is no ‘act’ here – whereas other standups come across as either desperately needy, or just desperate, you know that Long is putting herself on stage, for better or worse. After tackling some out of control children in the front row, she soon moves onto weightier topics, notably feminism. Apologetic throughout, she wades into an potentially hazardous area in a charming, self-deprecating fashion; you sense that the crowd are more open to the topic than her insecurities suggest. Nevertheless her points are slightly clumsy, telling us how she berated a Sun reader on the Tube, for instance - perhaps it would be more interesting to discuss why and how the editor of The Sun is a woman. Still, Long has enough potential to explore these topics for years to come, and develop the confidence she deserves along the way. SL
Wilco should, by rights, triumph this evening. Riding on the back of a fine new album and tasked with closing the Main Stage of the festival, it really should be their night. However: things get off to a bad start when a horrendous mix sees the vocals completely buried, the bass nonexistent, drums barely audible and Jeff Tweedy’s acoustic guitar approximately TEN TIMES LOUDER than anything else on stage. Thus, ‘I Am Trying To Break Your Heart’ is hopelessly marred, my incredulity and annoyance only heightened by the well-manned mixing desk’s complete inability to rectify the situation for at least five or six songs. Still, by the time I’ve stopped sighing, ‘Via Chicago’ receives its brilliantly fucked-up noisy live outing, ‘Jesus, Etc.’ is swoonsome, Nels Cline absolutely rips on ‘Impossible Germany’ – even ‘Hate It Here’ sounds great – and there’s the odd moment (during a mighty ‘Spiders (Kidsmoke)’, for example) when the sextet – to quote all those broadsheets and monthlies – really do come on like the best rock band in the world right now. JS
Grumpy Green Man
One of DiS’s dads was along for the ride again this year (that’d be Nigel Skinner) (hi dad!), his mornings spent scaling peaks and afternoons offering thoughts both pithy and amusing in DiS’ ear. Here be a few for your delectation… (Note: the following is not endorsed or concurred with by DiS. There was also plenty he enjoyed, not least Jarvis Cocker and the very lovely Vetiver)
“All their loud bits sound exactly the same: thrashy fiddle and guitar” (Broken Records)
“Apart from the drums it could all be pre-recorded” (Gang Gang Dance)
“…it’s just vaguely clever electronics, really” (Animal Collective, five minutes in)
“Complete crap” (Animal Collective, 20 minutes in)
“Every song sounds exactly the same” (Beth Jeans Houghton)
“Probably the best thing so far – it’s original at least” (The Phantom Band, five minutes in)
“You can tell they’ve listened to a lot of Beefheart though” (The Phantom Band, seven minutes in)
“Too loud” (after five minutes of Errors)
“What else is on?” (during Grizzly Bear)
“Too clever by half. I’m going to see Bon Iver” (during Andrew Bird)
“It was alright, I suppose. A bit depressing” (after Bon Iver)
“Every single thing that was wrong with the ‘70s rolled into one” (immediately after Amorphous Androgynous)
“They don’t hold back, I’ll give them that” (Wilco, during ‘Spiders (Kidsmoke)’)