Glastonbury Part 3: Saturday
Much like Gorillaz', my Friday night was a bit of a squib, passed out as I was by 2am, feet poking out my tent. The weather’s playing hardball today and some acts are preferred by dint of them playing in the shade - look readers, I know I’m starting to sound whiney at this weather, but that’s not the case. It’s lovely, honestly it is, but I’m a heavy set lad and don’t fancy roaming about the place looking like a giant gummy bear. Anyway, after more shower queuing and another hungover stumble into the press tent (it’s Biffy Clyro playing the special guest slot today, ho hum,) I head up to The Park and hide behind some bins to get shade and wait for Here We Go Magic. Unfortunately I’ve turned up early and am thus subjected to the bland electro-pop group I Blame Coco who, to their credit, have attracted a hefty crowd; I learn later that the lead singer’s Sting’s daughter, but that doesn’t really explain it. Everyone buggers off after, which is a shame, those that do remain are almost to a soul laid on their backs or propped up on their arms, various shades of glistening pink.
It’s a perfect setting for the faded colours of Luke Temple and Here We Go Magic then; the singer admits that he fell asleep at the Stone Circle last night (if only I could’ve claimed something so rock and roll,) and he and his band gently stir us from our overheating delirium with a set taking heavily from their current album Pigeon. The minimalist four-track stuff of their self-titled is largely eschewed here, though does make a welcome appearance at the set’s end with ’Fangela’ and ’Tunnelvision.’ A trundle down the hill reveals a huge amount of people at the Other Stage watching…Reef!? Cripes, they’re singing along to songs that aren’t ‘Place Your Hands’ an all. I attempt to sneer but it comes out as a grin; I’m as oddly involved as the 10,000 or so others here, even if just for a couple of songs.
This sun’s really getting to me- which means Cymbals Eat Guitars (too far away) and Coheed & Cambria (playing in broad chuffing daylight) miss out in lieu of what turns out to be veteran dub and world collective Suns Of Arqa’s penultimate ever gig amidst the cool confines of The Glade Stage. I’m starting to get a grip of how Glastonbury works in 2010; no longer is it the mass gathering of one, more the peaceful co-existence side by side of pockets of different and diverse people. So you get The Park, The Other Stage and The Dance Village on the west of the site, home to most of the students and teenagers. The Pyramid is there for everyone I suppose, but mainly does for the hospitality types and older, conservative festival goers happy to sit in their deck chairs (which I daresay doesn’t happen every year;) then the further east you go it gets more environmental, more political, more niche - just like a real community really - to the point where the circuses and warped world of Shangri-La feel like the edge of the world. Maybe it’s the lack of that great leveller, the mud, that’s exposing so clearly all these different sub-sections; whatever, Glastonbury’s always tried to cater for everyone (though try telling the travellers that,) but it’s also recognised that ‘everyone’ are gradually becoming more and more microcosmic in their interests.
The reason for that wee bit of blather is because The Glade sits hidden away amongst the hustle and bustle of the west side, yet feels like it should be away and hidden amongst the Avalon or the Green Fields, a sole beacon of old Glastonbury amidst the new. Suns Of Arqa themselves also recall a Glastonbury gone by, with interpretive dancing, homages to the sun and a stirring mix of pyschedelia and dub. They also have a sublime tabla player who adds an Eastern edge to everything they do; in front of them in the crowd are jugglers and belly dancers - giving the whole thing an air of utterly timeless isolation amongst the throb of the modern dance music in the not too far distance. What’s Sean up to?
Over on the John Peel Stage, it seems a real shame that Field Music weren't around a decade or two ago. They create music so wonderfully tight, ambitious, tuneful and timeless that they should be a huge success whichever era they inhabit, but you can't help feel that their subtlety and musicianship is a bit lost on an audience craving shade, drum machines and fun times.
SJC: Following up Field Music on the John Peel Stage are Kendal-cum-Leeds four-piece Wild Beasts. I’ve seen them more times than I care to admit, but there’s reason for this; they remain a captivating, and thoroughly fun, presence on stage. Their songs bounce around the tent this afternoon, the group gradually warming to the experience (it’s hard not to in these conditions,) and a finale of ’Hooting & Howling’ sure leaves an initially wilting crowd, well, hooting and howling.
The National are made of more austere stuff, opening their set with a brooding ‘Mistaken For Strangers.’ What sets them apart live, as on record, from others crafting this sort of methodical soft-rock (which isn't meant as a derogatory term,) is the charisma of front man Matt Behringer. At one point he charges off into the crowd, though not like some flash in the pan indie star there to take the adulation; he instead carries on walking resolutely through us all as far as his mic will allow him. Composed between songs, he becomes demented during performance, gradually blurring the lines so that at the set's end- a charged combo of 'Mr. November' and 'Terrible Love' - the whole aesthetic becomes somewhat feral.
ST: Kelis isn't quite worth the very long, diva-esque wait that her arrival entails, truth be told. This is partly down to the hour long endurance of previous act MistaJam's woefully archaic DJing skills, and equally down to the decision to focus the set on her current 90s techno-echoing record. It makes perfect sense really, being in a large Dance tent and all, but in reality (and indeed on record) there isn't enough variation or invention to hold an hour long stay. Brief forays into 'Trick Me,' 'Millionaire' and a haunting version of 'Get Along With Me' show glimpses of what a great back catalogue she has - and her mash up of 'Milkshake' and Madonna's 'Holiday' is great fun - but it's down to an absolutely storming version of 'Acapella' to save the day.
SJC: I've long since retreated to the John Peel Stage by this point, so have a good few thousands others. Foals might not make music for beard scratchers anymore - a shame, as I have one to scratch - but live they're getting better and better. Yannis is becoming ever more the confident front man, diving into the crowd and then losing his vest when getting pulled back over the barrier by security, whilst even the more ponderous cuts from new album Total Life Forever are transformed here into tubthumping sing alongs. Foals are cleverer than even they thought, making faux-math music that impresses the average punter whilst not alienating them so much that they prevent mass participation. Meanwhile...at the Pet Shop Boys...
ST: If you know Damon Albarn or his stage direction team, it might be worth pointing them the way of the live show Pet Shop Boys put on. It's utterly wicked from start to finish involving intricate dance routines, a backdrop entirely made up of large cubes (which have multiple purposes) and large exploding canon type things that make us all go "oooooooh." This is the visual feast we were promised, albeit 24 hours late. Tennant's voice has that wonderful mix to it of monotone coldness and subtle, aching emotion and it's hard not to adore every second of their headline slot. Lesser known numbers such as 'Jealousy' and 'Two Divided By Zero' are heightened by the well thought out choreography behind them, whereas classics such as 'Always On My Mind', 'It's A Sin' and 'Go West' need no such added flair. When 'You Are Always On My Mind' begins with Tennant singing a forlorn duet with a giant, pixelated Dusty Springfield on screen, hearts within a half mile distance of the stage begin to melt and Saturday belongs to them.
SJC: If you'll allow me some self-indulgence, Muse are an important to me, in a first-band-I-loved-aged-11-and-haven’t-really-been-able-to-let-go-of-since way. Despite all day kidding myself that I’m not really that fussed about seeing them, that they’re only going to let me down, and that I’ll probably be best off stood near the back to limit the pain that my teenage obsession are surely going to inflict on me, I find myself right up snug at the separating barrier front crowd and fretting nervously about how much of Black Holes & Revelations and The Resistance they’re going to include. It’s ridiculous this, I’ve even started drinking vast amounts out of nerves - it feels like I’m meeting with an old flame who you refuse to move on from, no matter that they have from you. As such, every emotion becomes heightened; I despair at the apparent hen party gathered around me wooping and jeering, my mood lifts when spotting other weathered Muse fans amongst the Pyramid Stage throng, looking as ashen-faced as I feel. For years I enjoyed how the band had managed to get so big yet still somehow retained a status of slight outsiderdom; that’s long gone judging by the 16 year old girls who shrug when they rip into ‘Newborn,’ and the LADS (in capitals) near me who are desperate for them to play ‘Knights Of Cydonia,’ (unsurprisingly they get their wish;) part of me wants to tap them on the shoulder and say “they used to open for Skunk Anansie you know…”
So you’d think this atmosphere is perfect to let them go in; but no, because whatever they’re becoming on record and in the media, Muse still make for a terrific live band. Although the mushroom taking distortion-heavy spirit of the early millenium has long gone, they still possess enough power to knock the 100,000 or so watching sideways. Plus, they don’t really neglect the “old stuff” at all; Origin of Symmetry gets four airings, Absolution three. Whereas Dom used to do most of the talking, the stage is now all Matt Bellamy’s, the guitarist and vocalist pulling more ridiculous rock shapes than a Spinal Tap tribute group. Unsurprisingly, for me, it’s the likes of ‘Citizen Erased’ and ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ that still resonate most, managing to reach sky scraping ambition without ever needing to fall into the tongue-in-cheek parody of the group's later work. I meet ‘Guiding Light’ and ‘Undisclosed Desires’ with groans of drunken anguish, but appear to be the only one - the difference between tonight’s crowd and last’s is vast; a sea of moving, enthralled bodies. Bringing The Edge on for ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ pretty much cements how Muse view themselves these days, but it still provides a fine WTF moment for us all, and as ’Knights of Cydonia’ plays out I think “you bastards, you’ve not lost me yet.”
As the hordes pour out of the Pyramid area, I find myself up in Shangri-La again, a little worse for wear and sitting in on what appears to be someone’s best Throbbing Gristle impression, some old dude just mucking around with old pedals and processors. Head fuck. The night/morning ends with me and a compadre drifting to sleep in a cabaret tent, where a fairly risible dominatrix appears to be basing their whole act on having sex with a blow up doll; it’s a measure of how ruined we all are that the place is packed and we’re all really enjoying it…until tomorrow…