- Beyoncé »
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- U2 »
- TV On The Radio »
- Laura Marling »
- Radiohead »
- Wild Beasts »
- Friendly Fires »
- Wu Tang Clan »
- Caribou »
- Fenech-Soler »
With a weekend of Glastonbury's sheer magnitude, it's nigh on impossible to try and capture everything within a single review - although we've made a fair attempt with our Glastonbury Diary.
Here we offer DiS writers' musical highlights of the festival, from the audiovisual showdown that was Beyonce's Sunday night headline set to Radiohead's 'secret' set and psychedelic dance-pop from Caribou.
It’s tough not to suspect that Beyonce’s Sunday night would always have ended up the weekend’s highlight, but despite being predictably brilliant its slickness and seamless sense of drama is still a pleasant surprise. It probably shouldn’t have been; as one of the biggest stars in the music world, and one whose live appearances tend to be accomplished by a full show, she always seemed a neat fit for the Pyramid Stage headline slot. But the effect is still electrifying, even on an exhausted crowd, when she emerges onstage through a huge glowing pyramid and launching with full backing band and dancers into ‘Crazy In Love’. And that energy barely lets up for the next half-hour, rattling straight into ‘Single Ladies’ and ‘Baby Boy’.
Set alongside Robyn’s performance only an hour beforehand, where technical issues and poor sound marred what should have been a sleek pop performance, the contrast is particularly dramatic. But even beyond the show itself – which features several sets of dancers, a backing band and a bizarre guest appearance from Tricky – it’s Beyonce herself that owns the stage, within an instant of her arrival. Even from several hundred metres away her presence is magnetic and assertive, but far from being a dominating character what’s striking is how genuinely humbled she appears by the adoration. And although her set sags slightly in the middle, with one too many mid-tempo ballads, it’s buoyed throughout by the sheer force of her voice, which live is something to behold - never missing a note and shifting in a second from tough and gravelly to silken and vulnerable. An effervescent Destiny’s Child medley, a full take on ‘Say My Name’ and extended closer ‘Halo’ carry the set’s second half to an all-too-soon close.
Beyonce’s impact is certainly heightened by the fact that most of the major performances on the Pyramid Stage this weekend were of the meat-and-potatotes rock persuasion. It’s something she touches on when asking, after ‘Crazy In Love’, “Are you ready to be entertained?” A far cry from the almost painful seriousness of the weekend’s other headliners, and a potent reminder that, for all the stereotyping of Glastonbury as a rock festival, it’s often at its best when it takes massive steps away from that tired format.
Wu Tang Clan
After peppering the site for the preceding couple of days, the rain starts again in earnest to accompany a firey performance from Wu Tang Clan, punctuated by a number of tracks from their classic debut 36 Chambers: opener 'Bring Da Ruckus' followed by an acerbic 'Shame On A Nigga', a short, sweet 'Tearz', the sombre looped pianos of 'C.R.E.A.M'. A daytime Pyramid Stage slot seems a peculiar time for the Staten Island, NY hip-hop crew, especially when faced with a crowd that consists predominantly of the curious rather than existing devotees. Indeed, for the first few tracks the audience appear slow to respond, a fact that leaves one or two members looking visibly put out. So it's left to a teamed up Method Man and RZA to exude charisma for the entire group. The former in particular is a force of nature onstage, his stagedive during (what else) 'Method Man' and assertion that "whatever energy you give to us, we'll give right back to you" swiftly winning converts.
The set's second half swiftly snowballs and increases in pace from there, the rest of the Clan picking up the energy from Method Man and working with it. GZA's 'Liquid Swords' and a furious 'Wu Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit' prompt much throwing of 'W' signs from the audience, and a shout out to deceased member Ol' Dirty Bastard culminates in a mass singalong of 'Got Your Money'. Live hip-hop on a large stage often ends up feeling lacking in punch, almost inevitable without the intensity that comes of being in a tiny club space at high volume. It's to Wu Tang's credit that, despite the darkened and often claustrophobic feel of their beats, they manage to translate their rainy intensity to the Pyramid Stage. Proof, as if any was needed in the first place, that Noel Gallagher's ridiculous claim in 2009 that hip-hop is "wrong" at Glastonbury remains as redundant as his band.
The rain hits with full force again on Friday evening for Caribou, and it couldn’t be better timed, despite the cold. The group’s light show, all flickering strobes, occasionally freezes falling drops in hues of lapis blue and purple, as if the air itself is carrying an electrical charge. The band themselves have honed their sound still further in the last few months, both tightening their playing and expanding their tracks outward into full-fledged psychedelic house territory. The result is a hybrid form that appears to contradict many of the central dogmas of dance music, but remains ruthlessly efficient nonetheless: ‘Odessa’ is practically weightless but its low-end acts as undertow, keeping it propulsive, and closer ‘Sun’ is stunning, its final minutes extended into pulsing Reich-ish techno-pop. Considering their slow evolution and many slight shifts in sound, their current live show feels like a pinnacle of sorts, the culmination of a process of refinement that’s gradually led to something very special indeed. It’s one of the few moments of the weekend that justifies the hype around Glastonbury as ‘more than just a music festival’ – the combination of sound, light and atmosphere creates something that’s even greater than the sum of its already significant parts.
Wednesday at Glastonbury 2011 is a day of hardships. Every year I take nine litres of red wine, and every year I forget what nine litres of red wine feels like in a backpack. This years neon-ravey wristband doesn't go with ANY of my outfits. Relaxed strolls around the festival site soaking up 'vibes' are punctured by men with beer cans shouting the word Alan every seven seconds. Things improve, and it's another great year though from a festival that's been on a roll since 2008.
First highlight is Laura Marling. I caught her two song radio session on the BBC Introducing stage last year, and she was shy to the extent that we felt awkward daring to be there. Other 2010 sightings report similar troubles, so we're prepared for a re-run of Fleet Foxes' rabbit-in-headlights Pyramid stage set of 2009. But no! She's fantastic! We're given a perfect, surprisingly meaty sound mix. Laura is still shy, but now it's at that level of shyness that's above 'embarrassing for all present' and firmly on the shelf labeled 'completely charming'. By the end I'm dementedly hammering love declarations into Twitter and not even noticing that she didn't play Goodbye England (Covered in Snow), which incidentally, she damn well SHOULD HAVE.
TV On The Radio
Highlight number two: TV on the Radio. Partly because of a touch-every-base setlist that nobody could possibly hold a grudge with, partly because of their intense performance energy, and partly because here the notoriously unreliable Other Stage sound is spot on. When they close their set with the Ghostbusters theme tune, you half expect Jedward to show up as guest vocalists. What initially feels like a cringe-worthy moment works, mostly because the ballsy guitar work of Dave Sitek actually improves upon the original.
Amongst a sea of three-star reviews, thinning crowds, and angry tweets, how is it that Radiohead were a festival highlight?. Well first, some background: I remember the first time The King of Limbs clicked with me. It was the forth listen, and I was hammered on the 3:05am N6 nightbus to Gamston. Suddenly the album made beautiful sense. And so with the power of science behind me, I spend the first part of Friday evening dedicatedly recreating those conditions. I scatter piles of chips around us. I invite thirty-something men in white shirts to harass women. And it works! So is that just me in my altered state, were they actually bloody ace, or does intoxication scientifically make Radiohead's latest material 600% better? Come on scientists, step up your game.
It's a relief Radiohead are great, as getting a good place in the crowd is a sacrifice that means missing Biffy Clyro, Morrissey and the first 15 minutes of U2, as it takes an age to get down the hill from The Park stage. They doesn't quite enter the realm of All-Time Great Glastonbury Sets. They have roughly seven superb songs in their setlist, but perhaps none of them are stone cold festival classics in line with 'Tender', '99 Problems' or 'Karma Police'? Maybe Bono has no idea how to warm up a field of casual U2 fans? What we get then, is a straight up 8/10 festival set.
Coldplay are at the opposite end of the problem: so used to headlining festivals they can pull off Mass Euphoria with ease. They might be so relaxed in festival mode that they think the legions of casual fans won't mind the new songs. Everybody is bored during them. Elsewhere in their show however, 'between albums' means 'greatest hits set', and it works. And finishing by lighting up the iconic Pyramid stage during Every Teardrop is a Waterfall is an impressive one-time-only idea.
Other highlights from around the site? Taking part in what's billed as the UK's biggest tomato fight on Sunday evening. The crowd makes Wu-Tang Clan work for their adulation, but they pull it off. The gay club in Block 9 where you pay £2 or let them prod your penis for entry. Pulled Apart by Horses finish a storming set by starting a mosh pit, spitting water over the crowd, and exiting stage front. I come up with the idea of putting one of my three wine boxes at one of the property lock-ups on the other side of the site, so I'm never too far away from a top-up. Patrick Wolf plays it like he's headlining. Orbital's 2am DJ set, as reliable as ever. Pulp's secret set sees Jarvis Cocker achieve Dean Martin levels of stage banter. And we round off the weekend doing our bit for the Love The Farm, Leave No Trace campaign, by also taking home a tent much better than ours. After enjoying the week so much, it felt good to do our bit.
The papers weren't exaggerating for once: the mud was out in full effect at Glastonbury 2011. Already a huge site at the best of times, the quicksand-like terrain made getting around hard work. On the upside we now all have buns of steel. Probably. It was a bit of a funny Glasto this year, really. With possibly the three biggest acts in not just rock, but the whole of music, as its headliners, it fell to the many other artists and stages to provide the depth and breadth of musical joy the festival is known for. It was certainly a more varied festival overall, with the Park Stage in particular affirming its status as the place to be. (Also, the brilliant log cabin cafe made me happy on many an occasion. IT HAD CUPCAKES.)
Elsewhere, the new Oxlyers at West stage provided an intriguing attempt to deal with the increasing genre mashup between rock and dance, but overall it felt a little awkward. As my campmate observed, 'I don't like it - it's being difficult!'. Maybe in 2013 they'll have got the mix sussed. Meanwhile, the one-way system for entry to Shangri-La caused people to see red all round, with 'walk straight in' turning into '20 minute queues' turning into 'no entry all night' as soon as the clock struck 11pm.
Personally, I found the relative lack of 'must-sees' freed me up to explore more stages and more of the site as a whole. That's not to say there weren't many brilliant acts though. My own highlights from this melange, then, were...
There was a long and tortured debate beforehand about whether the set would feature imported 'Hawaiian' air, a giant papier-mache volcano spewing real lava or a mass trip in the Tardis to actual Hawaii. In the end, the band opted for Hawaiian hula dancers, who were, frankly, right fitties.
The audience loved 'Pala's new songs easily as much as those from the band's debut, and the band more than took the opportunity to rock out and have a laugh. Ed MacFarlane is becoming one of music's great frontmen for his sheer sense of daft joy. And AMAZING dancing, obviously. If this lot aren't high up on the Pyramid rota next time out I'll eat my hat. Ludicrously good fun.
Up against Coldplay, Wild Beasts looked like they might have a low turnout on the Park Stage at first, not helped by James Blake running over by half an hour. Oh how the people flocked when 'Bed Of Nails' kicked in though. What followed was an hour of the band delivering the simple yet devastating music that's become their calling card.
Typically reveling in their own melodrama, it was an understated yet thrilling set from the Kendal natives. As for album and set closer 'End Come Too Soon' - well, it really did.
The band's comeback gig after Ben Duffy's recent cancer diagnosis was an unmitigated triumph. Not so much bursting with energy as a barely contained nuclear explosion of it, Duffy bounced around the stage like a hyperactive puppy let out of his kennel. From 'Battlefield' to 'Walk Alone' and the utter bonkersness of everything in between, the band's delight at being back on stage was self-evident, and the audience were equally as thrilled.
And Beyoncé, obviously, who managed to out-rock U2 and then some. When all's said and done, it's going to be a Glasto remembered for the mud and Beyoncé. 2011 was never likely to live up to the brilliance of last year's 40th anniversary - but it certainly gave it a bloody good run for its money.
All photos by Gary Wolstenholme, more Glasto coverage, including Rory's diary and plenty more photos can be found here
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