Friday, 5 February 2010


Sheriff's Diary - Day 1 Friday 22 August 2003; Unlucky 13 turned out to be the case, with probably the worst Reading Festival I've been to. It didn't bode well from the outset, with a crap bill and leaden skies as we travelled in on the first day. Ignored road signs telling us day trippers go a different way, and parked in the normal, albeit busier than usual, industrial estate behind the festival site. One thing we noted immediately was that the place was heaving; we had to queue (!) for wristband exchange, and after the usual info tent stop-off, the crowd to get into the arena early doors was worse than ever. Also, I got frisked on the way in due to my odd body-shape, thanks to my post-operation stomach hernia. Am I the only person who's ever had one of those, or what?

COLOUR OF FIRE, first band on in the Tiny Tent, kicked off with an opener nicking Ultravox's "Young Savage" riff, and kicked off a punky fuss which oddly enough also recalled Suede, albeit only in the vocalists' inflections. Not too bad a start, overall! Hit the main arena for a lunchtime rendezvous with The Big Man, camping this weekend, thus also enduring the last couple of INME's dull, grunge-too-late numbers. Stayed there for our Festival wake-up call, the mainstage debut of BOWLING FOR SOUP. They delivered a perfectly executed set of festival punk-pop fun, which featured not only the first bona-fide festival anthem in "Girl All The Bad Guys Want", but a superb cover of the Ramones' classic "I Wanna Be Sedated", spliced with the opening riff from Black Sabbath's "Paranoid"! The usual quips, piss-taking humour (including a pro-fat people chant!) and hi-jinks went down a storm.

Chatted and chilled during FINCH'S set. This was the first example of the horrible scheduling mess this year; Finch on the Main Stage, Saves The Day in the Big Tent, and Franz Ferdinand in the Tiny Tent; all bands we want to check out, and all on at the same time! D'oh! Nevertheless, we stuck around for Finch, having recently seen the other two, but in retrospect this was a mistake. They were dynamic and earnest, fine, but far too po-faced after the Soup. They also missed out their best number, "Letters To You", as well, and finished ahead of schedule. So did Saves The Day, as we found out to our chagrin after a sprint over to the Big Tent!

Back in the arena for a late lunch while LESS THAN JAKE's ska punk got the mainstage mosh going. Not my cup of tea but I suppose they did it well, though not as funny as NOFX last year. Crossed over the arena after their set, picking our way through the huge crowds and queues for, well, everything (it's only Friday, what's going on??). Into the Tiny Tent for Australia's ROCKETSCIENCE, who became the second band of that name I'd seen (a first for me, surprisingly!). They were quite 60's retro and in-your-face, with a dominant keyboard-driven blues sound; like listening to Love's "Seven And Seven Is" 6 times in a row, apart from one number which sounded like Duran Duran! I liked them fine, Rachel wasn't so sure, but we agreed on one thing; Boston's Rocket Science are way better!

Nowt to do for 3 hours or so, which made the earlier 3-band clash all the more galling, so we plonked ourselves down in the warm arena, near backstage. Caught the last of the DATSUNS set, which wasn't improved from last year, and had some wanky guitar toss thrown in as well. They also didn't know how to finish a song gracefully and get off. Oh dear. STAIND, up next, kicked off their set in an ominously clumsy manner, then their guitar rig blew up, necessitating a subsequent acoustic set which actually wasn't bad at all! Candidates for pleasant surprise of the day, the guy can sing - perhaps he should go solo! The crowd lapped up this acoustic interlude, although the Staind vocalist had a face like thunder as he left the stage. They were, however, much much better than THE DARKNESS, who played horrendous 70's pomp rock a la Queen and Status Quo, everything we fought the punk wars to eradicate. Gah. They went down an absolute storm. Kids these days.

Early evening now; over to the Big Tent for ELECTRIC SIX, along with a zillion others, for one reason only. E6 battled gamely with some dense, sax-propelled sleazy and sinister funky rock which occasionally recalled The Psychedelic Furs. However, the crowd's chants for "Gay Bar" throughout the set, only partly placated by a blisteringly funky "Danger High Voltage", showed what they were there for. When "Gay Bar", a silly sing-along piece of kick-ass punk, was trotted out, the place erupted, then totally emptied straight afterwards, the throng missing a funny version of Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" in the process!

I hit the loo during PLACEBO's mainstage rendition of "Pure Morning", then headed back to the Big Tent on my own, Rach sticking around for the rest of Molko's mob's set. NYC's INTERPOL, a most un-festival-like of bands, nevertheless played a damn fine set of their gloomy and doomy yet magnificently brooding Joy Division-esque cool rock. "PYD" was an absorbing mid-set highlight of a highlight of the day. Met Rachel, then got late tempura and noodles tea, then left the arena to get some cool retro t-shirts!

Back in for a bit of SPARTA in the Tiny Tent, dynamic and rocking but a little short on tunes. Ran into our Boston friend Josh Lattanzi and chatted awhile, debating the weirdness of EVAN DANDO headlining the New Band (Tiny) Tent! Josh and Evan subsequently hit that stage at 10.45, and together they rescued the day with the perfect festival set of easy melody and harmony that is the Dando trademark. Equally drawn from new CD "Baby I'm Bored" and his impressive Lemonheads canon of work, this was the perfect end to the day. The sing-along "Rudderless" and set closer "Shame About Ray" were the note-perfect pop highlights of today's best set by miles. Evan, the smooth baritoned space cadet and true star, loves Reading; and we love him!

Sheriff's Diary - Day 2 Saturday 23 August 2003; Beef joined us today, so we conned him into driving! Some fluffy stuff in the air, but skies were mainly blue, so Rachel and I slathered with sunscreen before hitting the arena at 11.30 for THE REAL in the Tiny Tent. They cut a mellow morning-after vibe, with the Grant Lee Buffalo sound-alike vocalist also trying some Buckley-esque vocal gymnastics. THE SLEEPY JACKSON then opened up the Main Stage, playing a varied set featuring intriguing rock, Beach Boys harmonies, Big Star slow-burn moody stuff, and, particularly, Byrds-like country rock. Beef also reckoned odd-looking vocalist Luke Steele was rocking the David Crosby look, circa 1965! Nevertheless, The Sleepy Jackson ultimately emerged as the Best New Band of this poor festival. Damning them with faint praise, I know...

An upsetting clash meant we missed Cave In (bugger!) in favour of STELLASTARR* in the Big Tent. Purveyors of a totally addictive 2003 single, "Somewhere Across Forever", they played an excellent amalgam of 80's rockist styles; the sparse taut spookiness of early Cure, the sleaze of The Psychedelic Furs, and the Bunnymen's haunting space. Chuck in Pixies style riffs and a vocalist with a deep yet yelping voice and you've got a damn fine set. Left halfway through their last number to at least catch some of Cave In, but they'd finished early. Double bugger!

Over to the Tiny Tent for WHIRLWIND HEAT, who despite the Sonic Youth name reference, were this year's Fall-like experimental stop-start freakazoids. Lasted 3 numbers before changing tents for MY MORNING JACKET, who played some worthy yet somewhat outdated country pop, before degenerating into Coldplay-esque plodding dullness. We got some grub - my Hog Roast of the weekend! - then ate during the last knockings of JUNIOR SENIOR's poor Europop Main Stage set, which featured a massacre of the Beatles' "Twist And Shout". Then to the Big Tent for JET - hotly tipped but disappointingly derivative of the Rolling Stones' down-and-dirty bluesy rock, and lacking the swagger and style that, say, the Gentlemen bring to that particular party. One nice number - "Make A Fool Of Everyone"? - was the best of a generic set. However we were by now settled by the Big Tent, having brought shooting sticks along today. Best thing we've ever taken to Reading! Met up with the similar seat-supplied Big Man, and chilled and listened to Rich's radio - tuned for the footy - during THE RAPTURE, who were a cross between the Goth funk of late Cure and the bleak industrial funk of a lot of early 80's Sheffield bands. A bit puzzling therefore as to why they're considered so cutting edge! Warmed during THE KILLS, the cloud clearing and the sun baking the arena, making 10 to 5 the hottest part of the day! The Kills themselves were all sleaze and wall of guitar noise, recalling early PJ Harvey.

Popped briefly to the Tiny Tent for THE SIGHTS, who despite being billed as Big Star strum-along powerpop, were more keyboard-driven 60's San Fran psychedelia. Ideal music to skin up to, apparently... Back afterwards to the Big Tent for the early evening set from THE THRILLS. Theirs was a pindrop-perfect sounding set of their now very familiar countryesque lilting West Coast 60's influenced pop. All perfect harmonies and piano-driven melody, all that is lacking in so many new bands these days, and the perfect accompaniment to a lazy late-Summer evening, with delicious set closer, the re-released "Santa Cruz", a highlight.

Rich then popped off to try - and fail! - to get near the heaving Concrete Jungle Stage, and Rach and I endured some of THE MARS VOLTA's tuneless experimental nonsense before giving it up as a bad job and getting tea! Decided not to give the Cooper Temple Clause another opportunity to disappoint me, so Rach and I prised our way past the huge Concrete Jungle crowds, bumping into our friend Thom on the way! Hit the main arena for BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB, and did a lot of people-watching during their set, which opened with a Phil Spector girl band number, and developed into a pretty cool 60's influenced motorbike punk rock set, with a hint of Jesus And Mary Chain on the side, although not as much as before; are they finding their own identity?

Off after loo queues to the Tiny Tent, meeting a frustrated Big Man on the way - still no CJ punk rock for him! Watched BRENDAN BENSON deliver a splendid upbeat set of simple, Summery, laid-back US college pop, with a smattering of Kinks-iness for good measure. Based largely on fine CD "Lapalco", this was a little treasure of a set, and a perfect way to bring on the night. Even Rich had to admit that! Finally, over to the Big Tent - via the beer tent - for headliners AFI. The hardcore-punk survivors turned old-school Goth deities turned in a very energetic show which was lapped up by their army of devotees, who sang every word of every song, even the real hardcore punk numbers! This was good, enthusiastic stuff from a band on the up, and featuring a Bono-esque frontman in Davey Havok.

That was that for the day - we met Beef by the car (he'd watched Blur), and picked up very official-looking "Don't Park Here" leaflets which had been placed under the windscreen wipers. T'uh, what next at this very poor Reading Festival???

Sheriff's Diary - Day 2 Saturday 23 August 2003; So, late last night, another thing was added to the list of Things You Can't Do at this year's Reading. So far you can't;
see the bands you want to, as they clash with other bands you want to see
rely on the running times!
crowd-surf (not that I do, anyway)
go to the loo in a clean bog - it's NOT me being more sensitive this year, the toilets ARE the worst they've ever been!
get a soft drink - a soft drink, mind you - for less than £2! Bloody rip-off!
move for people! More packed than ever!
park where I've parked for the last 12 years!
No wonder we're getting Festival Fatigue!

Anyway, off we set at 10.30, parking in the usual place. Fuck the warnings! Met a solemn Big Man who'd had his wallet nicked after leaving it in the tent awning, a Festival Virgin error. Piss was duly taken during flippant pop-punk Man Stage openers SUGARCULT. Fairly generic of the Blink 182 meets Jimmy Eat World sound, they were nevertheless well sorted for decent tunes, and won some fans with the vocalist's offer to locate the only clean "restroom"! We split up, then, and I headed over to see CARDIA, our support from the recent Saves The Day show. Their Tiny Tent set was once again full of Buckley-esque swirling menace, even more so than before, with Ian Love's gyrating and soaring vocals a prominent feature. More dynamic than the recent low-key Oxford set, this was overall damn fine. Had a quick chat with the besieged Ian afterwards, who was giving away free stickers and badges, and got my set-list signed!

Met everyone again for ALL AMERICAN REJECTS, on the Main Stage. They were surprisingly, and a little disappointingly, more rockily rabble-rousing than their jangly Cuckoo-esque pop single "Swing Swing" suggested. Lots of swearing and rock posturing detracted from a Jimmy Eat World-like set of upbeat new punk tunes. We left the arena after that for the Big Tent, catching the last knockings of SERAFIN's not-quite-sure-what-to-make-of-it strummy rock set, then settled in - with Rach in the big foldaway chair today and extolling its' virtues! - for THE RAVEONETTES. They played a fun yet flimsy Phil Spector 60's girl band sound via Jesus And Mary Chain guitar feedback, making them sound like 80's faves The Shop Assistants! Superb single "That Great Love Sound" apart, however, their material is thin and the set became samey. Good riffs and undoubted cool are all well and good, but you need tunes to back it up! Got noodles and tempura for dinner afterwards, during RADIO 4's set. An intriguing start, with the zeitgeisty sound of early jerky New Wave (XTC and particularly Talking Heads) taking on a funkier feel with bongos thrown in, making this lot sound a little like Pigbag! Enjoyable stuff but I couldn't eat a whole one.

Bit of shopping outside the arena, with Rich buying 3 t-shirts then wondering where his money went! Then I queued for ages for the loo in the arena, which made Rach wonder where I'd disappeared to! PRIMAL SCREAM were doing their rock histrionics on the Main Stage, but I ignored them. We then hatched the plan to leave early - sorry and all, British Sea Power (Tiny Tent headliners whom we'd subsequently miss), but we've got Festival Fatigue good and proper!

Went to the Tiny Tent for half of CALLA's heavy yet dull and plodding set, then stuck around for LONGVIEW, who were moody and atmospheric, slow-burning and melodic, and fronted by an extremely hairy Norseman lookalike! Whatever, they were very good, and we were angry that they would fall victim to yet another clumsy scheduling clash. Halfway through, we were over to the big Tent for the early evening arrival of HOT HOT HEAT. Took a vantage point as near to the front as we could for the Vancouver perky New Wave popsters. HHH were great again; effervescent, angular danceable pop played with enthusiasm and energy, and insanely catchy tunes sung along by the huge crowd, the atmosphere happy and fun, and making up for the slightly poor sound. "Bandages", sung along with passion, was the ideal set closer and another festival anthem!

Rich joined us, as dusk fell on the festival, both actually and metaphorically, and we pondered - had we indeed saved our best for last? Our final band of the festival, GRANDADDY, joined us forthwith, kicking off with jaunty new single "El Caminos In The West". It sounded perfect, particularly in comparison to the slightly muddy sound of Hot Hot Heat, and Rach and I just sat there and let this warm, lush sound flow over us. An early "AM180" (the intro of which caused Rach and I to go, "aaah!" simultaneously!) and an unusually speedy "Summer Here Kids" were notable, but the sparking psychedelia of "The Crystal Lake" got me off my seat and into the melee. Jason Lytle was in an odd mood - feeling very much the outsider on this bill, he chastised the falseness of the plethora of manufactured "punk rock" bands on the bill, claiming Grandaddy were "true punk rock!". No arguments there - this was fresh, exciting and superb, and won the day for the Modesto, CA. natives.

Then - we were off! Glad to get away from the poorest, worst organised Reading on record, but glad that thanks to Grandaddy we'd left the Festival on a high note!





STARS OF THE SHOW - THE BIG MAN for being barmy and fine company all weekend, IAN LOVE for being a nice guy, JOSH LATTANZI see Ian Love!

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