Wednesday, 7 April 2010


Sheriff's Diary - Day 1, Friday 24 August 2001 - It's hot! Damn hot! So much so, that after our (mine, Rachel and our Reading companions this year, Beef and Thom) usual early-doors arrival, wristband exchange and trip to the info tent, all the purple dye I'd diligently spent the previous evening putting into my hair had sweated out down my neck! Yuck! Still, I'm glad I spent ages smearing suntan lotion over my flabby ass! So we hit the arena, and I joined in with Rachel's Reading ritual this year, welcoming in each day's opening act with beer. Today, that was THE DONNAS, once again a screeching sub-Ramones girly set, with one song sounding painfully like da Brudders' "California Sun"! The only notable thing about their set was catching up with the guys from American Hi-Fi, who'd come out to catch them too!

Following the Donnas' last number - a surprising cover of Judas Priest's finest moment "Living After Midnight" which was also the best of this set - we hit the Tiny Tent for a lunchtime wake-up call, passing a couple of duelling radio-controlled wheely-bins spraying water on our way! IKARA COLT were said wake-up call - a mixture of the flat, acerbic delivery of The Fall, and the mutant punky thrash of Sonic Youth or early Seafood, with male/ female call and response vocals. Passionate, committed and disappointingly short (20 minutes!), theirs was nevertheless a damn fine way to kick-start things good and proper! LITTLE HELL, next up here, laid down some pretty trad hard rock, rebel rousing and no less fun for it though. The vocalist (replacing a girly according to Beef, who, let's face it, should know) was the reincarnation of AC/DC's Bon Scott, and a hard bastard too, taking a full plastic bottle full-on in the face without flinching!

Hung around the Big Tent in the sun afterwards, while THE MOLDY PEACHES concluded their NYC cynical cartoon acoustic tomfoolery, also spying an early contender for t-shirt slogan of the weekend; "I Like Cats - They Taste Like Chicken!". Hit the Tent for SOUTH, who skirted around their alt-country reputation with a fine moody and atmospheric set of deliciously discordant guitar work, which recalled Wheat's spikier moments or even early Echo And The Bunnymen without the cocky attitude. Good light and shade musically as well, in an impressive set.

Headed back to the scorching and packed arena for the end of the late-running RUN DMC set; a good "Walk This Way" and some shouty polemics from these hip-hop pioneers got the crowd ignited, not my thing but I was impressed with their audience appeal, which was massive. Then caught EELS' mid-afternoon set; this was very varied, a mixture of the thrillingly noisy (a punk rock version of "I Love Birds"?), crashingly morose and painfully unlistenable, from a stripped down Eels three-piece led by an uncommunicative and heavily bearded E. A tightened-up "Mr' E's Beautiful Blues" rescued it from total Festival fuck-up territory, but overall it was disappointing and an opportunity missed. The Strokes were next up mainstage, but we had a different mission, so we headed over to the Tiny Tent, through the dads-shirt-and-tie clad Strokes massive. Had some acerbic acoustic punk rock to contend with first, though, from one man NYC punk revival HAMILL ON TRIAL, who was voluble, venomous and very funny in equal parts. This however left us stage front for the arrival of the shortest-odds pre-Festival favourites ever!

AMERICAN HI-FI, admittedly old Boston buddies, were said favourites, and were simply awesome. Energetic, passionate, kinetic, high-octane, hook-laden and brilliantly played rock'n'roll from the moment they ran onstage, already guitarred-up, to the moment they incredulously drew their closer "Flavor Of The Weak" to a cacophonous end in front of the frenzied and manic crowd packing out the Tiny Tent and environs. The whole thing - the songs, their incredible performance, the manic crowd reaction - made this one of the most intense and enjoyable gig moments of recent years, and possibly the Greatest Reading Festival Set EVER. Yup, you read right... "You guys rock!" exclaimed an incredulous Stacy, who also introduced magnificently crashing final number "Flavor Of the Weak" with, "I can't believe this is already our last song!" Indeed, "Flavor" was a stormer, the whole crowd singing along with the chorus to Stacy's obvious amazement. All too soon, it was over, leaving myself, Rach and Thom all soaked, elated and totally unable to think straight!

Saw Jamie Hi-Fi briefly afterwards for compliments and set-list scribbles before trying to collect ourselves by hitting the early evening arena for IGGY POP. Got our breath back during the punk godfather's "greatest hits" run-through, the Ig-ster still shirtless and giving it loads well into his 50's. Then hung out with Drew and Stacy Hi-Fi during PJ HARVEY's mainstage set, which I mainly ignored as the scantily-clad Polly has never really been my cup of scream. Also bumped into Jon Auer of the Posies and had a quick chat, before hunting down some tea in the early evening dusk, whilst BS2000 fought a losing battle against Big Tent apathy. Then back to the car for layers, as it's getting dark... took ages to get out of the arena as the Green Day posse were getting in, so a quick dash to the car wasn't enough to be back in time for the start of EVAN DANDO in the Big Tent. Heard the intro as we strode purposefully back through the campsite, then heard opener "Hospital" - with drums! Yikes, Evan's got a full band with him! Ran the rest of the way...

Down the front for the Dando. Despite the band, this was still a laid-back set of Evan's poppier canon of work, alternating between stripped-back "Shame About Ray" numbers and slightly countrified, darker newies. Evan's rich baritone resonated beautifully through friendly old songs as familiar as old slippers, and the band stood back and let the star take the lead. Great stuff, nostalgia for now. And more to come, as a quick dash to the Tiny Tent got us to the last 3 numbers of the annoying and inexplicably clashing POSIES set. Guess what - they had a full band too! Damned the organisers as I wallowed in the shimmering brilliance of their superbly harmonic pop, glad that they'd saved a soaring "Solar Sister" for last. Checked out the American Hi-Fi guys watching from backstage as well!

Back to the Big Tent, stumbling through the dark, for headliners ASH, who kicked ass with their fresh and exciting, summery and harmonic punky guitar pop. "A Life Less Ordinary", always my fave, was 2nd number in, so we caught that then got noodles and listened to the rest of their splendid-sounding set from the steps of the Ben And Jerrys lorry. Ran into the watching Jamie and Brian Hi-Fi after the noodles, then into the Tent for Ash's encore, a splendid "Jack Names The Planets". However, we left the arena tonight with one tune, and one tune only, in our heads following easily the set of the weekend; "TOO STONED! NINTENDO!!!!!"

Sheriff's Diary - Day 2, Saturday 25 August 2001 - Another scorcher! The 1 or 2 raindrops on the walk to the arena turn out to be just that, and the sun then comes out enough to put the sunscreen on again! Down the front of the arena for first band on, again with beer. Noticed Kevin and David from Seafood putting stickers up, so we asked them if they'd sacked their publicist!

TERRIS, first mainstage band, are beset with technical problems which force a false start, but kick up a passionate, acerbic, spiky and confrontational racket when they do get started. Some fine angry screams and jerky Ian Curtis-like dancing from vocalist Gavin as well. A great start! We hit the stalls then to buy new shorts for Rach, then hit the Big Tent for the ZEPHYRS, whose 8-piece string-fuelled set gives new meaning to the word "funereal". They're a terrible dirge and we're happy to leave them to it after a couple of numbers. Stalls again, doing our best to ignore PUBLIC DOMAIN's pointless yo-rap mainstage set, then wander to the Tiny Tent for the final number of DIRTY HARRY's set, which reminded me of Republica's populist synth girly pop.

Have more of a wander into the tent, as THIRTEEN:13 are next up. They're again better and rockier than their poppy but more laid-back CD output suggests, but shades of the Teenage Fanclub harmonics and a bit of Wonderstuff style flippancy combines to produce a nice poppy set. Well attended too; "we didn't expect it to be so hot, +or so full," said the guitarist, to which I shouted, "we're not here to see you, we're sheltering from the sun!" A lie, of course...

Killed some (lunch) time in the arena, getting lollipops from a guy dressed as a fireman and riding a mechanical horse! Ignored OPM on the mainstage, shouting some crappy sub-Chilli Peppers rap about "my homies" which lost something in translation, as they're all white! Caught a bit of VEX RED, who sounded like bad grunge 10 years too late, before hitting mainstage-right for ...AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD. On the mainstage this time, they nevertheless cleaned house with an intense and hard-rocking, if fractured and occasionally messy performance of their angry Texan punk rock. An exciting but uneven set culminated in the usual instrument swapping, throwing shapes and drumkit trash at the end of the thrillingly noisy finale "A Perfect Teenhood", which also resulted in vocalist Conrad doing a tour of the front rows. The only real downer was the idiot stewards chucking water at people just standing there watching! Sure, I know it's hot, but if I want a drenching I'll ask for one, okay? Bastards!

Anyway, better was FRANK BLACK AND THE CATHOLICS. Opening with the sinister bassline of the Pixies "Gouge Away", they played a superbly hand-picked collection of the finest Pixies and Catholics material (no solo Frank stuff, oddly), in a creepy, sleazy, sinister and sexy manner. "All My Ghosts", with a shout-along "oh, oh oooh!" hook, was a splendid highlight as the big man led his professional band through some superb psychotic itchy rock, ranging from biblical pain and despair, to songs of Monkeys and Onions, and when it was all over, simply stood there basking in the deserved adulation for the Set Of The Day. Great!

Met Beef and grabbed late dinner/ early tea during RANCID's blue collar punk/ska set on the main stage. Also queued up for water and met Conrad from ...TOD in the process! Wandered around the outside of the arena during this dead time as well, getting some iced buns in the process as suitable fuel for the forthcoming hectic evening. This started when Rach tuned into the mainstage FEEDER set, from which I saw a couple of good-sounding, hard-edged Brit-rock numbers, then I was off to the Big Tent to check out FOLK IMPLOSION. This lot appear to be to Sebadoh what The Gentlemen are to The Gravel Pit; a chance for Lou Barlow to explore his hitherto unfulfilled rootsier, hard-rocking side. However, as expected from the King of the heart-cracking college rock ballad, they still manage to sound heartfelt and introspective under the swathes of guitar fuzz. You can take the boy out of Sebadoh, it seems, but you can't... well, you get the picture. Hooked up with Rach again, then got a good viewing spot for MY VITRIOL, next up. They were tight, together and very professional, and delivered a fine set of their sparkling, spooky and ethereal rock, merged in with Husker Du-like gut-punching power and pace. The big crowd lapped it up, particularly single "Always: Your Way", and I loved the Pale Saints-like shimmery guitar interludes. Great to see them continuing the upwards trajectory; mainstage next year?

Nipped to the loo then, bumping into Neil Busch from ...TOD for a brief and entertaining chat, then back to the front of the Big Tent for TEENAGE FANCLUB. They were all you'd expect or want; summery, melodic, harmonic, laid-back and relaxing, effervescent, happy and humorous. The chunky sing-along 60's style warm pop went down a storm, with "What You Do To Me" and "Everything Flows" rare and unexpected treasures, but "Sparky's Dream" the real gem. Oh yeh, and Norman's tank top and rocking glockenspiel were highlights, too!

Wandered into the arena just as the MANIC STREET PREACHERS started their mainstage headline set with a thrashy early number, "You Love Us", so we stopped to take in a few numbers. Their set started off in a very give-the-loyal-fans-what-they-want kind of way, with numbers dating from their early, pre-Richie's disappearance years, before they traded their angry punkish polemic in for bloated stadium AOR. A surprising "Motown Junk" was trotted out, and Rach and I lamented that the Manics were playing their early stuff in such a half-assed, ham-fisted manner. Abandoned them after we finished our noodles, and went to check out the much-hyped MOGWAI. Very much a music critic's band, their set was even more depressing than the Zephyrs! Sorry and all, but I found them dirge-like art-wank, and their popularity totally eluded me! So, a little chilly and in search of something at least half-decent to listen to, we hit the Tiny Tent for headliners BACKYARD BABIES, who played dirty Stooges-like rock'n'sleaze, but at least walked it like they talked it. Some conviction from one of the headliners at least, to end day 2!

Sheriff's Diary - Day 3, Sunday 26 August 2001 - Uh oh! This one was overcast and we had some spots of rain on the journey down, but it settled before we arrived to have the usual beer breakfast, and chill out to BOY HITS CAR, who proved to be that rarest of beasts - a Nu-Metal act with some tunes and a bit of respect for their audience. However I spotted Steve Lamacq wandering around so I grabbed him for a quick chat about sending him some Gravel Pit stuff.

Then we wandered over to the Tiny Tent for the last couple of numbers from XPOSURE, who I mainly wanted to see as it completed the whole alphabet of bands that I've seen this year! They were shouty rap metal, surprisingly dressed up as indie pop (no way!) so we endured them just because their name began with X! However we then found out from their flyer guy that they'd changed their name - to Redwood! D'oh! We then hit the Big Tent for HUNDRED REASONS, who veered between pretty good balls-out hard rock, and thrashy inappropriate nu-metal, and had a hairy vocalist who looked like he could be Quick Fix drummer Shayne Phillips' long-lost brother! Stuck around in a good spot down the front afterwards, for SEAFOOD's dramatic entrance. They nevertheless took a couple of numbers to get the sound sorted out, but by the insistent guitar groove of 3rd number "This Is Not An Exit", they'd pretty much nailed it. After that, they were their usual spiky, urgent, spooky, thrilling selves. A splendid rendition of their itchy, moody new single "Splinter" was the highlight of the set for me, whilst set closer "Folk Song Crisis" featured the usual white light and noise, and primal howls. Fantastic and exciting stuff - just as we'd expected!

Popped out into the increasingly damp arena for FEAR FACTORY. Faves of Thom, to me they were tuneless death metal ranting, with a vocalist who sounded as if he was singing down a rusty drainpipe. And Thom reckoned they'd mellowed out recently. From what? Abandoned this noise and got some Chinese food for a late lunch, while GRAND THEFT AUDIO assaulted our ears with some shouty nu-metal mess. I must be getting old - all these nu-metal bands sound the same to me! However, GTA at least had one song with a good groove and a semblance of a tune. Somewhere.

Braved the rain to change tents for the Tiny Tent for HAVEN. The programme promised some "West Coast American influenced pop" and they didn't disappoint with melodies and harmonies worthy of a less earnest version of The Hormones. Lush and melodic, with chiming guitars, Walker Brothers-like soaring choruses (thought the vocalist recalled the nasal tones of Talk Talk's Mark Hollis), they chased the dank rainy dullness of the day away, and pretty much nailed Best New Band of Reading 2001! Stayed there for a couple of numbers from next band up, GLOSS, who reminded me of Posh, with their sugary girly pop sound. Didn't really hear too much of the supposed Blondie comparisons; they were more like St. Etienne. Blondie had more balls, musically at least!

The rain stopped - probably thanks to Haven's Summery sound! - so we hit the arena, via the merch stand to buy a very rude Seafood t-shirt, for THE CULT. They played some good old old-school gothy rock, all dark and strident with big extravagant gestures and choruses. Old boy Ian Astbury was the clown of the day, making an entertaining twat of himself, slagging off the stewards, Carling, the facilities, people who don't listen to him, Clark's shoes, Arsenal fans, Eminem, and pretty much everyone else! Evertonian Astbury even had a burst of, "we are top of the league," but generally left it to the entertaining 80's dark gothic rock of the likes of "She Sells Sanctuary". Stuck around for QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE's early evening set, which Nick Olivieri played naked, apart from his guitar! They kicked off some fuzzy and muddy old US hard rock, which at least had some verses and choruses. However we left after the druggy footy chant "Feel Good Hit Of The Sumer", and went into the Big Tent for LOWGOLD, who again were rockier than their lazy, introspective CD suggested. Still not sure I can hear the supposed Buffalo Tom influences, but some nice moody touches embellished a fine set. A solo acoustic number from vocalist Darren, which he described as, "the scariest thing I've ever done," preceded a fine and moody "Beauty Dies Young" and some wig-out rock licks as well. Good stuff!

Had a quick trip to the car for more layers for the evening, then stopped off in the Tiny Tent on the way back for CAT POWER. Hung out with Kevin Seafood during this deathly quiet set; we couldn't hear her over the monumental racket from mainstage's PAPA ROACH, so we went shopping instead! Shopped till we dropped - thus missing Clearlake in the Tiny Tent, then headed over to the Big Tent for the second half of STEVEN MALKMUS' set. I was never a big Pavement fan, but his solo stuff is more straightforward, less oblique and thus much less hard work. I enjoyed it; it rocked in the right places, and swooned and harmonised in the other right places, aided and abetted by a short female backing vocalist. Some good honest powerpop a la Brian Charles/ Tommy Keene was augmented by an impromptu and quite accurate "Heart Of Glass" cover. A nice touch!

So we arrived at the denouement of this Festival, and we stayed in the Big Tent for headliners MERCURY REV. A couple of years since their last UK appearance, so we were expecting a lot; and weren't disappointed. Songs of class, style, substance and elegance were played in an awesome, thrilling and majestic manner. "Deserter's Songs" material dovetailed in magnificently with some superb songs from new CD "All Is Dream", particularly breathtaking new number "The Dark Is Rising", with its dreamscape stark verse and choirs-of-angels crescendo, prompting Rach to turn to me and say, "what the hell was THAT??!!!" What indeed - a band whose skewed take on reality allows them to produce music of soaring, otherworldly beauty. Jonathan Donahue, the glacially cool Rev vocalist and still the coolest rock star in this or any other universe, was more effusive than normal, thanking the astonished audience and even conducting the 6-piece touring Rev like an orchestra. Brilliant stuff, with "Frittering" the magnificent gem at its' core.

So we left Reading 2001 with the majesty of Mercury Rev ringing in our ears. Ordinarily, that would have been more than enough to win "Set Of The Weekend", but this year four upstarts from Boston have delivered The Single Greatest EVER Reading Festival Set. A half-hour of intense, incandescent brilliance on Friday afternoon, made this the year of AMERICAN HI-FI. And don't you damn well forget it!




SORRY I MISSED - The majority of THE POSIES and all of THE STROKES. Scheduling, schmeduling...

STARS OF THE SHOW - THE HI-FI! No-one else got close.

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