Saturday, 24 July 2010
420 THE 1999 READING FESTIVAL
SHERIFF'S DIARY, DAY 1 - FRIDAY 27 AUGUST 1999
Welcome to the one-eyed Festival! Friday lunchtime and one of the main stage screens is totally out, hence the one eye! This, amazingly, is the only glitch to start with; the weather has sprung a surprise and despite the rain the previous week, it's bloody hot when the sun pokes through the clouds. It's just Rachel and myself for Day 1, so we get there at 10-ish, getting organised (programme, info tent run, transfer running order details to notebook, dump programme back in car), coping well with the disappointing late withdrawals of Dawn Of The Replicants and Kent. Rachel has been singing DOTR's "Big Hefty Hounds" all the way here, so now has to stop!
So, kicking off the Festival at 1 on the main stage are THE DONNAS, or Suzi Quatro fronting The Ramones if you prefer. Not as cool as this concept sounds, however - a bit monotonous really - so off we go to the Tiny Tent, and I'm immediately pissed off by the proximity of the superfluous Dance Tent to it ("Creamfields" is on this weekend as well - why have a Dance Tent here?). It even drowns out the intros to PEEPS INTO FAIRYLAND's doomy, vaguely pastoral songs. PIF strum as if C86 never left us, and have no stage presence at all, apart from the bassists' incongruous "rawk" poses.
Bored after 3 numbers, so off we go to see Icelandic pop pixies BELLATRIX in the Big Tent, who are actually quite good, despite the obvious shouty/ ska pastiche populist clichés. Their songs sport some kick-ass riffs and shouty strident choruses, bringing to mind Liliput, no less. Good fun! Unlike CLINIC who are occasionally hard work but more intriguing than entertaining. Edgy, repetitively rhythmic, and featuring slightly panicky vocals to boot, calling to mind a guitar-based Stereolab and holding the attention.
We then visit some stalls during a lull in the proceedings, with the DANDY WARHOLS Iggy Pop impressions as the soundtrack. All sleaze, no sex. Bah. Pop an eye into the Tiny Tent for CYCLEFLY's opener, but the crowds put us off as much as the Rachel Stamp impressions of this pink PVC-clad vocalist and his glam chumps. Looking for more entertainment than on offer, we star-spot by the backstage entrance (seeing only Jonathan King - bah!) then meander Tiny Tent bound, just as GENE take the main stage. I dunno, you'd think after all these years, Martin Rossiter would try to become more than just a one trick pony, but oh no, he's still trying desperately to be Morrissey. He tries, he fails.
So over to the Tiny Tent, where THE JELLYS entertain with an unexpectedly ace set! Truer to the original Ramones blueprint of full-on punk guitars with Beach Boys melodies than The Donnas could ever manage (and ironically including a "Hey Ho Let's Go" in an intro), they rush through a set of great melody backed up with frenetic punk noise, to a rapturous reception. As if China Drum were Newquay surfer dudes! The head Jelly closes their set with the proclamation, "spread the word, The Jellys are in town, and we're here to stay!" You're very welcome, boys!
MUSE, up next in the Tiny Tent, are more worthy of the epithet of "Suediohead" than even the late Ballroom, with their angst-ridden posturing and dull ploddery. Their pretty boy vocalist so dearly wants to be Brett Anderson. Sorry kid, we're off. Over by the Big Tent, we bump into old friend Roger Herman, and catch up to the backdrop of PURESSENCE and their nondescript doomy murk. Stay there for GUIDED BY VOICES; I should really like this lot, given they're cerebral US alt-indie pioneers and all, however their first number is a load of toss, and their second no better than ordinary. Certainly not worth missing ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN for. So I don't. The Bunnys are just kicking off their mainstage set as we wander over, and golly they're rocking! I thought for a moment it was Electrafixion! Selecting approximately, ooh, nil songs from their disappointing ballad-led new CD in their set, they're at their glacial, emotive and epic best. "Crocodiles" and "The Back Of Love" are frenetic highlights; Mac is wearing what appears to be a huge white freezer bag and is occasionally spouting utter inanities, but is still hitting all the high notes when it matters. Only spotting the best t-shirt slogan of the weekend ("I Try To Take One Day At A Time But Lately Several Have Attacked Me All At Once") distracts me from this glorious set.
Scuttle over thereafter to the Tiny Tent for SEAFOOD's early evening set. They're a turbocharged delight; their take on late 80's US alt-rock goes down a storm, and the spunky chaps respond by playing a blinder, pushing the Bunnys hard for Set Of The Day. "Porchlight" is spiky and fantastic, and if some songs degenerate into thrilling and squalling chaotic feedback, isn't that just why we love Seafood, right kids? THE LLAMA FARMERS, next up, enter to a mad welcome which forces me out of the melee (wuss, yes I know!). Their set tonight is also the best I've seen them; their blend of layered guitar, cascading drums and understated vocals, so reminiscent of proto-shoegazing bands of the early 90's, somehow acquires an extra edge under canvas.
Following this double rush of adrenalin, we calm down with noodles and the moogic rhythms of the real STEREOLAB in the Big Tent. We must've just missed their best number, "French Disko", and what we did hear failed to rise above just "okay". They round up about 8, so we visit the car for extra layers. No rain today, but the dissipating cloud cover ensured it got cold, quickly! Back in the arena, by the Big Tent, for a bit of JOHN SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION. They're messy rockabilly mulched up with some rabble-rousing pseudo funk noise, a la James Brown. JS rages like a young Elvis, methinks. Nipped to the loo, thinking I'd miss the start of ELASTICA's set at 10.20. Huh, who am I fooling? They kept us waiting over 1/2 hour for their set to start! Unfortunately their performance, while considerably more proficient than their Reading 1994 set (NOT difficult!) reeked of complacency and self-importance. Their old, spiky and reasonably good new wave stuff was dragged into the mechanical grey mire by this, "don't give a shit," attitude, and the new songs are frankly crap, including (especially), one which nicks the intro to the classic "Zerox" by Adam And The Antz; note for note!
Their "Da Da Da" cover version is cringingly po-faced, so following "Stutter" (easily the highlight) we head for home, not wishing to see them destroy Wire's "12XU", another expected cover. Bye bye day one!
SHERIFF'S DIARY, DAY 2 - SATURDAY 28 AUGUST 1999
We conned Beef into driving today, leaving at 10 and arriving at a baking hot arena - wish I'd brought sunscreen today, as we wander around under a clear blue sky before the bands start at 11.45. First up on the main stage is ATARI TEENAGE RIOT, who kick up an appalling, screeching metallic racket, lacking anything so sophisticated as a tune. So we wander around to the Big Tent for the start of NOJAHODA, who are less full-on than ATR but still shouty and confrontational. So retire for squash! Yes, there's a squash stand! £1 a pint! 10 flavours! By the end of the weekend I'd done all 10! Result!
Then to the Tiny Tent for MADISON MOON, who with a long blond haired vocalist play a bland and inoffensive funk rock which recalls early 80's bands such as Hipsway and Hue And Cry! Hardly exciting but at least they have tunes, so I'm kindly disposed to them, unlike Rachel, who makes a temporary exit. I stay in for the usual Reading Saturday lunchtime treat, this time courtesy of the happy sounds of the band formerly known as Bwganifs, who are now rechristened BIG LEAVES. I'd expected a super furry psychedelic soup from this Welsh lot, but they were definitely more Everlys than Grateful Dead. Very poppy and 60's influenced, akin in spirit to "Giant Steps"- era Boo Radleys but more conventional. Some great tunes, which I note are even slowed down on the chorus for greater emphasis! I can even forgive them for playing a final number which sounds like Fleetwood Mac's "Albatross". Sunny, summery and simply splendid.
The mainstage is running early, so we forego the tent options of Fungus or the Rockinghorses, having lunch back at the car and getting back into the arena for SEBADOH, having lots of fun mispronouncing their name on the way! Sebadoh are peddling their heartfelt, introspective and sensitive ballads in a particularly stripped-back manner. Even Jason's usual punky mid-point sounds fairly low key. The hypnotic "Flame" however benefits well from this treatment, and the usually touching "Soul And Fire" sounds particularly stark and beautiful. We get a coke and catch the opening part of BETH ORTON's mainstage countrified trailer park musings. She almost warbles some numbers, and tells a joke about a lobster which seems incongruous and inappropriate. The nice mandolin touches, however, do not.
Technical difficulties then delay the start of QUASI in the Tiny Tent. The keyboard takes some coaxing into life, but t'is well worth the wait as Quasi deliver a very short (20 minutes) but sweet set of harmonic bittersweet songs, to which ex husband and wife duo of Sam Coombs and US indie icon Janet Weiss contribute some discordant keyboard embellishments and great dynamic drumming respectively. A Carpenters for the new millennium?
Decide then to get ice-cream and catch some mid-afternoon sun, so join the crowded throng for PAVEMENT in the main arena. They again eschewed a chance to impress me, their low-fi indie rock being too sanitised and clever clever for my tastes. Notable only for Rachel pointing out that one of their older, more familiar numbers, sounds like She - later Glitterbox!
We then see SEAFRUIT in the Tiny Tent. They finish with their epic best number, "Looking For Sparks", after a good set which veered from very fine Boo Radleys-esque pure pop, to higher quality Britpop which occasionally plunged towards more average Dodgy-esque territory. Showing good potential, and the crowd obviously enjoyed it, judging by the reception. File under "maybe"...
Keeping the hectic pace, we're then Big Tent bound for the early evening delights of MADDER ROSE. Now 100% slow paced, their sexy torch songs abound, including selections from moody and uncommonly good new "Hello June Fool" CD. They really nail Top Band Of The Day, however, with Billy Cote's majestic guitar fade out track to the shimmering "Car Song". A new number segues effortlessly into the intro to the sing-along "Swim", capping a blissfully good set which reinforces the view that, contractual crap now over, Madder Rose are back.
Stayed Big Tent-side for more squash (!) and chat, to the background buzz of SIX BY SEVEN. Their clashing guitars sound better than last year, but I was actually listening to them then. Then we take advantage of the mid-evening lull for extra layers from the car - not that we need them as it's 8 pm now and still quite warm. We then catch the start of SYMPOSIUM in the Big Tent, who want to be Offspring Jr. Their shouty mess was not what the doctor ordered, so we get a late tea - more noodles!
Beef splits then, and we catch the arse end of THE WEBB BROTHERS 60-ish slightly-delic set, quite melodic and harmonic, but overall like a sub-Umajets with a tendency to slight dullness. Nice jumpsuits though. Then as night falls, IDLEWILD run through some rambunctious young punk rock, sounding better than I'd seen them before, but still slightly one-dimensional and failing to make an impression on me (as opposed to the young chap who emerges from the moshpit with blood dripping from a head wound, and a hysterical girlfriend in pursuit, no doubt making his headache even worse!).
Decide to road test the legs then, with a walk to a surprisingly habitable loo near the backstage entrance, spotting Mike from Drugstore and fellow Swindonian Mark Lamarr in the process. Then headliners BLUR hit the mainstage just after 10, kicking up a punky fuss early doors in their set (so much so that the audience needed to be warned to calm down!), but eventually settling to a popular and well-played set of their catchy Kinks-like corkernee knockabout pop. Too trite for my tastes, perhaps, but I have to admit they play a damn fine Festival set, certainly way more committed than Elastica, and do full justice to their headline status (not least in over-running the 11.30 curfew with a 1 hour 50 set!). I have to say on this evidence - Blur: Are Good Live!
Rach and I hear the encores from by the car, and Beef (who stayed arena-side for the whole set) eventually joins us for a 12.15 departure for the drive home. The longest day!
SHERIFF'S DIARY, DAY 3 - SUNDAY 29 AUGUST 1999
A later start today (10.15) and a convoy - me and Rach have Tim and crew for company, including a seriously hung-over and puking Mark! Brought the sunscreen today, so oiled up before hitting the due-to-be-hotter-than-yesterday arena. However intermittent cloud during today cooled the full-on effect!
Lamacq started the mainstage proceedings with, "this is the day that Reading rocks!" which never bodes particularly well, but then the day opened up with LIT, who actually started things very well. Big shorted Californian surf punk/ grunge they may well be, but their set displayed an ear for melody and finesse sadly absent from far too many of their peers. Visited a still-ailing Mark briefly by the Tiny Tent, before popping in for the EXPERIMENTAL POP BAND, featuring Davey Woodward, ex of the Brilliant Corners (who I was a fan of in the 80's and never saw live), and Mark Barber, late of The Chesterfields (who I was a fan of in the 80's and saw live 9 times!). I'd actually bumped into Mark the previous evening and promised to check his band out, and I wasn't disappointed. The experimentation amounted to some crazy tape loops and stylish synth, embellishing some Jonathan Richman-esque wry and laconic songs. This amounted to a cool summery sound not unlike St. Etienne. One stinker, but I think they're allowed that!
Puzzled by the amount of discarded watch batteries amongst the detritus on the floor. From my vantage point I can see 4 or 5! Weird! Anyway, we paused then for some shopping, Rachel making some purchases, then had lunch at the car. Back in to the Big Tent at 2.15 for GRAND DRIVE. They displayed a Teenage Fanclub-like mix of chunky wholesome tunes, cool laid-back harmonies and a pronounced but never overwhelming countrified lilt, together with a disdain for the mainstage HM racket of SICK OF IT ALL which occasionally wormed it's way in. Nice mellow vibe; good on 'em, I'll see this lot again, methinks!
Passed on Rosita in the Tiny Tent, going on a Schlesinger hunt instead! Eventually found our quarry at 3.30, exiting backstage, so we got to chat briefly with Adam Schlesinger of Fountains Of Wayne, including a fairly emphatic recommendation from me that they get The Gravel Pit to support them! Off over to the Tiny Tent to meet Tim, and see JIM'S SUPER STEREO WORLD, featuring ex Carter USM man Jim "Bob" Morrison. Their set was delayed due to more technical problems than beset Quasi (same time of day as well! Spooky!). Even when the set kicked off it was troubled; at one point the deely-bopper clad Morrison asked, "can I have more guitars, keyboards and vocals, then work your way backwards!" The Stereo World is not so far removed from the Carter USM inner city; maybe less harsh guitar and more toy sounds, but the same tabloid pun lyrics and beatbox rhythms. However the previous anger is now replaced with, well, resignation actually. OK, but one wonders why the old boy bothers...
Frantically dashed off-arena in search of a fairly habitable (in Festival terms) loo before the FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE set, getting back just before they started. Despite my discomfort, I was moshpit bound, and glad I am that I was, as tonight the occasionally inconsistent Fountains fully did themselves justice with an excellent set of their instantly memorable harmonic summery pop classics. An early sing-along "Barbara H" set the tent jumping, and as the Waynesters rocked out, so did we! A wonderfully punchy "Radiation Vibe" with its' effortlessly cool "baby, baby, baby" refrain, and a racey "Survival Car" rounded off a great set. We always knew you had it in you, guys!
This took us to early evening, so a trip to the car ensued for extra layers (which we ultimately didn't need tonight either - still, better safe than shivery!) and an early (6.30) stop for pasta tea. Thus fortified, we were ready for the last 3 laps of Reading Festival 1999.
Firstly, over to the Tiny Tent for the rapidly maturing DARK STAR, bumping into Positively 4th Street boss Gary Buswell in the process. They started with a punky instrumental which blended effortlessly into "I Am The Sun", their flippant and breathlessly spunky best number. "Jesus was my age, when he got nailed" - an excellent lyric! Following this, they were edgy, sinister, libidinous, moody and very slightly gothic, but always fine and thrilling. Easily the best I've seen them, and the packed tent responded to a fine set from a band who have really come on!
Secondly, following more squash and the arse-end of LUSCIOUS JACKSON in the Big Tent (funky girly pop, from what I heard), came SPARKLEHORSE. Their set can be very easily compartmentalised as pre-and post- "Cow". Pre was slightly troubled, fractured and fragmented, with a slightly disinterested-seeming Mark Linkous definitely not a "Happy Man", and some new songs sounding like punky rant outtakes. "Cow" itself was however haunting and beautiful, with the (again new) band finally getting to grips with Linkous' parched country rock vision. Post-"Cow", the 'Hoss were stark and eerie, more akin to their legend and potential. However, we were left lamenting the shortness of the set, and what was omitted. No "Someday" or "Saturday" or "Happy Man". No "Spirit Ditch", even! Contrary bugger!
Into the last lap of The Festival, and THE FLAMING LIPS in the Big Tent. Following recent "live" experiences, this lot were pre-Fest hot favourites for Best Band Of The Weekend, and predictably they swept all before them. Slight doubts about whether their show - screen, gong, loops, the lot - would work on a Festival tent stage were quickly dispelled during the soundcheck "test", after which Wayne Coyne apologised for the setting up by the band robbing the audience of the, "rock'n'roll entrance," but then exhorted us to drown out the mainstage OFFSPRING noise. So we did!
The Lips came on for their set proper to a justifiably delirious welcome, and as they launched into "Race For The Prize", Coyne opened a theatrical blood capsule over his forehead - another crazy piece of showmanship! "Prize" was astonishing and epic, and set the tone for another brilliant, beautiful and awe-inspiring set, Coyne and co. pushing the envelope as hard as ever. A jolly "Jelly" and a gut-wrenching "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate" (accompanied by gecko puppet as ever) was eclipsed by the finale, Coyne grinning manically during "When You Smile", a happy song to end a set no-one wanted to end (even Coyne repeated the strained acapella closing line 3 times!). For a packed tent, the grins were all too real.
So, Reading 1999. A Festival which came nicely to the boil during the weekend - in more ways than one - and boiled over at the climax, thanks to Band Of The Weekend, The Flaming Lips!
THE SHERIFF 1999 READING FESTIVAL AWARDS
Friday Best: 1. ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN; 2 SEAFOOD; 3. LLAMA FARMERS (of 17)
Saturday Best: 1. MADDER ROSE; 2. BIG LEAVES; 3. QUASI (of 15)
Sunday Best: 1. THE FLAMING LIPS; 2. FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE, 3. DARK STAR (of 11)
Overall: 1. THE FLAMING LIPS; 2. FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE; 3. MADDER ROSE (of 43)
Best New Band: 1. BIG LEAVES; 2. GRAND DRIVE; 3. THE JELLYS
Crap! 1. ATARI TEENAGE RIOT; Special "Couldn't Give A Shit" Award to ELASTICA.
Sorry I Missed; No real disappointing clashes really, for once! The cancelled KENT and DAWN OF THE REPLICANTS, I guess!
Stars Of The Show; 1. WAYNE COYNE; 2. ADAM SCHLESINGER; 3. THE SQUASH STALL GUY!