Saturday, 3 July 2010
456 THE 2000 READING FESTIVAL
SHERIFF'S DIARY - DAY 1, FRIDAY 25 AUGUST 2000
Hmmm. It's Reading Festival, a time to put my work and health (out of hospital and on a low-fat diet, thanks to a gall bladder infection) worries behind me; also a totally scorchio and baking start today, at least. And yet there's still an agitated vibe; and why? Because of fucking Oasis! Oasis are playing today, and the whole weekend - including day tickets - is sold out! Bah! It got worse when we (myself, Rachel and Beef, the festival-goers for this year) actually hit the venue, and note that the site is packed full of bag-head beer monsters - some already canned, at 11 am on Friday! - and huge queues to get wristbands and to get into the arena.
So, following a visit to the info tent, a dump of bags in the "left luggage" tent and a navigation through the unruly scrum to get in, we miss the start of OOBERMAN's Mainstage set. They however provide a pleasant and quintessentially British start to the musical proceedings. An amalgam of lots of Brit poppy bands, mainly Blur and Pulp, they do their best to imbue me with a sunnier vibe. I'm trying too - I'm shirtless and all oiled up for the sun! My sunny vibe then gets a leg up, and my currently low faith in humanity is partly restored, by a walk to the Big Tent, noticing lots of people singing along to "Debaser" being played over the tannoy! We catch THE HIGH FIDELITY there, featuring old Soup Dragon sparring partner Sean Dickson. They play some fun, glammy pop tunes, quite derivative of T-Rex and the Velvet Underground, but quirky and entertaining. Also fun are the "boos" when Sean asks the crowd whether they were here to see Oasis. Perhaps this is Reading after all! Notable too is the final HF number where we all sit down for some bizarre reason, and Sean advising us that his band have nothing to do with, "that bloody book!"
Catch some sun with a quick wander around the already busy arena, then back to the Big Tent for BIG YOGA MUFFIN. This lot feature another old sparring partner - Eat's former vocalist Ange Doolittle - and play some competent rhythm'n'lounge stuff which unfortunately really fails to catch fire until the in-your-face finale "Let's Talk About Me". Doolittle still exudes the natural unforced arrogance of the born showman, inviting comparisons with Julian Cope, no less, but with BYM he's treading water. KING ADORA, next up, are rapturously received by the kids as the heirs to the Placebo/ Maz Manson throne of eyeliner-clad shock rock. I dunno boys; eyeliner, chokers and dyed hair alone makes not a rock star, you've got to have some presence too, and this lot are lacking that right now. Someone like Quick Fix's Jake Zavracky, I remark to Rachel, would wipe the floor with this lot. Nevertheless, and despite also being derivative of The Pixies and Placebo musically, I do enjoy them for their occasional oomph and reasonable tunes. Gotta get Zavracky over, though...
Take a walk over to the Tiny Tent for the first time, letting the sun warm up these old bones on the way, and catch the end of THE TURIN BRAKES' set. They recall Grant Lee Buffalo with some shimmery acoustic mandolin-style Americana, and also Willard Grant Conspiracy in their darker moments. Either way, good and encouraging. We then wander in search of low-fat food and find Cajun chicken wrap. Grandaddy are doing a signing session in the NME tent but the queues are massive. Bah! We also lament the absence of potential new stars Cotton Mather from the advertised opening day bill, as it's mid-afternoon and nothing has yet made us really go, "whoo!". Whatever, we go on... We expect more from NORTH MISSISSIPPI ALL-STARS and get it, albeit unexpectedly. I had the impression that this was another parched New Country act, like Sparklehorse, but instead they play a powerful mix of free-form blues and dirty swamp rock, like a punk rock Lightnin' Hopkins! Strident and dynamic onstage, they are augmented by a very impressive - and massive - black vocalist who balances a tiny-looking bass on one voluminous man-breast, and lays down the foundations for a fine and well-rocking set.
We then suss out the loos and merch stands and pass by the Big Tent, where BRASSY are playing a song which sounds exactly like Placebo, from the spooky mood to the vocalist's inflections! Beef later tells me that the vocalist is a woman, which amazes me. Back to the Tiny Tent for I AM KLOOT; they're a 3-piece with a Professional Scouser as front-person, peddling strum-along retro-acoustic wares which wouldn't have been out of place on a Smiths support bill back in the day. Again, no more than pleasant, though. A little more challenging was CLINIC, over in the Big Tent; as per their opening day set last year, they were metronomic, rhythmic and reasonably good and absorbing in parts. I do without the visuals this year, though, and take a lie down, letting this stuff wash over me.
Late afternoon means another walk around the stalls while THE BLUETONES are on the Main Stage, peddling their sleepy trad-rock Britpop wares. Take a wander to the loos backstage and bump into Grandaddy's Jason Lytle! I have a couple of words with him as he heads over for their set, but I confess I lose my cool a little - surprisingly - and don't make too much sense. D'oh! Nevertheless, we follow - at a respectable distance - and join the throng for the GRANDADDY Big Tent set. Their set is delayed by the inevitable keyboard set-up problems, but when they get going they're quite, quite magnificent. "Summer Here Kids", beefed up and speeded up, opens the set in a punky manner, but the remainder of the set is down a speed or two, and is elegant, other-worldly and supremely charming. They draw heavily from their current masterpiece, "The Sophtware Slump", a warning about the dangers of technology over-reliance, set to such simple, captivating and absorbingly beautiful music. Their wonderful zenith, "The Crystal Lake", is heart-breakingly perfect, and their set, all too short, is firmly installed as Set Of The Weekend. No contest. Yeah, already!
Amazingly, I also get a set-list, and sprint out of the Big Tent into the Arena, to catch FOO FIGHTERS' last Mainstage number, a superbly rampaging "Everlong". If I only have to catch one of their numbers, I'm glad it's that one, but I curse the scheduling which made the best 2 bands of day 1 clash. We then take a walk to the back of the Arena, with the intention of taking a leek and coming back for Ween, but we get caught on the crush around the exit, thanks to too many Oasis fans piling in, and terrible traffic flow. I persuade Rachel to use the cubicles in the gents as the queues are smaller, with an, "of course nobody you know will see you!", so we then promptly run into Kev from Seafood by the entrance! Typical! Have a quick chat with him about their forthcoming Seafood US trip (they're playing in Boston; hmmm, there's an idea...) and we also lament the uninspiring state of this year's Reading bill. This is supposed to be the "Best Festival Line-up Ever!" according to the hype, but I don't see it myself! Anyway, we chat so long with Kev we totally forget to go see Ween!
Back to the Arena as the light fails around us and the Oasis massive light the usual polystyrene food packaging fires. PRIMAL SCREAM peddle their bluesy/dancy nonsense onstage; I lost touch with them over a decade ago, and they do nothing tonight to make me want to catch up again. So, I grab more grub (I think I'll see a fair bit of the Cajun chicken guy this weekend!) then see SHED SEVEN in the Big Tent at 9. They play a quite good actually set of their simple, knockabout and sing-along Britpop. A fine (and unexpected by former Sheddoe groupie Rachel!) "Dolphin", a former TTP Single Of The Year, is a highlight of a set which went down really well with the still numerous Sheddoes massive - and me too, really!
However, having no real interest in either Main Stage or Big Tent headliners (Muse are just boring, and as for the other lot... well, I've mentioned them more times than they deserve already), we head through the packed yet murky gloom (thanks to the poly fires burned by "da kids", that annual phenomenon - a hole in the ozone layer above Berkshire - is doubtless occurring) to the Tiny Tent for their finale. DIRTY THREE are first, turning out to be largely instrumental noise-niks playing some form of cacophonous freeform mess. I can't even tag it to a genre, there's just nothing there. We stay for headliners CALEXICO, label-mates of Wheat, who turn up at 10.55 after an involved and painfully meticulous sound-check, and play a set confirming them as the breakthrough act of the day. They play a beguiling mix of slow-burning alt-country and Tex Mex styles - one could almost imagine Clint Eastwood riding into town during one of their more trad Western-style tunes. Very evocative, particularly when they introduce some friends (amigos?) from Tucson, Arizona who turn out to be Mexican Mariachis in full black regalia and sombreros. Very enjoyable stuff "live" - "kick ass, guys!" as one Mexican put it - but I'm not sure how (or even if!) it'll translate on record. Anyway, bags then collected and straight out as the arena empties from the Mainstage headliners. It's not as bad to get out as I thought, and the hay is duly hit by 1/4 to 1!
SHERIFF'S DIARY - DAY 2, SATURDAY 26 AUGUST 2000
Rain. Fuck! Damn! Still, it's not as heavy as expected, and it seems most of it fell through the night. However, it precipitates constantly as we head up the M4, and we find the site and Arena thoroughly soggy. Soggy rather than sodden, though - no chance of trench-foot here, it's not Glasto! - but I'm glad I'm wearing boots and pacamac! We arrive at 11.30, with KUSTOM BUILT already on the Big Tent stage. We get dry but no inspiration, as they're spry but dated 90's dance rap a la Stereo MCs. Yawn.
However, inspiration is to be found on the Main Stage, following the obligatory Rachel beer, and it comes in the form of Sweden's KENT. They defy the rain with epic sweeping melody, and atmospheric anthems of power and finesse. And tight? Like a gnat's chuff, boys - every note is crystal clear, every micro-second is supremely synchronised, the understanding between this band is almost telepathic. "If You Were Here" and the wonderful "747", the 2 finest set closers of this festival, chased away the rain and held us spellbound, hopes and expectations exceeded. Fantastic - and getting the set-list from the mainstage didn't hurt either!
Quit the soggy arena to go over to the Tiny Tent, for BEN'S SYMPHONIC ORCHESTRA. Not an orchestra, more a keyboard-fuelled 4-piece, serving some pleasant summery Gallic tunes. Slightly Kinks-ish in their simplicity and wry flippancy, but I didn't hear too much of the supposed Beach Boys influences, despite a final - original composition, BTW - number, entitled "Surfing USA". Hmmm. A Tent transfer is then secured through the brolleyed-up and pacamacced crowds to the Big Tent for JJ72, hotly tipped guitar newcomers. Despite their mad reception from a large crowd (not all sheltering from the rain, surely?) and a decent opening number in a 90's shoegazing stylee, they disappoint with regressive Smashing Pumpkins impressions and dull slow verse/shouty chorus dynamics. Nowt new, so we exit after 4 numbers, with the vocalist's voice starting to grate, to the drizzly arena. Despite a technically beset start, GORKY'S ZYGOTIC MWNCI serve up an altogether summery and more palatable dish here. Some nice hazy drift-along melodies with a dash of unexpected yet cool crunchy guitar noise, with some nice violin licks thrown in, created a very good impression.
We missed the set end though, as we notice the JJ72 massive exiting the Big Tent. So we're in there for the eagerly awaited entrance of ...AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD. You know, there's something primal about four black-clad blokes nonchalantly walking on, then pumping out sudden, incredibly exciting raw rock'n'roll. Their set, despite being "cleaner" sounding and slightly less intense than their current "Madonna" CD, is still the most exciting of the weekend. "This new song's about poisoning yourself... with chocolate!" was one of their intros, which just summed it up perfectly, and when they totally cut loose for the incredibly awesome "A Perfect Teenhood", their set closer, the subsequent equipment trashing seems more necessary catharsis than tired rock cliché. Superb.
Eventually came up for air from the mosh, trashed set-list in hand, to the arena where IDLEWILD, led by their excellently be-jumpered vocalist Roddy Woomble, are playing a powerful and crisp punk pop set which nevertheless still fails to stir my heart or wallet. Right now, I'm inclined to recognise they may be suffering in comparison with ...TOD, and I admit "Fragile" is fine. Back into the Big Tent afterwards at 3, for another hotly-tipped new UK band, TERRIS. The elastic limbed vocalist Gavin, despite being a very visual presence, has a surprisingly fragile "live" voice which lessens his presence and impact commensurably. That said, the band play some good moody stuff without resorting to the clichéd traps of JJ72, f'rinstance, and some numbers were deliciously rhythmic in a late 80's style, without ever really hammering one home. One to watch, though...
And here's when the dinner bell does the bell thing! Yes I know it's 3.45, but time and appetite run differently at Reading. So it's jacket spud and low-fat chilli, before checking out DARK STAR's Big Tent set. Unfortunately, I needed a pee after their opener, which meant enduring some of DEFTONES' terrible Main Stage Brontosaurus yowl. D'oh! Anyway, back to Dark Star, who appear to be playing a smattering of newies, which totally fit in with their rhythmic pop-Goth rush. I feel almost proud as their set goes down a storm, particularly the breathless set climax "I Am The Sun". They've come a long way - good on 'em, and a good set! Stay Big Tent-side for QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, who kick off with their addictive drugs terrace chant "Feel Good Hit Of The Summer", and lay down some down'n'dirty old school biker hard rock. Good and sleazy, but a little samey and monotone until a fine keyboard-fuelled number, after which the set perks up noticeably. Good stuff again, if hardly the "new Nirvana" they've improperly been touted as.
Ran into David from Seafood (not Kevin for once!) during QOTSA's encore (!), then it's snacks in the arena to SUPER FURRY ANIMALS' early evening mainstage set, which is also welcomed by some weak late afternoon sun! Now fully matured as a live act, the Furries regale us with a cool retro 60's slightly-delic shimmery haze of a set, with the driving pop of opener "Do Or Die" and the calypso rhythms of "Northern Lites" both terrific early highlights. The second half of their set forms the backdrop for a couple of short conversations with a very pleasant and friendly Neil Busch from ...Trail Of Dead, who signs my set-list and listens to my eulogising of Seafood. Someone else had made the Seafood/TOD comparison to them - I'm glad it's not just me!
Sneak back to the car for an evening change; back into the arena for 7.30, and try to get anywhere near the Tiny Tent for a bit of AT THE DRIVE-IN. There's no way, though! They sound dynamic and possibly very thrilling in the context of the new millennial wave of US rock - definitely more ...TOD than Limp Bizkit - but I just can't get close enough to really distinguish them above the muffled rock blare. Damn shame. Eventually give up and see the last knockings of GOMEZ on the Main stage. This actually sounds very good indeed, and forces me to eat my words about them primarily being a studio band. The last number, "Whipping Piccadilly" is tight, funky and on the button, going down a storm and making me wish I'd caught the rest of their set.
A bit of down time now, as we find a vantage point near the backstage door and sit. I catch a candidate for t-shirt slogan of the weekend; "1 Tequila, 2 Tequila, 3 Tequila, Floor", which certainly beats the popular "Porn Star" t-shirts, normally sported by skinny kids who've probably never encountered porn. Not the proper stuff, anyway. The light fails as BECK comes onstage to lay down some cool rhythmic slacker funk. The chameleonic Mr. Hansen plays a very front-loaded set; "New Pollution" and slacker anthem "Loser" open the set, which continues in a very funky and unexpectedly oomphy way. I'd like to hear more, but I'm on a mission! Off to the Big Tent as it partially empties just before 9, and refills for THE WANNADIES. They emerge and we squeeze through the mosh during their opening numbers, which are as sparkly, colourful, dynamic and poppy as ever. Their familiar big melodies are to the fore, played with verve and fresh faced fun. It all gets a bit chaotic in the mosh, but we hold onto it, and the touching "You And Me Song" - introduced by vocalist Par saying, "we're rid of the Germans, and right now we're the best unsigned band in the entire world!" - and the frenetic "Hit" were fitting set closers.
Another quick grub stop before we head into the murky and crowded depths of the main arena - more bloody polystyrene fires! PULP, tonight's headliners, join us at 10.15 to the refrain of their sleazy magnum opus, "Common People", a disenfranchised class barrier anthem if there ever was one. I can't help but feel another surge of pride as Jarvis effortlessly puts on a performance of different class (pardon the pun). He's come a long way since the days of upstairs pub room gigs, and he's never compromised. Rock'n'roll needs more Jarvis Cockers! Pulp's set is great, although my attention wanders as I get cold to go with the Wannadies mosh wetness, so go buy a woolly jumper. Pulp introduce a whole load of new numbers, which, although introspective and quiet, don't have the naked despair which characterised their disappointing recent "This Is Hardcore" era. Jarv's onstage banter is also great, as are set closers "Do You Remember The First Time?" and an unexpected "Babies", as sassy, Bowie-esque and glam sleaze as ever. A fine finish to the best day of the 3 - by far!
SHERIFF'S DIARY - DAY 3, SUNDAY 27 AUGUST 2000
Lots of fluffy stuff in the sky today, I'm glad to say. The forecast is for occasional (hopefully brief) showers and mainly sunny intervals. I'm glad to say that sunny intervals are winning, despite the briefest of rainspots on the journey. Left luggage then circumnavigation of a very large crowd to get in - evidently we're not the only ones who've set their alarms to catch mainstage openers MY VITRIOL! Luckily we get in in good time and MV provide the unexpectedly large crowd with a powerful and dynamic wake-up call. Gutsy, tightly-focussed and driving top-drawer hard rock, with superb tunes and fire in the belly, My Vitriol bring to mind a younger Husker Du, no less. And humour too - MV frontman Som brings on, "Eminem's replacement," which turns out to be a plastic fish singing "Don't Be Cruel"! However the serious stuff was superb, with incendiary single "Losing Touch" a real cobweb-clearing cold shower of a song. One wonders how much further up the bill they'll be next year...
Next we trundle to the Big Tent for Beef's tip CLEARLAKE, who start with a wispy and wry opener "Jumble Sailing", which gives way to an understated collection of nice relaxing pop tunes. "This is our first festival engagement," says the singer, "so we'd like to play a song which we've not written but which we like." This turns out to be a bloody excellent actually keyboard-led version of the Beach Boys' classic "Hang Onto Your Ego" which wins me over, although I truncate their set with a fruitless trip to the Tiny Tent to catch a bit of Gecko, who were running early so I missed them. Bah! So back to the Big Tent for Clearlake's last number, before we go en masse to the Tiny Tent to see IT'S JO AND DANNY. Despite a good white noise opener, they play a pastoral, acoustic, strumalong, slightly folky, pleasant but occasionally dull set. Kind of what I expected, really...
Saw LINOLEUM's last number in the Big Tent; they were partying like it's 1985, and they were on a Bauhaus support slot in Leeds, with their doomy and dated Goth pop. THE CROCKETTS, next up, were a different kettle of fish altogether, kicking off a punky Irish fuss, front-loaded with bags of attitude. Their seriously agitated and sex-obsessed vocalist gave it loads in the screaming and leaping stakes, which makes for a riveting spectacle. Only the t-shirt slogan of the weekend - "I Heard Them Before You!" - distracts my attention.
We then do some shopping during A's thrash-punk mainstage set. They've gone backwards musically since last year, definitely. Shame. We then stay arena-side to see silly manufactured pop slappers DAPHNE AND CELESTE get booed and bottled offstage with an unprecedented hail of plastic containers, rotten fruit and piss. Reading speaks - we don't want that kind of shit here!
Grab a mid-afternoon snack - another grilled chicken baguette. I dunno, I'm pretty close to changing my name to Reynard and growing a bushy tail! Big Tent for the disappointing CLINT BOON EXPERIENCE, which turns out to be very ordinary keyboard-fuelled pop which tells me the old boy's past his creative best. However, there's a serious lull in the proceedings for me anyway, so we shop some more, inside and out of the arena! Return at 5.15 for the excellently named LUPINE HOWL in the Big Tent, who play a sleazy wah-wah heavy set of leather trousered Velvets-style rock, which sounded quite good from my seated position. However, we're then set fair for the unexpected Best New Band of Reading 2000; Dallas' surf punk outfit BOWLING FOR SOUP. They're upstart punk rockers in a Buzzcocks/Green Day style, chucking their plectrums about with gay abandon, but they elevate themselves from the standard shiny US FM radio punk massive by virtue of instantly memorable hooks and tunes, superb humour ("this is a song about New Zealand, and it's called "Belgium"!") and unexpectedly fine 3-part harmonies! The huge guitarist - 35 stone if he's an ounce - eventually loses his trousers to reveal quite the biggest boxers in the world, and the manically staring vocalist Jaret quips on! "I wrote this song for Tiger Woods, but he wouldn't put it on his goddamn video game, so I stuck his golf club up (fat guitarist) Chris' ass, and PUT IT BACK IN HIS BAG!" Dynamic, refreshing, fun, great! All topped off with a superb "Summer Of 69" which would have Brian Adams spinning in his grave if he were alive today! Catching a t-shirt jointly with Rachel didn't hurt either! Quick trip to the merch stand to get another - one each! - to find a huge scrum, all wanting BFS t-shirts! Amazing!
Back into the arena for SLIPKNOT and their shock-rock metal thrash no-music. This however went down extremely well with da kidz, and the band - all boiler-suited and masked up - "played" it very well too, I must confess. Is this the dawning of WWF Metal? I think we should be told... Then through the inky arena and from the ridiculous to the sublime in the Big Tent. ELLIOTT SMITH is very well received, and plays a fine set of his introspective college bedsit pop, which actually translates very well onto this big stage; dynamism with just the right amount of understatement. Slightly disappointing that Elliott doesn't play "XO" or "Ballad Of Big Nothing", but the absorbing and groovy "Division Day" is the highlight.
Back into the packed and smoky (hey, poly fires again!) arena - Brian Molko of PLACEBO is onstage chanting about, "dope, guns and fucking in the streets," but I'm all for cola, spag bog and sitting in the field, myself! I don't really get close enough to hear Placebo properly, but caught some of "Nancy Boy" and "Pure Morning", a couple of sleazy slabs of sexual tension, between rather more mundane bites of my low fat spaghetti tea. A final trip to the Tiny Tent thereafter to catch BELLATRIX, Iceland's latest heirs to the Bjork/ Sugarcubes' puffin-guzzling elfin pop pixie throne. Vocalist Eliza was energetic and evidently enjoying herself in the live environment, and the band played their quirky grunge pop with the suitable amount of oomph to back her as well. Sometimes silly and sing-along, sometimes hard rocking and thrilling, they play a fitting set closer for the Tiny Tent which has provided a number of highlights this weekend.
Then - the denouement! Mainstage headliners STEREOPHONICS are seen from a distance. Despite being the bye-word for trad indie hokum, they're best in a live environment, and play their generic indie rock songs really well. More power to them - rather them than Oasis, any day! A splendid "Local Boy In the Photograph" - always my favourite 'phonics number - is the last one we catch before a walk to the car. Waiting for Beef, we overhear a jazzy "Mama Told Me Not To Come" emanating from the arena, featuring none other than Tom Jones on backing vocals! The unmistakeable dulcet tones of the Jones boy form a surreal end to Reading 2000. Hardly "The Best Bill Ever", as t'was hyped as, but certainly one with more highs than lows. See you again in 2001!
THE SHERIFF 2000 READING FESTIVAL AWARDS
Friday Best: 1. GRANDADDY, 2. CALEXICO, 3. NORTH MISSISSIPPI ALL-STARS (of 16)
Saturday Best: 1. KENT, 2. ...AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD, 3. THE WANNADIES (of 17)
Sunday Best: 1. BOWLING FOR SOUP, 2. MY VITRIOL, 3. ELLIOTT SMITH (of 15)
OVERALL - 1. GRANDADDY, 2. KENT, 3. ...AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD, 4. THE WANNADIES, 5. BOWLING FOR SOUP (of 48)
Best New Band: 1. BOWLING FOR SOUP, 2. CLEARLAKE, 3. CALEXICO
Crap! 1. DAPHNE AND CELESTE (thankfully brief), 2. THE DEFTONES, 3. CLINT BOON (dull!)
Sorry I Missed: The majority of the sets by FOO FIGHTERS, GOMEZ, PLACEBO, BECK and all of WILT and GECKO. The worst scheduled Reading ever? Probably! Oh yeah, and BRING BACK THE SQUASH GUY!
Stars Of The Show: 1. NEIL BUSCH (...TOD), 2. KEVIN HENDRICKS (Seafood), 3. "Big" CHRIS VAN MALMSTEEN (Bowling For Soup)