Tuesday, 24 August 2010
381 THE 1998 READING FESTIVAL
SHERIFF'S DIARY - DAY 1, FRIDAY 28 AUGUST 1998
A false start thanks to parenting issues nevertheless saw me getting a train on my own and arriving, doing the wristband/programme/running order check thang, and still getting into the arena early doors. After 8 years, I'm starting to get good at this... Got into the by-now sunny arena at 12-ish and dived into the Tiny Tent, moved this year to a better vantage point near the arena exit, to catch local heroes GEL. They wore iridescent silver shirts and played bratty teenage punk rock to a surprisingly large tent crowd. In fact, the whole arena was busy all day today! Popped into the arena itself afterwards for mainstage openers HEADSWIM, who were a bleaker version of Radiohead (if you can imagine?) and thus totally unsuitable for such a sunny day and a positive vibe. Headed thereafter over to the Big Tent (this year sponsored by Melody Maker, and thankfully in its' rightful place in the corner!) to see Sweden's SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES, who were running 20 minutes late, thanks to 60 Ft. Dolls very late cancellation, and who were playing some dreadful swirly 70's type prog rock, with beards and grand gestures to match. Decamped quickly to the Tiny Tent for a bit of SARA SARA, featuring another iridescently clad (trouser-suit, this time) vocalist, with a fine late night club voice and a clutch of spiky, half decent songs.
Waited in the arena with the horrendously clumsy and leaden heavy rock of MONSTER MAGNET as accompaniment, and then disappeared off to see THE DELGADOS in the Big Tent. Their gearbox was again set to cruise control, and they played the type of indie pop rock which journos find "interesting" and "delicate", but which I found "uneventful" and "dull". No "Under Canvas, Under Wraps" this time either... oooh no, of course that rocks too much! Out again in the arena at 3, with the sleazy 50's glam style punkabilly rock of ROCKET FROM THE CRYPT for company. Quite entertaining, in a "Grease" where John Travolta ends up getting shot kind of way. However, I didn't stick around for long, as I was Big Tent-bound for potential first day highlight GRANDADDY. Despite looking like slightly confused Amish farmers, their set was hauntingly gorgeous. Call them low-fi, new country, whatever, they play a music that is ethereal, wonderful and so beautiful and far away, "'cause everything beautiful is far away". Jason Lytle, clad in a "Tucson Alternator Exchange" baseball cap and showing the correct use of a beard, said, "we're great! We're heading for the stars!" before the brilliantly catchy sound of "Summer Here Kids". No-one was arguing.
Stayed in for some of YO LA TENGO's subsequent set. They were like the moogy drone of Stereolab, set to the low-fi strumalongs of Lou Barlow's Sebadoh, and for some reason kept insisting they were from Glasgow. They're not. Their set improved as it got rockier, with a Jonathan Richman sound-alike number the best. Then, the 4pm arena soundtrack was brought to me by the mainstage antics of SYMPOSIUM. Enthusiastic, loud and thrashy as before, with at least no ska this time - none that I heard, anyway. I missed the eventful end of their set (vocalist Ross Cummins being assaulted by security after the band tried to hurl their kit into the audience!) as I'd disappeared to catch the arse end of Yo La Tengo's set, then off for food!
Gave the mainstage AFGHAN WHIGS another chance to get on speaking terms with my musical taste post-teatime, but again Greg Dulli's alleged US Indie Rock pioneers failed totally to float my boat. No tunes, Greg! Opted instead for a wander near the backstage entrance (Rocket From The Crypt and Gavin from Bush were hanging around, so no, I didn't see anyone famous), then took a wander to the phones by the information tent to give Rachel the heads-up on the first day... so far! Back in for the mainstage sounds of THE DEFTONES, who were, surprisingly, featured on more t-shirts than anyone else in this surprisingly large first day crowd - with the possible exception of "South Park"! However, they were a sub-Rage Against The Machine angry shouty grungy mess, so I ignored them.
Headed over to the Tiny Tent for an early evening set by SUNHOUSE, only to find that on arrival I'd lost my notepad! Disaster! Retraced my steps but couldn't find it - so the notes prior to this point are from memory rather then experience; impressive, huh? - so I picked up a postcard for scribbling on and headed back. Sunhouse were a bluesy and moody lot of ruffians from Nottingham, playing mainly considered, strumalong stuff with one fun, wig-out number, though apparently I missed their best song "Monkey Dead" whilst scrabbling around on the floor in the twilight. As dusk closed in further on the packed arena, I caught bits of KENICKIE's Big Tent set from the outskirts of said tent. Unfortunately their teen rebellion now has a disco beat, which did little for me. Apart from a bratty reading of "In Your Car", they were disappointing, with the new stuff insubstantial, rather like a poor man's St. Etienne. Obviously my opinion was shared by a couple of be-stilted aliens in fur coats, as they left too!
However ASH, our next band on in the main arena, were ace! The new numbers veered away from the slow growl of their disappointing debut "1977" back to more dynamic punky powerpop, yet sounding more mature and well fleshed out by the new girly on guitars. I piled into the mosh during the thrilling "A Life Less Ordinary" and stayed there for a frenetic and splendid set, climaxed by adrenaline buzzsaw oldies "Petrol" and "Kung Fu". Great stuff!
So, to the Tiny Tent afterwards in the dark, to finish off day 1. SCOTT 4 were not the new country act I'd envisioned - more like a dull bar-room blues act with overlong songs - but the very popular tent headliners GOMEZ were a more intriguing bunch. Inviting comparisons with late-period Doors and Talking Heads (fitting, given they encored with a "Road To Nowhere" cover), they were a melting pot of funky dubby beats, swampy rock and mellow mood music and went down very well with both the crowd and me! That took us to 11.30, so off to collect left luggage and bring a successful first day to a close.
SHERIFF'S DIARY - DAY 2, SATURDAY 29 AUGUST 1998
Armed with a new notebook to replace the one I lost yesterday, and with a shower and a belly full of brekky behind me (or in front, in the case of the belly), I was transported to the sunny arena today by Rachel, joining me for the last 2 days. The sun was out as we arrived, the vibe was really cool, and I was even inclined to feel charitable towards mainstage openers BIS, on at the ridiculously early time of 11.15. Their set was actually infinitely better than before as a result; DIY pop with attitude, like Kenickie used to be before they apparently turned Eurodisco. I enjoyed Bis. I never thought I'd write that! After the set, we bumped into a former footy opponent of mine who turned out to have been a bully at Rachel's old school! Small world. It got even smaller, as it turned out our Big Tent position to watch the day's opener's SEAFOOD was standing right next to happy campers Fred and Ady! I saw Seafood's set in 2 parts thanks to a trip to the loo (during which I saw t-shirt slogan of the weekend in "Let Her Finish Her Orgasm"), but they were cool; varying pace but always rocky, spiky and challenging. the set climaxed with an acoustic version of The Pixies' "Wave Of Mutilation" and a noise-fest version of "Walking In The Air"! Good stuff!
Despite another trip to the loo - the price I pay for trying to keep my fluid levels up on a hot day by drinking loads of water; yes, water - I then caught THE LLAMA FARMERS in the Big Tent. Painfully young, they were still poppy, melodic and sporting a surprisingly mature sound. The vocalist, whether by accident or design, sounded like Jonathan Richman, but the band were more of an early thrashy Teenage Fanclub. Good again! However, into the Tiny Tent we then ambled, still looking for that real treat that invariably arrives into our laps on Saturday at Reading, just after lunchtime (remember The Gigolo Aunts? Scarce?). And we certainly found it!
EL NINO, an Indiana 4-piece, sounded good in the programme write-up, but were much better "live"; hard, passionate US rock a la Buffalo Tom, with big choruses and hooks, and a vocalist resembling a young Springsteen, bulging neck veins and all, and singing with a conviction akin to the Tom's Bill Janovitz. And even better; following their set, I picked up the guitarist's discarded guitar pick from the feet of their press officer, and Rachel and I blagged loads of free stuff - tapes as well! Result! Stayed Tiny Tent-bound with Fred and Ady during SUPERIOR's set, which featured a PVC clad Goth girl striking some real "rawk chick" poses. Music? Didn't notice! Anyway, we eventually ventured into the early afternoon sun for some food during RANCID. They couldn't decide whether to play hardcore punk or ska, but always had an "oi oi oi" rabble-rousing element to their sound which kind of turned me off. Ignored them during our late lunch, then also ignored LEE SCRATCH PERRY onstage as we shopped and took in the sun for a dead (musically at least) hour or so.
I then divested myself of company, and piled down the front of the mainstage, as 4.45 approached; the witching hour, time for ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN. My first "live" encounter with my old favourites since their reformation was accelerated as they started with "Rescue", and also proceeded to do "Back Of Love", "The Cutter", "Lips Like Sugar" and "The Killing Mon" in short order, and a subsequent "Do It Clean" finale, augmented with vocal snippets from "Sex Machine", the Cramps' "Garbageman" and a Pete DeFreitas tribute. I was in the mosh throughout, a 16 year old camo kid again. Mac as ever was glacially cool in shades and occasionally doing keepie-ups with his cigarette butts, and even a crazy disjointed dance step or two! The set was largely on autopilot, true, but hearing this grand, haunting, mythical music from another age was a brilliant experience.
Met up with the guys again, and, after the Bunnymosh pounding, I kept a watching brief for THE FOO FIGHTERS. From my vantage point their set seemed plagued with early sound difficulties, but Dave Grohl, a nice guy as ever (advising us not to bungee jump from the crane set up for that purpose, because, "the elastic is made out of the same stuff in your underpants - you don't want to trust that shit!"), ultimately won through. An excellently spooky run-through of their magnificent "Everlong" was the highlight of a well-rocking and powerful set. Rachel and I then sprinted to the Tiny Tent in the hope of catching some of ELLIOTT SMITH's set, and in the end only caught the final, delicious low-fi strumalong number "Division Day". D'oh!
Back into the dusty yet still sun-kissed early evening arena for my - and Reading Festival's - first "live" experience of SUPERGRASS. A damn fine sounding clutch of their poppy, catchy rock numbers ensued, sounding superb and prompting tapped toes and sing-along's. "Richard III" was a highlight, but overall I never thought I knew as much of their cool and flippant material as I did! As dusk closed in, we then headed over to the Big Tent for THE WARM JETS, who actually played an absolute blinder! Cool, spiky and moody as ever, they also added some drive and dynamism to the set, and were as good as they possibly could be - as good, if not better, than I'd seen them before. The elongated closer "Never Never" was a totally absorbing highlight of a set I ultimately saw just 2 rows from the front, centre stage, as people kept moving out of our way! Bizarre!
Anyway, this took us to 9 pm, so Ady (who watched The Jets with us) and I got Chinese food at the back of the arena, so we couldn't hear much of the god-awful PRODIGY on the mainstage (we unfortunately still heard "Firestarter" on our way to the food stall), then into the Tiny Tent with Rachel in tow for a final Saturday treat! DAWN OF THE REPLICANTS played a thoroughly bizarre set of their clunky, challenging, monotone, intriguing and totally unique Indie-meets-weird-science set, to an undeservedly sparse crowd (the "kids" were up for The Prodge - The Warm Jets were equally poorly attended). Vocalist Paul, bereft of flying helmet this time, was nevertheless totally bonkers - shouting, "you're never not near.. a rat!" regularly, and generally purveying oodles of mutant madness. We rocked to "Lisa Box" and had a great time!
And that was it for Saturday... nothing at the top of the bill to keep us there, so Rachel and I hit the road and were back in Swindon by midnight!
SHERIFF'S DIARY - DAY 3, SUNDAY 29 AUGUST 1998
This was the sunniest day of the lot to start with! Had a late start making and eating brekky, but we eventually set off, getting there in time to wake Ady up (at 11.30!) and get into the Big Tent for midday openers THE INTERPRETERS. Three black-clad rock ruffians from Pennsylvania, who kicked up an agitated fuzz noise, like Iggy And The Stooges meeting You Am I in the back of a pink Cadillac! Met up with everyone in the arena during GIRLS AGAINST BOYS on the main stage, who again failed to move me with their one-dimensional rock. Rachel said the sampled bits reminded her of Pop Will Eat Itself - never a good sign!
The mainstage was running late as Gene cancelled, and this was the quietest day of a nevertheless well-attended festival. We were all able to hit the front for DRUGSTORE, who despite our rather silly fear that they might be lost on the main stage, put on a great show. Isobel, clad in red Mexican silks, was the usual happy, charismatic frontperson, and the band, bereft of usual drummer Mike (a victim of TB, allegedly caught from an Arizona prostitute, according to Isobel!) were nevertheless in good form. The guest Mexican trumpeters, and the deliciously haunting "Black Star" were great. I've seen them better, but overall it was a great way to break the record - Drugstore are now my most seen band, with 12 times!
Had a cider before going into the Big Tent for A, a very popular punky thrash, with Offspring, Compulsion and The Ramones as obvious reference points. A huge moshpit too! Took a couple of minutes in the arena while MONACO were on the main stage. New Order's Peter Hook's solo project sounded exactly like New Order, all easy synth-pop rhythms and haunting bass. Surprise surprise! Left them to it after having a few words with a chatty Steve Lamacq, my former favourite NME hack and now a Radio 1 DJ. Back the tent for SIX BY SEVEN, who, despite a good reputation, were too gloomy and doomy for a sunny Summer Sunday. During their set I spoke to a chap I'd seen floating around earlier and recognised from somewhere; it turned out to be Richard Sayce, drummer with the excellent Silver Sun! Left 6x7 to it and back into the arena for baguettes, with the remainder of Monaco's set as a musical backdrop. THE DIVINE COMEDY were up next, but I left Fred to it; after their painfully moaning first number it again didn't sound like happy entertainment! Into the Big Tent instead for URUSEI YATSURA, who were surprisingly low-key, but nevertheless popular. Their set was redeemed by some of their early Weddoes/ C86 style sci-fi pop numbers, and their vocalist proclaiming, "we're now off to a sanatorium in Switzerland!"
After Gene's scheduled slot, the mainstage sets were running early, so SHED SEVEN started at 5.45. Big Sheddoes fan Rachel and I were down the front, but their opener and best number "Getting Better" sounded flat and un-dynamic, so I left her to it! Their standard Smiths-ish guitar pop is a little too, well, average for my tastes anyway, so I took a wander around the arena. Rachel emerged sweaty and breathless from the Sheddoe's mosh, but I departed to catch a bit of ROYAL TRUX in the Big Tent. I was expecting some sleazy US swampy rock, but instead I got a gravelly voiced chick in a cowboy hat and greatcoat singing some lumpen and doomy country numbers. Left her to it, and did some shopping around the arena while THE BLUETONES were peddling their flat and innocuous wallpaper pop on the main stage. I'm not a fan enough to take notice, and there wasn't much worth taking notice of anyway!
Met the peeps with my purchases and hit the MM tent, early evening, for THEAUDIENCE. I have my suspicions about this lot being career muso types, and their previous pseudo Goth style has been jettisoned in favour of a more user friendly, "commercial" girly indie pop sound. Sophie can sing, but her anonymous band were slightly discordant and just not up to it. They weren't doing it for me or any of us, so we came out to catch all of the NEW ORDER set. And for that we will remain eternally grateful.
Vocalist Barney Sumner came bouncing on, determined to, "rock the joint," and, after a couple of their more recent, atmospheric synth-fuelled numbers, they unbelievably hit the Joy Division material! "Isolation", a jaw-droppingly awesome and beautiful "Atmosphere", an agitated and beefed-up "Heart And Soul", then, incredibly, "Love Will Tear Us Apart"! My previous pre-conceived notion that here were 4 old chaps just going through the motions and cashing in on their earlier legend was made to look foolish by their performance of songs I never thought I'd hear "live", given that they were full of power, passion and conviction. The subsequent set was also considerably less "perfect" and rehearsed; looser and uninhibited, and infinitely better for it. A high 5 between Barney and bassist Peter Hook after "Touched By The Hand Of God" showed they knew it too! An astonishing encore "World In Motion", featuring Keith Allen rapping and the whole of Reading singing along, climaxed a majestic and extraordinary set. Band Of The Weekend? They nailed it!
"Thanks for sticking around after that monumental set by the wonderful New Order," thanked Shirley Manson of Festival "Headliners" GARBAGE, who had the impossible task of following that. To their credit, they not only tried the "we're so humble" line to get on the right side of the audience, but also played a fine set of their slightly samey and formulaic, yet dynamic glacial Gothy rock. Feisty Scots lass Shirley tried her damnedest to make it work, and they generated a large (but not New Order-esque massive) mosh, but it was definitely a case of "After The Lord Mayor's Show" for me. What worked for Garbage was their enthusiasm and a surprisingly tender cover of Big Star's "Thirteen". What didn't was Shirley's subsequent total sycophancy towards the diminishing crowd.
Still, Rachel and I stuck it out to the end of their set, then hit the road after a festival of surprises!
THE SHERIFF 1998 READING FESTIVAL AWARDS
Friday Best: 1. GRANDADDY, 2. ASH, 3. GOMEZ (of 17)
Saturday Best: 1. ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN, 2. DAWN OF THE REPLICANTS, 3. EL NINO (of 14)
Sunday Best: 1. NEW ORDER, 2. DRUGSTORE, 3. INTERPRETERS (of 14)
OVERALL - 1. NEW ORDER, 2. GRANDADDY, 3. ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN, 4. DAWN OF THE REPLICANTS, 5. EL NINO (of 45)
Best New Band: 1. EL NINO, 2. SEAFOOD, 3. GOMEZ
Crap! 1. SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES, 2. THE DEFTONES, 3. THE PRODIGY
Disappointing; 1. KENICKIE, 2. THE DELGADOS not doing "Under Canvas, Under Wraps", 3. Not seeing FRED and ADY doing their Bungee jumps!
Sorry I Missed: The rest of ELLIOTT SMITH's set, THE MONTROSE AVENUE, SLEATER-KINNEY, MARCY PLAYGROUND (they cancelled. D'oh!)
Stars Of The Show: 1. BARNEY from NEW ORDER, 2. JASON LYTLE from GRANDADDY, 3. STEVE LAMACQ, 4. RICHARD SAYCE from SILVER SUN; 5. RACHEL for the post SHED SEVEN moshpit Asthma attack!