Thursday, 16 September 2010
358 THE 1997 READING FESTIVAL
SHERIFF'S DIARY - DAY 1, FRIDAY 22 AUGUST 1997
"Programmes! Get your programmes!" I don't think so! There's no-one walking around selling them, as there should be, but when people in the so-called information tent are asked about them, they say people are walking around selling them! They LIE! So, I had to make do with a case of wanker's cramp, scribbling down the running orders from the info tent's photocopies! Bah! Still, the rain was only spitting as Beef and I hit the site, and at least there wasn't a queue for wristbands!
For a first day it's still a little quiet to begin with, so we had no trouble bumping into Tim and Claire in the arena before first band SCARFO, on at 1. I saw them as spiky popsters a couple of years ago, but since then they seem to have turned into Placebo wannabees, employing the same tension-filled high octane approach as Molko's mob. They're not too bad, despite being very obviously derivative, and at least they persuaded the sun to peek out! The arena then started to fill and heat up as STRANGELOVE took the main stage; hey, another Bristol band with about a million or so guitarists! I lay down and drifted off to their rocky but insubstantial set, paying attention to "Freak", their best number, which was a sleazy yell for attention and applause from the Brett Anderson (Suede) act-alike vocalist Patrick, who also gushed, "I love you all!" at the end of their set. Hmmm.
Anyway, the next mainstage band was, as expected, the first Festival highlight. I went down the front for the FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE, who sauntered onstage and played a super set, comprising the laconic, luscious and lazy Summery pop melodies so in evidence on their wonderful eponymous debut CD. "Sick Day" and the obvious "Radiation Vibe" were set highlights, as was the mock stadium "rawk" antics of vocalist Chris Collingwood, "so I could feel like Peter Frampton!". All this and humour too! I extracted myself from the mosh afterwards, and met up with Beef again for noodles and KENICKIE, introduced by compere Steve Lamacq as, "guaranteed to make any party swing!" However it took awhile for their spunky little set of C86-ish DIY girly guitar pop to get going, and we could have done without the pseudo posh accents in the lengthy interludes between songs. Also a disappointing set selection; no "Punka" or "Nightlife", with only a fine call-and-response "In Your Car" to recommend it. Sorry girls - oh yeh, and maybe you should lose some weight as well...
At this point Beef and I wandered back to the car to stash merch - including, finally, a programme! - and overheard the Cramps-ish swamp blues of the JOHN SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION from the main stage. No "Bellbottoms" within my earshot, but I was informed they did play it! We ventured, instead, into the big tent for a Friday afternoon, "what the fuck was THAT???" wake-up call. SIMON WARNER, a skinny long-haired chap dressed in black, with a gravelly voice and a very theatrical style, played a set of huge songs with some passion, backed by a 10 piece band with strings and brass sections! Kind of an Iggy Pop meets Scott Walker; unorthodox, but riveting and actually quite splendid! Stayed tent-side afterwards for LUNA, who trotted out another laconic but absorbing set of their lilting and considered West Coast guitar groove. "California (All The Way)" was the delicate highlight of a fine set from Dean and the Luna-tics (groan).
Early evening started to draw in, and Beef went off to watch all of STEREOLAB in the arena, but I stayed big tent-bound. SILVER SUN were up next; Silver Sun, who took the stage in a whirl of red and black and a welter of punk rock and new wave chic, all bondage trews, skinny ties and dyed hair; Silver Sun, who plugged in and whacked through a superb melodic set of mutant surf punk, played with conviction, drive and those incredible harmonies (particularly during set highlight "Golden Skin"); Silver Sun, who caused the crowded tent to erupt into a seriously sweaty moshpit; Silver Sun, who were Friday's Best Band by some considerable distance!
Emerged with a stupid grin and sweaty bod to the early evening not-so-chill in the main arena. JAMES were kicking off their mainstage set - oddly enough, with millstone number "Sit Down" - so I met up with Beef and caught their set. Tim Booth was bedecked in silver shirt and a neck brace for some reason, but led James through a fine retro set of their sinewy yodelling folky pop, thankfully without the stadium rock pretensions and poses which marred previous James Reading sets. We were even treated to some stuttery dance steps from Tim during set closer "Sound". Vintage James - and I mean it! I then caught some of CATATONIA's dull and unimpressive identikit indie girly pop numbers in the big tent, before wandering over to the tiny tent for my first visit there this Festival, dodging bonfires and happy campers mellowing out as dusk fell. JACK, another tribe (7-strong this time) entertained me with some 60's film score guitar pop, like a less overtly glam My Life Story. Spookily okay; but then I was trying hard to like them as they were named after my old pet dog!
Emerging into the arena, I noted darkness had fallen with a vengeance, and that CAST, mainstage, were whining Scousers. Popped past the "Vans" tent, here at Reading for the first time; I dunno, maybe I'm getting old, but every time I've passed this tent today, the same shouty pummelling mess has been emanating from it. I'm as much for shouty pummelling messes as the next old punk, but it just sounded like the same band had been playing the same one chord over and over. Whatever, what's the fucking point? Went over to the big tent for SYMPOSIUM, and found a band with an identity crisis. The Symps are musical chameleons, taking beefed-up bluebeat and ska, 90's Green Day punk and Nirvana grunge guitar dynamics, to create... well, a bit of a mess really. At best a seriously confused Compulsion, at worst a band in serious need of a style sort-out. However, they were dynamic "live", underlining an apparent good live reputation, and the packed tent lapped it up while I just scratched my head. I did like their demolition of the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night", though.
Off to the loo just before the Boos', spotting t-shirt slogan of the day in "Yeah, Whatever", which for me just beat "Some People Just Won't Take Fuck You! For An Answer" into second place. A disappointing headliner clash saw me eschewing Suede for THE BOO RADLEYS in the big tent, which was deserted! Quite a turnaround from the heaving mass for Symposium! It did get busier, but by no means full, when the Boos emerged, but despite that they played a fine, user-friendly pop set, relying mainly on slightly disappointing and darker, less poppy recent CD "C'mon Kids" but still featuring enough shiny pop classics to keep the feet tapping. The libidinous "Lazarus" was a highlight - as was Scary Sice's nasty goatee, which looked on first glance like a Nigel Mansell moustache!
Met Suede-bound Beef at the arena exit, and home by half past midnight, after a swift drive back!
SHERIFF'S DIARY - DAY 2, SATURDAY 23 AUGUST 1997
A light drizzle down the motorway didn't bode well, but the site was dry and the forecast good. However, no footy with the Southampton lot this year, as at previous Readings, as there's not enough of them, or us. Besides which, my knee injury has meant my retirement from playing football, which of course is a great loss to the game!
So, we popped into the big tent at 11.30 instead, for a wake-up call from RUDE CLUB, who were a spiky and delicious poppy punk thrash. The new wave vixen vocalist, clad in stretched lycra top, was a riveting performer, and the set a super one to blow the cobwebs away and get the day off to a well rocking start! WARM JETS, next up, however topped that with possibly the best sounding set of the weekend so far; the aural dynamics were spot-on, and the Jets did them total justice with an excellent edgy set of their moody, off-kilter but beautifully constructed songs. "Future Signs" was an absorbing highlight of a fine set - the best I've seen from them so far!
Had a lunchtime wander over with Beef to the tiny tent, ignoring APOLLO 440 with their messy dubby mainstage set. We caught some of CUBE, who kicked up a noisy but disjointed punky thrash, with little evidence of tunes underneath. Back into the big tent after a quick chill for YOU AM I and their mod-ish antics. The sound unfortunately didn't do their powerful and enthusiastic performance justice, with only the excellent "Cathy's Clown" rising above, and I needed a comfort call so missed some of their set. D'oh!
After that, I was up for waiting for my first Evan Dando encounter of the day, and joined the queue at the Melody Maker signing tent at 1/4 to 3 for his 4pm appearance. I could still hear the rantings of GOLD BLADE from the nearby big tent, and also the Summery but insubstantial flyaway pop of THE CARDIGANS. At 4 pm, a surly, non-communicative Evan showed up (on time, despite rumours), obviously pissed off and maybe on something...Also, only signing one thing per person, and apparently throwing stuff behind him if people didn't accept this! As a result, I offered neither the handed-out photo or single, but instead when my turn came, I reminded Evan about our previous meeting last year, soliciting not a flicker of recognition, but then got him to sign the scan pic for my son, who is due in October and who we are calling Evan. This at least got a smile from the great but moodily taciturn man.
That was that! I was ushered away by the tent bouncers, and popped back 10 minutes later to discover he'd thrown a (silent) wobbly and stalked off! I debated, both in my mind and with a passing Warm Jet and old rock friend Colleen Browne, the rights and wrongs of such "superstar" behaviour (okay, he's the star and people are queuing to see him, but at least he should be courteous! That said, he probably resents the intrusion when all he wants to do is come and play music), then popped back to the car with the gear, now anticipating a degree of edge to the forthcoming Lemonheads set. Found Beef and also dumped into Carter USM's Jim Morrison, who remembered me from the Jamie Wednesday days, waaaay back. We had a nice little chat and a quick reminisce, which was good, and a nice antidote after the Dando histrionics.
Then on to Evan Dando encounter 2, namely what the Dando does well; I piled into the mosh for THE LEMONHEADS' early evening set. Evan was considerably more sociable onstage than off, obviously saving his communication skills for the masses. The band, with John Strohm as brilliant an axe hero as ever, was superb, and Evan was a mesmeric frontman; dippy, self-effacing ("I'm just an idiot with a bad attitude"), attention grabbing, and generally a total and archetypal rock star. I got lifted out of the mosh down the front 2/3rds through their marvellous cool rock set, as I was tired of crowdsurfing punters landing on my head, but I can't let that detract from the best main stage set of the weekend. "Rudderless" a brilliant closer to a set touched by a flawed genius.
Teatime! I had a superb noodle and mushroom dish, then Beef and I confirmed that the vocalist of former shoegazing rock pups Revolver is now the guitarist of avant-dub ska crapsters DEATH IN VEGAS, playing a poor big tent set. I then lost Beef and wandered around the dusty and dusky arena, taking in the vibe and doing my best to ignore SPACE on the mainstage. God they're total crap. Headed over to the backstage entrance, and lucked into Evan Dando encounter 3, as he wandered into the arena. This time he not only spoke to me, but went "wow!" at my Big Dipper t-shirt, and joined me in a brief chorus of The Embarrassment's "Sex Drive"! We also spoke briefly about my calling my son-to-be Evan, and he added, "good luck, sweet dreams" to my previously signed scan pic. Faith restored in the man, an absolute superstar and a festival moment I'll always remember.
Trying in vain to calm down and wipe the stupid grin from my face, I then popped into the big tent for some of GORKY'S ZYGOTIC MYNCI's 60's influenced mellow little organ-fuelled pop stuff, which was much more orthodox than I'd expected. I did like the song about "Wicked Waters", and the hookline for "Patio Song", "Isn't it a lovely day..." which nailed my mood perfectly, and created a mellow vibe as dusk settled on the crowded and dusty arena. Over then to the tiny tent for a bit of BROADCAST and their schmoozy girly jazz pop, then hiked it over double-quick to the big tent and forced my way down the front. THE WANNADIES, a pre-festival top tip, were up, and took top honours for today, and the weekend, with an utterly devastating set. They were on top form; raucous, colourful, supercharged melodies played with verve and passion to a wildly enthusiastic crowd, myself included. Every one a winner, but my fave "Candy Man" was an exhilarating, jump-about highlight. Brilliant stuff, and Best Set of the Weekend for the Swedish pop Godheads!
Met up with Tim and Claire in the tent, staying put for EELS headlining set. E took the stage in US game show host chic, and after a too-long intro, eventually got going into a 10 minute long "Not Ready Yet", followed by a disappointing, almost acapella "Novocaine For The Soul". Disappointed, we popped out of the tent for awhile, but Eels eventually enticed us back with an improving set which eventually did justice to their fascinating, sleazy-underbelly-of-the-American-Dream CD. A good finish overall, with a hushed, spooky "Flower In a Hailstorm" a memorable closer. I could have done without the drum solo in "Rags To Rags", though, and I left feeling that maybe, just maybe, the tent organisers got the last 2 bands the wrong way around, as The Wannadies surely proved they're ready for such an honour.
Anyway, a quick drive back with Beef afterwards, and home by 12.45, bringing Saturday - Dando Day - to a close!
SHERIFF'S DIARY - DAY 3, SUNDAY 24 AUGUST 1997
Sunday - The Shortest Day! Possibly the worst bill of any one day at Reading ever, so I drove myself up this morning, as I fully intended to fuck off home well early! Drove through drizzle which gave the arena a fine coating as I met up with Tim and Claire, but this abated quickly, leaving the inexplicably packed arena overcast but warm. No fear of trench-foot here, unlike at Glasto this year!
RADISH, first up on the main stage, brought the sun out briefly for their hardly original but pretty good anyway Nirvana meets Weezer set; hard guitar dynamics with an underlying chunky melody. Very promising, particularly given that the vocalist Ben Kweller is only 15! FEEDER, however, were as fast, noisy and tuneless as last year, so I popped over to the big tent for some of CATHERINE's more sleazy glam guitar noise, which had a more rounded feel thanks to a brace of drummers.
I then had a dead hour or so on a pretty dead day, so I wandered around, got a "Hog Roast" (it's traditional, innit?), and did my best to ignore DOG EAT DOG, kicking up an unnecessary grunge rap noise, albeit with some nice sax which reminded me of the Psychedelic Furs (!), on the main stage. ARNOLD, in the big tent, were the next band I paid attention to. They played a mix of 60's influenced pop, veering from bland strumalong affairs to more discordant cacophonies. Okay really, but no more. My punk rock roots then sucked me into the main arena for reformed 80's LA hardcore punk pioneers, THE DESCENDENTS. Fronted by a bespectacled Rollins type, minus muscles, they came across like a cartoon early Husker Du, or a louder, faster Green Day. The 4 seconds (!) of "Hot Dog" was my highlight. A shitload of fun to watch, but I couldn't eat a whole one!
Following that, some fat twat paraded onstage to introduce 3 COLOURS RED with the shout, "so they've finally given Reading back to the rockers! How does that feel?" I'll tell you how it makes me feel, mate, sick to the stomach, that's how. Why don't you fuck off back to Donington??? That totally put me off 3CR - not that I'm a fan of their empty bluster take on "rawk" anyway - so I went to the little tent for an unexpected last-day treat! GARAGELAND developed a nice line in occasionally slow-burning, occasionally fast-strumming, layered and building guitar noise, with the Pixies and Drop Nineteens as obvious references. Whatever, this was a fine little gem of a set, which swept the "Best Newcomer" award quite easily!
Had a quick drink in the main arena - 3CR are still on! D'oh! - and then popped back into the tiny tent for the first few numbers of POSH. Another tribe - backing vocalists and all! - their entertaining, tinny new wave squeaky girly pop froth, delivered by the mutant offspring of Claire Grogan and Toni Basil (!) was fun, and I'm glad I caught their almost criminally catchy single "Shark Attack". However, I needed to head out for the final day highlight. DINOSAUR JR. were that predictable highlight, and a thrilling, lusciously loud way to end my festival. J Mascis had his own personal Marshall speaker stack on the stage (for extra volume, or simply for Evan Dando to hide behind? Oh yes, he was!), and his guitar playing was epic without being pompous, intricate without the over-indulgence, and very very very loud indeed, without delving into excessive grunge/HM guitar wank territory. A fine line well walked by another masterful musical genius, and a superb set with "Freak Scene" a (also predictable) highlight. Evan seemed to enjoy it too!
That was it! No more decent bands or interesting discoveries further up the bill, as Reading had (for me) taken a retrograde step by booking the likes of Marilyn Manson and Metallica. Bah! So, I geared up to leave at 5.30, firstly bumping into The Lemonheads' John Strohm, to totally complete my weekend. He remembered me from Portsmouth last year, laughed when I told him that Virgin Megastores were promoting his countrified solo CD "Caledonia" as being "from the new Gram Parsons"(!) and also confirmed Evan was, "talking crap," when he mentioned yesterday's set may be The Lemonheads' last. Evan was, apparently, just, "in a bad mood," yesterday (hmmm, that explains a few things...); "It's the last date of the tour, and we've got some studio time booked for a new LP." So there! Quick handshakes from the big man, some food, then I hit the road at 6. Good timing, as it lashed down with rain on my drive home!
So, Reading 1997 overall impressions? Well, the old reliables came through, and it was still a totally enjoyable Fest despite an overall weak bill (and certainly the weakest single day - Sunday - ever!). I certainly made the most of it, though, thanks to highlights The Wannadies, and Messrs. Strohm and Dando of the Lemonheads!
THE SHERIFF 1997 READING FESTIVAL AWARDS
Friday Best: 1. SILVER SUN, 2. FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE, 3. LUNA (of 15)
Saturday Best: 1. THE WANNADIES, 2. THE LEMONHEADS, 3. WARM JETS (of 14)
Sunday Best: 1. DINOSAUR JR., 2. GARAGELAND, 3. RADISH (of 10)
OVERALL - 1. THE WANNADIES, 2. THE LEMONHEADS, 3. SILVER SUN, 4. DINOSAUR JR., 5. FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE (of 39)
Best New Band: 1. GARAGELAND, 2. SIMON WARNER, 3. JACK
Crap! 1. SPACE, 2. DEATH IN VEGAS, 3. 3 COLOURS RED and the twat who introduced them!
Sorry I Missed: SUEDE, HURRICANE #1, DON
Stars Of The Show: 1. EVAN DANDO (no contest!), 2. JOHN STROHM, 3. PER from the WANNADIES, 4. COLLEEN BROWNE; 5. JIM MORRISON for remembering those old Jamie Wednesday days!