Thursday, 11 November 2010
272 THE 1994 READING FESTIVAL
SHERIFF'S DIARY - DAY 1, FRIDAY 26 AUGUST 1994
"Welcome to the Biggest Ever Reading Festival!" declared enthusiastic compere Steve Lamacq as a main arena intro over the PA. In practice, this means there's a couple of big diamond screens each side of the main stage, so you have half a chance of actually seeing the dots on the stage perform without cricking your neck or boggling your eyes, and the tent stage is angled slightly more outwards. That's it really; Biggest Ever? Big Deal! The forecast was for sunshine and showers, but due to my late-running hay fever season, it was more sunshine and sneezes for me today!
Still, after catching the train down, I was third punter into the arena, and caught the opening tent set from CHUCK. A local act from Reading (not far to come then!), they sported a singer uncannily reminiscent of Blackburn Rovers' £5 million man Chris Sutton, and a nice line in Manics/ Stuffies style driving pop with some good choruses. A short set, but feet were duly tapped. Next up, THE TEA PARTY were a clumsy and lumpen 90's "rawk" Doors rip-off, especially the leather clad vocalist. Stuck with it for 2 numbers then wandered into the arena for mainstage openers THE FLAMING LIPS (spotting an excellent t-shirt on the way - "Be Ve-wy Ve-wy Qwiet - I'm Hunting Wabbit!" - surely not t-shirt slogan of the weekend already?). Lay down in the early afternoon sun and drifted off to their fried, slightly-delic pop swirl, which actually wasn't as good as last year's tent performance.
Saw enough of the subsequent VERVE to realise their new incarnation is still one-paced, one-dimensional and crap, so went off back to the tent! Friday 3pm, and here was the first festival highlight, but from an unexpected source! DRUGSTORE, whom I was unsure about during their recent Velvet Crush support slot, wowed me and impressed mightily with Muses-style soundbites, angst-ridden haunting lyrics and rock-out choruses. Superb! Quality control was maintained with SMUDGE, next up. They played about a million songs of their cool and groovy guitar pop, short and snappy. Lots of Lemonheads connections (Smudge's mainman Tom Morgan is an occasional Dando collaborator, and yes, it IS that Alison on drums!), which invited the inevitable and primarily accurate comparisons, but still a damn fine set.
Had an hour to kill after that (rap acts on both stages) so shopped, had tea and sneezed. A lot! Then it was HOLE in the main arena. A potentially gory car-crash situation, this, given the subtext of vocalist Courtney love's husband Kurt Cobain's suicide earlier this year, this unfortunately more than lived up to fears. Courtney, obviously wasted (on what? Who knows?), punctuated this set with nauseous self-pity, such as, "oh yeah, I'm so brave," and, "are you pretending it never happened? I'm not..." OK, Courtney, he's dead, that's sad, but just let him rest, please, OK? Don't make a career out of it!
Musically, Hole are a 3rd rate Babes In Toyland, so I left after a few numbers, in search of some entertainment! Found it in the tent, with VELOCITY GIRL, who did the trick with some spooky guitar pop a la Belltower. Good stuff! Next up, SLEEPER, were magnificent - a spunky, speedy and dynamic set packed with 90s Blondie on acid style pop nuggets. Vocalist Louise Wener, cocky and self-assured but deservedly so, made for a splendid front-person. Delicious!
"We're THE AUTEURS and we're the hardest band at Reading," said Luke Haines as he led his band onstage. Caught 1/2 hour or so of their cultured and intelligent rockist angst, without them offering anyone else outside to prove their "hard" claim, before heading into the arena for someone who might challenge it! FRANK BLACK, "the main man," as he was introduced by Steve Lamacq, was greeted onstage with a chorus of, "You Fat Bastard!" from the melee, simply dismissing it with a casual, "every time...". Sir Rockaby's set was sleazy, sinister, self-assured, and best when drawn from his debut solo LP. "Headache", however was splendid, the jewel of a sparkling set.
Darkness (and some rather threatening rainclouds which thankfully held on to their contents) fell on the arena as THE LEMONHEADS came onstage and totally did the business. Vocalist Evan Dando, this year shorn and dressed as a man (!), left the clowning around at the stage door and delivered a stunning, committed set of sparkling, entertaining and wonderful slacker pop classics. Some magic moments; the band (including Antenna's John Strohm) bundling Evan during his acoustic encore, the duet with Smudge's Tom Morgan on "Down About It", and Evan's extraordinary bright orange jumper, but mainly a shining talent delivering top-drawer entertainment. Terrific, and the Set Of The Day by some distance.
Then, I caught the last half of LUSH's last number in the tent (bugger!), and THE WEDDING PRESENT's first, which seemed interminably long, so my brain decided it needed sleep more. So I headed off for the day, unfortunately missing a train by 10 minutes and having to wait 50 minutes for the next one. Again I doth say; bugger!
SHERIFF'S DIARY - DAY 2, SATURDAY 27 AUGUST 1994
Borrowed Clive's car today and drove a carload of day trippers! Clive couldn't make it along himself, due to monetary considerations, but still lent me his motor. Ha! Does he know what he's doing? Ha! Again! So, Ady, Jared and Nina, plus Nina's Skanxter colleague Vince, joined me, arriving in time to miss the 2 rap act openers, mainly because we weren't allowed into the arena until Ady and Jared polished off their one bottle of wine - each!
First band of the day, then, was new Rhode Island lot SCARCE in the tent; and what a way to start! Blowing away the cobwebs of a restless night, Scarce (featuring a whisky-soaked, gravelly voice vocalist and a highly kinetic babe bassist/ backing vocalist in a short metallic silver dress, who made me come over all Beavis and Butthead - "huh huh, chicks in bands are cool, huh huh") ripped through a dynamic set of jagged yet melodic rock culminating in a frenzied Pixies-ish final number called "All Sideways". One to hunt down, and an early favourite for best new act. POSSUM DIXON, next up, were an odd amalgam of Truman's Water alt-rock weirdness allied to some driving rock. Not too bad in parts, but did we really need the mid-set Madonna pisstake, with the vocalist's jeans around his knees? Hmmm.
Off to the arena with Ady for KITCHENS OF DISTINCTION and their angst-fuelled tales of lost love (that's "angst" spelled beautiful, haunting and desolate, not noisy, dour and inarticulate). No "Capsule" in their set (shame) but still a spine-chilling and atmospheric set, during which I danced, shirtless. Then Ady decided he wanted to buy a waistcoat, so we went shopping, missing Jale (damn!), but got back to the tent in time to flake out during SALAD's passable indie guitar set. Then ventured inside said tent for Yank rockers LOTION, who indeed rocked out considerably more than I remembered! A fine and dynamic set of straight-head alt rock in REM-meets-Superchunk country. Then back into the mid-afternoon sun, meeting up with Ady's Southampton mates during GENE, who played a set with one or two good tunes, but phenomenally derivative of The Smiths - the bloke even moans like Morrissey, f'rchrissakes...
Ady listened to the footy results on his Walkman (1-0 wins for Swindon and Forest!), then we went off to see PULP in the arena. Their keyboard driven sexy kitsch pop was entertaining, but the sound was muddy and their performance would've been so much better in the tent. Still, an entertaining set, with "Babies" the highlight and a blue-booted Jarvis Cocker a total star - as ever! Then back into the tent - ferocious pace today! - with Ady, leaving our stuff (shirts etc.!) with Ady's Soton mate Stuart's friend Diane, and diving into the melee at the front for SUPERCHUNK. They were predictably yet powerfully magnificent; their awesome, growling noise, almost tangible at times, was played with power and intensity, and the melee responded in kind. I got ridiculously sweaty (although not as bad as Stuart, who afterwards looked as if he'd been doused, then rolled in dust!) to the best and most powerful set of the Festival so far, culminating in a tremendous and ferocious "Slack Motherfucker". Wow!
Evening fell, so I got a "Betty Ford Clinic" sweatshirt (excellent!) and settled down for SHED SEVEN. Despite excellent t-shirts, modelled on Brazil footy kits, they were merely OK; Rick Witter was a good frontman, but their Smiths meets Stone Roses in a tin shed type of pop was a little flat at times, and I went for garlic bread to warm me against the evening chill! As it then got colder (and later!), I was relying on a set from COMPULSION to warm me up, and they didn't disappoint, with a high octane half hour of compulsive (!) punk rock which just flew by. Energetic vocalist Joseph-Mary jumped up and down on a frame around the drumkit during their loud, fast, edgy set, with "Rapejacket" their best number. More please!
Then ELASTICA, who for second-top headliners in the tent did a good impression of rank amateurs. Either there's a very intelligent mind at work (that stuff sells, well, at least it does to naive student indiekids anyway. Me, I've been there with the Fall when I was 14...), or they really are that bad. Either way, one great song ("Stutter"), one other passable number, and a clutch of jerky post-punk XTC/ Wire rip-offs do not a career make. I much preferred the number that was played on the PA beforehand - "Oh Bondage Up Yours" by X-Ray Spex!
Anyway, afterwards I ventured into the tent for deserved headliners MADDER ROSE, who had an excellent crowd and reception (which was great, considering they clashed with the popular Primal Scream), and lived up to it with a splendid cultured clutch of numbers. Drawing mainly from current LP "Panic On", with which I am becoming seriously obsessed, they were touching and melodic in parts, and recklessly noisy in others. The winsome prose of "Car Song" was a shimmering highlight!
That was that! Gathered the car posse, left the site at 11.30 and home by 1/4 to 1!
SHERIFF'S DIARY - DAY 3, SUNDAY 28 AUGUST 1994
Looking at the bill today, with one or two exceptions Sunday definitely did not seem like Funday! Took Clive's car back, had lunch at home and didn't bother setting off to Reading until 1/4 to 2, hitting the site at 1/4 to 3, the latest I've ever arrived there for a single day!
Got into the site, which was dusty, very windy (uh oh!) and packed (don't know why, it was a poor bill!), and saw a noisy final number from SCRAWL in the tent. The tent itself was undulating wildly in the wind - echoes of Sunday at Reading in 1992, when weather forced the closure of the tent? Hope not! Stayed tent-bound for ARCHERS OF LOAF's inarticulate howl of a set which, actually, wasn't too bad, if a little grungy and clumsy. Arena acts were running late, due to Soundgarden's late withdrawal (no replacement, despite wild rumours involving the Levellers and/or Blur), so caught most of HELMET's chunky yet inauspicious noisy rock set. Couldn't stand more than one song from crap cartoon anarcho-HM glam wankspanners THE WILDHEARTS, next up on the main stage, so ventured back to the tent for the last couple of numbers of JEFF BUCKLEY's set. One was thoroughly absorbing in a Velvet Underground wall of noise way, but the other was tame 70's singer songwriter ballady pap. Will the real Jeff Buckley please stand up?
Next, despite hailing from musical hotbed Boston, Ma., MORPHINE, with their sax-fuelled late-night (or early morning?) mood music were really not my cup of introspectiveness, so I missed the end of their nevertheless quality set whilst doing some shopping in the arena stalls, with AFGHAN WHIGS' not very attention grabbing mainstage opening few numbers as musical accompaniment. Then headed back into the tent for ECHOBELLY, but uh oh! A dirty great rip in the top of the tent caused a 1/2 hour delay, whilst some chap in a crane repaired it! Anyway, Echobelly eventually came on and were bright, energetic, spiky and spunky, really showing the likes of Elastica how to do it. And boy, can vocalist Sonya sing! "Insomniac" was the highlight of a sparkling set only slightly soured by Sonya's foul fucking language, and preaching to the converted (no need! We agree!).
Headed down the front for The CUD band, as the compere introduced them. Thought, "sod it, let's dance!" and duly did so, as Cud vocalist Carl Puttnam, shorn of his flowing curly locks and decked out in a foul blue flowery silk suit and orange frilly shirt, led the band through a tough yet totally entertaining set of their sinewy jazz dance pop. "Eau Water" and new single "One Giant love" were brilliant; Carl a wonderful showman; tonight Cud were majestic!
I stayed down the front for THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS. Now a 6-piece, fleshed out by a new bassist, drummer and horn section (including Tony Maimone, formerly of Bob Mould's band), their unorthodox oddball pop vision sounded fuller and more dynamic, yet no less fun. "Angel" (they did "Angel"!) and "Particle Man" were gems, and the inevitable "Birdhouse In Your Soul" had the whole tent jumping, singing and having a wonderful time. Sheer entertainment - They Might Be Giants turned Sunday into Funday after all, delivering the Best Set of the Festival.
Then, I ventured into the darkness-enshrouded arena for the last couple of THERAPY? numbers on the mainstage (including a dynamic "Nowhere"), then had a late garlic mushroom tea listening to AMERICAN MUSIC CLUB in the tent. Their countrified yank rock was pleasant enough, but didn't really stick, and the 10.03 train was calling me from down the line. So I left the site at 20 to 10, bidding adieu to a fine festival overall, capped by the best performance of the weekend in the dying stages, thanks to They Might Be Giants!
THE SHERIFF 1994 READING FESTIVAL AWARDS
Friday Best: 1. LEMONHEADS, 2. SLEEPER, 3. FRANK BLACK (of 14)
Saturday Best: 1. SUPERCHUNK, 2. MADDER ROSE, 3. SCARCE (of 9)
Sunday Best: 1. THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS, 2. CUD, 3. ECHOBELLY (of 11)
OVERALL - 1. THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS, 2. SUPERCHUNK, 3. LEMONHEADS, 4. CUD, 5. MADDER ROSE (of 34)
Best New Band: 1. SCARCE. Struggling after that...
Crap! 1. THE WILDHEARTS, 2. HOLE, 3. VERVE
Sorry I Missed: RADIOHEAD (again!), The rest of THE AUTEURS and JEFF BUCKLEY, JALE. And what happened to THE GIGOLO AUNTS? They were supposed to play the tent Saturday but didn't even get as far as the bill!
Stars Of The Show: 1. The two Johns from THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS, 2. Carl Puttnam of CUD, 3. Evan Dando, 4. Stuart from Southampton after the Chunk set, 5. Ady (waistcoat boy!)