Thursday, 2 December 2010



It's Reading Festival time again! This year, however, it's without weekend Posse representation, thanks to a late announcement of an alleged "weak" bill. So "sans" the lads, I made the daily commute for the first day, a dull, overcast but thankfully dry and warm one!

Got into the arena at 1.30, just too late to catch the bulk of CUCKOOLAND's pretty, Sunshot-with-pop-sensibilities set, which opened things up in the Big Tent, but hung around for FENN, next up, and their alleged "melodic thrash pop". Turning out to be more thrash than anything else, it was at times fierce yet overall still not bad. I caught some rays on the fringes of the tent while they were on, as the sun peeked through. VOODOO QUEENS were next up; with songs like "Who Needs Men When You've Got A Guitar", they turned out to be dreadful screeching harpie rock of the first water, despite some occasional neat organ embellishments and one half-decent, spooky little Cramps-like number.

The tent then inexplicably emptied for the mid-afternoon set from GREEN APPLE QUICK STEP. Maybe they knew something we didn't; despite a neat line in understated intros ("We're Green Apple Quick Step and we're a long way from home, but that doesn't matter right now..."), they were powerful but unfocussed sub-grunge with few tunes. Grunge is dead; someone please tell Green Apple Quick Step! Popped out for a cuppa during BAD BRAINS' mainstage crap rap antics, which I'm glad were in the distance, then returned to the tent, on a hunch, for THE FLAMING LIPS. They surprisingly scored a direct hit as the first highlight of a festival which was taking time to really get going; all driving rock tunes, guitar frenzy and thrilling sonic assault. Not even an occasional overdose of wah-wah detracted from this absorbing musical beast!

Teatime in the arena, and BABES IN TOYLAND were musical accompaniment to the nosh, the Babes unfortunately again not impressing with a plodding and noisy set. Vocalist Kat still wants to be Throwing Muses' Kristen Hersh; a shame she's not a patch on her for emotional projection. Screeching as loud as you can doesn't mean you "mean it, maaan". Back to the tent, then, being greeted on arrival with the proclamation, "you can dance if you want to," from THE DOUGHBOYS to the tent audience. They served up a lean and driving style of rock at odds with their name, and feet were duly tapped, although I confess I also spent time playing with some freebie "Adorable" balloons floating around during the Doughboys' early Lemonheads-like set.

Onto early evening; LEATHERFACE's splendid set last year, unbelievably, had the effect of moving them up the running order all of two hours! Whoop-de-doo! Taking the Tent stage at 6.15, they ripped into their set with venom and power, with "vocalist" Frankie Stubbs' gravel throat the focal point of an attack their hometown Sunderland FC would die for. "Wise Men Say" was a closing highlight of a noisy yet thrilling set. I then nipped out of the tent for a pee, and had my attention distracted (as did most people) by a crane bungee jumper who totally bottled it! Then back into the tent for ADORABLE. A brilliantly-chosen singles run-through, this; vocalist Piotr taking the stage in an ironically worn but quickly discarded crown, and loads of swagger and attitude (as evidenced by his response to a heckler; "Phil, what have you done with your life?"). "A To Fade In" was the haunting, shimmering and sparkling highlight of a diamond-in-a-coalmine set, which I experienced from the sweaty moshpit. Set Of The Day!

Took a walk about as darkness fell, and BACK TO THE PLANET peddled their innocuous dancy funk Pigbag-like background noise in the tent. Not the pseudo crusty shite I'd dreaded, however, and infinitely preferable to the mainstage antics of the dreadfully ham-fisted RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, on the main stage. Something deeply ironic about a band getting their audience to sing along, "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me," methinks; are RATM the voice of the disenfranchised youth of this generation? Gimme a break! Anyway, I then made my only trip to the comedy tent all weekend, for FRANK SIDEBOTTOM. "Who's been on "Match Of The Day"? I have, in my big shorts!" Pure silliness, and the perfect antidote to the po-faced protests on the main stage, with 3/4 hour of silly Queen, Kylie and Beatles covers, delivered both by Frank and a body-less Little Frank. Predictable as Rangers wining the Scottish League, but who cares? Totally bobbins!

Finally, the Big Tent headliners THE FRANK AND WALTERS rounded off an uneven but fun day with a charming set of their oddball guitar pop. Despite being hampered by poor sound, they were on top form and fully deserved their very noisy ovation after an entertaining and enthusiastically delivered set. Then back to the car and home by half past midnight! Sod camping, this is Festival life as I know it!


Had a good trundle down the M4 to Reading this morning, and entered the arena just as compere John Peel requested a, "disproportionate welcome," for midday mainstage openers THE GIGOLO AUNTS. I was intrigued by the "irresistible melodic and harmonic pop noise" reference in the programme, as well as their being from Boston, home of many a fine band, so was keen to check them out; and I certainly wasn't disappointed! They entertained mightily with a wholesome set of chunky and brain-hugging melodies, served with a side helping of Buffalo Tom influences. The "Doo Doo Doo" opening to their splendid single "Mrs. Washington" was particularly memorable. Excellent, excellent start!

Quality control was maintained with MADDER ROSE, whose careful balladry mixed in with some carefree driving US pop rock, augmented with honeyed Noo Yawk girly vocals, recalled for me a more sussed and streetwise version of Belly, no less. I like 'em, I'll buy their record! Following their set, I ventured down the front for EAT, promptly running into day trippers Rich, Jared, Nina and Ady. Eat vocalist Ange Doolittle, last year's surprising last-day hero and now the type of lizard king performance superstar INXS' Michael Hutchence can only aspire to, was an utterly stunning focus for the band's dynamic swamp rock. Sinister, self-assured and splendid!

Grabbed some late dinner during KINGMAKER's set; they again struggled in the open air and delivered virtually the same set as for June's Great Xpectations day Festival, losing a bit of dynamism in the process. A patchy, poor sounding set notable only for the flight of dozens of yellow Kingmaker frisbees at the end - shame! A quick wander to catch some of BIVOUAC's set (in the tent, ironically enough) revealed a sub-Neds brand of doomy fraggle rock. OK I suppose but unfortunately loud and indistinct. Wandered back to the arena after 3 numbers, for the zenith of SENSELESS THINGS' set, and was almost sorry! Their cartoon helium anarcho punk pop sounded infinitely more focused than their messy Great Xpectations set, with a very fine "Too Much Kissing" the highlight of what I was able to catch.

Staying in the arena, I listened to the footy on the radio during GARY CLAIL's mainstage rhythmic funk set, after a bevvied Ady nevertheless showed some sense by refusing to do a bungee jump! The news came in from Carrow Road that Swindon Town FC had secured their first Premier League point by virtue of a 0-0 draw with Norwich, so I celebrated (although not as ridiculously as Rich, who mutated into Zebedee when he heard) with mushroom and chips for tea during OZRIC TENTACLES' overlong, aimless set of meandering, flute driven instrumental hippy pap. Decided against sticking around for much of THERAPY? and their loud but empty bluster on the mainstage (they must be students of Macbeth, methinks, as the Scottish play aptly describes their current music; "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"), and headed into the tent, absent-mindedly, for a real treat!

DROP NINETEENS were on. Drop Nineteens, from Boston but apparently more akin to London's more dour shoegaze bands, so perhaps their answer to Slowdive? Ha! Variously deliciously discordant, touching, melodious but never malodorous, and occasionally excitingly noisy, they more accurately called to mind Throwing Muses or The Belltower - high praise indeed! A brilliant "Winona" and a charming rendition of the old AOR chestnut "Mandy" were the highlights of another unexpectedly sparkling set.

Back in the arena for 8-ish, for SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES' set; "we're not doing a greatest hits set, we're not going to treat you like a bunch of muppets," announced Siouxsie to a crowd wanting to be treated like a bunch of muppets. The Godmother of Goth, looking and sounding a little fat these days, then delivered a creepy but samey set of dull doomy pop to a dwindling audience. I wandered to the Tent for a second helping of EAT, late replacements for Radiohead in the tent (the day's potential highlights having cancelled at seriously short notice, due to Thom Yorke suffering from a sore throat - extremely bloody hell!). Ange, pressure (and jazzy matching great-coat and trouser set) off, let his hair down and led the band through a looser yet more powerful set than lunchtime. A searing "Shame", "Bleed Me White" and closing "Tombstone" were the highlights of another super set, with Ange again inviting the inevitable Morrison comparisons as he, stripped to the waist, sashayed through another fine demonstration of the art of the frontman.

Finally, mainstage headliners THE THE were the last attractions of the day. A sparse, broken window backdrop accurately reflected Matt Johnson's vision of pop as misery and urban decay. He's never really been my cup of introspectiveness, however, so after the opening few numbers I left him to wallow, and hit the road - home and asleep by midnight!


An early start today; on the road and into the arena by 11.15! I had to be, as I didn't want to miss any of mainstage openers GRANT LEE BUFFALO! I hit the front in time for their set; they delivered a haunting, mesmeric performance, with very loud shimmering acoustic guitars, and tales of angst delivered in a cracked, almost Mike Scott (Waterboys) like drawl by vocalist Grant Lee Phillips. A stunner of a start, but things were looking promising for this day already...

T'was looking ropey, weather wise, however, so I adjourned to the tent at this point, finding Ady there; he'd allegedly slept in a hedge last night, which was entirely believable! SHAMPOO, a 2-blonde girl fronted band with glammy Manic Street leanings and pretensions to be a trashier UK Shonen Knife, were stirring up a derivative but enjoyable concoction of punky power pop. However, they were swiftly forgotten as MAGNAPOP took the stage to follow them. The Athens, GA. combo, the band with the most appropriate name in rock, sped energetically through a dazzling, shiny happy set. Groovy tunes all, but the driving pop of "Merry"s soaring chorus was the undoubted highlight (but then I'm bound to say that, aren't I?). Brilliant stuff!

However even better was to come, as the nodding dog backdrop heralded the entrance of BETTIE SERVEERT. Since damning them with paint praise when supporting Belly last Autumn (only "quite good"? Sheesh!), I've grown to utterly adore their deliciously textured yet maverick LP "Palomine", bleak and introspective though it is at times. This afternoon, "live", they made utter sense; their songs soared majestically, the gorgeous vocal stylings of Carol Van Dijk (the woman with the best dimples in rock, surely?) drawing a hush over the crowd, as the band in turn handled the songs delicately, and rocked out in a totally carefree fashion when appropriate. An astonishing "Under the Surface" was the highlight of the set of the weekend... so far...

Stayed in the tent for TRUMAN'S WATER and their difficult, disjoined Pavement-like US alt-rock noise. To be fair, Ady, who went missing at this point, had warned that they were like that, and he wasn't far wrong! Then THE PASTELS... golly, are they still going? Their set was firmly entrenched in C86, gauche jangle-pop; charming at that time, but sounding twee and somewhat dated now. The set meandered, largely unnoticed, in the background, so I took a walk to catch a few of THE BREEDERS numbers on the main stage. Mrs. John Murphy, aka Kim Deal, and her post-Pixies band played a set of magical mystery college pop, which unfortunately caught the wind and drifted away slightly. They'd have been better off in the tent, maybe... which was where I headed back to, about 5, for THE JULIANA HATFIELD THREE, who kicked up a right storm with their fresh sounding brand of pure pop. The guys, in dresses, backed Juliana (wearing the trousers both figuratively and literally!) up perfectly, and that voice, so crystal clear on record, finally came across well live. A watching Evan Dando wandered onstage mid-set and kissed Juliana's neck; we all felt like that, a little!

I then found out Bettie Serveert were doing a signing session in the Melody Maker tent next to the big tent, so stood for an hour in an immovable queue, within earshot but not visual range of another set from GRANT LEE BUFFALO, this time in the tent, I guess as a late replacement for someone. Not one of my better Reading Festival decisions... finally gave that up as a bad job at 7, just as THE LEMONHEADS took the main stage to their titanic best number, "Stove". So I dashed down the front and joined the moshpit for a frantic hour of the Boston boys' unique hard rocking yet cool rock, now with a country tinge following their splendid "It's A Shame About Ray" album; a harder REM, maybe? Vocalist and main inspiration Evan Dando, resplendent in a black daisy-pattern dress and suspenders (!) was a kooky focal point, and was joined by Juliana Hatfield on occasional backing vocals. A super fun, immense set, based largely on "Ray", ensued, and I got soaked in the moshpit to the undisputed Best Set Of The Weekend. Great stuff!

As night enveloped the arena, DINOSAUR JR. formed the musical backdrop for some stalls shopping. Their "greatest hits" run-through was loud and mighty fine, with mainman J Mascis torturing his guitar like a medieval outlaw. The arena was dusky and smoky (due to all the polystyrene food container fires) and their set was a totally fitting soundtrack; very evocative and atmospheric! Then, the headliners; NEW ORDER. They, soundwise, were utterly perfect, totally faithful to their recorded work - perhaps a little too much in parts. Their set was a splendidly chosen selection of newies from LP "Republic" and their old favourites. "True Faith" took a dig at some alleged Michael Jackson rumours, but "Temptation" was the highlight of their superbly lit, excellently professional dancey pop show. A perfect end to the best day of a great Reading Festival. A "weak bill" for Reading 1993? Not! This was the best one yet!


Saturday Best: 1. GIGOLO AUNTS, 2. DROP NINETEENS, 3. MADDER ROSE (of 9)


Best New Band: 1. GIGOLO AUNTS.
Crap! 1. RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, by miles!
Sorry I Missed: RADIOHEAD. That's all really.
Stars Of The Show: 1. EVAN DANDO, 2. ANGE DOOLITTLE, 3. BETTIE SERVEERT'S nodding dog!

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