Yeah Yeah, it’s been a week, but I’ve been recuperating from the festival itself, trenchfoot and a nasty cold that may or may not be Swine Flu. There might be a mild exaggeration in that sentence, but I haven’t really been up to this.
So, it was good, very good, excellent even. Rather than delivering why this was the case in a long, sprawling and unfocused essay, I will be doing mini-reviews for all the acts I saw over the weekend. Diverging all my extra curricular activities as well would be a little too thorough and, er, potentially embarrassing and libelous.
Regina Spektor – Pyramid Stage
Maximo Park‘s opening of the festival at the Queen’s Head the previous day was completely packed and recounting my time at the Silent Disco will not make for riveting reading so we start here, Friday.
So, Michael Jackson‘s dead and it’s raining. Quite heavily. A heavy squall prevents me from venturing out of my flimsily erected tent to enjoy the novelty of Bjorn Again or finding out if the rumours of an appearance by Kanye West in support of Mr Hudson on the Other Stage are true so I find myself at the Pyramid stage with the comely Regina.
As my previous posts on this quirky songsmith would suggest, I was less than entirely ecstatic in the build up to this start to the weekend, but compromises had to be made and, to be fair, she was a fair bit more appealing than the achingly generic NME Indie bands that were playing on other stages, plus, as anyone who reads this blog regularly will know (…hello?) I find her quite easy on the eyes, which is a plus.
With such low expectations it’s probably not that suprising that I quite enjoyed her set. I don’t own or really know any of her stuff, but she is a very captivating performer. Her idiosyncratic nature is disarmingly endearing in the flesh, rather than slightly grating or irritating as it often is on record. Her stodgy new material gets a good airing and is fairly received, even the awful Laughing With sounds vaguely acceptable in the dreary drizzle of the Glastonbury afternoon, a place which isn’t exactly adverse to a bit of schmaltzy spirituality.
Live, she doesn’t do anything markedly different with her songs to make them shine, instead the vocal gymnastics and quirky left turns that litter her tracks become quite infectuous in a live setting and are willingly lapped up by her adoring fans. Sure, her music is often unapologetically saccharine and trite, but when you’re at Glastonbury standing in the drizzle with a few Ciders down you, you don’t really care much when she structures a chorus entirely out of ‘eets’, and she hits a wooden chair with a stick at one point, what’s not to like?
Plus she’s quite easy on the eyes.
Fleet Foxes – Pyramid Stage
After a short detour during a peculiar set by N*E*R*D in which I was lucky enough to be in earshot to hear Pharrel express his pride at performing to 200,000 people, an impressive feat considering that number was 20,000 people more than were actually on site, and then witness him getting his mic cut shortly after he rebelliously claimed he didn’t give a f*ck about how many minutes he had left, we returned to the Pyramid stage for an alltogether less bellicose act.
Fleet Foxes are a band that I like a lot, their debut was one of my favourites of last year, but as I said on my end of year album list, my enjoyment of their music seems strangely tied to the weather I listen to it in, so the pervading overcastness of the day didn’t help. Nor did the amount of material they performed off the Sun Giant EP, a good EP, but something I’m not as familiar with. Something can be said of the size of the venue overwhelming their sound, as impressive (and as loud) as the Pyramid stage sound system is, it’s not always tight, and some of the finer vocal harmonies sort of get lost in the wind. The same could be said for Regina Spektor, but here the performance is more nuanced, less loveable and less crowd pleasing (and less easy on the eyes).
So sound problems and the understated quality of the Sun Giant EP material that they indulged in meant it took a while to get going, but once Ragged Wood,Your Protector and Olivier James were wheeled out to the fold they began to pick up pace, a real festival band, a real Glastonbury band, Hippy harmonies and all. In fairness, I could put the underwhelming aspects of their performance down to my state of mind and my weird climatological prerequisites, but still it lacked something that was partly down to the venue, but mostly down to the band.
Jason Mraz – Acoustic Stage
Ugghh, I really don’t remember much of this. Even my friend who was a fan decided to leave before the end, whether that was because I did a poor job disguising my mind-numbing boredom on my usually miserable looking face or because he was just a bit rubbish I don’t know (Sorry if you’re reading this). This guy made about four/five appearances during the weekend, not sure how or why, but it was nice to get away from the Pyramid Stage and explore another part of the festival though, I guess. Fleet Foxes would have been a lot more at home here.
Neil Young – Pyramid Stage
Short break for Dinner then back down to the now familiar Pyramid Stage. I’m not a huge Neil Young fan and the lure of Q-tip, Bloc Party and Animal Collective on other stages in what is perhaps the most ridiculous of line-up clashes in festival history, was strong but, Neil Young is just one of those iconic artists I wouldn’t normally choose to or get a chance to see again; I’d already seen Bloc Party and Q-tip and will see Animal Collective later in the Summer, so Neil Young it was.
Now I just had the small issue of enjoying the gig. Being ‘not a huge’ Neil Young fan meant that there were gaping holes in my familiarity with his stuff. I had the ‘classics’ as prescribed to me by the trusty Allmusic, After the Gold Rush, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Rust Never Sleeps and a smattering of hits not covered by these albums, Heart of Gold, Like a Hurricane and Rockin’ in the Free World. Regardless, having seen Prince, (twice), another artist with a huge, expansive backcatalog of hits littered through a long career, I was more than aware that I could find myself half-knowingly humming songs that I sort of know from that advert I once heard, or was it on the radio um, yeah. I was also aware of the fact that, like Prince, Neil Young was somewhat famous for his belligerent, uncompromising attitude when it came to his live shows, so I wasn’t holding my breath.
Thankfully, he opened with one of his bigger hits and one of my favourites the (literally, and figuratively) electric, Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black). Anxiety cleared.
What followed was a set thankfully low on recent material that he could have easily plugged, and high on the classics. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Cinnamon girl, The Needle And The Damage Done, Heart of Gold and an epic, much extended Down by the River that featured half a dozen guitar solos, well half a dozen more guitar solos than his other songs.
There were a few missteps. As mentioned, every song did see to feature at least two breaks and a long, distorted, messy outro which does begin to wane after a while. I’m all for whiny, atonal, dissonant guitar playing, but Neil Young often toes the line towards mere noise more often than he does sweet, soaring Hendrix platitudes. Secondly, there were quite a few duff song selections that broke up the momentum of the classics, for example, Mother Earth is a remarkably trite eco-ballad with cringeworthy lyrics of the highest order and whilst it’s always nice to hear The Beatles, especially the untouchable A Day in the Life, it’s perhaps not the best time to hear it when you’re at a Neil Young gig and he hasn’t played some of his classics like Tell Me Why or Like a Hurricane.
Also, the number of refrains tacked on the end of Rockin’ In The Free World was a little ridiculous and unintentionally funny. It’s always been a song that I’ve had a hard time enjoying unironically, sure there’s a very serious message behind the song, but the refrain is just so ridiculous and it’s a song that’s just so un-Neil Young.
As he dismaintled his guitar at the close of A Day in the Life, perhaps as a means of signaling to the audience that there would be no more encores, extended outros or even a zombie-like ressurection of Rockin’ In The Free World from out of nowhere, the audience left mostly happy and contented – despite his slight infractions – at the close Day One of Glastonbury proper. An excellent start by the ‘weakest’ of the three Pyramid stage headlines, and a thankfully dry end to the day after the initial squall. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t play Like A Hurricane?
As Friday melds into Saturday, I wonder off with the crowd and sample the nightlife of Glastonbury for a third night. Trash City beckons and Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World is lodged in my brain.
Tune in next time for my continuing adventures at Glastonbury. Coming…sometime soon