Victoria Park, London
With security more akin to the Hyderabad/Heathrow flightpath, I joined the steady throng marching past the bemused shopkeepers of Bethnal Green, an area just beginning to display a beard or 3 of hipster gentrification. It looked like the whole of this delightful park was devoted to the 10 day extravaganza, that had begun the w/e before with a 3 day event, then 4 days of free and then a final separate trio of days. I had signed up for saturday and sunday, topped by the National and by Nick Cave respectively.
A little muzzy from a night on there lash with my son, where we had hit all 3 of the venues commended by Grace Dent in her Guardian resto review of the day later, I needed a little calm to start the day. So up first for me came This is the Kit, the excellent Kate Stables project for her quirky modern folk, offset by shimmering guitar in sharded chordwork, clattering yet taut drumming and the unusual pairing of tenor sax and bass clarinet, frankly the delight of the arrangements. Kate shifts twixt banjo and guitar, but, oddly, what works so well on record, somehow sounds like different bands playing at the same time. Well received but somehow an opportunity lost. Next up were Public Service Broadcasting. A sceptic thus far, I was prepared to give ’em either two pennorth or two fingers, rather being swept away, a delighted convert. Strangely, and as I have said elsewhere, they reminded me, sonically, of peak period Chumbawamba, albeit in a parallel universe, where they had come together in the Oxford Union rather than a Leeds squat. The sync of the screens and the onstage music/samples was astonishingly tight, with more than enough live oddness to show this was way more than press button and perform. A 3 piece brass section augmented the 4 piece band to moving effect: with much of the setlist culled from their latest opus, a paean to coal mining in Wales, the brass was a warm and evocative contrast to the sampled dialogue quirkery. Terrific and I definitely needed a beer to cool down afterwards. (And definitely needed some product, duly picked up at Rough Trade on sunday morning,)
A mosey over to the main stage had me just miss the start of Cat Power. With, I think, little new material, this was a wonderful hour. Looking distinctly fragile, and hot, in what looked like a velvet dress, sipping herb tea, she gave a hypnotic performance of bewildered beauty. Especial mention for the guitarist/keyboard player, who knew exactly how little to play to give the necessary ambience.
There seemed to be strong love for Future Islands. Knowing little I gave them my ears, lasting a song and a half, the posturing of the frontman and the plodding synth-pop doing nothing for me. Plus, of course, enabling me a prime site near the front for hotly anticipated War on Drugs.
And they were fucking brilliant! Hitting the ground running, all extended workouts (wig outs?) propelled by yankee motorik drums, often 3 keyboards, often 2 guitars, occasional sax and flugelhorn, it was hard to believe there were only 6 musicians on stage. I was honestly minded of an E. Street Band fronted by Neil Young at times, but Adam Graduciel has more than enough personality to be no mere copyist. Truly a defining moment. Shit, the National would have to be on top of their game to top this.
So were they? Possibly not, but enough memories filter back to say they were a credible headliner. With only one stage now active, it was rammed and I felt miles away, surrounded by well-lubricated enthusiasts who felt the point of the day was to whoop frequently and sing, in ragged “unison” at each other and at anyone trying otherwise to listen. Having first taken to the band from their televised Glastonbury show of last year, this was certainly not up to that standard, although ‘I Need My Girl”, like on that day, came close, and was my highlight. Matt Berninger seemed oddly subdued, his usual onstage wine swapped for water, a reverse miracle that had him minding me, vocally, more of Stuart Staples, and of how very good, on their day, were Tindersticks. Trumpet and trombone augmented the band, a recurring theme of the day, the warmth in that sound escalating the choral aspects of the music, particularly whenever the piano playing Dessner twin took to the piano. In the end it was the audience that annoyed more than the band enthralled, so I beat a sharp exit ahead of the uncertainties of whether they had time or permission not play an encore.
Throughout the day a pleasant mix of ages and clans. Clearly a lot of beards and a lot of tatts, but spread from bumfluff teens to grizzled festival warriors. Good natured if overly so.
It made me think..
As experiences go, I have to applaud the organisers. The beer was good. OK, £6 a pint is steep for my midland pockets, but at least it was decent (natch) craft ale. A good selection of food outlets catered for any taste sought; I had eaten a massive egg, bacon and black pudding bap on the Roman road before, so didn’t need to try, but it looked decent fare and was priced without taking the piss.
Day 2 in comments.