Tuesday, August 29, 2006

V For Vitality, Virtuoso and Valiant

"In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe"
(Radiohead, 1997)

A rather bald statement to make, Dear Readers, but fear not as service has now been resumed. What shall then follow over the next few days is a review in four parts. A quadrology if you like. And, like the Alien quadrology, the first two will probably be excellent, the third thoroughly depressing, and the final installment a little bonkers and all over the place. Or maybe not. This has been my experience of the last two weeks, ranging from feelings of slight mania and recurring jokes about Germaine Greer, David Cameron and Morrissey through to feelings of uselessness, introspective self-reflection and the questioning of your own sanity. In short, it's been the usual emotional rollercoaster a trip to Devon usually brings about. And yes, there's even photographic evidence to support it.

So we begin with the V Festival that took place over the weekend of August the 19th in Weston Park, Staffordshire, although if you'd have read any of the reviews or watched any of the television coverage you'd have been forgiven for believing that it only took place in Essex. Anyways, the trip up to V can largely be forgotten, aside from noting that spending twelve hours in the confines of a Ford Fiesta is enough to send Yours Truly thoroughly out of his tree (you see Dear Readers, I started questioning my sanity within a day of being back associated with the West Country). I don't know if you've ever seen the classic episode of One Foot in the Grave entitled 'The Beast in the Cage', where Victor Meldrew ends up stuck in a Bank Holiday traffic jam on the Motorway, but that is the immediate reference point. At one point I was willing to recreate R.E.M.'s Everybody Hurts video and just abandon the car and walk off across the neighbouring fields. I still think the reasoning for this comes from over-exposure to such 'classic' songs as Paul McCartney's Mull of Kintyre (in my opinion, the worst song ever recorded) and The Frog Chorus.

Anyways, after pitching a tent in the dark and the rain on Friday night, Saturday brought the expectation of watching some bands, even though the main acts to be looking forward to were playing the next day. The continuing rain meant spending the entire weekend in Wellys (and, if I don't mind saying, looking terribly nonchalant with it), and a continual threat of downpores to dampen the spirits. This luckily was not to be the case. The music began in light drizzle over on The Other Stage with a band called KEITH. Keith is a terrible name for a band. It's the kind of name you give to a comedic old guy in a sitcom (or maybe that's just my love of the dark genius of Marion and Geoff?). Keith (the band) had won a competiton on Channel 4 to open the festival this day and their lack of experience and nervousness duly shone through. Too many times their drummer resorted to bashing the hell out of some cow bells, or the singer swearing and encouraging the crowd, whilst their songs, although pleasent and energetic, were ultimately forgetable.

It was then time to drag my compadres into the Carling Union Tent to witness my New Favourite Band (TM), THE GRATES. In short, they're absolutely fantastic. An Australian three-piece consisting of guitar, drums and vocals, their very line-up reminds you of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The key difference being the delivery since they lack all the New York art school posturing and agonising necessity to be insanely stylish and cool. Instead, they have an irresistable charm and innocence, which hides a much darker, coarse subtext in most of their songs, and in singer Patience they've an undisputed star in the making. She throws herself around the stage with such joyous enthusiasm that you can't help but be sucked into their world. The set showcased their album 'Gravity Won't Get You High' well, with my personal faves 'Inside Outside', 'Science is Golden' and '19 20 20' being saved for the end.

With a broad smile on my face, and some rather tasty food in hand, it was time to make the journey back out into the rain towards the main stage to take in THE DANDY WARHOLS. In short, the Dandys are everything The Grates are not. They swagger on stage, ignoring both each other and the crowd, start playing their instruments at different times and gradually come together to start playing a song. In honesty, the set is peppered with such recognisable tunes as 'Get Off' and the crowd-pleasing 'Bohemian Like You', but the can't-be-assed delivery, lack of energy and 'How long have we got left?' comment before set closer 'Boys Better' ultimately produce a distance between the band and the audience.

The SUGABABES appear onstage polished, in more than just the vocal department, pleasing the crowd with a few hits but before too long its back into the dry confines of the Union to witness JIM NOIR, an upcoming singer-songwriter in the Badly Drawn Boy quirkiness style. Noir appears on stage with his band, accompanied by a selection of lamps and garden Gnomes, singing songs about losing your football, computers, and playing music in the key of C. It's an entertaining, pleasent and melodic thirty minutes that culminates in recent single (featuring a video with a man taking on a 10ft fall chicken) My Patch that gets the whole crowd singing along.

Back out into the rain then to witness a band I thought I knew nothing about, DELAYS, on the other stage. One of the best things about a festival is introducing, or being introduced to, great bands by your mates and this was a case of that. A good few times their melodic harmonies and sunshine-drenced synths make you forget that you're stood in the pooring rain, whilst other songs suggest a darker, more epic, U2-esque feel to some of their new material. All this whilst accompanied by some spot-on falsetto vocals from the singer. Although the crowd were most behind recognised hits such as Long Time Coming and Nearer than Heaven, the other material proved popular hinting at a gathering fanbase for the Southampton band.

Over on the main stage, HARD-FI seem to be throwing the rock and roll kitchen sink at the audience to underline how great and down to earth they are. Truth is they're neither. Singer Richard flits between cliche (regularly telling us he 'doen't believing how great this weekend is'), appeals to being 'like the audience' (tedious reminders that they also used to work in unsatisfying jobs), and entries from the F**k Dictionary liberally to underline how horrid they actually are. Seen as though I only caught the last four songs, and three of them were their hit singles, the rest of the set must have been something dreadful as what I witnessed was crap.

There's something about being at a festival that, in my experience anyways, means you end up hankering for a bit of nostalgia in the late afternoon/early evening period. It seems that just as everyone else is preparing for the evening's acts to raise the bar a bit further, I end up requiring something secure and dependable, and what with all these new acts I'd exposed myself to over the course of the day, the chance to see GOMEZ was more than endearing. That and the fact they were playing in the indoor JJB Arena, rather than being stood out in the (incresasingly cold) rain. Now Gomez are a dependable live act. I've seen them three times now, and they've never disappointed. If anything, the sizeable crowd, the reaction they recieved, and their obvious disappointment at only being given forty minutes to play, meant they should have been on later and for longer somewhere else. Having said that, the reason that they're such a dependable bet is because a) they're great musicians that obviously enjoy playing together live and b) they like a bit of a party. Despite the unfamiliarity of their new material, it was warmly recieved by the crowd, the classics never disappoint with Whipping Piccadilly firmly documenting that great feeling you get when you do something totally random like jump on a train and see where it takes you.

Remaining in the cover of the JJB Arena, it was time for the crowd to suddenly age a good few years as THE BEAUTIFUL SOUTH emerged to a thoroughly warm reception. Unfortunately, the popular opinion of Hull's Second Finest Band these days is that their a bit old and a bit dull. True, their new material has been a bit patchy as of late but that hides the fact that they've got one of the most intellegent, biting, yet poignant lyricists this country has ever produced in Paul Heaton. What's more, the crowd seem to lap up his presence, constantly chanting his name and hanging off his every word. The set wisely consists mainly of their best known material, but the presence of fan fave 36D (the song that says more about contemporary feminism a lot better than anything Germaine Greer could ever come up with) is more than welcome. Elsewhere, Don't Marry Her provides a welcome bit of tongue-in-cheek humour and You Keep It All In is greeted rapturously. Shame there was no Song For Whoever, but a great time was had by all.

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT. Does that name mean anything to you, Dear Reader? Aside from his sister's hauntingly beautiful duet on the new Snow Patrol record, and a rather hazy recollection of one of his album's being reviewed on Newsnight Review, I knew nothing. When his equiptment, consisting of a piano and an acoustic guitar, was set up I didn't know what to expect. What was experienced was the most mesmerising display I've ever had the privilege to witness. For one guy to hold the stage with such presence for fifty (too short) minutes was amazing, and whilst I knew none of his material I was at convicned by the end that I needed to hear more. Midway through he covered Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah and I, like a lot of people, thought no-one would ever match the haunting quality Jeff Buckley's version captures. I always liked to be proved wrong, however, for this was a very special, intimate performance.

So it was time for the evening's headline act to be seen, and whilst Morrissey flounced around in his typically airy, self-deprecating manner on the Main Stage, and Razorlight turned the arrogance levels up to eleven elsewhere, the promise of some snarling, raw anger and the best frontman in contemporary music proved too much of a draw. However, THE COOPER TEMPLE CLAUSE were victims of problems from the word 'Go' tonight. Gordon Strachan once said about a humiliating Celtic defeat in Bulgaria that death would be easier than that particular night, and unfortunately that same analogy would apply to the Coopers tonight. Their set was delayed by the previous band over-running. It took an age to set up their trademark wall of electronic equiptment. When the intro music (sounding suspicously like the intro to personal fave New Toys) jammed the signs weren't good. Then the wall of electronics shorted out mid-song leaving them stranded and having to wing the set. The Same Mistakes was started and then abandoned about thirty seconds later as the bass gave up. In honesty, it was testament to the band's resolve that they didn't just walk off and abandon it. Many other's would have. Still we were treated to new material in the shape of Damage, Head and Homosapien which all displayed their trademark snarl. And the sight of lead singer Ben Gautry stood perfectly still, illuminated by a single low red light, brooding in a mix of intensity, passion and anger as he sings is worth the problems since his vocals (and their delivery) literaly ooze authenticity. It was just a real shame that all the other elements were against Team Cooper tonight.

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