Thursday, July 01, 2010

glastonbury festival 2010: the review

Disorientation Central. Location: a Welcome Break service station somewhere along the M5.

It's around midday on the Monday after Glastonbury, and as you enter through a set of well polished doors, thoughts race through your mind: "These people are CLEAN!", "Why has the all day breakfast stall been replaced by a gourmet salad bar?", "Why are the men all wearing suits and giving me a wide berth, rather than smiling merrily whilst reloading their beer hat?"

A week at
Glastonbury will do that to you. What it doesn't usually do though is leave you with a tan. Sure, most of it turned out to actually be dust once you'd taken your first shower in a week, but it's likely an impressive brown hue still remained. Thursday at Glastonbury was mostly spent wandering around AMAZED that a week in June has turned out to be DRY and HOT!

Having been one of the people that endured the 10 hour traffic jam outside Glastonbury 2009, this year’s relatively light-congestion around the site (at 6am Wednesday morning and again when leaving Monday) is a revelation, only marred by what followed joining the entrance queue: a three hour wait with heavy bags, in sweltering heat, to get through the ticket barriers. But really, getting 20,000-odd overly keen revellers through the gates in 20 minutes was never going to be possible was it?

Thursday is spent relaxing near the front of the Pyramid Stage, and suddenly realising you're sat 60 meters away from a visiting Prince Charles, and then later falling down the Rabbit Hole in the Park, where to enter you had to first locate the secret entrance, then answer a question correctly (sample: What was the White Rabbit late for?), and then crawl through a tunnel into a noisy, grimy backroom complete with solar powered LED dance floor.

Friday's entertainment is mostly more predictable. Detroit Social Club open proceedings in a busy John Peel tent. This time last year the rain had put most people off even leaving their tent this early, but the warmth means Worthy Farm rises early, and the band rise to the occasion nicely with a punchy, involved set.

After catching a lively Mumford & Sons do a couple of songs for Jo Whiley in an overflowing BBC Introducing tent, critical darlings The Courteeners play to a similarly packed Other Stage field. There are less Mancunian accents than expected amongst the crowd. The set goes well enough, but then singles such as Not Nineteen Forever and What Took You So Long? kick in and we get our first party atmosphere of the weekend.

It's a rush from there to ensure none of Bonobo's set in West Holts is missed. The setlist is as blissfully danceable as hoped for, and it's difficult to imagine a more appropriate sunshine soundtrack. Sorry, Snoop.

Up in the hills, Local Natives are showing how difficult it is to misfire on an idyllic afternoon in the Park. Any floating voters won't be rushing out to buy their album, but they soundtrack the moment well.

The Big Pink aren't known for their stage theatrics, so luckily a 'well-lubricated' Jamie from Klaxons is in the third row, doing forward rolls and asking girls for a leg-up so he can go crowdsurfing. It's hilarious, and helps a guarded performance through its natural ebbs.

To be blunt, it’s all preamble for the special guests that are due on stage next. A quick audience survey suggests a 50/50 split on whether it will be The Strokes or Thom Yorke, and as instruments are set up, some Strokes fans drift away. No rumours nailed precisely what we actually get though: Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood.

Some reports suggested the faintest air of anti-climax, but for us delirium from the sense of occasion, solo highlights like Harrowdown Hill and The Eraser, and a final run of Radiohead classics made it the finest moment of the weekend, and roughly level with the feeling of when the audience wouldn't stop singing Tender back at Blur in 2009. Magical.

Speaking of which, could Gorillaz possibly top either of those two moments? Finally making it down to the Pyramid stage afterwards, it's impossible to get a decent place in the audience. When during the second song it appears Snoop Dogg is appearing on videoscreen, despite having played earlier that day, a decision is made to make haste for the John Peel tent to see Groove Armada instead.

Having released their finest album this year, it isn’t a decision regretted. The new material has added a newfound pace, and raucous edge to their show. Coupled with the high production values that are typical of live dance music shows, it's a complete joy from start to finish.

Not that the day ends with the headliners, of course. From there it's to Shangra-La where Annie Mac is playing a plodding set for Radio 1's Essential Mix. Not that the crowd seem to mind. Afterwards Chase & Status bring more of a party vibe, gradually tearing apart late night
Glastonbury piece by piece over the course of an hour. Afterwards, it’s definitely time for bed.

It feels like the worst
Glastonbury yet for clashes. More great acts are being crammed into seemingly less space on the schedule, and the list of acts I miss out on stretches longer than the list of those I get to see: Snoop Dogg, LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip, Editors, The xx, Foals, Laura Marling, Sub Focus, Chase and Status (live), Frank Turner... and so it continues.

Saturday starts with a visit to The Free University of Glastonbury to hear Peter Hook talk about managing the Ha├žienda. It's such a rich topic, that every single thing he says has the audience burst out in laughter. Having paid £12,000 for a university education, one leaves upset at having never been given such an engaging talk as this. Time to get his book off the Amazon wishlist and onto the bookshelf.

The National are playing to a smaller crowd than expected. Hadn’t word really got out about them this year? With an embarrassment of fine songs to cherry-pick from, and Matt Berninger's willingness to venture far out into the crowd, they galvanize an initially staid audience. On the strength of this performance, they'll glide up the festival bills.

They're also running late, however - and despite sprinting up to the Park, it's impossible to get where you can see the stage for Biffy Clyro. A dejected return to the Other Stage to see some of The Cribs is a pleasure though. They berate their audience for not watching Shakira instead (who is on the Pyramid Stage doing a cover of Islands by The xx - two credibility points to you, my dear!). Whilst the buzz around them has faded somewhat, they’re increasingly a ferocious, yet intelligent live band.

The decision to see Scissor Sisters over Editors is mostly to ensure a good place in the crowd for Muse, but their show is more watchable than ever. Kylie's cameo is a well-rehearsed bonus, the new material seems to come with extra party bounce that ensures the set never drags, and everybody is reminded that I Don't Feel Like Dancing is one of the finest pop singles of its decade. They do lay the Glastonbury-means-so-much-to-us patter on a bit thick though.

No chance of over-emoting from the Muse boys. By now they've got a back-catalogue that could see them through festival sets without any theatrics. And for the most part, that's what we get. Perhaps because Glastonbury is a small paycheck for them, the songs are mostly left to do the job. A crowd half-cynical to the idea of U2's The Edge guesting on stage is immediately brought onside by the perfect choice of song (Where The Streets Have No Name), performed exceptionally well. It's enough to ensure that they’re second only to Radiohead as the highlight of the festival.

Then it’s off to the fringes once more, to see Four Tet put in a late night DJ set in the Park. It's ideal post-Muse fare, minimal yet never boring, or less than danceable. It's a vibe somewhat ruined by the well-meaning harsher beats of Silver Columns afterwards. We give it a good hour, before opting to enjoy pleasant campfire vibes elsewhere.

Sunday afternoon has an ADHD feel to it, with Grizzly Bear, The Drums, and Temper Trap all failing to hold interest for more than 10 minutes. The nagging feeling is of regretting not having seen Slash instead. Broadcast 2000 hold real folk-pop promise in a sweltering BBC Introducing tent, before Laura Marling plays a couple of songs for Radio 1, precisely as she did on her album.

Jaguar Skills is playing to a packed West Dance tent, although given that the three songs we catch are Smells Like Teen Spirit, Pon Du Floor, and the Only Fools and Horses theme, that perhaps isn't surprising. Later on the tent has cleared out for Alex Metric's live band show. He doesn't seem to take it well, and appears moody throughout the 30 minutes we give his lacklustre set.

Instead it's a rush across site to the Cabaret tent where comedian Shappi Khorsandi is effortlessly winning her sizable audience over. It's easy to see why with such well contructed, witty social observations.

In the Queen's Head, I Am Kloot are a revelation. A run through new material has eight people on stage at various points, adding string and wind sections. Here's a prediction: they'll be the set everybody talks about on the Other Stage next year.

Plenty of people are talking about LCD Soundsystem this year, though as they’re playing the
UK loads this summer, the decision taken to enjoy trip down memory lane with Faithless instead.

With a crowd surely disinterested in hearing any new material, it's no small triumph that they are won over by it. As the audience slowly realises its own willingness to jump along to songs it doesn't even know, Insomnia and We Come 1 predictably erupt.

Orbital aren't likely to make any errors in headlining the Other Stage. It's a set that rarely applies its airbrakes, and they have a knack for surprising their followers too - they plant people throughout the audience that simultaneously erupt thousands of glowsticks across the baying crowd, and they finish with Matt Smith - the current (excellent) Doctor Who - guesting on a remix of the show's iconic theme tune. It's a riot.

For the second night in a row we again rush to catch Four Tet, this time playing live in the dance village. It succeeds in topping his set from 24 hours earlier, with all the exquisite electronic noises you could hope for.

From there we head off to explore the remainder of the festival's late night areas - including being dazzled by the 360° visuals in The Igloo, before being completely blown away by the magnitude of the production in Arcadia. It's impossible to recall a more impressive clubbing environment, and this is one that only exists for four nights a year. Essentially a giant spider structure, MC's spit rhymes on platforms above the crowd, whilst flames blast from every corner of the construction.

Breathless, we end the night by heading for a gay club in Block9, where entrance is either £2, or you flash your penis. We opt for the latter. It feels like a last chance to connect with the
Glastonbury spirit. After all, next week we’ll be back wearing our suits, stopping off at motorway service stations, eating gourmet salads…