Reading Festival 2011 - The Full Review

by - Tuesday, August 30, 2011

 In my experience of Festivals, both in person and from what I see on television, there's something a little bit special about Reading & Leeds. Aged 16, it was the first overnight music event I camped at, the place where I first experienced some of my bedroom wall heroes live, and the first time I realised the true power of music, the way it unites such an eclectic group of people from across the country, and indeed the world to celebrate the best bands there is to offer. Reading has always seemed to me to be the true music fans festival; many bands speak of it's significance as the defining point in their careers, the peak they aspire to, and when you're there you really can feel that sense of energy and aspiration onstage and off. 2011 definitely reflected this for me in the diversity of the bands I saw, the reaction from the crowds and of course, the fierce defiance that wouldn't allow a bit of mud (well, actually rather a lot of mud) ruin the weekend. Here is my round up.

Bands Seen: Pulled Apart By Horses, Frankie & The Heartstrings,Miles Kane, New Found Glory, Bring Me The Horizon,Rise Against,Metronomy,The Vaccines,30 Seconds To Mars, Noah And The Whale, My Chemical Romance

Kicking off Friday not so gently were Pulled Apart By Horses (NME/Radio1),who took full advantage of the audiences first day energy by ripping through their unique brand of shouty, time signature switching indie rock, including a particularly feral rendition of the rather excellently titled 'I Punched A Lion In The Throat'. Whilst a large proportion of the crowd were left bemused, a small contingent were happy to mosh away at the barrier, creating the first circle pit of the day.
     As a direct contrast, Frankie & The Heartstrings (NME/Radio1) seemed to be a little tame in comparison, despite vocalist Frankie proclaiming the band to be 'Like a gay Geordie Shore'. Despite the heard-ti-before familiarity of their soft shoegaze, his camp posturing and 'scream for me Reading!' stage banter was certainly on point, and by the time they reached the summery jingles of 'Possibilities', it was hard to find somebody without a reluctant smile on their face.
    Always a sight for sore eyes, Miles Kane (NME/Radio1) is really hitting his live stride as a solo artist, and he knows it. Arriving onstage all wide smile and cocky swagger, settling straight into Colour Of The Trap highlight 'Better Left Invisible', he appeared to be having nothing short of the time of his life, imploring the crowd to cheer louder and louder with every wave of his hands before being cruelly cut short after a raucous 'Inhaler'. Triumphance personified.
   Swapping over to a rainy mainstage brought us New Found Glory (Main Stage), who set the tone for 'Rock Day' with their brand of old-enough-to-know-better pop punk. Despite this being their fourth time at the festival since 2002, their set closer of 'My Friend's Over You' doesn't fail to get the crowd moving.
   Following the listener Backlash that occured when 'Blessed With A Curse' appeared on the Radio 1 Playlist, Bring Me The Horizon (Main Stage) had a lot to prove. Despite the downpour, the formidable voice of Oli Sykes rang loud and clear across the festival site as he paced the stage like an angry tiger, inciting massive shout-a-longs to the likes of 'Anthem', 'It Never Ends' and 'Pray For Plagues'. With surprisingly powerful and tuneful guitar riffs aplenty, I would bet the cost of Sykes next tattoo that many left the stage converted. A set littered with profanities, but a lot of fun none the less.
    Unacustomed to most of their back catalogue, Rise Against (Main Stage) left me a little cold, but judging by the size of the audience, they were a definite crowd pleaser.A cover of The Clash's 'White Riot' got a few more heads at the back nodding, but all in all, the poor weather seemed to take it's toll.
    My tip for this years Mercury Music Prize with 'The English Riveira', Metronomy (NME/Radio1) proved to be the first of the festivals highlights with a career spanning set that took in songs as old as 'Radio Ladio' and as new as 'The Look', which got the crowd whistling on mass. Playing in front of a modest, watercolour four piece portrait backdrop, their funnky guitar based dance provided a nice change to the heavy rock dominating the mainstage, and demonstrated why they'd been asked back to Reading five years in a row.
    Before the end of the very first song, The Vaccines (NME/Radio1) established that they were going to be this years 'I was there before they got huge' moment. With a devoted fandom in evidence even as far back as the third barrier, all wearing the album cover proudly on their chests, Justin Hayward Young and co sped through 'What Did You Expect From The Vaccines' in near entirety, complete with barrier hand slapping and even an outing of new song 'Tiger Blood' rumoured to be avaiable soon as a tour exclusive download.If they can sustain this level of success across the next album they are currently working on with The Strokes Albert Hammond Jr, they are set to become one of the country's best indie bands.
    Known for their epic stage shows and 'save the world' sensibilities, I was expecting very impressive things from L.A finest 30 Seconds To Mars (Main Stage). However, they proved to be a massive style over substance dissapointment, Jared Leto's voice lost in a mess of guitars, keyboards samples, and overzealous mission statements projected onto the big screen. After even 'This Is War' failed to ignite, a mass exodus to Noah And The Whale (NME/Radio1) became a far more enticing prospect, arriving just in time for a school choir esque rendition of 'L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N'.
    We needed a superhero to save the day, and who better than the fabulous killjoys? I have been enthralled by My Chemical Romance (Main Stage) and their stadium slaying theatre punk for nearly eight years, and having finally seen their live show, I feel completely justified in that. When you can afford to open with the double header of 'Na Na Na' ( dressed in full costumes from the video no less) and 'I'm Not Okay', you know you have earnt your place as headliner, and anime punk Gerard Way wasted no time in professing his appreciation of this, declaring Reading to be 'f***ing awesome' and encouraging the crowd to 'dance however you f***ing well like". Not a family show then, but a amazingly professional one regardless, guitarist Ray Toro in particular displaying his talent in a series of wild solos, most notably in a suprise outing of fan favourite 'Dead!' and the beastie boys-esque newbie 'DESTROYA'. Dismissed by many as gimmicky, My Chemical Romance's  pomp rock really does deserve respect from the highest of places, personified when none other than legendary guitarist Brian May strides onstage for a high octane take on 'We Will Rock You' and set closer 'Welcome To The Black Parade', complete with fireworks that raise high into the sky. The bar has been set incredibly high.

Bands Seen: The Joy Formidable, The Pigeon Detectives, Seasick Steve, Two Door Cinema Club, Madness, Jimmy Eat World, GlassJaw, Bombay Bicycle Club, Pulp, The Strokes

Having heard great things about their live show, I headed straight for The Joy Formidable (Main Stage) on Saturday morning, and found their lo fi indie rock to be a very pleasant start to the day, and impressively loud for a three piece. Lead singer Ritzy Bryan's girlish but strong voice gives them an edge on a very male dominated lineup, and the far from ladylike stage demolition that takes place following the jewel of their crown, 'whirring' certainly grabs some attention.
     Present on seemingly every festival line up every year since the dawn of time, Leeds lad rock collective The Pigeon Detectives (Main Stage) are hardly pushing the envelope, but you can't dispute their ear for a good festival anthem. Oldies "I Found Out" and "Take Her Back" sit far more comfortably than the newer tracks, frontman Matt Bowman encouraging the crowd rather desperately and repetitively to 'buy, or even illegally download our new album, out on monday'. Still, his mike swinging antics and drum kit divings are affable enough, and they leave the stage to plentiful applause.
     Another festival favourite, Seasick Steve (Main Stage) brought the hoedown to Reading with his plethora of homemade instruments and sidekick John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin fame on guitar duties. Serenading an obviously terrified crowd member may have been a dodgy move, but he made up for it with enthusiastic takes on 'Don't Know Why She Loves Me But She Do' and 'You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks', his old school charm carrying him through the rain.
    Drawing what was undoubtedly the biggest crowd of the weekend, Two Door Cinema Club (Main Stage) marked the long awaited arrival of the sunshine by playing what many bands would consider a greatest hits set. Album tracks and singles from 'Tourist History' alike received the same frenzied reaction, the cheers barely subsiding enough for vocalist Alex Trimble to introduce each song. Even b-side 'Costume Party' caused jubilation not seen anywhere else on site all weekend, striking a blow for indie pop bands everywhere and raising anticipation for the threesome's forthcoming second album.
    It's not a proper festival if you don't have that one heritage band that sits a little oddly on the lineup (Rolf Harris at Glasto anyone?), and Madness (Main Stage) certainly fit the bill. Taking advantage of the early afternoon drunkeness of much of the older members of the main stage crowd, they get everybody skanking with favourites 'One Step Beyond', 'House Of Fun' and the inevitable arms around shoulders soppiness of 'It Must Be Love'. A guilty pleasure.
    After a poppy interlude, we're back to the rock with Jimmy Eat World (Main Stage), whose influential career is solely responsible for many of todays bands on the smaller stages even picking up guitars in the first place. Playing a varied set that takes in the likes of 'Futures', 'Bleed American' and a gorgeous hand in the air moment courtesy of 'Hear You Me', they display an air of proficiency that outplays many of their younger contemporaries.
   Lost in the 20,000 capacity tent with a decidely small crowd, GlassJaw (NME/Radio1 Tent) appear to be on the wrong stage. None the less, Daryl Palumbo's vocal gymnastics certainly get the die hards at the front going, and a few further back are at least enthralled by his good looks. However, the sad truth appears to be that many are simply here in waiting for the next band on stage, a certain four piece from Crouch End...
   Put simply, the Bombay Bicycle Club (NME/Radio1) live experience is everything you could want from a band and more. Feeding the baying crowd with a super charged 'Evening/Morning', closely followed up by new tracks 'Bad Timing' and 'Lights Out, Words Gone', both featuring vocalist Lucy Rose and both threatening to be massive singles, the band play with grins throughout, Jack Steadman later declaring the set to be 'the happiest moment of his life'. Culminating in a glorious 'Shuffle' and 'Always Like This' on the eve of their new album release (the fans for enamoured that they sing along with the riffs as well as the words), Bombay Bicycle Club are surely on the cusp of a major career breakthrough.
     After such a high, I'm sad to say that Pulp (Main Stage) can't help feeling like a little bit of an anticlimax. It may just have been where I was standing, but it appeared that the tiredness of Day 2 had kicked in for much of the crowd who reacted little to Jarvis Cockers flamboyant scissor kicks and yelps. Picking up a little for 'This Is Hardcore' and of course for a rather fantastic finale of 'Common People', it seemed a case of too little too late for this years Reading demographic, much of whom were too young to truly appreciate Pulp first time round.Unfortunate.
     Taking to the stage 20 minutes late, I will admit I was a little apprehensive, but it appeared Saturday nights headliners The Strokes (Main Stage) have put all of their inter band squabbling behind them to do what they do best; play indie rock and roll for the masses with plenty of standoffish attitude and awkward stage banter. Opening with 'Is This It', Julian Casablancas seemed more than a little inebriated but on fine form, chatting idly in between songs from behind dark sunglasses, his vocals on 'Reptilia', 'New York City Cops' and 'Hard To Explain' sounding stronger than ever. In fact, almost every track was delivered with near recording precision, creating a very enjoyable 90 minute set that shows just how far they've come as a band and why they hold such an esteemed place in modern rock history.

Bands Seen: We Are The Ocean, Taking Back Sunday, Best Coast, Cage The Elephant, Ed Sheeran,Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Enter Shikari, Warpaint, Panic At The Disco, Elbow, The Streets, Muse

With a dedicated fanbase to carry them through despite being first on, We Are The Ocean's (Main Stage) Reading debut proved to be a successful one. Although vocalist Liam Cromby was often shaky and overpowered by Dan Browns screams, the backing vocals from the crowd were enough to bolster their performance, with the reward of the catchy classic 'Nothing Good Has Happened Yet' at the end.
    Plagued by the same sound problems that seemed to affect 30 Seconds To Mars and Rise Against before them, Taking Back Sunday (Main Stage) got off to a slow start, but by the time the crowd heard 'Liar (It Takes One To Know One)' Adam Lazzara and co were on fine form, playing a set dominated by old material that seemed to go down well with the older teens.
    Famed for their drug consumption and cat obsession, bloggers favourites Best Coast (NME/Radio1) seemed remarkably on point, Beth Constentino's voice positively dreamy as she sang of boys, love and erm, boys. Admittedly, their lyrical lexical field is positively tiny, but in a festival setting they prove a beguiling prospect.
    From the chilled vibes of Best Coast we go to the positively deranged Cage The Elephant (NME/Radio1), whose frontman Matt Shultz spends a large proportion of their 40 minute set diving in and out of the crowd like it's a ball pond, a big sloppy grin across his face.Delivering his vocals in a pained crouch, new album 'Thankyou Happy Birthday's' tracks prove to be the highlights, the aptly named 'Sabertooth Tiger' in particular.
   For any practiced Reading attendee, the true beauty of the festival is in the secret slots that tend to appear across the weekend. One of this years worst kept secrets was an acoustic appearance by rising star Ed Sheeran (BBC Introducing Stage) who demonstrated his raw versatility with a runaway train rendition of 'You Need Me, I Don't Need You', complete with live loop pedal, and a soulful version of Muse's 'Feeling Good'. A short but very sweet set, the swelling crowd in the last few seconds not quite fast enough.
  Keeping in the young singer songwriter vein, York born Benjamin Francis Leftwich (Festival Republic) may only be 21, but sings with a delicate voice that defies his years. Delivering each track with humble thanks for the generously sized crowd, this sort of exposure should do wonders for his career, particularly when he has tracks as evocative as 'Pictures' and 'Box Of Stones' on his hands.
   Having completely destroyed Reading&Leeds back in 2009, rock ravers Enter Shikari's (Main Stage) return was nothing short of victorious.Emerging with a backdrop declaring the legend "If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything" and declaring scientific facts in between songs, they appear to be moving even further into political whimsy, giving them a depth that belies their initial appearance as a rocky dance act. Whilst the crowd surfing during 'Juggernauts' doesn't quite reach the peak of 09, they certainly give it a good try.
   Prior to Reading, I knew little of Warpaint (NME/Radio1), but I must admit I was impressed by the all girl foursomes arty indie, and have since resolved to check out their album 'The Fool'. Attracting a dense crowd that seemed to prefer swaying and watching intently, dancing took place only on the periphery of the crowd, but major kudos should go to the teenage boy we saw dancing like literally nobody was watching.
   From the pitch of the screams that started even when only the backdrop was unveiled onstage, Panic At The Disco (NME/Radio1) seem to do something a little bit special to teenage girls. Whilst a lot of this is down to their sugary radio punk and rapid literary influenced lyrics, it must be said that vocalist Brendon Urie has a lot to answer for. His screams, sighs and constant casual removal of clothing are all signs of a man who knows his appeal and is happy to use it to great success, although it must not be overlooked that his vocals are technically spot on; set highlights 'Time To Dance','Ready To Go' and 'Nearly Witches' display a range unlike anything else on display.
    Prior to the festival, I had one band in mind who I thought was set to steal the weekend. When at 10 to 8 on Sunday night I noted that the sun was setting, but there was a rainbow that spanned across the main stage, I figured my preminition as to the dominance of Elbow (Main Stage) would be correct. Performing a setlist that I might as well have written myself (it was that perfect!), a sense of celebration was in the air, not only because it was the bands last festival of the year, but because it was bassist Pete Turner's birthday, noted by Guy Garvey as he got the crowd to sing to him. Both 'Lippy Kids' and 'Mirrorball' were positively tear inducing, but as expected it was 'One Day Like This' that took the prize, its refrain ringing throughout the audience long after the band had left the stage.
     Despite the overlap, I couldn't deprive myself of missing out on what would be The Streets (NME/Radio1) last ever Reading performance. Brilliantly shambolic as always, I caught Blinded By The Lights, Heaven For The Weather, Dry Your Eyes, Going Through Hell, Fit But You Know It and a wonderful Turn The Page, before a half naked, stage diving Mike Skinner exited the stage 10 minutes early to raptuous applause.
     Arguably the most talked about set of the weekend, the time had finally come for Muse (Main Stage) to unveil Origin Of Symmetry in its entirety. Considering that after a weekend spend entirely on my feet with minimal sleep I was about ready to drop, but I couldn't deny the impressiveness of their Origin artwork inspired staging, nor the sheer power which which they frantically delivered each riff. However, it was the second hour where the true thrills came in the form of a full greatest hits show, playing all the singles you forgot they even had.Finishing with a budget blowing fireworks display to the tune of Knights Of Cydonia, this was Muse simply showing off, but when you're that good, why not? A worthy ceremony closer which left a hunger for Reading 2012 in the minds of anybody who witnessed it.

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