Ah, the sunshine. Latitude is particularly blissful when the sun shines, all rolling hills, glistening lakes and pints of cider on the grass. It’s the perfect setting for the Sunday midday slot, which last year was taken by a solo Thom Yorke. This year, it’s – wait for it – Sir Tom Jones. Again. Playing songs from his yet to be released album of covers, it’s a set that works for half an hour, but soon you can sense people itching to hear It’s Not Unusual or Delilah, and, for a second, even Tom seems to want to unleash some of the old moves.
The weather also allows The Strange Boys to make perfect sense. With saxophone, harmonica and warm blasts of ragged guitar, they make the perfect racket for a lazy stretch out on the grass.
If that’s all a bit too American midwest, then Jamie Lidell is on hand to bring the funk. Playing to an enthusiastic crowd, he serves up a set rich in cheese, but one that just about manages to steal the weekend. The frantic, cacophonous The Ring gives way to the Stevie Wonder-esque Another Day, which then in turn finds Lidell stripping the sound down to beatbox and loops to dazzling effect. Each song is greeted with the self-deprecating introduction of “this is another global smash hit”, before the final Multiply convinces you that in a just world he’d be telling the truth.
Back in the woods and dressed in charity shop t-shirts and overgrown haircuts, the ridiculously young Egyptian Hip-Hop manage to tease out some interesting jams but ultimately seem too slight to really care about. They also perform to just a handful of people, with 95% of the audience watching Mumford And Sons on the main stage. As their set finishes, the sheer volume of people leaving makes it look like a mass evacuation has been started.
Another act whose presence on the main stage seems odd at first (see also Crystal Castles, Midlake and The Unthanks) are the Dirty Projectors. Miraculously, their brittle, constantly evolving songs are greeted with warmth by a crowd splayed out on the grass, soaked in sunshine. Tracks from Bitte Orca are beefed up, with Useful Chamber descending into a riot of guitars, harmonies and aural bloodshed. Even the shimmying Stillness Is A Move is given an extra layer of feedback, frontman Dave Longstreth wrestling constantly with his guitar.
Whilst the Dirty Projectors play to a mainly prostrate crowd, Brooklyn’s Yeasayer attract a devoted following, one that dances non-stop throughout their vibrant, 45-minute long set. O.N.E, Rome, Sunrise and a brilliant Ambling Alp are evidence of a band growing in stature, with their ability to be both experimental and immediate jointly at the forefront.
It’s a shame then that half the crowd clear out before Charlotte Gainsbourg arrives. Perhaps they didn’t want their high to to be dented, because for all her French style and je ne sais pas, her early evening set is mired in poor sound quality and a strange sense of anticlimax. The jaunty Heaven Can Wait and a re-worked AF607105 are pleasant enough, but much of the set feels clunky and one-dimensional.
Which is not something you could ever accuse Sigur Rs frontman Jnsi of. Filling the stage with elaborate looking instruments and wearing a jacket made almost completely of tassels and feathers (he’ll later don an Indian headdress), it’s a visual and aural feast that shouldn’t work (there’s a lot of shrieking and ponderous piano solos), yet somehow hangs together perfectly.
So, the stage is set for the final headliners of the weekend, Vampire Weekend. Only, the stage isn’t fully set, with the band arriving to a black backdrop and nothing more. The usual giant image of their Contra album cover remains hidden away after the star of the picture filed a lawsuit claiming damages. It’s an auspicious start and one that only adds to the feeling that the band may not yet be able to fill a headline slot. Yet as soon as they launch into White Sky it all makes perfect sense. Their songs are teased into bigger shapes, with extra oomph, forcing tired limbs into various states of abandon. Early singles such as A-Punk and Oxford Comma sound like festival classics, whilst album tracks I Stand Corrected, Holiday and California English are all given a new lease of life by frontman Ezra Koenig, whose sparky delivery never waivers.
Encouraged to give it their all one last time, the band tear through an amazing rendition of Walcott for the encore, the crowd screaming each word back. Only a fairly lacklustre confetti explosion signals any kind of headline act clich, the band choosing instead for the most part to keep it simple and direct.
Minimising is perhaps something Latitude festival could bear in mind for next year. By selling more tickets and diversifying further, there’s a danger of over-gilding the lily. There’s so much to enjoy about Latitude, but there was a sense this year that it was starting to be slightly swamped, both in terms of numbers and by sheer quantity of things to see and do. Choice is never a bad thing, but sometimes it pays to keep things simple.