With rain predicted throughout, and a slightly weaker line-up thanin previous years, Latitude 2011 was not the subject of astronomicallyhigh expectations. The weather on Friday, however, seemed determined toprove the doubters wrong, and the day remained wonderful throughout.Spirits were high, and the booze was flowing freely.
Canadian critical darlings Braids were first up, and put on an excellent set. Occasionaltechnical problems, and long periods of dull ambient noise betweensongs did damage audience enjoyment of their set, but theyoccasionally played at a level that would make them one of thepossible highlights of the festival. This was all underpinned by ayouthful charm that was demonstrated by the adorable group hug theyshared before coming onto stage.
Later at the Comedy Tent, Richard Herring was a fine choice for all fans of stand-up comedy. Managing to tell both a lovely story and make the audiencelaugh uncontrollably, Herring demonstrated why he has become sorespected within the industry. Chapel Club at the WordArena, in stark contrast, played a completely unprepared set, oftenannouncing songs as “unfinished” and lacking lyrics. Immediately afterward, Isobel Campbell played alovely set on the Obelisk Arena, providing a good soundtrack to thelazy summer day that Friday was becoming.
For many, Deerhunter were the most anticipated bandof the entire festival, but they were a disappointment. Lookinglethargic and ill, the band played a set without energy or muchcommitment. It would be impossible to say they sounded bad, as theyplayed their songs perfectly, but Bradford Cox’s voice was weak andlacked its usual quality. In addition, the band were unexplainably cutoff mid song by the sound techs, which was a sad end to a poor (butconsidering how ill the band looked, understandable) set.Caribou, on the other hand, played a perfect set.Their usually sedate songs were performed with gusto and energy and theband were the first act to really get the crowd going. As well as themusic the band created, they managed to excite the crowd by theeffort they put into the physical performance. It’s difficult tosay if Caribou could have possibly played a better set.
Immediately afterward, indie titan Bright Eyesbossed the Obelisk Arena with an incredible presence. It’s remarkablehow compelling Conor Oberst was, and even without thecompetently played music this would have been a good performance. Inthe break between Bright Eyes and Paloma Faith,Scottish growlers Admiral Fallow played a emotionallycharged set that sounded beautiful. While the band are far fromexceptional, their twee lyrics and melodic, huge songs combine tocreate a live experience that felt special for all watching. The bandattracted a number of hardcore fans and it became clear why.
Soon it was time for the larger than life PalomaFaith. It’s difficult to declare much love for the music sheproduces as it’s really nothing special; sub-Amy Winehouse softpop-jazz is the order of day, and hearing Faith play is a experiencelaced with intense mediocrity. However, seeing her perform is adifferent matter entirely. Her band were dressed in sharp suits, andclassic dresses, and played the part of a showy 1950s band perfectly.Paloma on the other hand was dressed in an insane medley of clothingthat made her both look ridiculous and brilliant. She stormed aboutthe stage like she owned it, and looked very much at home in front ofa large crowd. While Paloma Faith may not be a good musician, shemakes up for this deficiency in pure showmanship, and she was anenjoyable time-passer.
In the headline spot for the day were The National. This was their first headline spot at a majorfestival and they had earned it. Releasing a series of four excellentalbums in a row, they’d received critical acclaim and steadilyincreasing mainstream success; the band have steadily grown to be oneof the best known names in indie music. For those at the front of thegig, they justified their sterling reputation. The band performed withverve and enthusiasm and the audience picked up on it; most songs weregreeted by people singing every word and the band were applauded morethan was strictly necessary. Matt Berninger was in typical eccentric form,managing to act like an errant recluse often wandering off around thestage letting the band play by themselves.
However, this just added tothe performance, and with Berninger at the helm, The National give off avery individual, compelling and commanding vibe. Yet the set wasfar from perfect. The screens behind and to the side of the bandshowed distorted, arty images of the band, and while this was, again,great for those who could actually see, those too far away would havehad no idea what was going on. In addition to this the sound was fartoo weak, and could have done with being a fair bit louder. At thefront, this just led to the set becoming slightly less awe-inspiring,but further back, the audience felt disconnected and removed from theexperience. A solid headline set, but not what the band are fullycapable of. For some, The National were a revelation and a perfect wayto end a great day; for others it is only imaginable that they were aslight disappointment.