If it’s festival time, it must be raining. 48 hours before the start of the Leeds leg of the Wireless Festival, the Yorkshire region was liberally coated with rain. So it was that we stocked up on wellies and cagouls (quite an experience in the middle of June) and made our way over to Harewood House.
A combination of the bad weather and some gridlocked traffic meant that we didn’t arrive at the festival site until just after 8pm, thus missing such delights as The Kissaway Trail, Pete & The Pirates, The Bees, and most annoyingly of all, Perry Farrell‘s new band Satellite Party.
The best way to describe Wireless is that of a mini-Carling Weekender. All the same stalls are there (“Legal Highs!”, “Vodka Jellies!” and, intriguingly , “Loud Hats!”), the same fairground stalls, and three stages. Wireless is also catching up with its Leeds and Reading based cousin in terms of the line-up – on entering the site we were immediately faced with a dilemma of whether to see Queens Of The Stone Age or French electro pioneers Air.
The rain and mud meant that Air won the toss, so we made our way past Josh Homme screaming about cocaine over to the relative warmth and comfort of the Tuborg Tent.
If ever there was a band tailor made to sooth the battered senses of rain-sodden festival goers, it’s Air. Looking almost impossibly French (Nicolas Godin was dressed in an immaculately tailored dark suit while Jean-Benot Dunckel managed to pull off the ‘scarf and overcoat’ look quite perfectly), the duo let the blissful strains of La Femme D’Argent wash over us, before causing paroxysms of excitement throughout the packed tent by swaggering into their best known number, Sexy Boy.
For such a legendarily chilled band, Air know how to rock out. Sexy Boy had the whole tent jumping, while the glorious thud of Kelly Watch The Star produced our first singalong moment of the weekend. Godin even made the keyboard say ‘thank you very much’, which was somehow immensely cool.
As we emerged from the Tuborg Tent, we trampled our way across the muddy fields back to the main stage, stopping en route to take advantage of the ’5 for 2.50′ offer at the doughnut stall. The main stage set bathed in red light was a pretty good indication that it was time for The White Stripes‘ only UK festival appearance of the year.
The lights faded, and with surprisingly little fanfare, Jack and Meg sauntered out onto stage. With Jack dressed all in red, and Meg in white and black, they crashed into Black Math, and we were again amazed at how much racket just two people can make on a stage. Even if the Wireless Festival sound system had rather screwed up at this point (one speaker stayed resolutely silent until about three songs in), there was no denying the power of the couple on stage.
The setlist was pretty evenly split between the band’s most recent albums, with audience favourites such as Hotel Yorba, My Doorbell and a spine-tingling Jolene all making welcome appearances. The new material sounded pretty damn good too, with Icky Thump’s title track sounding better every time you hear it, and the soaring You Don’t Know What Love Is having the mark of a future classic.
They’re almost ridiculously entertaining to watch as well – with Meg bashing all kinds out of her drum kit, Jack is free to wander all over the stage, at one point grabbing the mic during The Union Forever and bellowing the spoken word verse like some kind of old-school preacher man. Yet he knows when to take a backseat as well, such as when Meg crept to the front of the stage for a hushed In The Cold Cold Night.
A blistering Seven Nation Army was a fitting finale to the first day and as we streamed out the field we were left to ponder on the fact that The White Stripes are so cool that even their roadies dress in matching suits and bowling hats. Tomorrow would bring an ‘indie day’, but for now we were off to shelter from the rain and wash the mud off our wellies.