Live Music + Gig Reviews

Bestival 2009: Day 3 @ Robin Hill Country Park, Isle Of Wight

13 September 2009

Bestival 2009: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

There’s eclectic; there’s really eclectic; and then there’s following Kraftwerk with Michael Nyman.

Best just to go with it. Besides, Mr Nyman leading a mini orchestra on the main stage mid afternoon had exactly the kind of soothing and sobering affect that festival minds needed after two days of tent living. As the uplifting Knowing The Ropes and solemn The Heart Asks Pleasure First melted across the air, the site felt all the better for it.

Back on indier ground, the fuller sound of Rosa Rex and Katy Claw, now armed with violins and accordions, shows the welcome growth of Peggy Sue from a happy-go-lucky twee indie duo into that of confident songsmithery.
Back on ground so indie it’s practically slumped at the bar in the Hawley Arms being sick into Johnny Borrell’s lap, Delphic are continuing to make a lot of people very excited.

But there are still lots of question marks surrounding them. Do we need another New Order-betrothed guitar’n’synth band? Do they have the great song needed to break through? Isn’t it remarkably early in their career to have their name in lights on stage with them? As it was, this performance answered only one of these quizlets.

Back over on the rolling-green plain in front of the Jim Beam Stage, Polly Scattergood kept good the record of the female performers getting totally into the Bestival fancy-dress spirit.

With her and her band in full Buck Rogers Bacofoil finery, Scattergood’s was a performance which managed to be both cutesy and horribly dark. She seems lovely, polite and humble. But then the songs give rise to a character that you wouldn’t like to leave alone with sharp objects. It was a good, memorable set. Just one that set you on edge somewhat.

Who better to bring us back from the abyss than Doves. Reliably anthemic Doves. Pounding was trampling. Kingdom Of Rust could soundtrack any Manchester-set, Morricone-directed spaghetti western that happens to be knocking around, and the closing There Goes The Fear was as good a crowd singalong as we had all weekend.

Or at least until 7pm. By then the sun was gone, the sky was a worrying shade of grey, and the wind was starting to bite. But with fairy lights dotting the stage, a huddle of bearded men preserve a never ending stream of vocal harmony.

Fleet Foxes are in town and command a huge turnout for their main stage set. This could have been a headline performance – majestic (Blue Ridge Mountains), soaring (Ragged Wood) and unifying (White Winter Hymnal) – and it will live long in the memory. Epic stuff.

A huge turnout for the bearded wonders meant one other thing. There weren’t that many people who experienced The Big Pink laying waste to the Big Top.

Their loss. Because despite the natural tendency to be suspicious about them, the brand of shoegaze-electro they’re selling was precisely what we needed. There was a lack of noise at Bestival, for technical reasons on some days, and scheduling reasons throughout, so the wall-of-sound constructs of Dominos and (especially) Velvet were incredibly welcoming. It was good to finally rock out.

Later the Big Top filled up, the PA is on full and The Field sound like they’re meant to be heard. Forty minutes is barely time for the now three-piece to get started (Axel Willner seems like a man who won’t let anything as prosaic as a curfew prevent him from playing 10-minute songs), but although you couldn’t tell because his head was perennially bowed at mixer duty, you sensed even he must’ve been smiling tonight.

Tom Jenkinson swapped slick minimal threads for a festival cap and bright orange jacket, meaning he looked like a cross between Shaun Ryder and an RAC patrolman. Fashion may have gone out the window, but Squarepusher’s rib rattling, brain melting sound remains undiminished. It was an astonishing performance. Initially it began with something approaching tunes, lulling a sizeable crowd into the false sense of security that comes with being able to dance. But it built in intensity, a slap bass attack that peaked about an hour in, leaving a staggered audience with little else to do than gawp. Squarepusher in full flow is an incredible sight and for those that appreciate it; Jenkinson again proved what a virtuoso he remains.

As Bestival drew to a close, we staggered into the Big Top for the final time. It’s there we find a giant, smoke spewing robot onstage. “Robot tell us what you think about Bestival?” prods Carl Cox, like a magician at a birthday party. “I’ve seen some crazy shit,” replies the robot. “But this shit’s about to get a whole lot weirder…” Cox was in playful mood as he broke out a two hour set of classics, leaning heavily on ’90s house, funk and techno. As the closing duo of Blue Monday and Warrior’s Dance rang out, it seems a fine way to end a weekend which, after an inauspicious start, got immeasurably better.

Some lessons need to be learned – stage positioning and volume – but Bestival seems to be bigger and more successful than ever, even if it’ll need to take care not to lose sight of the things that’ve made it special. 352 days left to square that particular circle, then.

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