Reading Festival has traditionally been a place where new artists and bands make a name for themselves, with countless acts starting off on the smaller stages before eventually making their way up to the Main Stage. While the same was true of this year’s festival – with new acts such as Royal Blood and Catfish and The Bottlemen making their debut – there were also several established acts who had something to prove.
Among those with a lot riding on their set was Friday night’s co-headliners, Paramore and Queens Of The Stone Age. Although both acts are at a stage in their career where they have achieved success, QOTSA had remarkably never headlined Reading before – despite appearing to be a perfect fit for the festival – while for Paramore it has always been a case of always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
Unfortunately for Hayley Williams and Co, their set did not exactly go to plan. After kicking things off with a spirited performance of Still Into You – one of the catchiest singles off their self-titled fourth album – and That’s What You Get from 2007’s Riot! they began suffering from sound issues. The problems came to a head as Williams started to deliver a speech that no one in the crowd could hear, something she quickly realised as the boos started.
It was a huge shame for a band that had waited for so long to get their chance to headline, but rather than let it phase them, they instead led the crowd through a beautiful acapella version of The Only Exception with a spare compère microphone. The rest of the set saw the trio demonstrate why they had been given the vote of confidence, putting on a spirited and energetic performance, with closer Ain’t It Fun a particular highlight.
No such problems plagued QOTSA, though, who made the most of their first headline set at the festival. Powering through favourites such as No One Knows, Burn The Witch and Feel Good Hit Of The Summer, QOTSA were in their element as they finally found their rightful place at the top of the bill. “The first time we played here it was 1 o’clock,” said frontman Josh Homme. “Now it’s 10 o’clock. That means we’re nine hours better.”
Among the bands attempting to replicate QOTSA’s rise up the bill earlier on the Friday was Mallory Knox, who performed an accomplished set to a big crowd in the NME/Radio 1 Stage, while American rock five-piece The Orwells delivered a typically raucous set on the Festival Republic Stage. They were followed by a fun performance from Catfish and The Bottlemen, which included a huge sing-a-long to their popular single Kathleen.
Friday also saw a surprise set from Jamie T, who took to the Festival Republic Stage shortly after 7.30pm. As is often the way with such performances, the word had got out beforehand and the tent was rammed. But those who managed to make it in were in for a treat. Making his return following a five-year absence, his 10-song set included classics If You Got The Money, Salvador and Sheila, as well as new singles Don’t You Find and Zombie, which fitted in seamlessly.
If the first day was all about the established acts, the focus at the beginning of Saturday was completely on newcomers Royal Blood. Brighton duo Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher looked rather innocuous at first as they made their way onto the NME/Radio 1 Stage, but they were soon launching into an impressive display of their rock credentials. Out Of The Black and Come On Over, in particular, sounded enormous and suggested that the pair are destined to make the step up sooner rather than later.
A band that has made that step up is the always-entertaining Swedish rock band The Hives, who took to the Main Stage late on Saturday afternoon following one of the best sets of the weekend at the festival two years ago. Once again, frontman Pelle Almqvist had the audience in the palm of his hand, as the five-piece ran through hits Hate To Say I Told You So, Walk Idiot Walk and Tick Tick Boom.
While The Hives were clearly comfortable with the Main Stage, the same could not be said of Foster The People. Although the California trio managed to draw a sizable crowd – mainly thanks to the success of Pumped Up Kicks – their indie pop sounded out of place in such a vast setting. A far better choice for the slot would have been We Are Scientists, who were in brilliant form over on the Festival Republic Stage.
It was then left to Arctic Monkeys to finish off the second night, but not before Jake Bugg proved his doubters wrong by delivering a composed set on the Main Stage just two years after making his debut on the Festival Republic Stage. For what the 20-year-old lacks in charisma, he certainly makes up for in catchy tunes and the big sing-a-long that greeted Broken towards the end of his set even appeared to prompt a smile from him.
Yet Saturday – and arguably the festival – belonged to Arctic Monkeys, with their career-spanning set sending the Reading crowd into raptures from start to finish. Opening with Do I Wanna Know from last year’s AM, the Sheffield four-piece showed just how far they have come since their previous headline set at the festival in 2009. That came in the transition period following third album Humbug and, as a result, received mixed reviews from those in attendance.
There was no messing around this time, though, as Alex Turner cavorted around the stage with the confidence of a man who knows he is at the top of his game. Old favourites such as When The Sun Goes Down and Fluorescent Adolescent understandably received the biggest reactions, but AM tracks R U Mine? and I Wanna Be Yours were not far behind and left Turner to reflect on a “fucking good crowd”.
Following on from the Arctic Monkeys was always going to be a huge task and Sunday certainly struggled to reach the pinnacle of the night before. California act The Neighbourhood’s infectious indie rock was an early highlight the NME/Radio 1 Stage, while a surprise acoustic set from You Me At Six on the BBC Introducing Stage was also well-received ahead of their Main Stage performance later in the day.
Things really began to pick up when Clean Bandit took to the NME/Radio 1 Stage, with thousands heading to the tent to watch the four-piece and their guests deliver a hit-filled set. The stage also played host to established favourites The Kooks and The Horrors, with the latter delivering epic performances of tracks Who Can Say and Sea Within A Sea – complete with an impressive lights show.
It was then left to veteran pop-punk act Blink-182 to bring the festival to a close. The usual onstage toilet banter was present throughout, as the trio raced through hits such as Feeling This, What’s My Age Again? and The Rock Show early on in a set brimming with nostalgia. But aside from the truly incredible sight of watching Travis Barker on drums, there was something lacking about the performance that even crowd-pleasers like All The Small Things and Always failed to completely arrest.
Even so, Blink-182 were still a lot of fun and considering Reading is often populated by post-GCSE teens – who, this year, were aptly walking around with stickers saying “Don’t Be A Dick” on – their puerile humour was probably more at home at Richfield Avenue than anywhere else. In any case, it would have taken some performance to surpass Arctic Monkeys, who made sure that Reading 2014 was a festival to be remembered.