Live Music + Gig Reviews

Glastonbury 2009: Day 3 @ Worthy Farm, Somerset

27 June 2009

Glastonbury 2009: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Rain gone, our brave correspondents venture out into the fields of Avalon in search of coffee, cigarettes and Tinariwen.

Mornings are hard. Mornings at Glastonbury doubly so. Sleep deprivation is a common affliction here, and hangovers acute. While the country air deals swiftly with cider-induced head wooliness, smiles are a little less pronounced and heads held a little less proud. I go on the hunt for a decent coffee, and consult the band lists, planning to make the day a more focused exploration of the music on offer; Glastonbury is, after all, a music festival, despite all the other attractions and distractions. I settle on the Park stage, and the majority of the day is spent there.
Kicking off with The Low Anthem, a band made for Glastonbury, the sun beats down over their easy harmonies and melodious melancholy. Brian Wilson, as always, has a lot to answer for. Between bands I peer through squinted eyes and trace the movements of the thousands of people around me, and think how much this year’s lineup owes to history. These fields have seen it all; the emergence of contemporary music and its constant regeneration and renewal.

Bombay Bicycle Club, though, perhaps owe a little too much to history. The lead singer’s deep and somewhat unsettling crooning sounds like Ian Curtis. Ironically the band’s music sounds much more like Interpol and Editors than it does Joy Division. Younger bands, it seems, don’t look very far into the past for inspiration.

Moving on to the Acoustic stage and with the heat starting to become stifling, I welcome in Bap Kennedy to the accompaniment of a couple of cooling ciders. Fighting the incredible urge to sleep I give myself a mental slap around the face and remind myself that dozing off in a darkened tent is bad form. Back, then, to the Park stage where the combination of Horace Andy and the hot summer sun is as perfect as strawberries and cream. The pungent aroma of weed laces the air and the mood of the crowd deepens with anticipation and celebration. As the audience collectively shakes its hips and the sun cools and deepens in colour the realisation that we are past the mid point and nearing the festival’s climax is palpable.

Evening pulls me two ways. Florence And The Machine perform what is, for me, Glastonbury’s most memorable set. A packed-in audience in the palm of her hand, Florence Welch owns the John Peel stage with a confidence that is infectious and speaks directly to an uncontainably energetic crowd. For this hour and a half, dog days are resoundingly over. Making my way back to the firmer ground of the Park Stage, the cresting wave of Florence crashes back to earth with yesterday’s man Bruce Springsteen, and I take a detour with one of today’s best singer-songwriters, Bon Iver.

It is fitting that Bon Iver‘s late set should be met with bracingly cold weather. The humidity of previous (and following) nights has been replaced by conditions closer to the wintriness of For Emma, Forever Ago – an album conceived in the winter wilderness. A respectful congregation of a few thousand make time for gentle reflection; its knees huddled between shivering arms and chins. Hearing songs of loss forces a jolting mood change. The intimacy of the songs and the serenity of the setting is at odds with the the majority of the festival’s optimism and tempo. There is little conversation as the night grows colder and moths flicker about the departing crowd.

Other notable musical happenings on Saturday

Tinariwen – Main Stage, 12.20
Coming straight out of the South Sahara with a loose cannon, Touareg rebels-come-folk-musicians Tinariwen could have been viewed as one of the least likely main stage bands who played at Glastonbury this year. Conversely, of course, the festival’s all-inclusive nature meant that they were probably the most likely, and their drowsy, hypnotic rhythms eased a sun-scorched crowd into day 2 of the festival. Obviously a little overwhelmed, the 30-year-old band took time to get into their set, but once they did, it was captivating.

The Big Pink – John Peel Stage, 13.00
Loud doesn’t even come close to describing the Big Pink’s performance at the John Peel Stage on Saturday afternoon – those few left in the tent by the end of the set may have needed a tinnitus check in the days after the festival. Belying the early afternoon sunshine outside the tent, the ‘Pink’s set was high on murky, bludgeoning shoegaze that alienates as many audience members as it enthrals – and the hipster crowd that gathered to see the hotly tipped group seemed to be a hardcore of devotees rather than casual observers. Songs like Velvet were as touching as My Bloody Valentine at their best, but this was difficult to swallow so early in the day.

Spinal Tap – Main Stage, 15.00
Legendary comedy-metallers Spinal Tap weren’t on the kind of form that many devotees were expecting – no tiny Stonehenges, no exploding drummers – but did display was a grasp of fine musicianship, tearing through ‘hits’ like Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight and Break Like the Wind. Just as crowd-pleasing as Sunday’s Status Quo appearance, and with tongue longed firmly in cheek, the ‘Tap could even call on Jarvis Cocker to play bass during Big Bottom. While the consciously cheesy audience banter became less and less funny through the show, this was still a moment to savour for a band whose joke still hasn’t worn thin.

The Futureheads – Cabaret Field, 15.30
Only the chosen few with access to their emails could have found out about Sunderland pop-punkers The Futureheads’ secret gig in the circus field – a venue sarcastically alluded to as the end of the band’s career by frontman Barry Hyde. No matter – one of the best things about Glastonbury is finding a secret show worth attending (ie not Supergrass playing covers) and the band turned in a tight, energetic set in front of around 300 people. One of the funniest groups around, the groups affectionate inter-band banter was as good as any of the comedians headlining the same stage, and hits like Decent Days and Nights and the fan-friendly Hounds of Love were rapturously received by an admittedly pretty partisan crowd.

Dizzee Rascal – Main Stage, 16.20
Dizzee – or, forever, “Mr Rascal” after Jeremy Paxman’s hilariously uncomfortable Newsnight interview – has transformed himself over the course of three critically acclaimed records and a couple of novelty hits from scratchy urban rapper to bona-fide pop sensation. His Glastonbury performance, in front of one of the biggest crowds of the weekends was a confirmation of this – a taut, thrilling and joyous set in the afternoon sunshine, where a clearly astonished Rascal was taken into 100,000 hearts with ecstatically received songs like Sirens, Jus’ A Rascal and, of course, smash hit Bonkers. Making a mockery out of Noel Gallagher’s claim that Glastonbury “doesn’t do hip hop”, this was one of the performances of the weekend, and, you suspect, Mr Rascal’s lifetime.

Kasabian – Main Stage, 20.00
Tasked with the difficult mission of supporting Bruce Springsteen, Leicester rockers Kasabian rose to the challenge admirably, churning out football terrace-sized anthems as the sun dropped behind the Pyramid Stage. If the band are a divisive prospect on record, where their machismo posturing and frankly laughable lyrics can alienate many listeners, live they are a formidable proposition, and songs like Fire and Club Foot seem designed for outdoor arenas like this. A brief shimmy through Candi Staton’s You Got the Love is a prelude to a triumphant LSF, which saw the band, never short on confidence, conducting the crowd like a vast choir.

Bruce Springsteen – Main Stage, 22.00
One of the biggest draws of the weekend, Bruce finally brought his titanic live show to Glastonbury after years of pursuit by Michael Eavis. It would be difficult for a seasoned performer like Springsteen to be anything but good, and this was a professional and at times awe-inspiring set, but one that suffered from a lack of recognisable songs and a length – two and a half hours – that tested the patience of all but die-hard fans. Starting with an emotional acoustic cover of Joe Strummer’s song about Glastonbury Coma Girl, the Boss turned in a set high on emotion and energy, with only The River dipping below the frentic place set by early arrivals Glory Days and Badlands. A crowd of newcomers to Springsteen seemed a little bemused by a mid set lull, which included songs like the Ghost of Tom Joad, Seeds and because the Night, but he pulled out the hits – Born to Run , Thunder Road and a final, glorious Dancing in the Dark when it really mattered. Long, drawn out, but worth every minute, Bruce was the Boss of Glastonbury on Saturday night.

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