Live Music + Gig Reviews

Glastonbury 2009: Day 4 @ Worthy Farm, Somerset

28 June 2009

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

As Glastonbury enters its final stretch, our frayed correspondents plough through another whole day of music before returning home. And what a day of music…

One day left. Sun-burnt cheeks, unkempt hair and muddied clothes are commonplace, and while the spirit of Glastonbury may be ebbing from the faces of passers-by, we still march around in the heat like the mad dogs we are.
Scouring the many and varied food stalls has become a daily pleasure; lunch is picked from the world’s cuisine; hearty, tasty, filling – and all priced, for some reason, at 7. Jerk chicken and Goan fish curry have become my staple meals, and eating is a joy.

Forced by the heat and humidity to take refuge once more in the Acoustic tent, I collapse on the floor and breathe a sigh of relief as the majority of the crowd stands for The Martin Harley Band. I soak in the band’s bluesy ditties, bobbing my head and tapping a swollen foot in time. My view is possibly the worst in the house, a forest of calves in wellies stretching as far as the eye can see. Still sitting, I’m wooed by the unimaginably sorrowful music of Kate Walsh, who explains that she still hasn’t really cheered up much. Selfishly, I close my eyes and hope that she never does.

Summoning a burst of energy, I elbow my way to the front of the crowd for Imelda May. Three songs later, I’m spent from dancing and as my energy levels bottom out, I drop back and marvel at the awesome talents of her backing group and their virtuoso mastery of rockabilly blues. Imelda May is jaw-droppingly good. Wowed, I pick up my chin from the muddy floor and wander to the John Peel stage.

Ladyhawke is rocking the stage when I arrive. Forced again by the volume of people inside the tent to watch from the outside, I’m surprised at just how one-sided the crowd is. As with Florence And The Machine, the audience is young and almost exclusively female. Alternative music has always felt like the preserve of young white boys, but the future is looking brighter for both sexes. Confident and sexy, these girls, imbued with a natural sense of effortless style, have a powerful figurehead once more. Girl power, and its nauseating artifice, can once and for all be laid to rest.

Approaching the final performance of the day I look around at the milling hordes waiting for Blur. There are as many emotions as there are people at the Pyramid Stage. Some look reinvigorated. Some look relieved. Others are worn out ghosts of the people they were on arrival, barely capable of much emotion. I am tired, too tired to force my way to the very front. There’s something emotionally crushing about Glastonbury in its final throes. No one that is standing alongside me wants it to end and the normality to begin. Yet there is the universal acknowledgment that we’ve had it good, we’ve had our fill. The two feelings collide wearily, as day finally turns into night.

Blur’s set encapsulates a long weekend of emotions. Damon Albarn’s ebullience and energy is still evident as he leaps around the stage in a dizzy sweat – proving it’s not just the punters that are gleefully turning back time. The massed assembly follows his lead by proudly bellowing out lyrics like soldiers on a training run. It’s hard to see much of a stage that is obscured behind a still procession of flags, but then I’m not particularly bothered about what I can see. Simply hearing To The End, The Universal and Tender – ballads that punctuated my youth and described the simplicity of love to me – is, after a weekend such as this, a shattering denouement. As Damon collapses in tears, the crowd offers its shoulder by echoing his words: “Love’s the greatest thing, that we have…”

I sleep easy that night. I am a spent man. The clouds finally empty on Monday morning but no one cares. It has been a long while since weather dictated mood. As I make my way to the car and slowly leave Worthy Farm behind me, I am just one more vacant expression. Glastonbury asks a lot of everyone, but it gives it back ten-fold. Like everyone that emerges from these muddy fields, mine is a bigger and warmer heart. Until next year Glastonbury, I shall miss you.

Other notable musical happenings on Sunday

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Other Stage, 16.30
Now, we’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, led by hyperactive ball of quirky dressing Karen O are one of the most formidable live acts at work today. Rising to the challenge of playing one of the biggest gigs of their lives, the band tore through a set comprised mainly of their more expansive recent record, It’s Blitz! Luckily, the record’s off-kilter dance stylings seemed to have already filtered through to the crowd, and Zero, Heads Will Roll and a heartbreaking Soft Shock were as well-received as a final, aching Maps. It’s worth noting how far the band have come since their early punk days, both in terms of their musicianship and their songwriting. Don’t bet against them playing much further up the bill next year.

Madness – Main Stage, 18.00
Reeling, perhaps, from the critical lauding of new record The Liberty of Norton Folgate the original ska-punkers were on even more ebullient form than usual in the late afternoon sunshine in front of a predicatably up-for-it crowd on the main stage. Whatever your views of Madness – and there were many overheard in the campsite on the Sunday morning – the band certainly know how to turn in a crowd pleasing set, one honed to perfection over 30 years in the business. On their first official performance at Glastonbury since 1986, all the old favourites were here, Our House, House of Fun, It Must Be Love, but kudos must go to Suggs et al for slipping new songs like Dust Devil and NW5 into the mix without any drop in quality. They end with saxophonist Lee Thompson flying across the stage on wires to Baggy Trousers – a fittingly soaring moment for a band revitalized and having the time of their lives.

Bon Iver – Other Stage, 19.00
For a man whose debut album is as hushed as the secluded forest cabin he recorded it in, Justin Vernon sure can rock out. After a is-he-or-isn’t-he-on moment, as the sound from the nearby Glade stage threatened to swamp the delicate opener Creature Fear, the remarkablyhirsute Vernon and his rag-tag bunch of box bashers turned in one of the most furious sets of the weekend. Any fears that Vernon couldn’t translate his tremulous record to the vast arena in front of him were quickly overcome by a lean, raw set that retained much of the record’s bruising honesty but ramped up the drama, with an incendiary Brackett WI and a plea to the audience to “just scream as loud as you can” during the closing coda to Wolves (Act I and II) giving the hardy souls skipping Nick Cave a taste of the blood and thunder available elsewhere. Skinny Love and Lump Sum were highlights as the sun set on the final day of the festival – a tremendous performance by a performer growing in confidence and stature.

Badly Drawn Boy – Avalon Stage, God Knows When
One of the biggest drawbacks to writing about Glastonbury is the unique fugue that decends on you after the festival has finished. Chancing upon Badly Drawn Boy playing to a small crowd in a tent is always a treat, and while the official line-up says he was on on the Saturday, it could have been any day, and any tent, really. It was sunny, and there were children everywhere. And Badly Drawn Boy, ably assisted by a veritable indie supergroup (including horrifically underrated singer songwriter Peter Bruntnell) turned in a beautiful performance, shorter perhaps than was fair, but good-humoured and packed with songs that remind the audience what a talented songwriter Damon Gough is. Saving their biggest cheers for “A song from a Hugh Grant film”, the large audience was testament to the singer’s staying power, and it seems unfair that Gough seems to have slipped from the public radar somewhat in recent years.

Blur – Main Stage, 21.50
The last time Blur headlined a major British festival, Damon fell off the stage at Reading and the band, sans Graham, played a pretty impenetrable set of African-inspired songs from their (admittedly very good – on record) album Think Tank. But the newly-reunited band, perhaps softened by the intervening years and the sheer joie de vive of being back together as a foursome turned in a career-spanning set that sent every Glastonbury reveller back to their tents grinning from ear to ear. From opening song She’s So High, through Parklife, Girls and Boys and to the eventual, joyous climax of the Universal, this was Blur’s cathartic moment. Buoyed by a sea of arms and flags in front of them, they turned even (comparatively) lesser-known songs like Tender and Out of Time into anthemic torch songs, and despite their rhythm section slipping here and there, this was a performance that will be talked of in hushed tones for years to come.

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