Live Music + Gig Reviews

Festival Review: Green Man 2009 – Day 1

21 August 2009

Pregnant clouds crowd the walls of the Usk valley. Beneath them bearded fathers propel off-road pushchairs twixt organic hotdog stalls and kids areas as downpours threaten to return at any time.

The winners of the Green Man poll, We Aeronauts, kick off the first day of the Green Man 2009 on the Main Stage while the sun continues to shine. Chosen by representatives of Moshi Moshi and Bella Union, the Oxford-Brighton six-piece are delightfully indie; their between-song banter belies nerves. Frothy, charming and full of energy, they are the south east’s answer to The Zutons… with an accordion.

Wave Machines‘ simple electronica soars out across the gradually filling field. With the sunshine and the backdrop of the valleys, their MGMT-like synthpop is an uplifting warm up.

Emmy The Great‘s bittersweet reflections on love and loss soar out to an appreciative audience. Although a brief period of swelling feedback splits a few eardrums in the audience, oblivious Emmy and band play on to give an early highlight of the festival with a glorious rendition of Absentee.

At any other festival, Pivot‘s prolonged sound check in the big top Far Our Stage would have been met with irritable heckling and a barrage of bottles of urine. Here it’s met with beatific, somewhat cultish, smiles. At a festival noted for acoustic strumming, the Warp signed Pivot were always going to stand out. Abrasive from the outset, their caustic blend of sombre, glitchy beats, jarring guitars and doom-laden choral vocals makes a strange bedfellow for a green and sunny Glanusk Park. But their energy captivates and the drive of their dark sonic palettes is infectious. Closing number O Soundtrack My Heart’s abrupt timeshifts and bursts of violence play out like a film noir soundtrack.

If any band can entice the crowd back into the light it’s Manhattan’s Gang Gang Dance – seemingly a band engineered precisely for the fading light of a summer festival. True, Liz Bougatsos’ animal yelps and primal howls alienate some, but for the rest, their brooding psychedelia provides a portentous complement the sinister, unblinking visage of the Green Man staring from the Main Stage speaker stacks. The insistent rhythms command movement.

On the small Green Man Pub Stage, Mary Hampton is the very image of tranquil folk beauty, her ivory dress and alabaster skin glowing in the sinking sunlight. Nerves get the better of her early on, and she aborts the opening song of her set, but gradually she wins back her confidence, her backing band leaving her alone for a shining, sinister Because You Are Young. She charms the audience who gladly wait as she extends her set to see the early abortion played out to term.

Gaggles of druids and mummers may delay patrons to the ever-excellent Errors‘ set, but even a scant five minutes of their digitised post-rock manages to outstrip much of the weekend’s bill – and certainly the word on the turf after their set is that this was one of the weekend’s best.

Brighton’s Peggy Sue impressed with a charmingly low-key set of harmony-laden songs, vocalists Rosa Rex and Katy Klaw tag-teaming their way through an “extravagant” 45 minutes of folky, jazzy, slightly punky blues. There’s no Television, but Eisenstein makes up for it, as does their Missy Elliott cover and the beguiling narrative of new song Watchmen. British Sea Power are adequate filler on the Main stage, reliably good, but not as inspiring as ageing bluesman Roky Erickson who wins a new generation of fans with his warm but hard edged pastoral blues.

Erikson is an ideal Green Man Main Stage act, and after his sublime set, Animal Collective seem a little out of place. As with recent tourmates’ Gang Gang Dance’s earlier performance, Animal Collective’s slot is divisive. Unlike their other UK festival appearance this year – heading up Glastonbury’s Park Stage – the audience here is skewed more to the curious than the converted, with many onlookers more focused upon keeping track of their roaming offspring than in the shifting rhythms onstage. Indeed, the family crowd seem more bemused than elated, and by the midpoint of their set Animal Collective have driven over half of their audience elsewhere.

The setlist doesn’t help; while any Animal Collective show bereft of Fireworks is ultimately doomed to failure, compared with some of the year’s earlier live shows, the selection here seems defiantly obtuse, lacking in the more organic elements – such as Panda Bear’s fevered percussion and awkward guitar work – that help to transcend the attendant restlessness that accompanies watching three men pressing buttons on a stage. As the cheers that attend an early rendition of My Girls fade out and the bulk of the crowd migrates away to the food stalls, those remaining just dance all the harder.

Report by Christian Cottingham and Peter Hayward

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