Live Music + Gig Reviews

Green Man 2009: Day 3 @ Glanusk Park, nr Crickhowell, Brecon Beacons

23 August 2009

Green Man 2009: Day 1 | Day 2Day 3

As observed by the Dirty Three later in the day, being named after an animal helps to get on the Green Man bill. Following Grizzly Bear, Noah And The Whale, Andrew Bird, Golden Animals, Birdengine and Unicorn Kid, Sunday on the Main Stage gets underway with It’s a Buffalo.

The Manchester-based five-piece seem to be aiming for country rock, but get stuck in the rich musical heritage of their hometown. The result is a slightly strange but raucously good Mancunian hoedown.
The bluesy, bratty and psychedelic Zun Zun Egui blow away the last of the hangovers on the Main Stage, with most of their set sung or shouted in a language that is possibly Japanese, the nature of their lyrics remains a mystery, but they look fantastic and sound not too bad too.

Just as the very sight of an acoustic guitar is starting to prompt a Pavlovian aversion, Portico Quartet lynchpin Nick Mulvey‘s liquid fretwork and powerful voice banish such heresy. Bereft of the Quartet’s hanghang, his solo material centres on guitar and vocals. His shifts in pace and intensity garner unfettered admiration from the assembled throng as he draws in flamenco and congolese playing styles to lyrically memorable songs. If his Mercury-nominated band were less successful, maybe we’d see more of him. Either way, it’s a nice problem for Mulvey to tackle.

As clouds range above the hills behind, Scott Matthews‘ tuneful melancholia drifts as gently as the bubbles that often threaten to upstage him. On the whole it’s a strong performance, his voice bristling with echoes of (as has been said many times before) Jeff Buckley, although his stage banter is frankly embarrassing and the weaker material is, unfortunately, drawn from Matthews’ recent second album. But songs such as a flawlessly performed Passing Stranger make up for any weaknesses and a delicate, soaring Elusive ensures no lasting complaints.

On the Green Man Pub Stage, She Keeps Bees produces what might just be the finest set of the festival. Although frontwoman Jessica Larrabee‘s between-song banter is florid enough to turn the air blue, parents leave their kids pinned up at the front, not wanting to miss a minute of the soulful, bluesy set. Larrabee quips that people turning up to see her are thinking “When did Cat Power get fat?” and there is more than a passing resemblance in appearance and sound. But the duo (Andy LaPlant is on sticks) are more than just copycats. The bluesy swing of closer Ribbon has the audience holding the beat with handclaps in the acapella intro, and the participation makes the crowd fall even more in love.

Amorphous Androgynous were previously the dance pioneers Future Sound Of London, and the curators of the Far Out line-up today. They fill the stage, musicians sprawling behind an array of instruments both organic and digital. Despite an abundance of New Age babble (“Are we really here, I ask? Are we psychedelic beings in a psychedelic universe? Are we multidimensional?” Cue audience cheers of affirmation…) their music is stunningly contemporary, a wall of sound comprising a mesh of disparate influences from folk to rock to electronica, although their abundant visuals, which frequently return to a motif evoking Sauron’s burning eye, still disturb nearly a week on. Best of all is their take on Falling Down, the Oasis track remixed by the band that all but reinvents it, shearing the song of the Gallaghers’ vocals and installing the excellent Alisha Sufit instead, a creative decision that needs to be applied to all of their songs.

Hopefully Dirty Three missed the audience’s impromptu singalong to Total Eclipse Of The Heart (the unofficial Welsh national anthem) while the stage was readied for them. The ageing Australian trio are always a welcome addition to a festival bill. They need no lyrics, compelling audiences with just percussion, guitar, and violin. Fiddler Warren Ellis stalks the stage with an imposing, almost unsettling, presence, but his between song banter is humorous, friendly, and frank.

Headlining on the Green Man Stage, James Yuill may have an acoustic guitar strapped to his back, but it’s quickly relegated in favour of brutal, Aphex-esque electronica, guitar chords avalanched beneath a battery of beats and glitches. Yuill’s songs begin deceptively, riding saccharine vocals upon simple tunes, when suddenly, as with early highpoint Over The Hills, he’ll be remixing himself, twisting the layers of his own songs into infinitely more brutal forms as the feeble speaker-stacks crackle and distort and our own heads threaten to implode. It’s easily a highlight of the festival.

Sunday night’s Main Stage Headliners Wilco typifies the line-up, which is this year a little heavy on the country and light on the folk. Widely regarded as one of the best live bands and frequently lauded in critical circles, Jeff Tweedy and co deliver a solid set, and tracks such as War On War remind the assembled that they do know one or two Wilco songs. It’s not a triumphant end to the Main Stage line-up, but it’s solid enough.

Hawkwind are not quite the triumphant finish either; their set goes on a little long, particularly as they climax early, playing Silver Machine after about half an hour. But it’s loud and brash and ballsy enough, and as the rain finally sets in, there’s no point in complaining. An amazing fireworks display blows away any misgivings, making sure the festival ends on a high.

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