Live Music + Gig Reviews

Hop Farm Festival 2011: Part 1 @ Hop Farm Country Park, Paddock Wood

3 July 2011

In its fourth year and with aspirations, Hop Farm planted its flag firmly with this year’s most eclectic and engrossing line up.

It warms up gently. Death Cab For Cutie, Brandon Flowers and Bryan Ferry play solidly yet unadventurously. A grinning Ferry schmoozing out Slave To Love and Love Is The Drug is always an experience, though his (by now standard) covers of Like A Hurricane and All Along The Watchtower have that awkward mid ground of power balladry without any power-grab-ability.

Headliners on the main stage Eagles bring a flawless performance and harmonies to a crowd that for the large part looks just like them. With all the classic rock and ballad selections youd expect – Hotel California, Life In The Fast Lane, Desperado and I Cant Tell You Why to name a few – it was a textbook performance; errorless, flushed with pinpoint harmonies and with Don Henleys solo Boys Of Summer thrown in, its majestic. Oppositely The Human League‘s performance, despite having extremely strong new material, felt like a group without any gusto.

Saturdays line-up had the biggest rock factor, predominantly through US punk rock royalty taking the main stage in the early evening. On the smallest Bread and Roses stage there was an early afternoon trio of treats in Portlands indie folk harmonisers Blind Pilot, Englands own Clock Opera who beautifully warped minimal motifs into vast, epic pop choruses and Australias Cloud Control who played out-andn-out summer pop with plenty of psychedelic gusto.

As Patti Smith took to the main stage for an acoustic set she successfully turned the audience into a peace-loving commune. As a four-piece, with a Patrick Wolf guest performing on violin and harp, it was a spell. Smith is still as devoted to empowering the voice of the public as ever, and her voice was superb in its rasp and rich rumble. Gloria was soft yet rousing and Because The Night kept its charm whilst adding harmonies. Smith beams throughout and demands that peace and love are screamed. She mourns those recently past whilst celebrating our blood. She still has it and is still completely focussed.

As Lou Reed takes the stage it initially seems as though he wants to turn his band into a real-time shred of his music. Opening with Who Loves The Sun the band seem to be able to handle it but as he goes into Senselessly Cruel it becomes clear the band isnt on the same level today. He tells them to relax, slow down or thrusts his hands to suggest they speed up. Its really something to see a band so unable to read their front man or be so at the whimsy of their conductor. Whether its Reed being difficult or not is irrelevant. Its incredible. As the band follow his commands they either sweep into deep, blissful tempos (as in Femme Fatale) or crescendos of insanity. Watching the band pulling this together on the hoof is something that would be sneered at if a new act did it. Bands cant get signed if they play, or are directed, like this. Theres no ready-made, easily consumable, product here. Chances are Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground wouldnt be touched with a barge pole if they were a band today.

Iggy Pop writhes like a shaman on stage to continue this firewall of guitars. Tumbling and screaming through No Fun and I Wanna Be Your Dog, this is catharsis. Mike Watt takes up his usual place as heart thumping bassist and its an hour of uncontrolled, free form energy. Morrissey follows and his crooning feels bloated, insincere and self-congratulatory. If anything its an impeccable Manu Chao on the second stage who keeps the energy high. He constantly demands the audience to shout hey hey hey, drenches the backing vocals in dub reverb and throws out Fugazi styled guitar solos. Its like a Spanish version of The Ramones, for tonight at least, with a shared energy between band and crowd.

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Hop Farm Festival 2011: Part 1 @ Hop Farm Country Park, Paddock Wood