Live Music + Gig Reviews

Latitude 2009: Day 2 @ Henham Park, Suffolk

18 July 2009

Latitude 2009: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Giving the opening performance on a festival stage is always a hard nut to crack, and unless you’re Thom Yorke (more of whom later), getting people to arrive anywhere around midday is a near impossibility.

Yet in spite of all this, Sweden’s Wildbirds and Peacedrums are a surprise highlight on the Uncut arena, with the husband-and-wife duo creating a delightful racket using everything from steel drums to what looks like a handful of keys.

At one point singer Mariam Wallentin kicks off her shoes and dances around amongst the discarded instruments. For the final song she discards the microphone, singing her heart out at the front of the stage, beguiling and enthralling in equal measure.
Hot on their heels, St Vincent‘s Annie Clark was joined on stage at the Uncut arena by four other musicians. While she’s something of a challenging listen in her one-woman-band incarnation, the new band took the edge off her savage guitar riffery, playing up the lovelier side of her melodies. These were fuller, richer, softer-edged incarnations of the songs on her recent Actor album: a short set, but one which effortlessly won the audience over.

Equally alluring was Bishi‘s live soundtrack to the 1927 silent film Salome, shown in the music and film tent. Scored for sitar, tabla, voice and keyboard, it complemented the film beautifully; helping to draw sympathy for the vampish heroine, in sharp contrast to her Biblical reputation as a pure villainess. Somehow it was clear from the start that we were supposed to side with Salome against the twin patriarchies of Herod and John the Baptist – seeing as the film was introduced by feminist sword swallower Miss Behave, dressed in a red rubber catsuit and merrily castrating a cucumber before plunging the blade down her gullet.

Patrick Wolf was clearly born to entertain. Stepping out onto the cavernous main stage, he oozes confidence – and the sense of drama that seeps out of his pores is unleashed onto an initially bemused but highly entertained crowd. Resplendent in a grey Union Jack-themed two-piece, complete with bondage accessories and bovver boots (at least one punter mentions the name Bruno), Wolf snakes from one side of the stage to the other, groping cameramen and gyrating behind a black flying V guitar. During Vulture he’s a predator, during Hard Times a social commentator and then during a dramatic Damaris he’s the undisputed talent his ego can sometimes mask.

But his flamboyance and unashamed extravagance is what makes him, and when he returns for the final song (The Magic Position) he does so dressed in what looks like a white breastplate with two huge treble clefs emanating from it. It’s a breathtaking moment of audacity and one that makes up for the disaster that is Rowdy Superstar, whom Wolf enlists to help him during Bloodbeat. By “help” he means running around the stage repeating lyrics after Wolf has sung them dressed like a superhero as drawn by Nathan Barley.

London’s The XX play most of their early evening slot on The Lake stage stood stock still, barely even moving their eyes to look at the crowd. Singers Oliver and Romy shoot each other cute glances every so often and the odd “thank you” is offered, but on the whole it’s the songs that do the talking. Recent single Crystalised is a joy, whilst VCR sounds like The Cure on half-speed. Album highlight Islands, features some intricate guitar work, precise beats and a melody as joyful as four moody teenagers can muster.

Ah, Doves. Between songs, frontman Jimi Goodwin tells us that “it’s nice to see a lot of babies and kids here” and “it’s lovely vibes – what a beautiful festival.” For niceness is their stock in trade, and they live fully up to expectations by delivering truckloads of the stuff. As ever, the set isn’t a million miles away from the expansive major-label indie of Coldplay – but hey, these guys have lived a bit, and have earned the right to put their slippers up and deliver a good old fashioned soulful tune or two. At least you know they mean it. And, with the sun going down over the Suffolk treeline and not a cloud in the sky (for the time being anyway), it would be hard not to be swept along by their good nature.

Headlining the Sunrise stage, Passion Pit‘s Michael Angelakos doesn’t have much of a choice when it comes to stage performance. He can either walk forwards or backwards. Such is the proportion of the stage taken up by keyboards and synths, that any movement left or right could cause a serious case of keyboard dominos. It doesn’t seem to bother him and the band race through a rapturously received set that takes in album highlights The Reeling, Sleepyhead and Better Things.

Performing in the poetry tent around midnight, Jeffrey Lewis stands, slightly crumpled, behind a Perspex lectern, looking as if he’s about to read us some form of new manifesto. In a way he kind of does, the crowd treated to a handful of new tracks (“some may never be heard of again”), all dealing with familiar themes of death, death, oh, and suicide. One song imagines the scene at his own funeral, but does so in a sweetly humorous, non-egotistical way, with Lewis offering the “It’s on a Friday, I hope that you can come” refrain in his cracked voice. He closes with fans’ favourite Back When I Was Four, a song that spans over one hundred years of Lewis’ life. It’s a strange, darkly ironic song from a man obsessed with the fact he may not make it to the next year let alone the next century.

Grace Jones? She’s a right head case, mate.” So says the man in the neighbouring tent on Sunday morning, and, looking back over Saturday night’s goings-on, it would be hard to disagree. Descending from the heavens on a hydraulic platform, Ms Jones does all the hits, changing headgear and accessories for every track and filling the space between them with some extraordinarily odd banter. Many references are made to death and to genitals of both flavours; and sound and lighting staff are mercilessly cajoled into compliance. At one point an oblique reference is made to a “Portaloo Sunset,” whatever that might be. “Are you out there?” she yowls, turning on the audience for a moment. Which comes over a little like the pot calling the kettle black.

Slave To The Rhythm is belted out while impressively keeping a pink hula hoop in motion throughout. For Love Is The Drug she wears a green mirror ball as a hat. During Williams Blood she pole-dances then waggles her bare arse at the audience for over a minute. And Pull Up To The Bumper sees our heroine mount a security guard and ride him like a hapless horse up and down the front row of the audience, barking navigational orders as if they were song lyrics. Still, there aren’t many 61 year-olds who can strike these kinds of poses and get away with it: in fact, she might be the only one on the planet.

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