Live Music + Gig Reviews

Latitude 2009: Day 3 @ Henham Park, Suffolk

19 July 2009

Latitude 2009: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Following the success of last year’s Sunday lunchtime performance by Joanna Newsom, Latitude have pulled off a real coup by booking Thom Yorke for a one-off solo appearance. The set proved to be so popular that the rest of the festival site looked like a deserted post-apocalyptic netherworld for the duration.

As thousands of tired bodies heave their aching limbs and heavy heads onto the grass in front of the main stage, bits of leftover gold ticker tape dance in the wind, remnants of Grace Jones’ spectacular headline slot from the night before. Unsurprisingly, Yorke chooses not to wear a hat made of a disco ball, but instead ambles out in jeans, suit jacket and a mop of hair that practically screams ‘we’re in the studio at the moment’.
Switching between guitar, piano and keyboards, Yorke covers vintage Radiohead (Everything In Its Right Place, There There); songs from his Eraser album; rare unreleased tracks; and one brand new song – the acoustic (for the moment at least) The Present Tense. Over a simple, finger-picked melody and featuring some classic Yorke vocal runs, it ends with a lovely “In you I’m lost” refrain.

Other highlights include Harrowdown Hill, which sees Yorke loop the song’s bassline before adding guitar and keyboards; and the desolate Videotape, which, delivered solo at the piano with the crowd bathed in sunlight, was one of those mythical festival moments that really do happen.

The sunlight doesn’t last long and following Yorke’s set there’s a strange sense of having already seen the headline act. Luckily, Glasgow’s The Vaselines do a pretty good job of reminding people why they were one of Kurt Cobain’s favourite bands and are one of the weekend’s highlights. Aided by two members of Belle & Sebastian, they race through a handful of their best moments, including Molly’s Lips, You Think You’re A Man and, of course, Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam, a song which leads to one wag heckling the band with “play that Nirvana cover.”

From hereon the heavens gradually opened, though welcome relief from the torrential rain was offered by the Sunrise Stage, playing host to the kinetic Villagers. It’s an enjoyably lively set, made all the more watchable as the front of the canopy, weighted down with hundreds of litres of rainwater, unfurls and drenches the band and front three rows of the audience just as the guitarist is in the process of hurling his instrument into the crowd. This being Latitude, of course, it’s politely returned, completely undamaged.

On the main stage, the photogenic all-round good-guys of The Rumble Strips treated us to their Mark Ronson-endorsed brand of soulful, brassy indie. Firmly aligned on the Beatles / Elvis Costello axis of melodiousness, there was nothing ground-breaking here, but they offered a perfectly pleasant way to spend an hour nonetheless.

The rain kept the crowd numbers way down for The Gaslight Anthem – regrettably so, as this was one of the minor highlights of the festival. Heartily endorsed by Bruce Springsteen (and recently joined on stage by him at Glastonbury), the New Jersey band play proper, old-fashioned, straight-up blue-collar rock. Lean, handsome tattooed boys with ear-to-ear smiles; impeccable good manners (“I can see there’s children in the audience, so we won’t be using any cuss words”) and instantly catchy tunes. What’s not to love?

To a dark, dubby deafening instrumental version of the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams, Tricky lopes menacingly onto the Uncut stage like a voodoo priest in culottes, lights one of his funny cigarettes, and puffs on it with his back to the audience for a good ten minutes. Finally turning to face us, he launches into a brutally heavy set, taking its cue from Public Enemy’s Black Steel. It’s creepy, nasty and totally mesmeric – not least when he dives into the crowd, surfs the entire length of the arena, and then disappears, like a West Country version of Keyser Soze, into thin air.

The members of Saint Etienne haven’t aged a day; though Sarah Cracknell, for all her youthful looks, is now a fully fledged yummy mummy. Bestest friend Debs is on backing vocals; numerous chums in the audience need thanking for being so lovely; and various forthcoming weddings need to be blessed. In keeping with this, the music is a pure nostalgia trip, and a worrying number of men in their mid-30s shake off their shackles and start dancing like Ian Brown. If Ian Brown were a solicitor from Fulham, that is. And a few too many album tracks, perhaps, for a band who have essentially emigrated to Greatest Hits land.

The final night of the festival is heavy on the cowbells. Both Norway’s Casiokids (who headline the Lake stage) and New York’s !!! over on the Sunrise stage are fans of this recent addition to the punk funk/electro-pop oeuvre. Whilst Casiokids are playful and seem to be enjoying themselves, !!! seem restless, with their drummer, bizarrely, screaming “I can’t hear my fucking drums…we were in Nazi Germany last night and it wasn’t as bad as this.”

Also pretty big fans of the cowbell are The Gossip, who close things in the Uncut arena. Well, that’s after they’ve kept us all waiting for nearly half an hour. As the boos start to ring out following what seems like an endless tune up, a voice emerges from the back of the stage; “Hello Latitude…are you ready for the Kings Of Leon…Sex is on fire”. It’s said in a fake English accent and if it’s meant to placate the crowd it doesn’t work.

It says a lot about the charisma of Beth Ditto, however, that she is able to win the vast majority of people back simply by letting that voice of hers roar. Listen Up and Jealous Girls are clearly crowd favourites, but the new songs seem to fall flat. They also play like a band that prefers smaller venues, only really engaging with the front rows (who Ditto encourages to climb over the railings and stand right in front of the stage).

There’s also the sense that a lot of people are only here for one song and when it comes the tent nearly takes off. To their credit they don’t end with Standing In The Way Of Control, but rather the recently released Heavy Cross. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of an empty gesture, with the majority of the crowd still singing its predecessor. As people begin to leave Ditto launches into the chorus of Queen’s We Are The Champions, a crass ending to a set that promised much but delivered far too little. She may have the personality and the voice, but she can’t hide the fact that her band doesn’t have the songs.

Back to the main stage, then, for headliners Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. Sans moustache, but still with the long hair and pattern baldness, Cave looks more like a wrong ‘un than ever; supported by an increasingly grizzled band who all fall somewhere between the twin poles of your funny uncle and Animal from the Muppets. One of whom, Nick informs us, is “a big bearder fucker” – as if we couldn’t already tell. With barely a pause for breath, they speed psychotically through a familiar set of old and new favourites.

Unlike the other main headlining acts, they leave the stage completely unadorned: Nick’s arm-waving, high-kicking and hollering provides all the visual stimulation that the crowd needs. Amid the cacophony there’s still some room for re-interpretation of his old standards: a lounge version of Red Right Hand, interspersed with crazy electronica; and a version of Stagger Lee to close which starts off as a piano bar ballad and ends up like a sermon from the Devil. Everything’s furiously loud, and with the additional volume from the crowd singing along to There She Goes, My Beautiful World, the performance is probably audible from the other side of the North Sea. It’s a raucous, cacophonous end to an excellent festival.

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