With three days now at its disposal, the feeling is that Lovebox can spread out and take its time in 2010, making the most of its long weekend – a bit like you do when you’ve got the Friday off work.
As a result things are noticeably less fraught when we arrive at Victoria Park – unless you’re in the vicinity of the Cat Flap tent, that is. All sorts of musical and variety acts appear on the makeshift stage over the three days, with Stavros Flatley the highest profile performers in two raucous and hugely entertaining Saturday afternoon slots. A woman dressed in a catsuit prowls – literally – outside the arena, looking like she’s fresh from an audition for Phoenix Nights, but she helps draw in the curious crowd nonetheless.
Opposite – we kid you not – sits a temporary branch of HMV. At a festival! And yet they seem to be doing good business, with a series of opportunistic signings and themes. But really, high street record shopping and festivals shouldn’t be mixing, so it’s off to the NYC Downlow area to sample the eclectic entertainment going on inside – and the entertaining drag queens strutting their stuff on the balcony. Just around the corner the margarita bar is doing brisk business, boosted by a number of sharp mariachi bands onsite, while organic honey beer is also dispensed to the masses as the sun comes out again.
Over at the Gaymers stage, a beautifully arranged enclave heavily under the influence of the apple, The Invisible are busy showing us the talents that earned their Mercury Music Prize nomination last year. London Girl – an appropriate choice – drifts across the seated masses with its blissful groove, while the new material sounds even more individual and promising, signposting their next album out as one to check.
Jay Electronica (Mr Erykah Badu, fact fans) hails from New Orleans, and is very welcome late addition to the main stage bill. We know where he’s from because he repeats it several times before even singing a note. It’s a worthwhile wait, mind, because his set is an entertaining mix of banter with the audience, begging a middle-aged man down the front clearly camped out for Roxy Music to wave his arms in the air, while covering Black Sabbath‘s Iron Man and then jumping into the audience for a finale, giving the punters a chance to freestyle. It’s fair to say his own music is overshadowed by the onstage antics but the small crowd gathered for this mid-afternoon set leave with jubilant faces.
After this it’s down to Rox to keep the positive vibes flowing, and she does so with an immediately appealing voice, albeit at a slower tempo. Particularly beguiling is her reggae-based cover of Fleetwood Mac‘s Dreams. Padded Cell and Dixon, meanwhile, have warmed up the dance fans in the Relentless tent – though that’s a contradiction in terms, the undercover arena operating at the temperature of a greenhouse. The arrival of Henrik Schwarz gives the festival an even greater momentum. Having long been a favourite in the German house scene, this rare appearance in London unsurprisingly packs out the tent. Ditched are the minimal DJ decks as Schwarz graces the stage with a full live show, complete with surreal visuals to make an excellent spectacle. There is little room to dance because of the packed arena unfortunately, the only downside to a furiously upbeat hour of techno. Later on the Relentless tent suffers further, with Booka Shade frustratingly cut off half way through their set, at the early hour of 10:30.
With Schwarz having bothered the lower ends of the frequency spectrum, Wild Beasts are operating somewhere near the stratosphere. As a live band they are one of the most exciting propositions in British music at the moment, and though much of the main stage audience spends their set sitting down, an intense hour is spent in their company. Hayden and Ben are on top form vocally, and a commanding All The King’s Men sets the bar high, with Hooting And Howling and several album tracks from Two Dancers running it close.
Over on the Gaymers stage the Midnight Juggernauts are heroically turning their near disaster of equipment failure into a massive behemoth of a set. The sound is coarse, but they are comfortably the loudest band thus far, hammering home their massive drum tracks and bruising riffs with a great deal of funk and general euphoria, the crowd responding in kind. Mark Ronson, on the other hand, is parading a succession of guests on the main stage, the crisp musicianship of his band having its flow broken by the processions on and off. Kyle Falconer from The View offers a ragamuffin take on Valerie, but the real star turns are Duran Duran‘s Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes, performing A View To A Kill. Ronson’s new songs, performed under the Mark Ronson And The Business International moniker, are relatively predictable, if confirming his reliable prowess as a hit maker.
Roxy Music may be the main draw of Day 2, but the show is unwittingly stolen by an astounding set from Empire Of The Sun on the second stage. Going back to the first principles of true entertainment, they offer dancers, space age movie projections, elaborate costumes, brilliantly exaggerated masks and stunning lighting. The crowd are at their most raucous, with a massive singalong dominating We Are The People, where the four dancers don massive guitars at the front of the stage. Even projections of jellyfish and intergalactic warfare don’t seem out of place, as the sun sets directly behind them, and a Balearic warmth is cast through the music.
Compared to that, Roxy Music feel like much harder work – and the possibility dawns that they may be preaching to the wrong crowd. Things don’t start off too well with poor sound (Victoria Park’s nearby residents winning that particular battle once again) but adding on lengthy saxophone and guitar solos, a lack of engagement with the audience and a plethora of album tracks mean the less dedicated among the crowd find their heads turning. A barely recognisable More Than This fails to raise spirits, but soon Bryan Ferry finds his mojo, and we hear a baleful Jealous Guy and a triumphant Let’s Stick Together, the latter throwing off the shackles and getting the biggest cheer of the night, even if it’s a shadow of what could have been from one of the past 30 years’ most influential home-grown heroes, and a frustrating end to the day. But thanks to those with beats, it’s been a hugely memorable one.