I arrived just as the smile-inducing intro to Concrete Schoolyard filled the moist air. Tuneful, pleasingly ‘Old Skool’ and with a refreshing lack of Gangsta posturing, J5 inject a bit of sunshine into a rain sodden crowd. Chali 2na’s laid back, Barry White-deep vocals get the crowd grooving as his more hyperactive fellow rappers bound around him. Thankfully they keep the songs from their disappointing latest album, Power By Numbers, to a minimum and get on with such arms-in-the-air classics as Quality Control. Bounce Reading, bounce.
After a hastily scarfed burger, I squelched back to the main stage for those Swedish dandies The Hives. Insanely charismatic pigeon-English spouter Pelle Almqvist is intent on getting the crowd as worked up as possible. In his trademark white jacket and black shirt, the wild-eyed ringleader yells “There’s an exchange of services here: the Hives play and you clap and scream!”. Fifty thousand people duly oblige and the place goes mad for Main Offender. It’s hard not to fall for their overblown brand of showmanship and catchy tunes, much as I’d love to say that they were a bunch of twats.
Walking off to nab a good spot for Super Furry Animals, I am stopped in my tracks by the sight of Ash‘s Tim Wheeler with guitar held aloft and ablaze. Rock and effin’ Roll. Girl From Mars and Shining Light are belted out with such ferocity they remind you that Ash actually aren’t as naff as you remembered. In a moment of sheer festival nuttiness, the ubiquitous Har Mar Superstar, who Wheeler cajoles into stripping down to his grey men’s briefs, joins them for Burn Baby Burn. A shudder goes through the crowd.
For sheer imagination and verve it’s hard to beat the Super Furry Animals. They’ve been pumping out brilliant albums for over a decade now, and their live show has evolved into a kind of psychedelic cartoon brain mash that never fails to entertain. A few examples: Gruf Rhys comes on singing from beneath a huge Power Ranger/Godzilla mask and trails a superhero’s cape behind him; every song has a cutesy, trippy animated projection on the background screen; the band arrives for their encore dressed in the bigfoot-esque hairy costumes from the Golden Retriever video; they get an entire tent to jump simultaneously for The Man Don’t Give A Fuck; and, lo and behold, Goldie Lookin Chain cluster on stage to deliver their chunk of the simple-chorused Motherfokker. It’s like ten bands in one set.
And so to Friday’s headliners The Darkness. The new archetypes of the meteoric rise. And this is part of the problem. For all the pomp and extravaganza, The Darkness just don’t have enough material to fill a 90-minute set. New songs are met with vague interest and polite cheers, and a version of Radiohead‘s Street Spirit would have had some musical purists vomiting into their Mojos. But wait – I’m not gonna be the one standing in the corner grumbling – I Believe In a Thing Called Love, Growing On Me and the rest of the already-classic Permission To Land tunes are sung with spandex stretching gusto. Yup, these guys can put on a show. Spangly catsuit boy Justin Hawkin is energetic and captivating despite sounding like a Trekkie, and the fireworks at the end could yet signal the dawn of a Queen for a new generation.
And so back to the tent, eyes bleary and voice shredded from attempting too many high notes. Roll on Saturday.