Thunderstorms had lurked menacingly just off the coast during Day 1 of The Great Escape.
Finally they made their torrential landfall on Brighton at 6.30pm on Day 2 – just as punters were staggering out of whichever gin joint they’d been lurking in all day, planning their gigs and supping a few ales.
Perhaps our judgement was affected by the almost unbearably humid atmosphere within the crowded Sallis Benney Theatre, but the evening’s first band, New Zealand’s The Veils, seemed like something out of a stomping blood-and-thunder Nick Cave track, all fire, brimstone and dust-bowl murders. Compared to the slightly fey indie of their first record The Runaway Found, the tracks here from their third, Sun Gangs, are dirty, bluesy and impassioned, with singer Finn Andrews cutting a mesmerising, and often terrifying figure in a Night Of The Hunter style preacher hat.
During the day we’d caught The Killing Floor performing as part of the Relentless Energy Street Gig. The unsigned band looked the part and showed early promise, despite the presence of toddlers in animal costumes in the audience. If gloomy and self indulgent rock’n’roll is your bag you might like these guys.
Back at the Sallis Benney Theatre, Micachu And The Shapes were putting in their second shift at the festival. After starting their set with Vulture, a frantic three minutes of banging everything to hand, from drums and cowbells to vodka bottles and paint cans, they launch into a set made up of tracks from debut album Jewellery. It’s impossible not to enjoy them – they’re intensely charismatic, and are clearly having fun. “Thanks for sticking around to see us” Mica Levi adds, as they close their set with Curly Teeth. Add humble to that list.
At Komedia, It Hugs Back demonstrated that, despite having the least fashionable name in music, they could jump on the nu-shoegaze bandwagon as well as anyone. They displayed all the attributes that makes their debut album Inside Your Guitar both so good and so frustrating, with a huge wall of distortion and feedback masking some lovely melodies and obliterating any chance of catching a word of Matthew Simms’ murmured lyrics.
Much more understandable were Portland folk-poppers Blind Pilot, who brought a dollop of cheery self-deprecation to a festival already littered with indie egos (and Pete ‘Peter’ Doherty isn’t even on till tomorrow). Fittingly for a band that often undertakes American tours by bicycle, their Fleet Foxes-with-an-edge songs like I Buried a Bone and Go On Say It are sweet and solid, and there’s even a double bass solo thrown in towards a surprisingly funky climax of the set.
A ‘funky climax’ is probably the raison d’etre of next band Crystal Antlers, whose prog-funk mashup has been wowing punters since a terrifically sweaty set at this year’s SXSW. When you employ a man simply to take his shirt off, dance and bang a tom tom at the front of the stage (oh, and his name is Sexual Chocolate), you know that a band’s phasers are set to ‘party’. They certainly didn’t disappoint, tearing through a rip-roaring set of The Doors-meets-Les Savy Fav-meets-Los Lobos songs from their debut EP. While the set did get a little samey after a while, tracks like A Thousand Eyes are gut-punches that, like them or not, you can’t ignore.
Curiosity, more than anything, brought us to Concorde 2 to see Apple advert soundtrackers Chairlift. Debut album Does You Inspire You is a peculiar entity, and it was difficult to imagine how the record could be re-imagined live. The answer lies with lead singer Caroline Polachek. On record she never makes a big enough impact to detract from the often facile lyrics, but tonight her vocals take centre stage. She has a soaring vocal range which breathes new life into tracks like Make Your Mind Up but also makes more inane offerings like the ubiquitous iPod ad track Bruises a bit more bearable.
Time constraints were beginning to tug us every which way, and it meant cutting some of the acts we’d earmarked to see. Over-running at the Unitarian Church meant we only caught a few numbers of Leona Naess‘ set – annoying, as from what we saw the singer, recently returned to music after a four-year absence, turned in a spellbinding performance. Bigger in the USA than in her native Britain, it doesn’t go unnoticed that the programme both mis-spells her name and ignores her in the artist biogs. She deserves better.
Playing in front of a partisan home crowd, cult birdwatchers British Sea Power couldn’t really fail. Despite some sound problems, they didn’t. Festooned with an unusually large abundance of greenery (this, we think, represents a ‘big night’ for BSP), the band wheeled out the hits including Remember Me and Waving Flags, and even had time to chuck in a couple of newbies from their Man Of Aran soundtrack which, although solid, couldn’t match the endorphin surge of set closer Carrion, which saw lead singer Jan hurl himself, and a large amount of the foliage, into the audience.
They’ve been described as “a mad skillz bunch of French and Belgian dudes” who make music out of “electro beats and bleeps with dark electronic riffery”, so we were somewhat surprised to turn up to The Duke Of York to find that Moriarty is a female fronted, Greensleeves covering, honky tonk family band. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise, however. Their unique cover of Depeche Mode‘s Enjoy The Silence had everyone singing along, and the comedic lyrics of Jimmy (“Now there’s Buffalo Jim and Buffalo Jim and Jim Buffalo, now didn’t you know?”) drew hoots from an otherwise subdued crowd.
Former Slowdive singer Neil Halstead has perhaps been covered on this site more than most others. Without bucking any trends, he put in a solid performance at the high-ceilinged Redroaster coffee shop. The man’s voice has always been his greatest selling point, and in front of a hushed audience sitting in rows of chairs it bounced around the coffee urns and teapots nicely.
An absolutely heaving Honeyclub played host to one of the festival’s most polished performances, by Canadians Metric. Having spent a few years away honing their sound, new record Fantasies is the kind of pop statement of intent that has record company bigwigs rubbing their hands in glee – hats off to them, then, for self-releasing it. Here, Emily Haines and co unleashed an absolutely storming set, culled mostly from the latest record. This was music that proved there’s no substitute for hard work, charisma and lovingly-crafted terrace anthems like Help I’m Alive.
Swoonsome folk troubadour Johnny Flynn was high on our list of priorities at the tiny Unitarian Church – but he seemed to be for everyone, as the queue was even press pass-proof. From outside the venue we heard the faint beautiful strains of The Box, and as it seemed no one was budging from the venue, we can only assume it was a good ‘un.
Leaving venues, as it turned out, was high on the list of priorities for those unfortunate enough to get into Let’s Wrestle‘s show at The Hope. Walking into the venue two songs in, we were met by 25 angry punters storming the other way, telling us, in no uncertain terms, to come with them if we wanted to live. In the name of journalistic integrity we ignored their advice, and instantly regretted it. Loud, sweaty and with little to recommend to anyone, the urchins have quite a lot of work, and maturing, to do to win back any of the walkouts.
And that, as it were, was that for the evening of Day 2. Would Day 3’s weather make staggering about by the seaside a little less squelchy, plzthx?