The festival is relatively starved of an old-fashioned guitar solo aside from The Wave Pictures’ performance of latest album,Beer in the Breakers. To call Paul Saulnier’s solos traditional wouldbe plain rude, however. During PS I Love You‘s set in a stuffyPrince Albert, they flurry out of seemingly nowhere, crashing againstthe rampant drumming of Benjamin Nelson. The inventive guitar workprovides a welcome break from routine.
Bleeding Knees Club grace the denim-shirt and vintage-vestloitered scenery of Beyond Retro late in the afternoon. Their bratty,Wavves-inspired brand of garage rock is difficult to pick awayat, purely as a consequence of the fact that it’s near-impossible totell the difference from one song and another. The drum beat is aboutalternating as a street lamppost, rigid and immobile and not variableenough to work on a full album. The set has energy on merit of thetwo-piece’s adolescent wails but on top of this, there’s not an awfullot to admire.
Left, right and centre stand various music industry types, allpoised for seeing only the second set of Christian AIDS‘career. A poignant visual show, consisting of images of the NorthKorean regime and various people throwing up into toilets, is appliedrhythmically to a brash, electronic sound. Out of every display overthe three days, it’s the most intense. Audience members would barelybe visible were it not for the giant screen that stands beside theseven people in the band (three of which simply stand there, staringat the crowd, not providing anything musically). It soundspretentious. It probably is. That’s not to take away from the factthat it’s near-on astonishing to watch. Half the crowd leavesbewildered, the other overwhelmed.
The gigantic seafront club of Digital sees Ghostpoet applyPeanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam to a rather rowdy, not at allintrigued crowd. It’s undeserved when you consider the poignancy ofthe album’s lyrical content and the confidence whichObaro Ejimiwe delivers it with. An interesting artist is made to lookirrelevant.
In a similar tragedy to Ghostpoet’s set, Still Corners’visceral, reverb-laden songs are made virtually redundant by a lackinglight show and a rather shabby sound system. The Twin Peaks-suitedwaltz of Don’t Fall In Love has none of the beauty of its recording.
Much of the Great Escape is a showcase of new, mostly unsignedartists. As a consequence, many bands face crowds with their armsfolded, their fingers pulsing away at a touch screen, expressingnothing more than slight curiosity at times. Katy B faces noneof this: Instead, genuine fans are rejoicing in their hundreds at theCorn Exchange; a pair of hands, a lighter, any nearest object, becomesraised in the air. Katy paces the stage back and forth, enjoying theluxuries of a horn-section and a collection of session musicians, eachcontributing towards giving the likes of Lights On and Katy On AMission a whole new lease of life.
Team MeIt’s a shock to arrive at Audio at just after midday and not be able to get through the door. People never get out this early at The Great Escape. Still, from a keen position rammed against a varnished frame Norway’s Team Me seem pretty decent, their upbeat, melody-laden indie-pop a pleasant salve to our sleep-deprivation and a dreamy accompaniment to the gradual asphyxiation of half the room.YAAKSYAAKS have been attracting some serious attention lately, with Steve Lamacq last week describing the five piece as his new favourite band’, and it’s borne out in an Audio where getting anywhere near the door becomes just a distant, fading hope. They deserve it though, putting in a performance that silences the wary cynicism that always greets bands this hyped. Sure, the percussionist is pretty terrifying for this time in the afternoon, his face a mask of rage as he thrashes a tambourine from atop an amplifier like a kind of evil Bez, but their brass-inflected constructions are increasingly infectious. Urgent rhythms mix with throbbing bass and pounding drums in songs that sound something like Foals could if they were to actually get a singer instead of a yapping dog.said the whaleCanadian five-piece Said The Whale make the kind of cute indie-rock that inevitably soundtracks films with Michael Cera in. That’s not really an insult though – they’re a lot of fun, if slightly insubstantial, and incredibly crowd-pleasing. They’re clearly having a great time too, their positivity enthusing a setlist that on record never really takes off.the jezabelsSydney four-piece The Jezabels owe a sizable debt to pro biker Danny MacAskill. His showcasing of their A Little Piece in last year’s Way Back Home video is the reason most of the crowd are here, crammed into the basement of the Queen’s Hotel for the second of the band’s three Great Escape performances. Their first, earlier today at Audio, saw half the audience nearer the main road outside than the stage: it’s fair to say there’s something of a buzz developing.And it’s only to get louder. Hyperbole be damned, these people are amazing. From their opening notes – A Little Piece, its only airing this weekend, surprisingly – it’s clear that we’re seeing something markedly above most of the fare this weekend. A festival like this, based around intense 30 minute sets – you see a lot of new music. And as good as most of it is, there’s a saturation point, particularly by the second day, where the memories aren’t quite forming right and the bands start to blur, meshing into a sonic beige. The Jezabels cut right through that, searing themselves into the consciousness so that, even days later, the shivers haven’t quite abated.Much of that is down to frontwoman Hayley Mary, whose vocals are prone to the kind of epic crescendos that leave blood trickling from the ear, which might not seem a good thing but it most definitely is. A captivating stage presence, she flails and thrusts as though possessed, retreating between songs to an alcove stage-right to, it seems, physically recover. We get no such respite: the few times when we aren’t being wracked by Mary drummer Nik Kaloper takes over, a tag-team pushing for grand-scale aneurysm. It’s a set that never lulls, invigorating yet exhausting and perhaps mercifully brief. Dark Storm closes, a highpoint in a half hour that starts at altitude and keeps on climbing, the air thinning as the pressure builds and the heartrate quickens. By the final, cataclysmic breakdown we’re clearly in the death-zone, but it no longer matters. little dragonIn the fallout from The Jezebels everything else has the volume turned down. It’s a shame: under normal circumstances Little Dragon‘s show at Digital would probably be excellent, but as it is it’s almost impossible to engage with it. Singer Yukimi Nagano is clearly having a great time, though, and so it seems are most of the crowd: certainly there’s a lot in their leftfield electronica to pique the interest, particularly later in the set, but really we just feel like the victims of shell-shock, dislocated and numbed.villagersIt seems ungrateful, when there’s a horde that would concern Gerard Butler baying at the closed venue door, to be critical of Villagers. And sure, they start well, Meaning of the Ritual evolving from twee beginnings to gain a beguiling darkness and depth. But good god are they earnest, frontman Conor O’Brien’s eyebrows ascending with every punctuated note whilst his lyrical themes ride a knife-edge of parody, occasionally stumbling over the line. Their musicianship can’t be denied, though, and this is a generally fine performance, at times – particularly with the vocal harmonies – attaining a level of epic grandeur. But Villagers just aren’t interesting enough, their songs diverting but inessential, and not really offering anything that Bright Eyes – that perennial elephant-in-the-room that stalks the genre – hasn’t already done better. Lucy Swann, The Haunt, Friday, 10.30
It’s halfway through her set before Lucy Swann says hello. Hello. I’m Lucy Swann, she began, fittingly enough. I’m from Norway. And I have a really posh accent. All of which was true even Princess Kate would have sounded a bit Dick Van Dyke next to these clipped tones yet it’s bizarrely out of keeping with the loop-pedal electronica and free-roaming interpretative dance of the preceding twenty minutes. All of which actually goes to make this export one of Oslo’s most intriguing mixing vocal and synth, Swann’s tunes are beguiling and disarming and, while they come with a healthy dose of Scando-pop sensibilities, they’re more organic than the creations of, say, Lykke Li or NIki & The Dove. A healthy alternative, if that’s you’re kind of thing.
Oh Land, Digital, Friday, 9pm
As one of the hot tips for Great Escape, Oh Land surprised only by disappointing. On paper, the Great Dane had everything you’d want the sultry vocal, the waif-like dance flitting eclectically from dreamy reverie to fevered passion, the deep scoop of Nordic pop. And yet, there was something forced about the delivery the neon garb, the oh-so-Kate-Bush drama, the taster of Fleet Foxes tacked prosthetically onto the start of We Turn It Up. It was all crowd-pleasing nonsense that simply failed to please maybe on another day? We hope so.
Josh T Pearson, Pavilion Theatre, Friday, 10.30
Josh T Pearson is cracking jokes. I totally forgot to shave this morning, he says, by way of introduction to the Pavilion Theatre crowd. They laugh nervously. It’s funny, of course, because the beard is part of the package: that unwieldy testament to a man in the wilderness. But the laughter is anxious because this is unexpected. Pearson’s stage presence is at odds with his music with its themes of heartbreak and emotional ambivalence. Jokes, it seems, aren’t expected from a man with tainted morals. Yet what combines the two is honesty. Pearson does nothing to hide who he is, on record or in person, and the result is compelling with just finger-picked acoustic and a single, gravelly vocal, the crowd is coaxed into silence. Even the girls in their high-heels try to walk more quietly to the bar. And in the peace, the music is a gentle darkness graceful yet pained, with Pearson wanting both to unburden himself and yet to retain his isolation. At times, he stares into the distance his face is gaunt, a shadow in the spotlight, and he seems as if he may struggle to sing a moment more. Yet he also seems determined, with a look that says he’ll persevere. And he does. To the beautiful, bitter end.