:: The Prodigy :: Bat For Lashes :: Bon Iver :: Linda Lewis :: Tom Jones :: Glastonbury, Shepton Mallet, Somerset, 28-06-09
Tiredness after so many late nights, getting to bed at 4 or so and up before 9, had kicked in but this was the last day and the last chance to hammer it before heading back to real life. A slow start had us at Jazz World (when will they ever put some jazz on?!) relaxing to the unchallenging but listenable vocals of British soul singer LINDA LEWIS. Just listening to her voice (imagine Duffy but much better and less annoying) you’d swear she was 20 but she’s nearly three times that age, having worked with Bowie (backing vocals on Aladdin Sane) and Van Morrison in her time. A pleasant way to start the afternoon.
I confess I’d been looking forward to the designated ‘oldie’ slot of the afternoon - TOM JONES. Last year it had been the dreadful Neil Diamond and was best avoided; this year it was a big party. You think you only know a few songs but it turns out you know almost all of them. A real charmer, he knows how to work the crowd and his soaring voice must have filled the entire farm. Tremendous entertainment.
A short time later we arrived at the Other Stage for the rest of the night. And I witnessed the best back-to-back performances of the weekend. First up was the staggeringly talented Natasha Khan and her band BAT FOR LASHES. More accessible than Kate Bush and not as weird as Bjork she surely has a long career ahead of her, producing magical music. Beautiful songs accompanied by elfin magnetism.
As with Bat For Lashes, the next act were also a solo project, except in name since the leader is the singer and songwriter. Reminding me of Richard Thompson and Tim Buckley came the stand out non-headline performance of the weekend - BON IVER. Leader Justin Vernon wrote the first record in a remote cabin in wintry Wisconsin, his hometown, recovering from serious illness and heartbreak. The crowd felt every sinew of passion and pain as every torn falsetto seared right into you as he told tales of love and loss. It was a truly extraordinary.
Having found Glasvegas to be the emperor’s new clothes the year before we gave them a miss and prepared for the final show. I had been on the fence about it, whether to subject myself to the assault of THE PRODIGY, who I had seen live once before, or take in Blur for the first time. I knew the back catalogues of both bands well so it was just a straight choice. In the end, the Oasis fan in me took over and I thought: fuck Blur. I’ll regret not seeing the Prodigy but I won’t regret not seeing the Essex art-school boys. I needed a big finish to the weekend. And thus I let the Prodigy, also from Essex as it happens, hit me over the head.
No-one does what they do as well as them, of that there’s no doubt. As powerful, and no doubt illegal, flares were set off during Firestarter and the crowd bounced with all the energy they had left I knew I had made the right choice. Without the genius of Howlett they are just a pair of panto villains shouting at you but they were irresistible. And then it was over for another year, as the mud dried, the tents were left in the fields and the long journey home began.
World’s On Fire/Breathe/Omen/Their Law/Poison/Warrior’s Dance/Firestarter/Run With The Wolves/Voodoo People/Comanche/Omen (reprise)/Invaders Must Die/Diesel Power/Smack My Bitch Up/Take Me To The Hospital/Out Of Space
:: Kasabian :: Metric :: Spinal Tap :: Crosby, Stills & Nash :: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band :: Glastonbury, Shepton Mallet, Somerset, 27-06-09
The blazing sun forced me out of my tent earlier than I would have liked but the mud was now dry and so off came the wellies and I was ready to race to the next gig, by now very much in the swing of things. First up was Canadian pop in the form of the surprisingly excellent METRIC before a slow trek in the heat over to the Pyramid to see some proper legends – SPINAL TAP. I confess, I enjoyed this gig a little too much. They would be acclaimed as great musicians were they not, well, what they are. It was a tremendous show, full of humour and genuinely good songs. In theory it simply shouldn’t work - three middle aged actors in eyeliner and wigs - but there is so much good feeling and affection toward them that it became the best day performance I’d seen thus far. You can’t beat tunes like Big Bottom (with Jarvis Cocker adding yet more bass) and Sex Farm and, inevitably, the highlight was a brilliant Stonehenge as they were joined on stage by a sagging inflatable miniature monument and two midgets dressed as Druids. Unbeatable.
Around that time we realised we couldn’t remember the last time we’d eaten, so returned to a tried and trusted food outlet by the John Peel Stage. I must say that the food at Glasto is flawless and hugely varied, a million miles away from standard greasy burger festival fare and more than accommodating to everyone’s tastes, including vegetarians like me. While having a little rest with our food we overheard a band that had recently headlined the Camden Crawl called HOCKEY. They came across to me as utterly average so we left, just as New Jersey’s GASLIGHT ANTHEM were starting, to get back in time for CROSBY, STILLS & NASH. Perhaps we should have given them a chance - Springsteen joined them on stage for a song, to the utter frenzy of the crowd. Lead singer Brian Fallon returned the favour and appeared on stage with Bruce later on. I might say a Glasto regret is rare but not sticking around for the Gaslight Anthem counts as one.
Mind you, I had been very much looking forward to CSN, being a longtime fan I knew they would put me in hippy heaven. What felt like a sparse crowd were treated to some genuinely legendary songs - Long Time Gone, Wooden Ships, For What It’s Worth (originally by Stills’ - and indeed Neil Young’s - first band Buffalo Springfield), Almost Cut My Hair, Military Madness, Marrakesh Express, Guinnevere and even a tender cover of Ruby Tuesday. Even without the iconic Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, which they had performed at only their second ever gig, Woodstock, being played It was a lovely performance from a band who truly embody the spirit and politics of the festival.
Having been underwhelmed by KASABIAN at Oasis’ Heaton Park gig recently I wasn’t excited to see them again but I must say, I wrote them off too early. They turned in a masterful performance, which I couldn’t help but enjoy. I still think they write a lot of filler but they seem to be improving now, after stalling with Empire. However, while it was an undeniably good show, they couldn’t avoid being the forgettable warm up compared to the main event, The Boss. I just never got it, what his fans go on about, until a few months ago. My parents, avid fans, had always insisted of his genius as a live performer. So I bought a DVD before the event to see what all the fuss was about and that was it, I saw the light. And thus, it became, for me, the most anticipated performance of the festival - BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and the earth shaking, history making, Viagra taking E STREET BAND!
I have seen Prince, Bowie, Jagger, Bono and James Brown live but this guy, this likeable, sexy, charming, down to earth working class hero might well be the greatest live performer I have ever seen. Starting with a song written about the festival by Glasto’s patron saint, Joe Strummer, he raced ahead as the audience barely kept pace. After a high-octane start, he left the stage probably a dozen times throughout the show to get down to the crowd, leaning in as far as he could without vanishing into the mass of outstretched hands. The songs are unadorned classic rock and roll but in truth, for most of the audience, there was little recognition of many of them.
The fact is that Springsteen is simply not a cultural icon in this country like he is back home. Your average rock fan in the USA knows a dozen or more of his songs whereas here that’s simply not the case so for much of the audience, though the show was compelling, thrilling and masterfully performed, they didn’t know the songs and that took the edge off. Never mind that it is impossible for the audience to match his energy - never have I seen a performer work so hard. During a quiet moment late on, he stood motionless before starting to sing and the cameras captured his silhouette, as steam rose off his body. It was a staggering moment.
But I can’t deny that he should have chosen the setlist a little more carefully to receive the outpouring of love he’s used to. Outside of his own fanbase, and remember he can still fill stadia here too, people only know Born in the USA and a few others so while I was enthralled I also felt aware that no-one knew the tunes. Classic material like Badlands, The River and Thunder Road would be greeted at an American festival with the same ardour reserved for his famous 80s hits. But here the crowd only hit the sky when he did Glory Days, Born to Run, Because the Night and Dancing in the Dark, as he kept working and finally winning everyone over, ending on the best encore of the festival. For me, the setlist was great - highlights being transcendent versions of Outlaw Pete, the Ghost of Tom Joad and Out in the Street, with particular worship heading for the magnificent Max Weinberg, Nils Lofgren, Steven Van Zandt (Silvio Dante no less!) and the ageless Clarence Clemons. But for everyone else, they were reaching for songs they knew and found only a few. Perhaps partly because of this, it became my second favourite show of the weekend when I had expected it to be the first. It wasn’t Springsteen’s fault but, on that form, in this setting and despite Bruce playing 10 songs more, Neil Young was never going to be topped.
Coma Girl/Badlands/Prove It All Night/My Lucky Day/Outlaw Pete/ Out In The Street/Working On A Dream/Seeds/Johnny 99/The Ghost Of Tom Joad/Raise Your Hand/Because The Night/No Surrender (w/ Brian Fallon)/Waitin’ On A Sunny Day/The Promised Land/The River/Radio Nowhere/Lonesome Day/The Rising/Born To Run
Encore: Hard Times/Thunder Road/Land Of Hope And Dreams/ American Land/Glory Days/Dancing In The Dark
:: Neil Young :: Fucked Up :: N*E*R*D :: Fleet Foxes :: Lamb :: The Specials :: Glastonbury, Shepton Mallet, Somerset, 26-06-09
It seems to be getting longer each year – time was when the hordes would descend on sleepy Pilton on a Friday, jumping right into the performances before the tent pegs had been driven in. These days virtually everyone is settled in by Thursday morning. Those who couldn’t take the time off work trudged in fearfully late, knowing they would have to find space a mile away or face the worst – camping almost on the paths where people fell into your tent in the night or by the toilets. I need not even describe the folly of the latter. So there we were, leaving Bedford on Wednesday morning at 7am. Even then it was a seven-hour drive including a two hour wait to get into the site. As a result of all this, by the time you see your first band you’ve been there two days and almost forgotten there is even music coming. Some serious overnight rain on Thursday turned the ground into a sticky mudfest, reminiscent of two years ago, but thankfully the weather turned on Friday, sunscreen was applied and the first band were ready.
Personally, I find it all very physically demanding. It’s easier for some people than others and it’s hard not to feel a tinge of envy toward those who sail through it, sitting in blazing hot sun all day without so much as a batted eyelid. Unsuited to the outdoors as I am I don’t find it easy but my god, the rewards are great.
As Friday had dawned and I remembered why we were there, the endlessly fun task of choosing what to see began. It’s quite an art and it’s all in the timing. I had read a little about the unusual stage show of Canadian band FUCKED UP and suggested that they be the first stop. To me their music is undeniably average but the show really lies with their delightfully named frontman Pink Eyes. A bald, but otherwise hairy, anarchist built like a tank, there was no doubt that he was THE show. Crowd surfing on brave shoulders he made his way to the back of the John Peel Stage tent and then forward again. A fun way to start the day.
I should say at this point that I’m not a fan of dance music. I understand it, what the genre gives and means, but I like songs and that isn’t going to change. They don’t have to be short, I can sit and listen to a jazz piece that lasts an hour without a break, but there is variation in that. An endless beat is not for me. In the course of the weekend there were various trips to the dance tents to catch THE EGG, BANCO DE GAIA and others. It reminded me of the true essence of the festival; there truly is something for everyone. And everything that Glasto does, it does very well. Specialists in each genre are present, whether that be comedy, art, poetry and music of acoustic or electric (or electronic) base. It would be impossible to come away from Somerset feeling unsatisfied in any way.
A stroll to the Pyramid Stage and we were confronted by the unbilled but very welcome Pharrell Williams and his band N*E*R*D. On late and with poor sound he did his very best to put on a good show but a touch of self indulgence told in the end. Knowing he had 5 minutes left, whether that is fair on him or not, he should have skipped to the last song and given the crowd what they wanted to hear. Instead he attempted a different, lesser-known track, and suffered the ignominy of being cut off as the music was faded out. The crowd booed. I felt sorry for him because the band are hugely enjoyable but this event is about how the individuals gather to form the collective. You do your thing and make way for the next band. You don’t stand up there slagging off the organisers and saying you’ll play on as long as you like. No you won’t, they have the volume control. He put on a good show while it lasted.
Not that the organisers get it right absolutely all the time and an example of this came next with the marvellous FLEET FOXES. Wrongly placed on the Pyramid they sank in the chatter of the afternoon sun. Songs of beauty lost. Everywhere except the Pyramid, people are open and listening. At the Pyramid it’s play your hits and get off, whether you’re a legend or not. You get that booking, you know what you must do. With one album and one EP under their belts the biggest stage was not their place. Fleet Foxes would have been one of the acts of the festival at the Other (the second largest) stage. As it stood, they couldn’t make it work.
It was time to avoid Lily Allen so off we went to the Jazz World stage to see Manchester duo LAMB fronted by the enchanting Lou Rhodes, not the last magical female singer I would see that weekend. Then it was back to the Pyramid for the rest of the night. I had seen THE SPECIALS on Later… recently and been hugely impressed, so I was very much looking forward to their performance. The band are superb, the songs are well known and the crowd got right into it. It was the first classic Glasto performance of the weekend, closely followed by the second – headliner NEIL YOUNG. Having grown up with his music ringing around my ears at home I was no novice but I had, in fact, never seen him live before. I’d even had tickets but the show had been cancelled, several years ago.
I’ve been seeing gigs since I was a teenager. I’ve travelled to a dozen cities in seven countries to see artists play. I’ve seen shows in stadia, arenas, theatres, clubs, outdoors, basements… and what I witnessed was simply one of the greatest live performances I have ever seen. The superlatives have run out – charming and eccentric, his voice sears through you and both fills and breaks your heart and his guitar playing rips into your perception of what you thought music could give you. The songs, whether well known or not, are performed with such ferocious intensity or delicate heartbreak you just can’t even comprehend that you’re sharing the same space as him, that these gifts are finding you. He did it on his terms and the whole place fell to its knees. We staggered away slowly, the music spinning around our heads. Back to camp, a little fire built, a post mortem then bed. The first day of music was over.
Neil Young setlist:
Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)/Mansion On The Hill/Are You Ready For The Country?/Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere/Spirit Road/ Words/ Cinnamon Girl/Mother Earth/The Needle And The Damage Done/Comes A Time/Unknown Legend/Heart Of Gold/Down By The River/Get Behind The Wheel/Rockin’ In The Free World/A Day In The Life