Bombarded my horror stories, and frankly ludicrous tweets (“DO NOT COME TO THIS PLACE!!!”), it was somewhat bemusing to arrive on the Isle Wight, and be greeted by sharp sunlight, a cool wind, and no traffic whatsoever. The overflow car park had come to the rescue; those who’d slept cramped and alone in their already over-packed cars appeared jovial enough inside the festival gates. The main arena was fine, the tented areas a little sticky, and slide paths a tad treacherous, but compared to 2011’s Sunday downpour, this was child’s play.
Example not deterred by the conditions, draws big and vocal main stage crowd. His blend of cringe inducing but easy to follow raps, and engaging club beats goes down a treat live. Unfortunately, not even the most enthusiastic response can disguise the transient veneer of his sound. Each track is less substantive than the last, and the prevailing image is that of 40,000 people bouncing to the sounds of mildly inoffensive pop for cell phone adverts. [2.5/5.0]
If Example put on a master class in populist pandering, then the eerily detached Lana Del Rey challenges the crowd with the unforgiving strictures of artistic vision. Her set is torturous, willing so. Slowed to moribund march, each despairing ballad crawls as if pinned down under the hulking weight of some invisible grief.
In many ways the sheer strength of her vision, and her bloody minded commitment, is admirable. Her set drives away fans in droves, and jam-packed tent is soon half empty. Unfortunately, the crowd’s rapid departure has less to do with the joyless grind, and more to do with Lana’s complete lack of stage presence and faltering vocals. Live, she becomes a full-blown self-parody. Her whispery vocal becomes a husk of husk, an inaudibly meek croak punctuated by sharp highs and seemingly sporadic moments of stress. “Born To Die” is a mumble, “National Anthem” flits between a heart-breaking chorus and an abortive verse, and “Video Games” is languid mixture of posture and pauses.
The set, which is far more suited to a smaller audience in a darker bar, comes together only once. “Carmen” oozes forlorn desperation, with its dark sneers and fragile charisma, as Lana leans on every long vowel. It’s a brief glimpse into a potential five star set, that only serves to highlight the failings of a daring vision undermined by it’s star’s frustrating deficiencies. [2.0/5.0]
If Lana Del Rey drove away an easily excitable crowd, a dour Best Coast fail to draw much of anyone to watch their set on the distant Garden Stage. With an icy wind in her face Beth Cosentino hardly looks inspired, and she gives the game away almost instantly shouting: “Makes some noise if you actually give a shit?” The crowd do, and they are rewarded with a slick a professional set, devoid of the band’s typically warm, feel good persona. The songs of apathetic frustration and indifference, like the gorgeous “Summer Mood”, prove the most effective in these decidedly uncomfortable conditions. [3.0/5.0]
Drawing an entirely respectable crowd that effortlessly surpasses those of Neil Young, The Sex Pistols and Kasabian, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers set to work on winning a largely unfamiliar audience. He makes light work of it. His powerful jams, enticing understated charisma, and his arsenal of slight melodies are custom built to win hearts as well as hips. Tom gets the crowd on side early; it proves impossible to do anything but root for him as he shuffles across stage during a blistering rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well”.
At his height, Petty matched crunching rock’n’roll with a laid back effortless charisma, and live that juxtaposition is devastating. “Refugee” crunches and sways, while the sauntering “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” explodes through coy psychedelia into sun-drenched jam, more visceral and unkempt than the studio version’s gentle harmonica led interludes. The Isle Of Wight crowd are more impressed by the gentle fare, the raucous set closer “American Girl” pales next to “Learning To Fly” – which unites the crowd in gentle song. When the beat is dropped, the crowd carries the tune in a serenely hushed fashion, giving IOW 2012 its first real moment.
While not every jam hits its mark (“King For A Day” drifts between cringe inducing self parody and satisfying pomp, and the MOJO tracks are pedestrian), Tom Petty more than establishes his continued worth. “Free Falling” was made for stages this big, and audiences this vocal, and believe it or not, some forty years later, so are Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. [3.5/5.0]