Isle Of Wight 2012 is an odd festival. It both highlights the highs and lows of the festivals decade long experiment. The line up is a real mish mash, Tom Petty sits side by side with Example, Biffy Clyro battles it out with Jessie J while Lana Del Rey trades places with Magnetic Man. The result is an extremely diverse crowd. Fans of different styles and genres are forced to abide by one another’s taste. It’s a fascinating proposition, but no one gets a truly passionate crowd. Instead each act gets the chance to, and often does, win over great swathes of people who would they would never otherwise have access to.
Saturday’s line up seemingly offers the sharpest jolts to date, but it starts with a unanimous crowd pleaser. Drawing the biggest crowd of the weekend Madness pack the main stage, and while their sound is a little thinner than it should be, they have no problem uniting an audience of musical strangers. “My Girl” still shows a depth of songwriting that is rarely attributed to the former two-tone stars; unfortunately, not every move is as well judged. After delving deeper into their back catlogue they unveil a truly atrocious (but lovingly so) cover of “Fight For Your Right To Party”. The less said about it, the better.
Moving swiftly on, they get the crowd back onside with their usually devastating run of “Baggy Trousers”, “Our House”, “It Must Be Love”, “Madness” and “Night Boat To Cairo”. It’s a triumphant finale to a well meaning if somewhat workmanlike set, that nevertheless gets the festival off on the right foot. [3.5/5.0]
Any sense of unity dies with Madness, as rockers and hip hop fans flee the main arena, looking for sanctuary as Jessie J’s set draws closer. Loick Essien is both the victim and the recipient. Madness rendered his tent empty, and Jessie J’s impending arrival both bolsters and diminishes the ranks. Undeterred he dutifully breezes through a melodious set, it’s a stark contrast to Madness, but it’s hard to dismiss his smooth tones. [2.5/5.0]
Jessie J, faced with a healthy crowd, falters. Screeching and over singing, her set is dogged by the same vocal tricks and ticks that undermine so much of her solo work. Still if he voice fails to inspire, she remains immensely charming and charismatic. Engaging with the crowd on a personal level, even if her butchered melodies can’t. Her sledgehammer to crack a nut approach is most frustrating when she tackles “Never Too Much” by Luther Vandross. At first she’s sublimely sweeps from silkily lows to soul tearing highs with uncanny ease, unfortunately she soon unleashes a full blown assault of annoying runs and forced blurts. Most bizarrely she doesn’t quite hold the entire crowd’s attention. Luckily she has “Price Tag” and “Nobody’s Perfect” in reserve to send everyone home happy (albeit with a touch of ear ache). [2.0/5.0]
If Jessie struggled to translate in front of a festival audience, her fellow arena headline Tinie Tempah took the transition inside. The star, who wears a perpetual smile, bounces on stage (and never stops moving). His sole goal is to incite a party – and with a mix of jubilant cheer and bloody mindedness he pulls it off. The energy level never drops, and whether he diving into the Happy Birthday EP or taking the Isle Of Wight from “Miami To Ibiza” he always has their attention, and their unquestioned enthusiasm. Post-Grime Pop has had many things, but it’s never had a truly great showman, until now. [4.0/5.0]
Katy B, battling Tinie, initially starts with a half full tent. It’s their loss as those who turned up on time are treated a rapturous reading of “Broken Record” followed by the eternally relatable and honest “Easy Please Me”. Katy’s secret weapon, and thing which separates her from both her pop peers and the post-dub step pioneers, is her sheer believability. After coyly battling the deejay and diving into some classic dance tunes new and old, you’re left with the unmistakable image of a women wholly betroved to the beat, and that exhilarating feeling of anonymity, lost in an a seething crowd.
“Perfect Stranger” is still a divine love letter to music itself, matched only by “On A Mission” and the incendiary “Lights On”. Even Katy’s new track, that mixes garage with 90s dance, wins the crowd over instantly, and it begs a simple question: why the covers? The crowd interaction games get everyone going, but Katy’s music stands proudly on it’s own two feet. The answer is equally straightforward: this girl’s too lost in the music to realise her own sizable talents (shame about the atrocious Olympic single). [4.0/5.0]
Caught in between a rock and a hard place are Biffy Clyro. Faced with a huge crowd, split roughly 40/60 between those who know their stuff, and those who don’t. The result can be frustrating. The frightful bombast of “Living Is A Problem…” seems lost on a crowd raised on Only Revolutions, and yet as the set progresses Biffy begin to win the hearts and minds. Heads nod, hands are raised, and positive comments begin to emerge: “wow this lot are pretty damn good”.
The new material sounds sharp; sly, sharp, as jaunty as ever, and oddly addictive on a first listen. They sit closer to Puzzle than Only Revolutions. Still it’s the old material that gets everyone moving. “Bubbles” is glorious, as the Scotts hold off the rain seemingly singlehandedly. This is the Isle Of Wight however, and it’s not the angular rock that thrills, instead the tender nihilism of “Machines” and “God And Satan’s” soaring ruminations on the smallest of details and the most hopeless of relationships win the day. It’s official: pop, metal, rock, Biffy can triumph in any environment…and I didn’t even mention the stunning stage show. [4.0/5.0]
It doesn’t look good for Pearl Jam. If Biffy Clyro had to win over an unfamiliar crowd at the height of their fame, how would the grunge stars who famously shunned the limelight fair?
Surprisingly well it turns out. Their diehards are out in force, even if the neutrals have settled for Magnetic Man. Still faced with plenty of doubting faces, Eddie Vedder and co. employ their greatest weapon: earnest commitment. They have straight charm. Eddie is warm, humble, and sweetly serious, as he powers through a setlist that spans their entire back catalogue.
“The Fixer” was made for the Isle Of Wight, and is a good mood setter, reminding the crowd that the grunge superstars never shy away from a pop hook. “Better Man” is simply gorgeous, an early test for the crowd, who softly sing the chorus to Eddie’s delight. It’s a serene moment that is only surpassed at the set’s conclusion when “Yellow Ledbetter” sends the crowd on their way with one last poignant song in their hearts.
While the soft stuff goes down a treat, the shrouded powerhouse anthems are equally effective. “Even Flow” is preposterously powerful, bulldozing everything in sight, and drawing the first truly mammoth sing along of the evening. Stunningly the track’s entire fret fiddling solo is played behind Mike McCready’s head. When they pick up speed Pearl Jam prove irresistible, “Why Go Home” wildly flings itself down hill, as it shockingly upstages “Jeremy”. The set has a little of everything; bruising brutality, quiet solace, huge sing-alongs, and once in a lift time touches (covers of “Rain” by The Beatles, and “Arms Aloft” by Joe Strummer).
“Alive” remains magnificent, a perfect track that everyone should experience live at least once. All Pearl Jam’s deficiencies and grating tendencies disappear live, they are true stadium sized outfit, rising out of the studio murk to create crisp and beautiful moments. They’re not to everyone’s tastes on the Isle Of Wight, but those who stayed and gave themselves over to the moment, will never regret it. [4.5/5.0]