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Saturday Reading Festival 2011 – Editor’s Review

Disclaimer: This is the editor’s top to bottom overview, in the coming week we will produce in-depth reviews of individual bands from a variety of staff members. So don’t be upset if your favourite band doesn’t get the full treatment first time around.

The Strokes are the anathema of both Muse and My Chemical Romance, where their two peers prefer maximalist excess; The Strokes opt for stark minimalism. Where Gerard Way leads his audience in song, dance, and call and repeat chants, Julian Casablancas coyly grins, scratching his head with a nonplussed charm that should not be mistaken for negligence. Where Matt Bellamy and Chris Wolstenholme rip every spiraling demented note imaginable out their guitars The Strokes stick to simple ragged riffs, and short, perfectly timed solos.

In case tonight’s jam packed audience were in any doubt about what to expect, The Strokes repeat the trick that defused all the hype in 2001: they open with “Is This It”. The opening discordant squeal is sucked and suppressed into a metronomic plod as Julian declares that he’s just “way too tired”. Surprisingly, rather than rejecting a show of anti-showmanship the crowd respond with a surge and a cry of “we all disagree, I think we should disagree, yeah”, and we are instantly reminded that The Strokes never needed showmanship.

They’re cool, they just are, there’s no two ways about it. Bathed in blue light, they appear statuesque, underwhelmed by the occasion, turning up late with their guitars buzzing awkwardly, they march through their hits in the same way they would if this were the Hammersmith Apollo in 2001.

After all this Reading Festival, it’s not Glastonbury. This festival doesn’t do grand gestures. Reading’s classic moments involve bottling pretention and shunning spectacle. It’s about Arctic Monkeys playing their hits at rapid speed without saying a word, it’s about Rage Against The Machine refusing to be televised, and most importantly, as much as they wish it was, it’s not a festival for Fearne Cotton and Reggie Yates to sit in a pretty plastic tree house and talk about how wonderful life is.

Reading is about the dirt, the stench, the sex, the booze, and of course the Rock and Roll, and that’s exactly what The Strokes deliver. Every riff, whether it’s newee “Manchu Pichu” or old classics “Someday” and “The Modern Age”, is chanted back at the band. This is a night for drunken kinship, a time for throwing your arms around you best friends and drunkenly bellowing “New York City Cops Ain’t Too Smart” or “Who’s Culture Is It And Does Anybody Know?”. Flash photography is rendered irrelevant, there’s nothing to see, but plenty to hear, and plenty to dance to.

Sadly the Angles materiel doesn’t fare so well, and the set flatters as the defeatist anthems begin to dry up. Thankfully, before the set becomes too wayward Julian introduces Jarvis Cocker in a jumbled round about way. In true Strokes fashion, the two front men charmingly bundle their way through a cover of The Cars’ “Just What I Needed”. It’s a quirky performance, and a heartfelt tribute to a band who’s debut album had more than a marginal role in shaping The Strokes sound and putting them in a position to headline Reading Festival for a second time.

The curfew is then hit, and The Strokes are forced to fire through “Juicebox”, “Last Nite” and “Hard To Explain” in an anticlimactic and yet entire magical fashion that restores the energy and urgency to the night’s proceedings while simultaneously reinforcing the ramshackle aura that makes The Strokes, well, The Strokes. Then after a messy, awkward, sleazy, understated, juddering hour and a half The Strokes end with their enduring final statement, the ultimate self effacing battle cry; The Strokes are a shambles, Reading is shithole, “Take It, Or Leave It”. [4.0/5.0]


While Pulp bring their dazzling and truly brilliant show to the Main Stage Crystal Castles find themselves in the role of NME Tent headliner by default. Perry Farrell has lost his voice, Jane’s Addiction aren’t coming, a lot of people will be let down, and it’s up to Ethan Kath and Alice Glass to make sure that the absolutely rammed NME tent crowd go home happy, and, somewhat amazingly, that’s just what Crystal Castles do.

Watching tonight’s smiling, sweaty, and adoring audience raving like there’s no tomorrow, it’s remarkable to think that just three years ago crowds would stand bemused as these Canadian noise punks screamed and squealed their way through divisive sets.

Tonight Crystal Castles are victorious upon arrival, sensing the warmth in the audience; Alice Glass simply flops into the crowd she used to punch, enjoying a victory lap during a primal and brutal reading of “Baptism”. It doesn’t take the crowd long to open up some of the weekend’s most ferocious circle pits as soothing textural cries of “Not In Love” and “Celestica” provide the only relief from what has become a vicious hunting ground (with those dressed as Penguins being the most prized prey).

It is testament to how far Crystal Castles have come as an artistic entity that the night’s most rapturous ovations come not for mindless blaring assaults “Doe Deer” and “Alice Practice” but for the delicious descending grooves of “Intimate” and the propulsive gleam of “Suffocation”. Not even a heavy bass mix or the omission of crowd pleasing anthems “Crimewave” and “Empathy” could dampen this audience’s spirit or derail this set, in fact, I don’t think anyone noticed. [4.5/5.0]

My Chemical Romance didn’t draw the biggest crowd in the world, Arcade Fire fared slightly better but were still slightly lacking in the audience department, but no one has drawn such an abysmal number in such a high profile position as The National (no, not even Razorlight).

The main stage is a veritable ghost town when the Cincinnati five piece unleash the harrowing sorrow soaked “Ohio Bloodbuzz”. The band appear shaken by the underwhelming turnout and their already sparse sound fails to ring out, sounding fractured, meak and limb. Thankfully, The National rediscover their resolve during “Conversation 16”, after a low key start the cry of “Cause I’m Evil” fills the festival field with a sense of forlorn majesty.

From there on in The National uncover the form and the confidence that has made them one of the world’s most critically acclaimed bands; ripping into “Fake Empire” and “Mr November”. Oddly, rather than Matt Beringer’s croon melting hearts, it’s his hoarse scraping yelp that forces the Reading crowd to stand up and take notice. The best is saved for last, and disaster is averted with “Terrible Love” which agonizingly and boundlessly chimes out filling a sadly empty field. [3.5/5.0]

The Smith Westerns were in no mood to disappoint bringing their catchiest tunes and a humble sense of occasion to the Festival Republic Stage. Their solo’s have the warped psychedelic tinge of Californian coast and their riffs are surprisingly colossal, and when juxtaposed with a variety of slick and endearing melodies they cannot help but win over a skeptical crowd, as “Weekend” and “Be My Girl” prove unexpected Reading anthems. [4.0/5.0] 

Jimmy Eat World have the unenviable task of following Madness on the main stage, but these Reading veterans are more than up to the task with their array of addictive hooks and bouncy beats. Relatively newee “Coffee and Cigarrettes” goes down a treat while well-established sing alongs “Bleed America” and “Sweetness” receive rapturous ovations. Year after year, Jimmy Eat World continue to send the crowd home happy. [3.5/5.0]

Madness may have looked bizarre on paper, but in person they are a mid afternoon success story. Drawing a preposterously large crowd, the ska-legends get the crowd dancing to seemingly endless coveryor belt of hits, and even the odd microphone failure can’t stop these elder statesmen. The crowd were perhaps a little too enthusiastic, however, as a series of bizarre mosh-pits emerged for “It’s Must Be Love” and “My Girl”, but then again, if it made sense, it wouldn’t be Madness. [4.0/5.0]

Strictly Our Opinion: Sadly due to some tent related difficulties I missed the likes of Grouplove, She Keeps Bees, The Joy Formidable, Castrolova, Kill Van Kulls, and Odd Future, but that only highlights the strength and depth of a Saturday line up that was consistently excellent from top to bottom. Putting a primacy on mammoth sing-alongs and drunken tomfoolery, Saturday was a night to remember.

My only complaint? The line up was too stacked, choosing between Pulp, Crystal Castles, The Bronx, Fixers, Daughter and So I Watch You From Afar at eight o’clock, impossible.



Author: david

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