Reading Festival Friday Review – a success despite the Cure failing to attract the crowds

Thank you, the elements panel. The BBC forecast 8 hours of continuous rain, some heavy. We actually had..  about 20 minutes drizzle. (It did rain as we drive home so the campers may have had a soaking).

Who enhanced their reputation at Reading yesterday? Well, Bombay Bicycle Club, nominally third on the main stage had the biggest audience of the day on that stage  and made the step up from the tents very successfully, using  a brass section and Lucy Rose to fill out their sound. (Rose earlier had a big and highly supportive crowd in the Festival Republic tent for her solo, gentle folk / pop / dance songs, performed sitting down).

alt-J drew a huge crowd to the same tent and the ability of people to sing the words and tunes to complex songs from  an album only recently released indicates a band who, if they stick it, will be headlining at least the NME Stage within 3 years. Clever, gripping, unique – four pretty geeky guys playing  folk / indie / dubstep / electronica strangeness really shouldn’t work but it does.

So, to the Cure. Look, I like them a lot, own some of their albums (some on vinyl I think)? And Reading headliners are designed to draw in the day ticket purchasers, not the weekenders, the vast majority of whom are 16-24 and are happy with a good cross section of indie, rock, dance, punk...  But the crowd was embarrassingly thin for the Cure.

Thousands were leaving before 10pm – I suspect a lot thought “an hour of the Cure is enjoyable but that’s enough”.  Even before 10pm, I strolled to within about 20 yards of the actual main stage through the well spread out crowd – I could have got closer, and by 10.30pm it was even more sparse.

No criticism of the band though. Robert Smith sounded great, the band were highly competent, the old classics sounded great. But it’s not relevant music for a young audience I’m afraid – it sounded like a greatest hits CD from the 80s, not the headliner for the most important contemporary “popular music of a rock heritage” festival in Europe.

In fact, for the last two hours, the Radio 1 / NME tent and the large area around it became the de facto main stage with Foster the People and the Maccabees “headlining” the Festival from the packed to bursting mega-tent. Far more people there and watching on the screens in the surrounding area than at the main stage. Surprisingly, Foster the People was probably slightly the busier of the two. Has any band ever leveraged one classic song to their advantage quite so well (Pumped Up Kicks)? Well, probably, but they’ve certainly ridden on that – but they’re good live, you can sing along... I don’t really get it personally, but others do.

What else impressed? Family of the Year from California played sunny, dancy pop-rock but with flair, a musical and a lyrical edge that was a great start to the day on the Introducing stage. Like to see them again. We Are Augustines played a passionate set of classic Springsteen / U2 rock but with a passion and drive that captured the applause from a growing crowd during their set; the Maccabees were excellent, as always, Paramore, You Me at Six, Angles and Airwaves and Cancer Bats on the Main Stage all got good crowd reactions.

And this was the first Reading for Social Distortion, influential punks (with a grungy almost Americana feel at times), a band founded in 1978. Headlining the Lock-Up against the other big names wasn’t the ideal slot, but they sounded good for the 3 or 4 songs I heard.

And my unexpected pleasure was Graham Coxon, the Blur guitarist. I haven’t really listened to his solo stuff, but with a set of guitar driven, fairly “heavy” but tuneful songs, topped with almost Mersey-beat style harmonies at times, it was just a really enjoyable, exciting half hour for any rock fan.

Here is a track from yesterday via the wonders of YouTube.  Off now to see Florence and (according to the rumours) maybe Green Day!

Voices (2)

  1. Simon murphy:

    I think the cure are a perfect slice of classy eighties nostalgia for Reading!!!!, but I think the organisers gave been swayed by more poppy acts this year, Simon Cowell will be rubbing his hands together in a few years if this carries on. No wonder the cure had a poor attendance, they sound nothing like One Direction or The Wanted or whoever . Not quite the rocky showpiece of European festivals anymore, who will be headlining next year? Rihanna, Beyonce, or maybe Sonya could make a comeback!!!!

    1. Peter Smith:

      I don’t see the “poppier” acts this year at all actually. I just felt the Cure were not contemporary enough. And contemporary doesn’t have to mean the devil incarnate Cowell. What’s amazing – see my post tomorrow – is the breadth of the stuff that the kids seem to love, from Jake Bugg (the indie-skiffle revival) to sweet folk songs from Lucy Rose, to head-banging, bangin’ dance stuff (not my scene) to whatever on earth you call the amazing alt-J. There’s far less preciousness about what you are “supposed” to like / not like than in my day when rock fans wouldn’t listen to Bowie or T Rex, folk fans scorned the charts, etc. Much healthier now. But one thing I can absolutely assure you. One Direction would be bottled off stage at Reading within seconds, even with the more tolerant youth of today. Hoebstly, they wouldn’t stand a chance… I’m delighted to say!

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