Reading Festival Friday Review – Sun, Declan McKenna “Crowd-Sinking” and More

Sunburn and dehydration were the health watchwords rather than trench foot or hypothermia on the first day of Reading Festival yesterday, with a quite beautiful day of sunshine, light winds and a continuing warmth even after the sun sent down.

That wasn’t good news for everyone; Lea Porcelain probably need to be heard in a dark basement rather than at noon in the sunshine for instance with their dark, Joy Division influenced songs. And many people chose to sit outside tents which did make some of the tent audiences somewhat smaller than expected; event the surprise guests Queens of the Stone Age, whose short power-packed set was excellent, did not quite pack out the NME tent for instance; neither did You Me At Six.

It was unfortunate that we waited quite so long for QOTSA to get set up (a 20 minute delay), although as they flew in having played at Leeds Festival earlier in the day, perhaps we should forgive them. But it would have been good to have had a bit more than the barely 30 minutes we got. However, it was a “free gift” from the organisers as they weren’t billed, so my wife says I should not moan!

However, there were exceptions to the low attendance in tents rule. The Amazons confirmed their status as the next breakthrough indie / rock band (after Catfish and Blossoms), proving way too big for the Festival Republic tent – that meant we didn’t really get to hear them. And Fatboy Slim proved that he is a still a huge name, as the dance tent overflowed out for miles around. Well, quite a long way anyway.

Some highlights we did see; Declan McKenna proved he can do it live as well as on record with an energy-filled set including a rather mis-judged attempt at crowd-surfing that ended up being more like "crowd-sinking"! But he showed amazing confidence and stage presence, and looked every inch a main stage headliner in a few years time. His best songs like Brazil are already generating crowd hysteria, and his band of two girls and two boys did him justice.

We mention that split because there definitely seemed to be more women on stage this year. That included all-female bands like Deap Vally and The Big Moon, shown here, who were excellent, really pulling off the harmony vocals and audience engagement on top of their strong tuneful songs, as well as lots of acts who included female musicians.

On that future headliner note, Two Door Cinema Club probably had THE biggest crowd of the day on the main stage, despite being third on the bill, and were perfect for the weather with their sunny indie-dance. Bastille (second on the bill) played and felt like headliners already – Dan Smith has become such a confident front-man. We remember seeing him timidly sitting behind his keyboards a few years back in the smallest tent – very different now as he strode around the stage and played the crowd expertly.  Kasabian, the actual headliner, were … alright. I only heard three or four songs and pretty much like everything they do, they seemed… quite good without helping me understand why they are quite such a big band.

As well as McKenna, NME stage highlights included the boy/girl duo Oh Wonder, with a set of their very clever electro-pop songs – it is not life-changing stuff but you can see why they are getting big quickly. The big surprise for me was The Magic Gang, whose breezy, jangly indie pop just sounded great, fitting the mood, the weather and the impressively large crowd perfectly. Another name to watch for the future.

The smaller Festival Republic tent suffered from very small audiences at times. Perhaps my favourite set musically of the whole day was from Toothless. The songs from their excellent 2017 album are pretty complex, but they pulled it off live with total confidence, even if only 100 or so people saw them do it (they were up against TDCC on the main stage).

What else? Circa Waves sounded pretty good on the Main Stage, Sugarmen on the BBC Introducing stage played impressively tight, aggressive blues / punk / rock, Tiger’s Paw (another boy/girl combo) are new to me but their tuneful rock was an unexpected pleasure, Cosima has a voice of great power and beauty, and Bear’s Den finished the evening off in the Festival Republic tent with their lovely, harmony-driven tunes.

So off we go again – Sundara Karma, Glass Animals and Eden on the “must see” list today, with Eminem headlining.

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