Reading Festival Sunday – Muse, OUTLYA, Breaking Benjamin, Halsey and Blossoms Amongst the Highlights

One of the beauties of Reading Festival is the sheer variety and volume of music on offer. I managed to “see” (which I define as at least two songs) 75 artists over the three days; 27 yesterday.

So you get exposed to new acts and inevitably pick up on what’s happening in genres that aren’t my usual listening. An example yesterday was Breaking Benjamin, a US punk / hardcore rock band who have been going 20 years, and produce tough but tuneful songs played with great passion and energy.

But what made the performance special was the crowd. There were clearly a couple of thousand fans who knew every word and probably came to Reading principally to see their heroes; the band has only played in Europe once before in their career. So the sense of occasion was palpable and the band’s energy was magnified back from the audience. It’s not my usual listening but it was a genuinely uplifting half hour.

Then there’s the chance to see new bands in genres that are favourites. We saw several promising indie and rock bands on the BBC Introducing Stage, inducing Alibi, Honey Lung, the Pale White and Rock Bottom Risers. We should compliment the BBC on their “Introducing” work; the standard this year on that stage was the best ever, and the BBC’s regional scouting network for new talent is getting to be a very impressive operation. It is probably doing more to help British exports long-term than most government enterprise schemes too, but we might return to that theme on another day.

But the standout “new” band for me was London-based OUTLYA, who opened the Festival Republic stage at 12.15 and played a set of catchy tunes, topped by excellent lead and harmony vocals.

If we say that at least three of their anthemic pop-rock songs could go straight onto the next Bastille or Imagine Dragons platinum album and stand up to anything else there, that is intended as a huge compliment. A song like Heaven is an instant classic, and it actually got played between sets on the main stage later and got an instant  crowd sing-a-long. Watch out for these guys anyway.

Other highlights – Halsey is now a serious rock star, and she had a rather lovely set with her band on a platform behind and above here - new for the NME stage. Her music is very good too, clever electro dance-pop with a strong appeal to young woman (based on the audience reaction) but her charismatic performance was even better.

The Blossoms rise has been meteoric, but their third on the main stage billing proved appropriate. Their singer discovered that Gaz in the front row had been dumped by his girlfriend so changed the lyrics of the next song to incorporate the story of ”Molly” and “Gaz”!  There was a verse of “Imagine” and a quick  Abba riff in the set too, but their own songs sounded great and as an initial sceptic about them on the main stage I was won over.

I’m also sceptical about the whole headliner thing, that’s not why I go to Reading. But if you are going to stand in a litter-covered field in the dark and listen to music with 50,000 other mainly drunk people, then that music might as well be Muse. Huge, overblown, technically complex but tuneful songs, perfect accompaniment for light-shows, fireworks and laser; Muse are THE band to pull off a Reading headline set and after a slightly slow start, their last 45 minutes was tremendous.

Finally, just a mention of a few other acts; Mondo Cozmo’s cover of Bittersweet Symphony was a highlight, and their somewhat more “mature” sound (think Springsteen, the Killers) was a welcome change from the electropop vibe dominant in the Festival Republic tent. Charlie XCX packed the Dance Tent, but indie pretenders to the Oasis throne The Sherlocks suffered from a very sludgy sound-mix and they need to get more variety and better tunes if they really think they might headline one day; Tom Grennan got annoyed about his bad throat but you sounded fine to us, Tom; Vant rocked the main stage with conviction; Ash just have a wonderful back-catalogue; and Picture This, the Hunna,  Will Joseph Cook Mondo Cozmo, Ten Tonnes and Heir were all very good too.

Oh yes, the not-very-secret secret set was Don Broco, who packed out the Lock-Up tent, with one of the most hyper-active crowds of the day!  So, all in all, an excellent three days again, with the best weather we’ve seen in 12 years of Reading attendance. Roll on August 24th 2018.

(We’ve just heard the news about a young man being found dead in his tent last night at Reading. Our sincere condolences go out to his family and friends. The Festival is generally a very safe and friendly environment these days, unlike at one time perhaps, so this is very shocking and very sad).

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