Reading Festival Review – day two with the Arctic Monkeys and brilliance from Royal Blood and Hozier

As the kids emerge for their tents this morning, shake the icicles off their extremities (the temperature was down to around 4C last night in Reading), they’ll look back on another exciting day at the Festival. But in one sense, it is inevitably less thrilling than it used to be. Reading is not such a great way to “discover” new bands as it used to be, simply because with YouTube, Spotify and many other routes you can find something by pretty much every band in the world, from the very first song they push out into the public domain. So that thrill of spotting the “unknown” act just doesn’t happen anymore – on the other hand, the risk of wasting your time is not as great as it used to be either.

But festivals are a great way of seeing which bands can really cut it live, and are ready to move onto bigger and better things. And yesterday at Reading there were two stand-out examples.

Hozier is an Irish singer-songwriter, with an interesting band including a female cellist. He (full name Andrew Hozier-Byrne) has been getting some attention – and my goodness, is it deserved. Just a wonderful voice, an understated but charismatic stage presence, memorable songs, from rock to bluesy numbers. As well as Paulo Nutini or Ben Howard, comparisons like Van Morrison came to mind, exalted company obviously, but I would be amazed if he doesn’t become very big very quickly. His 25 minutes yesterday was over much too quickly.

Royal Blood have been getting even more coverage than Hozier this year, but I wasn’t totally convinced by what I’d heard from the duo – but live, it really works and the absolutely packed huge NME tent loved it. There has been a lot about Mike Kerr’s unique bass playing technique- it sounds like about three guitars going at their powerful, raw White Stripes / Zeppelin blues-rock - but strong memorable songs and excellent vocals with power and subtlety are just as important. They should be a HUGE global band within a few years.

And on the note of “the guitar isn’t dead” - Band of Skulls and We Are Scientists showed guitar rock is going strong with two engaging and heavy sets as the sun went down over the Festival Republic tent.

Cambridge-based Lonely the Brave are being positioned (debut album out next week) as another grown up, experienced, guitar based, serious band – You Me At Six for adults, if you like, or U2 crossed with QOTSA perhaps. Their songs are made for big venues, and they were good – but they need to get someone singing backing vocals. It was all the lead singer, who is fine, but some songs just cried out for a bit of basic harmony on the chorus.

Circa Waves is another new band made up of folk who have been around a little while, and there is a lot of potential and talent there. But do they just want to be the next Parma Violets (they’re probably better than them already) or the next Vampire Weekend (more subtle, intelligent, nuanced)? Be ambitious lads, don’t settle for the standard Libertines jingle jangle, at times you suggest there’s more there. Go for it.

A somewhat similar dilemma faces Wolf Alice. Some decent songs, a charismatic and talented front-woman, a growing audience - but what do they want to be? A Blondie type pop-rock band with chart hits – or a band that aims for the Download headlining slot in a few years? They can be pretty heavy at times, and do it effectively, but at the moment it feels like they haven’t quite settled on what they are. But that’s not to take anything away from a very strong and enjoyable set.

One band that has no such dilemmas is Bingley’s young Marmozets. Average age of 19, two sets of brothers play fast, loud, quite technically complicated hardcore “math rock” music whilst sister Becca Macintyre sings, screams and shouts over the top. She won’t do her throat any good , you know. But they do it with energy, skill and audience engagement, and there’s no reason why they couldn’t be headlining big festivals – it might be Download rather than Reading though – in a few years.

Peace did well on their first main stage outing, as did Imagine Dragons – they’re not really my thing but they certainly know how to engage with the audience and put on a show. Having a couple of songs like Radioactive that everyone can sing the lyrics to helps as well!

Unfortunately, the main stage did the usually excellent Dry the River no favours at all. A small, early afternoon crowd, poor sound with the wind taking their fine multi-part harmonies off into Oxfordshire ether mean they couldn’t re-create last time’s NME Stage triumph. Shame. And some good artists (e.g. Marika Hackman, Nico Vega) suffered from tiny audiences in the Festival Republic tent – it can go from packed to 80% empty in seconds!

Finally, Arctic Monkeys. They have a tremendous repertoire to call on now, with four excellent albums, and they did the whole greatest hits thing confidently and effectively. Alex Turner is a confident front man now, most unlike how he and they were five years ago when they headlined here (and it was far too early for them). But the sound last night wasn’t great and it was getting b****y freezing by then. Probably great if you are 18 years old and in the mosh pit at the front, but at 11pm, after 10 hours of music, in a bitterly cold, dark field covered with burger wrappers - frankly, I’m not sure the angelic choir (fronted by Elvis, Sinatra and John Lennon) descending on Little John’s Farm would have got me excited.

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