Reading Festival Review Sunday – Foo Fighters, Django Django, King Charles …

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There goes another Reading festival – out with a Foo Fighters type bang, including fireworks. Their set made you realise how many of their songs you will know if you’re at all a rock fan – all played with the energy you’d expect from Dave Grohl, whose little daughters watched from the wings. Not much more to say about that really, they were great, but I must confess, two and a half hours plus does test even a fan's attention span...  so let’s focus on the rest of the day.

While the Foos were playing, we slipped off a couple of times to see how others were faring. Two Door Cinema Club filled the Radio 1 tent to bursting  and their indie-pop sounded great crisp and fresh on the night air (from our brief experience).  And the headliners in the Lock-Up, Less than Jake, showed that trombones can be cool with their mad ska-punk, complete with mass singalongs, moshing and general mayhem. A few bracing songs on the Lock-Up is the perfect way to finish Reading on a high, we find (as long as you don’t get sucked into the mosh pit, not advisable for a man of my age..)

Earlier on the Main Stage, the Kaiser Chiefs drew a huge crowd for a “greatest hits” set that caused major dancing and singing even well back into the arena – a triumph for them, but it felt a bit like the Black Keys were in a difficult position then sandwiched between the Kaisers and the Foos. Good but not memorable. And even earlier, Band of Skulls navigated their debut on the stage successfully, getting a good reaction and wisely sticking to the heavier tracks from their repertoire.

Back to the tents, and it was a brilliant day in the radio 1 stage. It had a remarkable start – at 12 noon, when most of the younger campers are usually barely stirring from their sleeping bags, it was almost full. And this for an Icelandic folk-pop seven piece, who only 18 months ago were playing the red-light bars of the notorious Reykjavik smoked-seagull and Brennivin quarter.

OK, I made that bit up (the seagull bit anyway, they are Icelandic). But Of Monsters and Men’s rise has been vertiginous, and their album which went top 10 in the US, has just been released here. And they are going to replicate that US success here, without a doubt, as their joyous, almost spiritual songs got a huge reaction from the very young crowd. Think Arcade Fire and the Mumfords, with Bjork on lead vocals, a blond virtuoso trumpeter and accordion player....

Then three British bands from different parts of the nation all hit the same stage. Joy Formidable (Wales) played another of their powerful Reading sets, to a well-filled and very enthusiastic tent, including a lovely acoustic ballad from their next album, suggesting that release will break new ground for them. I bet when Clapton, Bruce and Baker popularised the power-trio in the mid 60s, they wouldn’t have guessed that perhaps the best exponent of that genre in the early 21st century would be led by Ritzy Bryan, a 5ft and a bit (1.60M) blond Welsh girl, generating with her colleagues such a big, loud and stirring noise! Great stuff.

Then, representing England, Tribes, proving there is still a market for big, bold, tightly played anthemic indie-rock, and looking to slip into the Oasis / Killers void perhaps? They bravely played some new tracks, which sounded good, and their forthcoming second album may well see them move up another step on the ladder.

And from Scotland, Derry and Leeds (I think he said), Django Django took us down a less well-trodden route. You don’t see many bands driven by close harmony vocals and drums, with a bit of surf guitar and keyboards on top  – but here’s one for you. I love their debut album, and they  proved they can do those tight vocals, and the complex rhythms, perfectly well live.

It all sounds like party night in the percussion factory, and if you don’t at least tap your feet to this, you have no soul. Their set list could do with a change of order – they should have started with one of their more commercial, super-danceable tracks to get the kids going. But they got everyone moving by the end of the  set – one of the Festival’s highlights for me.

Onto the Festival Republic tent, where earlier in the day the bands suffered from somewhat poor attendances as the crowd enjoyed the sunshine outside. I saw some of Toy, Alberta Cross, 2:54 and SCUM – all were good, all could do a bit of work on their stage presence, S.C.U.M. should change their name (they’re not hardcore punk, as you might expect, but Joy Division / Horrors synth-heavy goth indie) and 2:54 need to get a bit more variety into their songs. All promising though.

The surprising highlight on that stage for me was King Charles. A man called that, with a pompadoured regency hairdo, does not instantly endear himself to me. But he was brilliant! He may look and sound (at times anyway) like the result of a genetic experiment featuring Russell Mael (Sparks), Kid Creole and Adam Ant, but his music is varied, quirky indie pop, with touches of country-gospel and Caribbean rhythms.

He’s a good musician too, and a mention to his excellent band, particularly the lady on backing vocals – “backing” is hardly the word for her significant contribution to what was just a hugely enjoyable 40 minutes. And the high proportion of very excited young women in the crowd – the taste-setters of the music world, of course – suggests Charles may well ascend to the musical throne before too long (sorry!)

And finally, to show again how eclectic Reading can be, Rachel Sermanni, a pretty young woman from the north of Scotland had the Introducing Stage audience captivated  with her set of folky self-penned songs – a bright future for her as well and the next Ed Sheeran / Laura Marling perhaps?  Here are several songs from her set courtesy of the amazing BBC coverage of the event, now all available on line – worth a big chunk of the licence fee...

Another excellent three days, and the theme for me was that, despite the Simon Cowell slop we get pumped at us constantly, you don’t have to look too hard to find two generations of excellent British bands who can make it on a global stage. One, already established, look ready to move up to the very top, and at Reading bands like Bombay Bicycle Club, the Maccabees, Joy Formidable, Tribes, Twin Atlantic, Dry the River, Spector, Two Door Cinema Club and You Me At Six demonstrated they’re  in that league – world domination their next goal.

Then, perhaps even more excitingly, we seem to have a crop of truly original, highly accomplished but often seriously quirky acts coming through: I’m thinking alt-J, Lucy Rose, Jake Bugg, Django Django, King Charles, Dog is Dead, and Citizens! from this year’s line-up.

They’re proving again that Britain is a tremendous breeding ground for musical talent – and Reading is the best rock (and everything related) festival in the world.

See you on August 23rd 2013...



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Voices (2)

  1. Toby Jones:

    Excellent review of the weekend; I was lucky enough to have been there as well. To add to the positive tone of British bands Kasabian were once again outstanding (incl brilliant cover of fatboy’s praise you)- shame you had to leave! – Don Broco in the festival tent on Saturday pm were very punchy and the kids loved them – great dynamics and tunes with smart delivery, and again on Saturday at the introducing stage more young brits worth mentioning called Escape to New York (don’t be put off by the name!). Savages also worth a mention – all-girl post Siouxsie riot! Can’t wait to see next year’s line up, but worried Bloc Party might be headlining. Now they WERE a great Brit band….what’s happened on this awful last album?……….

    1. Peter Smith:

      Thanks Toby – my daughter saw and liked Don Bronco and said it was packed. I was busy being disappointed by Grimes – love her album, live didn’t work for me. Will check out Escape to New York – don’t know them. I like what I’ve heard of Savages – another bad decision, while they were on, I was listening to the wailings of Friends, whose album is pretty good but were dreadful live.

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