Reading Festival Saturday – Wolf Alice, Glass Animals and Cassia Star

My highlights of day 2 at Reading Festival were at the beginning and end of the day. At the beginning, we had a not-very-secret secret set from Wolf Alice, who raced through ten songs in half an hour, featuring tracks from their imminent second album as well as old favourites like “Fluffy” which still sounds great. Power, energy and tunes, and Ellie Rowsell’s singing – while still not to everyone’s taste – has improved technically since I last saw the band. A stunning half hour to start the day.

We’ll come back to the other end of the day highlight later, but other notable performances came from Ider, two young women on the BBC Introducing stage with guitars and keyboards but most notably stunning voices. They sang close harmony beautifully on their subtle electro-pop songs and on a slowed down cover version Roses by Outkast.

On the main stage, US rock bands Pvris and The Pretty Reckless both went down well with their fans whilst maybe not converting too many new ones. “Pretty Unremarkable” was my friend Andy’s verdict on the latter.

Superfood played quirky indie that made we want to go and check out their work in more detail, and also in the Festival Republic, Black Honey and Pumarosa (pictured) rocked out enjoyably. The Japanese House (Amber Bain’s dream-pop combo) certainly doesn’t rock out, but her music is beautiful and engrossing. Playing House from Norwich were another highlight on the Introducing Stage, while Scottish shouty rock band Vukovi, fronted by the charismatic Janine Shilstone, could have given pretty much every other act a lesson in energy and audience engagement.

So one interesting observation this year; every band mentioned in the three paragraphs above has significant female presence and influence, from all female line ups to one of more band members. It is really noticeable now, and while it hasn’t worked its way through to the headliners, seeing a female band member is no longer a novelty, and female lead singers are positively common. As my daughter said when I pointed this out, “wow, it’s almost like women make up half the world’s population or something”!

She comes from a generation that expects equality, quite rightly, while for us oldies it is just very good to see music becoming so much less the preserve of guys with guitars, and as we’ve noted in our album reviews in recent years, so much of the most creative music around is coming from women. By the way, the audience at Reading must be very close to 50:50 these days too.

Anyway, in terms of the men, I only saw a couple of songs from local heroes Sundara Karma, but they were on top form, confident and dynamic, as confirmed by my spies who saw more. They are looking more and more like a future main festival headliner. Paris Youth Foundation with jangly indie and All Twinns with electro-indie both went down well, but the two acts who really starred and got the most motivated crowds in the Festival Republic tent were Eden and Grouplove.

I’d never heard of Eden until very recently but the “Irish Jack Garrett” (a one man singer, instrumentalist, producer and writer) has clearly built a fanatical following, starting via YouTube, for his emotionally charged electronic pop songs. Grouplove has also picked up a big and enthusiastic following; they were founded by vocalist and keyboard player Hannah Hooper, going back to our original theme…

We mentioned Cassia here and given I know the lead singer’s father, I was very much hoping they would be good. And they were – fresh, jangly indie-pop with more than a touch of the summery afro-beat vibe that suited the warm afternoon perfectly. They’re very tight live, essential when you’re only a three piece, and play, sing and harmonise very well. Success is not assured; they need strong songs of course, and a couple they played are well up to the required standard. They really are one to watch, were my daughter’s favourite act of the day (and she doesn’t know the singer’s Dad), and we’d be amazed if they aren’t back at Reading next year on a bigger stage,

So on to my other highlight at the end of the day. Glass Animals 2016 album How To Be A Human Being is great and they didn’t disappoint live. Reading Festival banned pineapples from the arena – they are a sort of “mascot” for the band because pineapples feature in the lyrics of one of their best songs. So there were inflatable pineapples, pineapple balloons, and the band had a giant golden revolving fruit on stage! And the music was great too, clever, tuneful indie which also pretty much forces even me to move a little (“dance” might be too strong a word).

We didn’t stay for much of Eminem to be honest, but after some negative comment when he was announced as headliner, I would say two things. Saturday was the first day of the event to sell out, and the main stage arena area was as packed last night as I think I have ever seen it. He seemed to be giving it a lot of energy from our brief observation too; but there is no doubt he is still a huge crowd-puller.


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