Sigur Ros, Nick Cave And The Grinderman, Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Noah And The Whale - Hydro Connect Festival 08: Inveraray Castle
Ross Cunningham 05/10/2008
Ticket sales were supposedly sluggish to say the least, resulting in some crazy two for one offer's the week before the gates were due to open. But for all of us who ventured into the unknown last year there wasn't a second thought about going back to the beautiful (yet muddy) grounds of Inveraray castle once again.
For all of its instantaneous selling out and high profile headliners, T in the Park paled into insignificance in terms of atmosphere, location, size and general banter. I'm now convinced after going for the past two years that no other Scottish festival can come close to Hydro Connect.
So the ground might have been muddy, and the walk from the car park might have been up a steep woodland hill but once you negotiated the pearls of the journey in a nice boggy field awaits you to pitch your tent in. I'm obviously playing the weather conditions up a bit, but if your scared of a bit of mud then your not going to camp in the first place (it is Scotland in September after all). It wasn't actually that bad and stayed dry for the first two days only really pouring down during the night and for a few hours on the Sunday.
After arriving at about 11am and getting the campsite sorted there was plenty of time for a few drinks and even time to catch a frog (but that's kind of besides the point) before the arena opened at 2, So to the music…….
28th August - 20th of August 2008
Noah And The Whale
Getting things started with a nice little early afternoon slot was the new chart darlings Noah And The Whale. Whether you love it or hate it there's no denying that “Five Years Time” is probably one of catchiest songs released so far this year. For me Noah And The Whale are exactly the sort of band you want to see onstage at half past two in the afternoon at a festival. Energetic, enthusiastic and visually a joy to watch with so much going on at the one time onstage. They drew quite a large crowd considering the early stage time, by the end of their set Charlie Fink's spot on vocal performance and witty lyrical story telling had everyone suitably enthralled. Highlights were definitely “Rocks And Daggers”, “Give A Little Love” and a bit of a drunken (yes I know it was early) mime along to “Five Years Time” complete with the video actions went down well too. It was the perfect way to kick off three days packed full of great music, Pear Cider, Mojitos, Vodka, Rum, I think you can see where I'm going with this.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
As far as I'm concerned Stephen Malkmus is a living legend. With the Jicks Malkmus has found the perfect post Pavement formula to complement his sometimes-quirky yet always exceptional songwriting. The band played off each other's energy brilliantly unleashing a dreamy dose of feedback and extended guitar jams on the Inveraray crowd. The great thing about Stephen Malkmus live is there's always that spark and vibrancy running through the performance giving you the impression the music could go in any direction at any given point. The set comprised mainly of tracks from this year's critically acclaimed “Real Emotional Trash” with the droning of “Dragonfly Pie” and sweet summer sound of “Gardenia” shining brightest.
The perennial festival band Kasabian filled Friday nights headline slot, and did so with their usual mix of testosterone and defiance. Very few men would get away with shouting, “Come on you Scotch fucker's let's have it” in a field full of well “Scotch fucker's”, but Kasabian's Tom Meighan is one such man. As you would expect it was largely a greatest hit's set with only two new songs “Fire” and “Fast Fuse” receiving an airing. The riotous atmosphere and blinding light show ensured that the hillside crowd was almost in a state of perpetual motion as the band unleashed songs such as “Club Foot” and “Empire” at a frenetic pace. They finished as they did at Creamfields earlier in the summer with a cover of The Source's classic “You Got The Love” which broke seamlessly into “LSF” giving one last chance for a singalong to bring the Friday to a close.
Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band
I'm a massive Bright Eyes fan, so naturally I was really excited about the prospect of seeing Mr Oberst play material from his new album. Although some of the supporting cast members have changed the live spectacle of a show with Conor Oberst involved has not been diluted whatsoever. His voice was as strong and evocative as ever, while the band he's surrounded himself with played with unbridled energy as if it was there last ever performance. “I Don't Wanna Die In The Hospital” was even more compelling live as you could feel the urgency in Conor's vocals heighten as the band picked up pace and the song clattered and banged its way to conclusion. “NYC Gone Gone” provided the perfect 1 minute 30 seconds of unapologetic toe tapping, while “Milk Thistle” as it is on the album was a beautiful set closer. One thing I have to say however is that Conor's chat between songs was somewhat erratic but then he does have a reputation for being somewhat of a loose cannon, and with genius chemical induced or otherwise there's always a slice of madness to go along with it.
The Sunglasses were still on despite the questionable weather conditions as Spiritualized's Jason Pierce tore through a forty minute set that had a bit of everything. Kicking off with the buzzing feedback of “You Lie, You Cheat” flanked by his gospel backing singers Pierce's voice hung heavy in the air and then crashed right into your chest. The fire titled songs from “A&E”, “Soul on Fire” and “Sitting on fire” were both beautiful and yet extremely melancholy. A flavour of “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space” was provided by a breathtaking version of “Come Together” with frantic guitar playing and Pierce spitting the winding lyrics into the microphone. A great performance from another great band and it wasn't the first time of the weekend that I wished the set could have went on for another half an hour.
Nick Cave and The Grinderman
I don't think there is any other performer in the world that commands as much power over his audience as Nick Cave. The man is simply captivating to watch and to be honest it's an absolute joke that Paula sorry Paulo Nutini was given a higher billing than the awesome live force that is Nick Cave and The Grindermen. From the second they strode on the stage they instantly had everyone in Inveraray eating out of their hands. By far the best-dressed men at Connect treated us to a blistering set showcasing the majority of the songs from their self-titled debut. As Cave bestowed his “words of wisdom” upon us the dirty scuzzy guitar kicked in and “Get It On” signalled the arrival of Grinderman and started a performance that simply oozed charisma and sexuality. The only reason your eyes ever glance away from the towering suited figure of Cave is to watch Warren Ellis bring his own unique sense of “Funk” to proceedings. Whither playing his signature miniature guitars, violins, banjos or smashing a cymbal with a maraca the man is a joy to watch. When they played the slow repetitive “Grinderman” you couldn't help but feel yourself being sucked towards the stage almost hypnotised and completely under their spell as the guitar and Cave's vocals looped. The buzzing in “Honey Bee (Lets Fly To Mars)” and the shouting of “damn” in the quintessential Grinderman classic “No Pussy Blues” were just perfect set defining moments. I was surprised how into it the crowd were as they joined in the with clapping and chanting throughout as if it was second nature, another testament to the power of Cave's live presence. It was a magical performance from a band that can in my eyes do very little wrong.
Santogold brought a much-needed splash of glamour to brighten up the wet Sunday. Wearing a flashy bright blue ensemble with pink shades and accompanied by two “bootylicious” female dancers she brought a feel good sunny vibe to the afternoon. The semi screeching of “Creator” sounded just as eardrum popping live as it does on record while “L.E.S Artistes” woke up the crowd and got them moving with its dancey beat. For me her best song by far is “Lights Out” with its almost Strokesy sounding guitar complementing her relaxed vocal perfectly. I wasn't sure whither I was going to love or hate Santagold after seeing her live but I'm happy to say she now definitely has a little place in my heart.
So it was off to the small “Speakeasy Café” to see a special Frightened Rabbit acoustic set. Anyone that knows me will tell you that I'm currently slightly obsessed with Frightened Rabbit and to see them acoustic in a tiny cabin sitting crossed legged with coffee, Jack Daniel's and all my friends was just amazing. The four-piece had been cut in two with just lead singer Scott Hutchison and his brother (and drummer) Grant appearing due to the acoustic nature of the show. After a bit of fuss over having to borrow an acoustic guitar they played a brilliant set comprising mainly of songs from their exceptional new album “The Midnight Organ Fight”. Grant looked a little bit bored at times but possibly only because he is usually an absolute demon smashing his drumkit to bits when they play live. I think he wasn't quite in his element with the more subdued delivery, and at one point Scott gave him a slightly sarcastic prod to help out a bit more. Tracks like “The Modern Leper” and “Old Old Fashioned” sound sublime in an acoustic setting and “My Backwards Walk” and “Keep Yourself Warm” spurred the tent into a massive singalong that might just have been the best thing I heard all weekend. When Scott sings there's so much passion and feeling in his voice that you can't help but get carried away in the emotion of his lyrical storytelling. I urge you to go and see “Frightened Rabbit” live as soon as possible they are definitely the most underrated Scottish band around.
I realise its probably very unpatriotic to say but in what kind of world do Franz Ferdinand deserve to headline a festival ahead of Sigur Ros? Thank Christ they still got a decent set length to delight us all with their mesmerising live show. Unassumingly wandering onto the stage and receiving a rapturous reception from the crowd they dove straight into a 75-minute set of breathtaking beauty. They're not much for onstage banter but then you wouldn't really want them to be, they did however show they have a sense of humour when the brass section appeared all sporting “See You Jimmy” thats a nice little touch of recognition to their surroundings. Lead singer Jónsi's voice soared high into the twilight all the way to the castle as they effortlessly strolled their way through a set that included the very apt “Hoppípolla” as there were plenty of puddles to jump in. Other standout songs were previous singles “Gobbledigook” and “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur” (inside me a lunatic sings) and perhaps the even more aptly named “Festival“. You can't go wrong with watching Sigur Ros, they never fail to move you to the very core with a sound that seems to emanate straight from the soul, absolutely Stunning.
So that was my three days at Connect well not all of it obviously I saw plenty more great bands I never got round to mentioning, Young Knives, Bloc Party and The Gutter Twins to name a few and did plenty more things some of them I probably shouldn't have. All in all it was for the second year running an amazing experience and I'm sure it'll be one of the best weekends of the year. If you're wondering I didn't go and see Franz Ferdinand headlining I instead made the responsible choice of getting very drunk and watching Phil Kay say ridiculous things in the Speakeasy Café, its always better to laugh than cry don't you think?
Pictures by www.thatphotographermike.com