Pixies, The Strokes, Hope Of The States, The Bees, Elbow
Mike Mantin 17/08/2004
This Summer is the only time, ever, that punters will pay £90 to hear a grossly overweight man shout to them, "You are the son of incestuous union!" That's an example of the magic that bonds each audience member together tonight. The Pixies have piled on the pounds but have lost none of the energy encapsulated in songs from an incredible 16 years ago. They all sound like they could be written by any of today's rock revolutionaries, and this evening's set is a swift run through the classics. Black Francis' growl is in full working order for proto-grunge masterpieces Debaser, Gigantic, Nimrod's Son, Broken Face, Monkey Gone To Heaven... the list goes on. They look like your average Americans, they play like they're still the best rock band in the world.
Hope Of The States
"Fucking great," shouts Hope Of The States singer Sam, "our chance to play to a crowded tent..." before attacking their roadies with cries of "CAN ANYONE TUNE A FUCKING GUITAR?!" Hope Of The States' big performance has gone horribly wrong: the guitar is out of tune for The Red The White The Black The Blue, half their equipment has blown up. Dramatic instrumental The Black Amnesias and gorgeous centrepiece Black Dollar Bills are pretty much the only songs that make it through without being dogged by sound problems. By set-closer Enemies/Friends, he is so furious that he smashes the non-blown-up half of the equipment to pieces.
Sam has also promised his devoted fans that they can have a sing-along round the corner, and he doesn't disappoint. The assembled fans hush each other as he debuts a new song on an unplugged electric guitar, before fiddler Mike arrives to run through triumphant- if stripped-down- versions of Nehemiah and The Red The White The Black The Blue. There's a communal spirit only found within groups that give a toss about their fans, and each one here scrambles for their camera in disbelief that they're so close to their idol. Using unplugged instruments, a police microphone and the chants of each amazed fan, they pull of a sturdy guerrilla gig. It really is one of those moments.
Until today, The Strokes looked like textbook victims of Second Album Syndrome: a follow-up to a classic debut that many found dull, and a host of bands queuing up to nick their crown (with Franz Ferdinand at the front). The poor New Yorkers weren't given a chance to prove what a jaw-dropping live act they still are until now. After a lacklustre T In The Park warm-up, this is their big comeback. They're as drunk as Father Jack but their songs are performed with all the New York cool that came with their hype. Every single song from their timeless debut Is This It is included, and a handful from less successful follow-up Room On Fire. Highlights include sleazy ode to NYC pigs New York City Cops and pounding anthem Last Nite. At the end, they promise a bunch of new songs to make up for the poor sales. It's the hits, though, that really matter and The Strokes wheel 'em out with class.
Tonight, The Bees play to a tent about three quarters full, mostly by stoners dancing maniacally to every jazzy beat. While Muse strut their stuff to townies and pre-teens alike, The Bees demonstrate that their songs are downright funkier than any of the headliners on the larger stages. Even Dido. Their set is like some divine compilation: from the '50s balladry of I Love You to bouncy pop single Wash In The Rain, from the straight-up melodic indie of These Are The Ghosts to set closer, the ridiculously enjoyable Chicken Payback. "See the piggy, do the piggy, pay the piggy baaack!" they shout, and the audience is too busy shaking the room to realise that they've just heard a future anthem. Big things could be heading The Bees' way on the evidence of this incredible performance.
and the rest...
Saturday begins fittingly, with West Coast harmonies from Hal to sooth away anger from punters whose cars are now caked with mud. Guilty pleasure single Worry About The Wind is the highlight. They are blown out of the water, however, by The Killers, who combine British indie miserablism with Vegas glamour, and it works. Singles Mr Brightside, Somebody Told Me and All These Things That I've Done gather huge applause and it's pleasing- if ever so slightly ironic- to hear muddy British fans sing "it's indie rock 'n' roll for me!" to sharply dressed Vegas types. Congratulations, Killers, you just graduated to rock's big league.
I keep well away from the V Stage today (Big Brovaz, anyone?) as if it was an Anthrax testing ground, so I sit through a dodgy patch with the All American Rejects, whose music is both wimpy and tuneless. Dashboard Confessional is marginally better but still lifeless. It's dull emo rock 'n' roll for them. Keane brighten up spirits (and the weather) with a sturdy set, including the brilliant b-side Snowed Under, inexplicably left off the album. Even better is Elbow who are coming to the end of their mammoth Cast Of Thousands promo tour but still put in a stunning performance. Any Day Now opens and spreads its creepy vibes, before giving way to catchy singles (Fallen Angel), gospel sing-alongs (Grace Under Pressure) and more moody atmospherics (Fugitive Motel). Incredible stuff. Coming back from The Bees (see above), I catch a couple of songs from Kings Of Leon who impress with sleazy Creedence rock. Muse finish waking up victims of Dido's coma-inducing MOR and a triumphant day is done.