Arcade Fire, Jarvis Cocker, Wilco, The National, Im From Barcelona - GIITTV@ Latitude Festival: Part Two
Mike Mantin 09/08/2007
Though it's run by omnipresent festival fat cats Mean Fiddler, the Latitude Festival is part of the growing number of smaller, more peaceful festivals in the UK. Set in Henham Park, Suffolk against a backdrop including a lake and multicoloured sheep, the quality of bands this year was extraordinarily high. Only in its second year, Latitude has proven itself to be one of the finest British festivals, thanks to its line-up (both music and comedy, literature and theatre), setting and complete absence of burning portaloos.
Youthmovies and Jonquil (Music and Film Arena, 1.15pm)
Fittingly considering Latitude's stance as a festival which encompasses music, film, arts, literature and poetry, Oxford bands Youthmovies and Jonquil kick off Friday with a collaborative set with visuals from their favourite teen films. It's an odd choice, as scenes from Dodgeball and Bring It On aren't the kind of films I'd associated with sprawling post-rock. It's questionable whether the visuals and music really match up, but the collaboration is enjoyable enough to watch on its own. While clearly improvised and not as striking as either band's own songs, it's a unique idea and a great way to start the festival's first day of music.
Slow Club (Lake Stage, 2.45pm)
Sitting down in front of the small, outdoor Lake Stage in the sunshine: it's the perfect setting to watch ultra-twee duo Slow Club, who enchant with breezy, plucked guitar and gentle harmonies. Though I only catch three songs, I'm enchanted and inspired to find out more. Great stuff.
Fields (Uncut Stage, 3pm)
Hard-working Fields are becoming a very reliable festival act. Their tunes are not quite yet memorable enough to justify being put any higher than early on the second stage, but their live show manages to still sound big despite the oddly quiet sound.
Two Gallants (Obelisk Arena, 3.30pm)
Just two guys filling Latitude's main stage, thankfully Two Gallants are the kind of duo that can impress audiences that have never heard them. Their setup is raw and basic but the songs are focused: the likes of 'Nothing To You' and 'Steady Rollin'' now sound like true dark blues epics thanks to Adam Stephens' roaring vocals and the impressive drumming of Tyson Vogel. Plus intriguing lyrics like "the lost cause of words walks away with my nerves/'Cos I'm gay as a choirboy for you" surely turned the heads of the sunbathers at the back. Hopefully they went away with a load of new admirers.
Midlake (Obelisk Arena, 5.30pm)
The panicky, delayed setup preceding Midlake's show was worrying, but the only disappointment with their set is that it was cut fifteen minutes short. Though there's some complaints from the band between songs, it doesn't get in the way of the laid-back, hazy vibe of tracks from last album 'The Trials Of Van Occupanther'. 'Young Bride' in particular is perfectly suited to the lazy mid-afternoon slot. Plus the cameo from Romeo of the Magic Numbers strengthens 'Roscoe''s already gorgeous harmonies.
Wilco (Obelisk Arena, 8pm)
Having been a great admirer of Wilco's records since 2002's 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot', consistent in quality but varying in style, they were my most anticipated band of the day, the day's true headliners. Culling their songs mainly from their three most recent albums, the material from 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' and 2004's 'A Ghost Is Born' are immaculately played and well-received, particularly the epic closer 'Spiders (Kidsmoke)'from the latter. It is, however, the recent, polarising 'Sky Blue Sky' which is put to the test, and thankfully finally makes sense live. On record, it's a pleasant listen that often drifts off and fails to keep attention, but live they sound like retro classics. Jeff Tweedy's vocals are cracked and emotional, and the band is as tight as ever, but it is guitarist Nels Cline who brings them to life. He plays the songs' extended guitar solos loudly and note-perfect but subtle enough to rescue it from self-indulgence. A delicate balance, but one that works beautifully: I'm pleased to discover that live, Wilco are in a league of their own.
Patrick Wolf (Uncut Stage, 9.45pm)
I really don't know what it is about Patrick Wolf, but I absolutely cannot stand him. Throughout the show, Wolf energetically jumping about the stage, occasionally falling over, while his band create a soundscape of glitchy beats and impressive violin playing while he bellows his songs out at the top of his voice. For most of the audience, adds up to one of the highlights of the festival. But the tunes just don't convince me, I find his voice incredibly annoying and despite every possible effort to make this a spectacle, it's all a bit dull. An incredibly personal and unusual opinion, as everyone else is utterly enchanted.
Wheat (Sunrise Arena, 5.05pm)
The Sunrise Arena is a perfect place to see a group like distorted indie-pop quartet Wheat: a tiny stage, harder to find and separate from the festival arena, where the bands play in front of a picturesque woodland backdrop. Still, their set is a reminder that they really should be more well-known than they are, not least because they have that killer hit-that-never-was in 'Don't I Hold You', the kind of lovelorn, gloriously soppy indie ballad that Death Cab For Cutie trade in with more commercial success. But in the Sunrise Arena, it's perfect for the point when the day turns into the evening. A wonderful band and clearly a generous one too: they've put their first two albums in full to legally download at www.thiswheat.com
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (Obelisk Arena, 6.35pm)
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's Pitchfork-approved racket is a brave choice for the main stage, as Alec Ounsworth's nasal voice is the dictionary definition of 'acquired taste'. They are, however, very impressive today, with a wise emphasis on tracks from their superior first album, which caused all the fuzz all the way back in 2005. A tight live band, the only complaint I have is that they included ghastly album opener 'Clap Your Hands!', which nobody realised was supposed to be an actual song.
I'm From Barcelona (Sunrise Arena, 8.30pm)
Packed out, filled with balloons and clapping people, I'm From Barcelona are one of few bands who can turn the serene Sunrise Arena into this. Completely filling the stage with too many members to count (especially when pogoing), I'm From Barcelona (actually from Sweden) play gloriously throwaway pop reminiscent in both number and mood of The Polyphonic Spree. The ecstatic crowd shout the singalong lyrics back to the band, especially on signature tune 'We're From Barcelona', strangely placed in the middle of the set. Yet 'Treehouse' and a cover of Madonna's 'Like A Prayer' are both equally fun. Apart from the masses of work probably needed to fit that many people on such a tiny stage, they're hardly technically impressive, but when they have songs that create such a wonderful atmosphere, they really don't need to be.
The Strange Death Of Liberal England (Uncut Stage, 12.30pm)
Much like how Saturday ended, Sunday begins with a shower of balloons, except these ones are black and say 'Repent! Repent!'. As well as this, The Strange Death Of Liberal England have the unconventional stage gimmick of communicating to the audience through placards, making sure it's clear we're not in for light entertainment. Like earlier Hope Of The States, their sound draws rock of both the indie- and post- kinds. It's a difficult sound to pigeonhole, and makes for some odd listening. For example, the last song sounds a bit like 'Fix You' by Coldplay reinvented by Godspeed You! Black Emperor (hopefully the band won't find this as I'm sure they'll be incredibly offended, but I really have to mention it).
Andrew Bird (Obelisk Arena, 3.30pm)
That two hours in between bands was spent preparing ourselves for our 7-hour residency at the Obelisk Arena, which today I believe has one of the best lineups I've ever seen on one stage in one day. The first of many must-sees is all-round music man Andrew Bird, whose astonishing show consists of him looping guitar, violin and insanely good whistling (with a couple of backing musicians). Luckily his songs are superb too, and his annoyingly short set mainly showcases new material, whilst throwing in a couple from his brilliant 2005 album 'The Mysterious Production Of Eggs'. His Rufus Wainwright-esque voice confirms Andrew Bird as one of the most remarkable solo musicians I've ever seen live.
The National (Obelisk Arena, 4.25pm)
Had The National not told us that they've spent a hellish day losing their equipment, none of us would have guessed, though perhaps it's made Matt Berninger's baritone voice even more powerful. They play today with just as much intensity as they show on their albums, sounding polished and distinctive even though they're borrowing Cold War Kids' and Andrew Bird's instruments. Louder favourites 'Abel' and 'Mr November' sound fiercer than ever, and their new material fits in perfectly. Far more coherent and confident than the murky performance I saw two years ago.
Cold War Kids (Obelisk Arena, 5.30pm)
Unfortunately for those reading this hoping for a balance of praise and scorn, Sunday's bands continued to exceed expectations. Cold War Kids' bluesy rock is driven almost entirely by Nathan Willett's explosive, breathless vocals and, live, they sound even more powerful. His voice perfectly brings out characters such as the fallen family man on 'We Used To Vacation', and drives stompers like 'Hang Me Up To Dry'. The band, too, has a good stage presence, particularly bassist Matt Maust who does a fine job of throwing himself around the stage.
The Rapture (Obelisk Arena, 6.35pm)
Only on their second album, The Rapture have been pushed aside by the press in favour of disposable bands like New Young Pony Club. Yet The Rapture have quietly been honing their live craft and today sound confident and, of course, very danceable. Though last year's 'Pieces Of The People We Love' didn't quite stand up to their debut 'Echoes', material from both stand well next to eacyr'e great funonly a hardcore few at the front really getting themselves into it (even when Luke Jenner repeatedly tells them to do so), they're great fun to watch and there's a nice contrast of yelping, posing Luke and the more laid-back Matt Safer.
Jarvis Cocker (Obelisk Arena, 8pm)
Now that The Band Who Shall Not Be Named is out of the way, Jarvis is free to be as OTT and self-indulgent as he likes, and his energetic prancing is an absolute joy to watch. He strikes dramatic poses and banters between songs with bizarre observations and eccentric actions, like trying to 'inflate' the crowd. As for his songs, they're not classics and anyone who doesn't own his solo album will have a difficult time trying to recognise much except his closing cover of 'Eye Of The Tiger' (introduced by saying "we're probably never going to play this song again" to gasps from the front row, the tease). They are, however, strong enough to just about justify the spectacle, and when it's one of the most charismatic live performers in the UK, that's really all that matters.
Arcade Fire (Obelisk Arena, 9.30pm)
To be perfectly honest, I didn't really take in anything that a music review should during Arcade Fire's ten-minute set (at least that how it felt): whether Win's voice was off, if the band played well... I was too caught up in the euphoric atmosphere of an Arcade Fire gig - the sheer joy of seeing their considerable canon of modern classics (especially for a band with only two albums and an EP to their name) performed live. Being part of the "WE'VE FOUND THE LIGHT!" of 'Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)' and the chant of 'Wake Up' is just as important. But I did manage to notice that The Arcade Fire put just as much passion into this performance as they do pretty much every show they play, with an intensity that makes you worried they're going to implode any minute. Joined by Owen Pallett, who played as Final Fantasy earlier today, they play a set comprising the finest from both 'Funeral' and 'Neon Bible'. 'Ocean Of Noise' is heart-wrenching, 'Intervention' is epic and 'Wake Up', accompanied by fireworks and a perfectly-timed little splash of rain, is just euphoric. A truly exceptional live band, Arcade Fire's live show pretty much guarantees a joyful atmosphere and an immense cacophany.