Bloc Party

I said I’d never go back, but after seeing Radiohead on the lineup, my girlfriend and I just had to head to Reading just one more time, and I have to say, despite the overt commercial interests, hordes of idiots and general irritating atmosphere, it was a bloody good day. We started at the Festival Republic stage with Bear Hands, who continued my own personal tradition of seeing bloody good opening acts. With the drum and bass volume pushed up high, the band’s shambolic songs were imbued with a sense of power and urgency, and worked really very well. The singer looked either terrified or quite bored, and they didn’t play my two favourite songs, but “Golden” and “Vietnam” were excellent, and translated very well to the live experience.

Noah and the Whale win the dubious honour of most underwhelming performance of the day. Their sound seemed dwarfed by the Main Stage they found themselves on, and their new material, live at least, sounded a little too close to the Snow Patrol soft rock style for my liking. Luckily, we had The xx next. Lining up together at the front of the stage, the dark-clad teens found themselves faced with a bigger crowd than any other in the Festival Republic stage (at least until bloody La Roux came on later) and truly lived up to the hype (Machine). I’ve read somewhere that the band chose their distinctive, empty sound partially because they could play it exactly the same live as on record, and that is certainly true. Songs like “Crystalised” and “Basic Space” drew large cheers and already sound like future singalong hits, and the whole set was very cohesive. As well as being generally brilliant, they also win the award for best marketing effort -huge boxes of T Shirts, cardboard X’s and stickers were handed out, and it seemed like everyone was wearing them for the rest of the day (including Rostam Batmanglij from Vampire Weekend during their set).

There wasn’t a lot on for quite a while, so we headed to the Alternative tent for a while and saw some comedy. We saw four stand up sets – Kojo (misogynistic, brash and not very good), Jeremy Hardy (good, but perhaps a little old for most of the Reading crowd), Adam Bloom (good and rather odd) and Brendon Burns (absolutely hilarious, offensive and wonderful). But the real reason we headed there in the first place was for Adam Buxton and his BUG show. An hour (I think) of music videos and shorts interjected by the amazing Mr. Buxton, we were treated to some incredible work by lesser-known directors, as well as Adam’s own brilliant efforts. Two of the standouts were Pes’ “Western Spaghetti”, an animation of making a spaghetti recipe using no food (watch it and you’ll understand) and the video to Wiley’s “Cash In My Pocket”.

Next up were Vampire Weekend, who pulled out a set of their trademark summery Afro-Indie and got the whole crowd dancing to hits like “A-Punk” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” as well as playing newer songs like “White Sky”. Yeah Yeah Yeahs bounded on afterwards and were easily my nicest surprise of the day. I do like their singles, but based on Show Your Bones I didn’t think they had much in their locker beyond that. Well, happily, I was proved wrong, with a set spanning all three albums, and an incredible performance by Karen O. She truly is that rarest of things, a real life rockstar. Bounding around, with a strange shrimp-like costume (with detachable headdress and armbands no less), yelping, encouraging the crowd and generally having a bloody good time of it, she took the set to a new level and I was left enthralled. The penultimate band of the day was Bloc Party. My first impression wasn’t of their music, but Kele Okoroke’s Trent Reznor-like transformation into muscliness. But past that shocking revelation, Bloc Party’s third main stage set in three years was very much more of the same, which is never a bad thing. Despite not particularly liking the second album and having not listened to the third at all, they always put on a good show, and songs like Positive Tension and Flux are just excellent anyway.

Right, for the next section I’ll try not gush, but I’m still excited a day later so bear with me. By 9.30 we’d secured a good place at the Main Stage, and stood waiting for the mighty Radiohead to make their entrance. Their technical set up was incredible, a series of what were essentially huge fluorescent lights that could change colour and create effects. For instance, when Thom sang ‘it should be raining’ during “The Gloaming”, it simulated rain, and during “Nude” it looked as though there were floating candles above the band. Eschewing the normal screen images simply of the band playing, each screen was split into six sections which showed oddly-angled images of all the band members playing. I won’t go through every song (as tempted as I am) but highlights included a rare airing, and even rarer opening, with “Creep”, the brilliance of “15 Step”, explosive renditions of “Just” and “2+2=5”, falling in love with “Lucky” all over again, the entire crowd falling silent during “Karma Police”, the sheer incredible scope of “Paranoid Android” and Thom quickly covering Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Maps” before going into “Everything In Its Right Place”. Every band member looked pleased to be there, Thom pulled out some incredible dance moves and it was everything I could ever have wished for for my first ever Radiohead show, I simply can’t state quite how much I loved it, and how good Radiohead are. Anyway, enough of that, here’s the full setlist and some songs. Now excuse me while I go lie down.

The National Anthem
15 Step
There There. (The Boney King Of Nowhere)
All I Need
2+2=5 (The Lukewarm.)
The Gloaming. (Softly Open Our Mouths In The Cold.)
Climbing Up The Walls
Street Spirit [Fade Out]
Karma Police
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Exit Music (For A Film)
You And Whose Army?
These Are My Twisted Words
Jigsaw Falling Into Place
Paranoid Android
Maps – Everything In Its Right Place

Bear Hands – Golden (YSI)
Noah And The Whale – Rocks and Daggers (YSI)
The xx – Basic Space (YSI)
Adam & Joe – Ratatouille (YSI)
Vampire Weekend -Mansard Roof (YSI)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Hysteric (YSI)
Bloc Party – Positive Tension (YSI)
Radiohead – 2+2=5 (The Lukewarm.) (YSI)

Well tomorrow I leave on a three year adventure, up to the vast, mysterious, unconquerable (thank you Mark Corrigan) land of Newcastle. In the spirit of leaving, not wanting to leave AND Newcastle, here’s Maximo Park.
Maximo Park – I Want You To Leave
Maximo Park – I Want You To Stay

Another piece of information that’s dawned on me is the fact that never again (OK, for the time being anyway), will I have to wear uniform – school, work or otherwise – which is an unusual source of joy for me.
Bloc Party – Uniform

A worrying fact for me at the moment is my money situation. Or lack of it. If you live in Newcastle and you see a dishevelled, 6’2″, long-haired youth attacking your bins, I can only apologise in advance.
Barenaked Ladies – If I Had A Million Dollars

I’ll admit, after a year off travelling and doing shift work, I am starting to think I’ll remember very little of the things I’m supposed to have learned already, and with the apparent constant supply of alcohol that Uni provides, it might just stay that way.
Nine Inch Nails – Head Like A Hole

Amongst the questioning eyebrows, semi-sarcastic questions of whether we’re living together and all the general annoyances that go along with it, I’m so happy to be going with Cat, my beautiful girlfriend. And, just to set the record straight, we decided to choose our first choice uni separately and, by happy coincidence or pure synchronicity, we both chose Newcastle. So there.
Jack Johnson – Better Together

Ah Saturday, after two days, the aches of sleeping in a tent, drinking too much and being crushed by immovable idiots start to make their way deeper into your muscles. But unbowed, we struggled into the arena to see Bombay Bicycle Club (incidentally, with Katharine and Matt, who introduced me to them – thanks guys!). Again, we really made the right choice as an opening act. A lot has been made of BBC’s age, but to me it really doesn’t matter. No matter how old you are, if you’re this wonderful and effervescent, you’re always going to be a hit. Their Strokes-y guitar lines, Jack Steadman’s tremulously Oberst-like voice, everything about it was lovely. Plus, the token inclusion of a badly dancing panda (from their “Evening/Morning” video) never fails to impress.

Leaving with smiles on our faces, we headed over to the Alternative Tent to see the highly-recommended Jeffrey Lewis and the Jitters. Now I’m always partial to a bit of anti-folk, and the opening with “I Ain’t Thick, It’s Just A Trick” was a lovely little relaxing feeling, but it was all a little flat for me, after the sheer energy of the first band, it just seemed as though I still wanted that. So our next band – on the main stage this time – was a good choice. The Subways (local heroes where I come from) came bounding onstage, Billy Lunn shirtless and screaming. They launched into a lot of newer tracks (the explosive “Girls and Boys” proving the best), but the reaction from the crowd was frenzied when they played their first album’s tracks. “With You”, “Rock and Roll Queen” and the awesome “Oh Yeah” all provoked massive singalongs.

Next, we ran across the field to the NME tent once more, this time to catch the Mystery Jets. In a set peppered with tracks from their second (and much more successful) second album, they really conjured up the whole ’80s vibe of their album, they matched their bouncy melodies with a bouncy persona, smiling throughout and really making the atmosphere a good one. “Two Doors Down” was always going to be a highlight, but “Zoo Time” as a closer drew an obviously wonderful chant out of the crowd, even if most of them didn’t realise there was a first album at all.

Back to the main stage and We Are Scientists were in full swing, mixing older songs with new, covering ’80s classics whose names I can’t recall with guitarists from Editors and providing their unrivalled between-song banter. Seriously, they’re hilarious, who can blame them for supporting themselves with a stand-up show? But their tunes don’t suffer, “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” still crackles along, and “The Great Escape”‘s breakneck verses don’t disappoint. After being introduced as WAS’ aftershow band, Editors more than fulfill their billing. Their album tracks might not be massively interesting, but their singles sound amazing when played live. Tom Smith was clearly loving the experience, jumping on his piano during the breathless chorus of “Bullets” and generally running around the stage constantly, his best Ian Curtis impression blurting out of the huge speaker stacks. “Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors” proved a standout moment, from the first verse until the end, everyone seemed to know the words around us, and it was impossible not to join in.

The Raconteurs were always going to be well-attended, but as Jack White emerged onto the stage, the roar that met him seemed unreal. He truly has become a legend. The show itself lived upto his reputation. Despite the second album not being as good as the first, the songs they played from it were brilliant. “Top Yourself”‘s moody blues carried well, and closer “Salute Your Solution” (which I think is the best rock song for years) blasted through the crowd like the juggernaut it is. But it was always going to be “Steady, As She Goes” that got the greatest reaction, even if it was two songs shy of the end. Its effortless, punchy rhythm made everyone move, and Jack White’s wails positively filled the air.

Bloc Party was our last appointment at the Main Stage and luckily (from what I’ve heard since about the sound problems) we were at the front. Accompanied by a stand-in bassist for Gordon Moakes, they tore through a set full of tracks from both the previous albums, as well as a couple from the album that came out on the Thursday the festival started. It’s difficult to say which tracks were the best received, because adoration for Bloc Party is something to be reckoned with, every track was screamed for. However, the best moment was the incredible laser light show that started with “Flux”. Kele Okoroke danced onstage and led the way for the rest of the audience. “Helicopter” and “The Prayer” may be their most famous outings, but they closed with their first ever singe, “She’s Hearing Voices” and it seemed to be a nostalgic moment for the band and the crowd at once.

But to be honest, we left without much ceremony, mainly because Cat was physically dragging me to the NME stage once more. We did slightly muck up on the timing though, as we got there just in time for the Bullet for my Valentine. Now I have nothing against metal, I can enjoy it (and their captive audience certainly were). It’s just that when the sound is so badly set up that the double kick-drum they used overpowered all of the other music, it doesn’t really make it anymore than violent drum ‘n’ bass. No, what we really came for was something a little more special. Manic Street Preachers really are something else. How a band with such juxtaposing members actually ever worked is beyond me, but work they do. Nicky Wire alone has an incredible stage presence, he carries himself so well, and he plays the crowd perfectly. James Dean Bradfield wields his guitar like a god, and always knows when to summon up the spirit of Richey Edwards to maximum effect – it makes the crowd go wild. It’s testament to this band that the crowd is so incredibly varied, metallers rub shoulders with indie kids, and feather boas are everywhere. Having seen them before, we knew we were going to have a good show in store, but they astounded everyone. Their set was just full of hits. They opened with “Faster”, which led into “Your Love Alone…”, then there was “Motorcycle Emptiness”, a cover of “Pennyroyal Tea” (Amazing), “If You Tolerate This…”, and “Motown Junk”. Not only that, they played a couple of lesser-known tracks (“Of Walking Abortion” and “Little Baby Nothing”) for the hardcore fans. Then they closed with the incredible “Design For Life” – I mean, what a way to end! Why anyone would choose The Killers over this I just cannot understand. If you ever get a chance, see them.

Bombay Bicycle Club – Open House
The Subways – Oh Yeah
Editors – Bullets
Bloc Party – She’s Hearing Voices
Manic Street Preachers – Faster