Thursday, September 1, 2011


© Rene Ehrhardt Photography

Walking the now routine trail from the main entrance to the arena, I can’t help wondering why the entrance is so damn far away. Surely they could have put a gate nearer the stage? Still, I always arrive thirsty... On a side note, the £10 programmes I walk by every morning are a cheek! Weekend tickets cost £200, you’d think they could slip in a few free programmes…

“They try and squeeze you for every last Pound”, I hear a girl complain into her phone. And sure enough, I spot an opportunistic mobile phone re-charging van: £5 for an hour, £8 for two.

I hear Frank Turner on the Main Stage from the bar then head towards the Lockup Stage for Pennsylvanian punk rockers The Menzingers.

It’s early and the crowd's pretty empty, but everyone knows the words. It’s an intimate performance and super easy to get right to the front. The Menzingers sound awesome; folk-rock inspired punk rock with soul, screams and quivering indie appeal. At one point, guitarist and co-vocalist Tom May rocks out so hard he falls right on his ass in the middle of the stage.

The Menzingers

By now the stage is lined with punk rockers, including the token beard, flannel shirt and cap guy. At one point, ex-Pennywise frontman and current Black Pacific guitarist and singer Jim Lindberg pops his head out for an inspection.

At the NME/Radio 1 Stage, Kentucky rock band Cage the Elephant have pulled a massive crowd. And so has Fucked Up frontman Damian Abraham over at the NME Signing Stand.

Another strange recent development is the hipster embracement of hardcore punk bands like Cerebral Ballzy, Off! and Fucked Up. And back at the Lockup Stage, Los Angeles punk rock “supergroup” Off!, featuring Circle Jerks frontman Keith Morris, have packed the tent.

Meanwhile, on the Main Stage, hard-rocking UK genre hoppers Enter Shikari are about ready to explode. The band hits the stage in a flurry, looking like they’re sponsored by JD Sports. Vocalist Rou Reynolds looks like Wayne Rooney and drummer Rob Rolfe looks like Frank Lampard. But their live show is intense!

Reynolds hops around like a madman, climbing amplifiers, throwing himself on the floor, bashing amps over and, at one point, inserting one of Rolfe’s cymbals into the crowd. People are crowd surfing, building human pyramids and standing on shoulders everywhere. A guy in a Dalmatian suit crowd surfs in a rubber dinghy. A girl flashes a boob on the giant screen... It’s all pretty breathtaking.

Reynolds asks everyone to pick up a paper cup and throw it into the air as the next song kicks in. And suddenly, the sky's littered with (empty) paper cups. It actually looks pretty awesome.

On the Lockup Stage, Bedouin Soundclash wrap things up with a guest appearance by Hot Water Music guitarist and co-vocalist Chuck Ragan. Then it’s time for the mighty Gainesville legends themselves. And they sound awesome!

Chain-smoking ‘til the bitter end, with a bent peak and a worn flannel shirt, Chris Wollard looks like a character from My Name Is Earl.

“Trusty Chords”, “A Flight and a Crash” and “Rooftops” knock my socks off. And their last song, a cover of Bouncing Souls’ “True Believers”, inspires a mass sing-along by all the hangers-on watching from the side of stage. Ragan and Wollard look moved by the crowd’s response.

Later I catch a bit of Panic at the Disco from the bar. Then a bit of Death From Above 1979’s two man, black-and-white-suited, garage rock, scream, fuck rock. Before heading over to the Festival Republic stage for a glimpse at Bloc Party bassist Gordon Moakes and The Automatic guitarist Paul Mullen’s band Young Legionnaire. Who end with Mullen smashing one of drummer Dean Pearson’s cymbals with his guitar.

Back at the Lockup stage, the hardest working man in showbiz, Frank Turner, is on stage playing his second show of the day when the second hardest working man in showbiz, Chuck Ragan - making his third appearance of the day - comes out for a cover of Billy Bragg’s “The World Turned Upside Down”.

After that I get to the NME/Radio 1 Stage just in time to see The Streets main man Mike Skinner mount a monitor. “I came here to die”, he keeps saying. “We are gonna die here together”. Turns out it's the band's last show ever - talk about melodramatic...

Like the records, the new songs lack the punch of classics like “Blinded By the Light” and “Don’t Mug Yourself”. And for some reason, Skinner keeps screaming “Reading, you look like you’ve been rocking for days!” and “Can you see my hand? Can you see my hand?” over his backup singers’ sweet melodies.

“Are there any gangsters in the house”, he asks. “Where’s all the real g’s. I need some drugs!” The live show’s awesome with a full band but Skinner’s a pretty annoying character on stage.

Unlike Flogging Molly frontman Dave King, who points to a kid in the front row, “Look at this guy in the Descendents shirt!” he says. The crowd cheers. “No, wait…” King continues. “He’s wearing sunglasses and it’s dark. So he’s either blind or he’s an arsehole”. You’ve gotta love anyone that quotes Larry David.

On the other side of the arena the Main Stage is draped in a giant curtain - just like the Wizard of Oz - as the entire festival makes a mass exodus towards it. The amount of people on the move is pretty overwhelming and festival closers (on the Main Stage) Muse look set to host the largest crowd of the weekend.

The draw about tonight’s Muse show is they’re playing their 1991 album Origin of Symmetry, song by song,
from start to finish. And when the curtain drops, the display is unbelievable. Sculptures of the giant, contorted tuning fork aerials/rugby posts from the album cover dwarf the three band members, a giant video screen beams UFOs across the stage and lights and lasers illuminate the sky like it's the Apocalypse.

Muse sound incredible, showing up on time - like true professionals - and tearing their way through the album with minimal chatter. On stage, guitarist, vocalist and piano playing virtuoso Matt Bellamy is phenomenal, and ten years ago, Origin of Symmetry captured him, drummer Dominic Howard and bassist Chris Wilstenholme at their hungry best.

During album closer “Megalomania”, fire shoots from the front of the stage. Great balls of fire, bellowing up into the sky. And I have to wonder, “who pays for all this shit?” If Muse fork the bill, they wouldn’t make anything. So logically, they must design their set, lighting effects and pyro and send Reading the bill (on top of their performance fee). Incredible!

Muse come back out for a multi album-spanning encore. Bellamy even has time to play the intro to Deftones' "My Own Summer" before "Stockholm Syndrome".

The last band I have time for before it’s time to say goodbye is Californian punk rock legends Descendents. Drummer Bill Stevenson is an animal with style. What a drummer! And frontman Milo Aukerman sounds like he got his voice back…

Then, suddenly, it’s time to leave. And I must admit, I’ve had a wicked weekend away...

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a rad set of reviews man - a real visceral look into the experience and the Muse set looked electric! Must have a cost a fortune but look at the sea of faces, you just don't see crowds like that anymore except for bands like this