Thursday, 14 July 2011

Tin the Park review!

Last weekend i popped over to Balado for T in the Park and wrote about it for The Skinny - there's a massive review over on the site with the contributions of three other writers weaved in as well, but i've posted the sections that i wrote below:

We’ve seen the minds of a generation destroyed by tonic wine and overstimulation, hysterical and half-naked, dragging themselves through lagoons craving unsoiled beer tokens; girls in what first appear peculiarly-patterned tights, which are in fact bare skin caked in Sunday's mud; an ungodly swill that provokes declarations of eternal gratitude to the Duke of Wellington and his wonderful footwear. We’ve seen fools diving into the hell-soup, emerging smiling; a toilet policy best summarised as ‘stop and squat’; and fallen comrades with inflatable penises for headstones, passed out and awaiting a Monday morning resurrection.

But wipe the bilge from your brow and blink out the rain, because standard festival primitivism apart, T put on one heck of a show for Balado’s migrant population. There’s déjà vu in the choice of headliners, but you can’t accuse Foo Fighters or Coldplay of half-arsing what is now their bread and butter; and while there’s a sense that, in attempting to cater to every possible market, the organisers are stuck in a lucrative but generic middle ground which has space for more interesting bookings, but not always the crowds, such criticism is moot. Behold it as it is meant to be beholden; a behemoth in every sense, with a line-up of suitable proportions. Here’s what grabbed our attention this year…


While it means having to acclimatise quickly to the smell (rather than adjusting gradually in tandem with your own aroma’s maturation), Clanadonia make me glad I missed Friday’s fun: all T in the Parks should begin with tattooed, beardy mountain men bellowing at the crowd to ‘gie’s a hond’ with drum and bagpipe pieces with titles like ‘Hamster Heid’. Daft and disconcerting, they successfully break through the morning stupor.

When you’ve got half an hour to impress, at a time when most punters are yet to appear/arrive, a bold visual entrance helps focus attention no end. Fight Like Apes understand this, with three quarters of the band donning full body lycra before taking their place amidst painted mannequins. Part two of Operation Make Everyone Give a Shit is playing an in-your-face set that bounds about all over the place with enviable energy and cheeky lyrics; who wouldn’t get behind a song with the refrain ‘goodness me it’s fish n chips’?

Oh Patrick Wolf, you flirt – donning a kilt to appeal to national pride is one thing, but climbing the barriers to properly mingle with the great unwashed? Well that’s against protocol, leading to a swarm surrounding the showman to his evident delight. The Libertine is a low key highlight, but Lupercalia rules the roost, and its high-drama power-balladry proves strikingly effective in this context, with Bermondsey Street and a closing The City particularly resplendent. Also: bonus points for using an instrument that looks like the Cosmic Key from Masters of the Universe.

From their name to their lyrics to their look to their sound, Wolf Gang resemble the kind of artificial indie band that crops up in soaps and sitcoms: a barely believable pastiche of prevailing trends that conveys no real identity or purpose. While likable between tracks, during them Max McElligott succumbs to innumerable clichés; how he can sing Something Unusual’s itinerary of banality (“when we’re secretly unravelling, coming undone/ when you’re looking all around but you just don’t see”) with a straight face is an enigma to rank alongside the The Script’s baffling popularity.

Manic Street Preachers are sending T a message, opening with You Love Us, before declaring Your Love Alone Is Not Enough a track later. They’re right: the ecstatic reaction to open-goal tracks like You Stole the Sun and Everything Must Go doesn’t carry over into a brace from Postcards from a Young Man, which find comparatively few welcoming ears. But with A Design for Life in reserve, the adoration soon reappears to top a set that, while too short and early to match previous T glories, nonetheless affirms their continued excellence two decades after they first declared their voices for real.

For a ‘BBC Introducing’ act, it seems most are already pretty well acquainted with Aberdeen’s The Xcerts, as they fire out big riffs and gutsy melodies to a healthy turn out, wellies filling the eyeline as crowdsurfers sail stagewards. They sound very much like a product of their genesis (2001, high school), more in sync with Hell is For Heroes or earliest Biffy than anything that’s emerged since, but they do it with a passion that undoubtedly strikes a (power) chord.

The rain is well underway, Hugh’s lager has fostered a dense headache, and, in a cruel Sisyphean twist, the heavens keep refilling the cup after every gassy sip. A series of lacklustre tracks from Slash’s recent solo album aren’t helping improve the mood either; then he plays Nightrain, followed closely by Rocket Queen, and any malignant cynicism dissipates (though the woeful Starlight does its best to reawaken it). From Sweet Child O Mine through Paradise City, it’s nice to know that no one’s under any illusions about where Slash’s contemporary appeal lies: 1987 and proud.

Seattle’s The Head and the Heart seem to be enjoying their T debut greatly, particularly violinist Charity Rose Thielen, who positively radiates excited joie de vivre. This despite being rising stars back home, signing to Sub Pop and touring arenas with Dave Matthews (against which T-Break must look modest indeed). They’re a pleasant but uneventful listen, peddling an earthy, wholesome folk-pop sound that grows increasingly bland the longer you keep its company, but amidst carnival rides blasting N-Trance, they provide welcome respite.

Human pyramids are pretty tricky to perfect: today, soggy ground and drunken participants prove a less than solid start for a less than solid final result, but at least it momentarily stalls the tool-filled fight pit from involuntarily enveloping those on the side-lines. And all this while Jimmy Eat World play, a band who look like they’d get their hospitality tokens stolen by Coldplay if they collided backstage. The gulf between drippy exterior and rowdy crowd is clarified by JEW’s more-awesome-than-you-might-realise back catalogue, alternately inducing mosh-pits (Pain, Bleed American) and lighter-waving (23), to emerge as one of the day’s highlights.

“Ah respect people like you” says the bleary fella next to me midway through The Strokes, “people that appresheate good music, not fuckin’ Beyonce”. Actually, having seen Miss Knowles power through Crazy in Love and Single Ladies, choosing to jump sets is a far from elementary decision, though Casablancas and co do a damn fine job of justifying the switch. They even seem to be enjoying themselves: as flares and green smoke turn front of stage into a scene from a Vietnam flick, the reconciled New Yorkers go some way to restoring a reputation that had started to lose lustre through years of neglect, with Last Night garnering a particularly wild response.

When Conor Oberst announced he would retire Bright Eyes once promotion for The People’s Key was concluded (a statement he has since backtracked on somewhat), fans were naturally disappointed. But perhaps it’s for the best; the Bright Eyes on stage tonight feels very different from the one responsible for chronicles of anguish like Padraic My Prince. Comparing his lime nail varnish to Beyonce’s; dancing like a YouTube meme; acting out lyrics with self-consciously silly actions – it’s all very entertaining, but disconcertingly at odds with the likes of depressing fuck-odyssey Lover I Don’t Have to Love. But his playfulness is infectious, with a terrific Shell Games the biggest benefactor of his new found lust for life.


My professional integrity has a price: one piece of home-made tablet. A slender slice of DIY confectionary is all it takes to secure Reverieme a positive write-up, though to preserve some modicum of objectivity, I should add that Louise Connell and friends are as handy on stage as in they are in the kitchen. Their set is pitched perfectly for an early-doors Sunday slot, and their low key charms are distinctly moreish – in fact, the tablet is merely the icing on an already pleasingly sweet cake.

The Skinny’s pick of T-Break’s many fine acts, United Fruit don’t disappoint, converting curious passers-by whilst thrilling those already familiar with their brash, raw sound. Red Letter is a howling juggernaut of traded yelps, while the closing Wrecking Ball borrows the propulsion of The Walkmen’s Little House of Savages and gives it a fiery make-over, closing an invigorating set that only stops short of its potential due to a mostly muted crowd. When they’re inevitably invited back to play larger, later slots, expect those reservations to melt away.

Opening with an All My Friends echo (titled All of This) and following it with Punching In a Dream, which has more than a molecule of MGMT’s Kids in its DNA, The Naked and Famous plunder with a smile. Only current single Young Blood indicates much individual spark, but while the band aren’t up to snuff, their crowd gets bonus points for the endless conga weaving around the cavernous Tuts tent; well, you have to find your entertainment somewhere.

Despite boasting (arguably) the most hit-filled set of the entire weekend (Call Me! Atomic! One Way or Another! Heart of Glass!) Blondie have a major hurdle to clear in the shape of angry storm clouds lashing the arena with sideways rain throughout. But they’re not about to be brought down by a mere fear of drowning, and a push-pull results, with every instinct to run and seek shelter countered by the arrival of another lightning bolt (figuratively, thankfully) from their back catalogue.

Here’s a riddle worthy of Dan Brown: how do Weezer manage to be all kinds of awesome when they play nowt from Pinkerton yet two from career nadir Make Believe? And then proceed to stuff their already painfully contracted set with unnecessary covers? They manage because Rivers Cuomo is an affably eccentric dynamo, roaming round the crowd in a poncho-cape, donning crowd-sourced headwear and doing everything expected of a front man faced with a field full of soggy semi-fans. And topping and tailing your set with Undone and Buddy Holly doesn’t hurt either.

“Can I hear you make some noise for Cast?” shouts anime-figurine Gerard Way during My Chemical Romance’s slick performance, a puzzling declaration of bonhomie towards the dog-eared Scousers’ ‘comeback’ that only makes sense when similar requests are subsequently made on behalf of the rest of the day’s main stage line-up. The Cast shout out is the set’s only real surprise, but their theatrical excesses nonetheless translate well to the occasion, with Welcome to the Black Parade a predictably bombastic highlight.

Pulp remember their first time: they were here in 1994, when T was eighty per cent smaller and had a Strathclyde postcode. Back then, sections of today’s crowd were yet to be conceived, and the year 2000 was an excitingly distant world. But as we all meet up in the year 2011, things feel comfortingly congruous, their Different Class-heavy set sounding as vibrant as ever. Jarvis is on raffish form throughout, sharing his sweets and celebrating the News of the World’s demise by wiping his arse with it, and by the time Common People brings things to a close, weather woes are long forgotten.

When Dave Grohl declares Foo Fighters’ intention to “play as many songs as possible until they tell us to stop”, it’s assumed to be part of his trademark crowd-pleaser shtick, not a literal plan of action. The set’s two-hour expanse allows for plenty of lesser hits amongst titans like My Hero, and Grohl is, as always, an impeccable host. I’d argue that their generosity bloats a set that might have benefitted from a trim, were I not wary of invoking the scorn of 50,000 evidently-delighted fans, who stick with Grohl doggedly through to the closing Everlong; “You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when” taking on ironic meaning as their last chord fades into the fireworks.

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