By Dee Massey and Alex Gosman
Ah Reading. It seems to come round all too quickly, and before you know it you’re dragging out your tent from the cupboard, wondering what the strange smell coming from the bottom of your rucksack it, hoping to god your inflatable mattress hasn’t sprung a leak (invariably..it has), and you’re off down the M4 again.
Stumbling onto the site on Wednesday afternoon it’s clear this year is going to be somewhat crazy. With Glastonbury having a year off, it seems every man and his dog have descended on Reading, and by Thursday morning the site is totally rammed, and there’s an unnerving amount of punters who’ve just come to the festival to cause carnage in the campsite, without tickets or any intention of seeing a band. But more of that later.
Friday dawns sunny, and although some of us are slightly feathery we do manage to crawl out of the campsite in time to see Charlie from Busted’s ‘Fightstar’ slink off the stage, having had a healthy amount of bottles thrown in their direction. Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba looks so damn smooth in his shades that the crowd forget to throw bottles of piss and really get into their set. His upbeat brand of emotive writing seems to hit a note, new single ‘Don’t Wait’ rings true and clear across the arena, and with ‘Hands Down’ you seem to forget the fact you were woken by some twat from Eastbourne pissing on your tent at 5am and relax into the festival vibe.
Panic! At The Disco don’t fare so well as Dashboard, and frontman Brendon Urie is the unhappy recipient to a bottle to the face within seconds of their opening number. It knocks him squarely off his feet and he lies prostrate on the stage. Kudos to this 18 yr old for having the guts to come back on stage, the shakiness of his voice and the angry red bruises on his cheeks testament to how shaken he must be. Singles ‘ I Write Sins not Tragedies’ and ‘ But It’s Better If You Do’ are sung back note perfect, and Panic can leave the festival safe in the knowledge they’ve gained respect from the difficult crowd.
The Subways played mid afternoon on a smaller stage last year, and they seem a little dazzled by their main stage audience, but by the time they reach ‘Oh Yeah’ and ‘ Rock n Roll Queen‘ they’ve getting into it. Frontman Billy Lunn and bassist Charlotte Cooper curl themselves around each other, the tension tangible until the last chord falls. Fall Out Boy follow, and they completely win over the crowd, their bubblegum punk pop seems to placate the rowdy audience, ‘Sugar We’re Going Down’ and ‘Dance Dance’ have the crowd spinning, Peter Wentz is charming and witty, it’s a pity most of the crowd have seen pictures of the less than impressive ‘Little Pete’ on the internet.
Over on The Carling Stage, The Twlight Singers, featuring Greg Dulli of The Afghan Whigs and Mark Lanagan of The Screaming Trees fame, are an absolute pleasure, (resulting in this reviewer going on a spree in Fopp earlier today!), and after the OD of american pop punk storming off the main stage, they’re a pared down, simple pleasure, combining the best of both bands. Meanwhile The Kaiser Chiefs kick off on the main stage, cocky swaggering guitars and Ricky Wilson’s wonderful arrogance really work, and their set goes down a stormer, literally – it starts pissing with rain about mid way through.
Torn between Bedouin Soundclash, Primal Scream and Franz Ferdinand for Friday headliners, we end up dodging the rain in the caberet tent and missing all three. The ‘Stars in Your Eyes’ karaoke is better than all the bands, and kudos to the Girls Aloud girls, who got more bottles than Panic at the Disco and still told the audience where to go.
We’re not really in the mood for anything too challenging or cerebral at this early hour, so it’s pretty handy that Towers Of London are here to kick off proceedings on the Main Stage. Donny Tourette and co.’s punk n’ roll posturing is entertaining enough, but their spirited renditions of ‘Fuck It Up’ and ‘On A Noose’ are also potent reminders to the designer-wellies brigade that festivals are, ultimately, a chance to revel in your own filth. Amen to that.
Over on the Lock-Up stage, Send More Paramedics mission to swell the ranks of the zombiecore massive has been thwarted by a power-cut. No wonder that when they finally restart, vocalist B’Hellmouth looks hungrier than ever as his band rip through a venomous ‘Zombie Vs. Shark’. Today, the smart money is on the undead. Municipal Waste may be lacking their customary boogie-boards and beer-bong, but their party thrash anthems are still a welcome treat, as the likes of ‘Unleash The Bastards’ and ‘Mind Eraser’ incite a non-stop circle pit down the front.
Today is Lightyear’s second-to-last gig, so it’s understandable that vocalist Chas decides to do the whole set naked, in a remarkably successful bid to make his band’s live experience even more memorable than usual. Truly, these guys will be missed. The insanity continues with Gogol Bordello, who are not so much a band as a riotous, colourful gypsy-punk carnival. Unsurprisingly, they play to a packed Second Stage tent, with the crowd dancing, whooping and hollering along to ‘Not A Crime’ and shoulda-been-a-hit ‘Start Wearing Purple’. Awesome stuff.
Back on the Lock-Up stage, Rise Against are giving a typically impassioned performance, but are let down by sound problems that render Chris Chasse’s guitar almost inaudible. Things don’t improve much for the Bouncing Souls who nevertheless delight the crowd with a selection of old favourites and a clutch of excellent new tracks from their recent ‘The Gold Record’ album; ‘Lean On Sheena’ is quite possibly the best song they’ve ever written.
The prospect of seeing Ice-T this side of the Atlantic again has prompted much excitement over Bodycount’s appearance on the Lock-Up stage; but underneath all the band’s macho posturing, there’s precious little to get excited about. ‘KKK Bitch’ and the infamous ‘Cop Killer’ are rare highlights of a set largely made up of generic, uninspiring rap-core that genre leaders like Suicidal Tendencies and Biohazard would surely balk at. The main man’s bark remains as loud as ever, but on tonight’s evidence, his bite is sorely lacking. Still, it was sweet of him to bring his son onstage for the finale. Bless.
Saturday sees the rain clearing, although metaphorically speaking it’s cloudy in the campsite. Note to self, never camp next to people whose sole intention for the weekend is to snort, inject and pop every narcotic known to man, and think it’s ok to crap outside their tent. Fair enough the new long drop loos aren’t so pretty but come on people! Yes it’s a festival but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to be completely neanderthal. Following one festival goer losing an eye at Leeds, and a Reading camper losing a very delicate part of his anatomy (read it and wince boys), the emphasis this year is on a calmer campsite, with a stronger police presence, fire marshals and camp site attendants – but to be honest, I’ve never seen it so volatile.
Security at the main gates is lax, and the security team seem happy to let their mates in with without passes, and there’s even a tent protection racket going on. The rumours of kids being mugged on the campsite and other having their tents burnt down to the floor when they’re refused to pay local chavs protection money puts a dampener on the proceedings.
Anyway, back to music. Sadly Paramore have bailed, due to a throat infection, so Sonic Boom Six open on the Lock Up Stage, followed by the irrepressible Captain Everything who really milk every minute of their set, with their screamo, fast paced punk stylings. Milburn take to the NME Stage and are a bit of a disappointment, sounding like a lesser Artic Monkeys, but The Automatic are actually pretty damn great live, with ‘Raoul‘ and ‘Monster’ resounding around the packed out tent. They’ve shrugged off accusations of being manufactured, and this storming set will have done a lot to silence their critics.
One of the highlights of the weekend is The Spinto Band, who’s new album ‘Nice And Nicely Done‘ really sums up their set. ‘Mandy’ and ‘Did I Tell You’ are sublime, these indie boys are a total pleasure to watch, if only their set was longer that the standard thirty minutes. It’s catching bands like this that make Reading worthwhile.
We stumble over to the main stage to catch the last remnants of Dirty Pretty Things, with Carl Barat proving there is life after The Libs, and cradling a broken collarbone from a bike accident. Feeder take to the stage, Grant Nicholas looking genuinely delighted to be there. Swinging through all their hits, from ‘Come Back Around‘, ‘Buck Rodgers’ and ‘Just A Day’. The performance is flawless, Feeder just get better with age.
Coheed And Cambria bring big hair and big riffs over to the NME stage, their long experimental solos seem at times a little self indulgent, but it’s the perfect backdrop to lie back on the grass and just let the progressive guitars drift over you. Back to the mainstage for the headliners Muse, and they take the Reading crowd by storm. Matt Bellamy is quite simply breathtaking with his guitar wizardry, rolling over tracks ‘Feeling Good’, Hysteria’, ‘Time is Running Out’, ‘Plug In Baby’ and the like. Every intro has the crowd buzzing with excitement, and despite playing to a backing track, they sound amazing. Bellamy has had a chaos button engineered into all his guitars, the result being heartstopping solos and waves of extreme sound tearing across the crowds. Keeping the small talk to a minimum the band Muse show they are so very a home in front of thousands, and are the perfect headliner to the middle night.
Saturday morning heralds two nice surprises: not only have mediocre American emo-poppers Paramore pulled out at the last minute, but they’ve also been replaced by the far superior Sonic Boom Six. Clearly delighted by the huge crowd that greets their Lock-Up stage appearance, Laila and the boys are a blur of energy as they rip through their potent fusion of dub, ska, hip-hop and hardcore. The sight of the whole tent bouncing to the closing ‘Monkey See, Monkey Do’ speaks volumes; watch out for this lot.
Flogging Molly are playing twice today, but their early Main Stage slot is the finer of the two; not least for a heart-stirring rendition of ‘Whistles The Wind’ that provokes a mass sing-along from all present. There’s a real sense of self-belief and honesty to Dave King’s crew; a common touch that ensures that even the most hungover punters are half-heartedly attempting a jig by the time ‘What’s Left Of The Flag’ kicks into gear. One of the finest folk-punk bands around, no less.
Wolfmother have been making big waves since their first visit to these shores earlier this year, although I personally prefer the Datsuns in terms of Aussie bands with a punked-up Led Zep fixation. Still, singer/guitarist Andrew Stockdale’s huge afro provides a great focal point, and their Sabbath-esque riffage is a fine accompaniment to a cold beer on a sunny afternoon.
With a tap-dancer in place of a drummer, Tilly And The Wall shows are always a spectacular affair, and their Carling Stage appearance is deservedly well-attended. Some thoughtful punter has brought a lot of balloons, which bounce around the crowd as the band play their sweetly mischievous folk-pop songs. ‘Nights Of The Living Dead’ has blossomed into a true anthem; an ode to drunkenly kissing your best friend under a starlit sky, and being unafraid as to what might happen, just enjoying the moment and…oops, sorry, lost myself for a second there. Sigh.
Back on the Lock-Up stage, Against Me! have packed out the tent and are doing a fine job of proving their doubters that, despite their recent major-label signing, they’re still the same band; passionate, satirical and sounding better than ever these days. Hell, the sing-along to ‘Pints Of Guinness…‘ is one of the loudest of the day. Millencolin are comparatively less exciting to watch, but they’re certainly not lacking in the tunes department; with the likes of ‘No Cigar’, ‘Bullion‘ and automobile anthem ‘Fox’ greeted like old friends by the crowd.
Sunday morning. Oh my god we made it to Sunday. Having avoided more campsite malarkey by sleeping in a car (for future reference VW Golfs are super comfy), it’s Metric who ease us into the last day with some drawling pop.
Taking Back Sunday woo the crowd, Adam Lazarro’s wonderful campness and quirky vocals seem to win over the crowd, and it’s another stunning performance from these Reading regulars. Their set fizzles with intensity, and they win over the crowd who genuinely get into the set. Less Than Jake are hilarious, causing the best chicken fights ever seen, piggybacked couples racing at each other. The ska punk lifts the mood and you can’t help but grin at their on stage antics, they’re not out to impress anyone, they’re here for a good time.
But in stark comparison My Chemical Romance get an ice cold reception from everyone but their fans, and Gerard Way does nothing to help himself, baiting and antagonising the crowd. The actual set is great, when he’s not talking up a shit storm about The Daily Mail or daring the crowd to throw all they have at him. Did he not hear about Panic?! The most exciting thing about Placebo’s set is the technical problems that lead to ‘the boobie cam’ coming out. The best part being the guys getting in on the act, I’ve never seen so many hairey nipples in my life.
And so to the Sunday headliners, Pearl Jam. The years have been kind to Eddie Vedder, and his wonderfully familiar drawl, the way he clasps his mic stand, the way he flutters his eyelids when hitting a note, it all comes tumbling back. Having avoided festivals since their 2000 tragedy in Denmark’s Roskilde festival, when several of their fans died after being crushed, he pleads with the crowd to look after each other, but he seems nervous, and it takes a good few minutes before he begins to look at ease on the stage. Picking and choosing the best of their many albums, they even add in ‘Chloe Crown of Thorns’ from Mother Love Bone. ‘Better Man’, ‘Ever Flow’, ‘Jeremy’ and ‘Alive’ are topped off with an excessively long encore with The Who’s Teenage Wasteland being the pinnacle. It’s a pleasure to see Pearl Jam back where they belong, and long may it last.
And so Reading draws to a close again. With so many British bands on the bill it’s good to see the UK music scene is so vibrant. But music aside, the powers that be need to sort out the situations in the camping sides of things, before someone really gets hurt.
By Sunday morning, we’re all feeling very much the worse for wear; a fact that Mastodon clearly couldn’t care less about as they give our eardrums their toughest test yet. Mixing bizarre, off-kilter dynamics with some thunderously heavy riffs, Troy Sanders and co take advantage of their extended set time to treat us to some new material from their forthcoming ‘Blood Mountain’ album, which could well be their strongest to date. We nervously salute them.
Killswitch Engage are not only one of the better metalcore bands around right now, they’re also one of the funniest; mainly thanks to lead guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz introducing every other song in a mock death-metal growl. Even at this early hour, the soaring choruses of ‘When Darkness Falls’ and ‘Rose Of Sharyn’ sound utterly huge.
If there was ever a band suited to the Main Stage on a sunny afternoon, it’s Less Than Jake. Whether organising a ‘chicken fight’ for the reggae-esque ‘The Science Of Selling Yourself Short’ or whipping the crowd into a bouncing mass for the shout-along chorus of ‘Gainesville Rock City’, Chris, Roger and co. simply cannot fail today, bringing great tunes and good-natured silliness in abundance. Come back next year, guys!
We wander off to the bar whilst Bullet For My Valentine provide a lesson in how to ruin some perfectly good riffs with too much unnecessary emo-lite whining, resolving not to return to the pit until a proper metal band arrives. Cue Slayer. Kicking off with a teeth-rattling ‘South Of Heaven’, the US thrash titans are on blistering form today. Tom Araya may not speak much between songs, preferring to let the crowd’s chants of ‘Slay-uh! Slay-uh!’ ring free, but who cares when thrash classics like ‘Seasons In The Abyss’ and ‘Disciple’ still sound as vicious as ever? Oddly, we don’t get ‘Angel Of Death’ this time, but the closing ‘Raining Blood’ ensures many a bemused/distressed face among the Kaiser Chiefs fans. Good work, lads.