Friday, August 29, 2003

Asian Babe at Reading Festival pic via the BBCSo there I was last Friday night, halfway through a bit of an all-day session in Wolverhampton when I received a call from a friend offering me a ticket for Day 2 of the Reading Rock Festival for a more-than-reasonable sum. Sounded fair enough I thought at the time, although on hauling myself out of bed at 6am the next morning, I was beginning to have second thoughts.

The bill for Day 2 seemed strong enough, but the withdrawal of The White Stripes due to Jack White's poorly finger did make it seem a little less compelling. Add to the fact that by the time we got in the arena The Sleepy Jackson had already dozed in and jacked off, and we spent the first hour wandering the area scratching our heads as to exactly why we were there. During this time Junior Senior came on, sang their hit and shuffled off again. So far, so-so.

The Libertines were the first band I actually showed any interest in, to see how they they shaped up sans burglar Pete Doherty. They sounded OK but a bit all over the place at times, maybe they were worrying whether they'd have any property left on their return (those camping at Reading could easily emphathise). Excellent new single Don't Look Back Into The Sun stood out - but then, it was the one with the tune.

No-one enjoyed listening to Original Pirate Material more than me, I made it my favourite album of last year in fact. But eighteen months on from that release, there didn't seem much point in the appearance of Mike Skinner aka The Streets on the bill, to be honest. Matters weren't helped either by early technical difficulties - a rapper/poet whose mic doesn't work not exactly conducive to great entertainment. But things got better as he went on, he seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself and a comely young blonde wench kept waving her tits at him. A score draw then, which was a bit of a result in the circumstances.

It was late afternoon/early evening and the sun was beating down, an appropriate time for Doves to come on and strut their meandering, melancholic but undeniably melodic soft-rock. They were enjoyable enough without exactly being visually compelling, and sadly for me they didn't do enough to distract me from a conversation I should never got myself into. Can't believe they actually headlined The Other Stage at Glasto this year, though.

Then made my first foray into the Carling Tent to check out Billy Childish and his Buff Medways. Can't say I've particularly followed the Childish career other than being vaguely aware he is/was Tracy Emin's other half and has also written a few books as well as having several musical incarnations (including Thee Headcoats). I'd heard a few good things about the last Buff Medways record, so I was curious to see what they were like live. I wasn't disappointed. Wearing long army coats, they ran through a fierce and tuneful set like an entertaining combination between The Fall and The Clash but shot through with their own personality. They were the most pleasant surprise of the night.

Was starting to get a bit woozy with the alcohol by the time Beck hit the main stage, so I can't remember a lot about it in detail. My mind starting wandering during his folky nonsense so I went off to get some food so could only listen as things got more interesting and he did his Hot In Herre/Crazy In Love medley. I much preferred his show at Glasto in '97, to be honest, but I'll be happy to forgive Beck if his Nelly/Beyonce tribute means his next record is going to be more like Midnite Vultures and less like Sea Change...

And so, the unenviable slot of last-minute replacements for The White Stripes went to gloomy goth-rockers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Since their debut disc they've seen Interpol and The Raveonettes emerge who've taken similar influences and invested them with emotional intensity and glamour respectively. So pressure was on for BRMC to deliver with their second record and fortunately Take Them On, On Your Own does go some considerable way to justifying their initial heavy hype.

Having said that, playing in this sort of spotlight at an outdoor venue serves only to highlight their limitations. Live, their songs sound a bit too similar at times and there's just not enough personality underneath the 'attitude' - the jury's out on whether they often give the media the silent treatment because they have squeaky faux-english accents or because they simply have nothing to say. And somebody really should have pressed eject on the idea of ironically covering The Stripes' Hardest Button To Button...

Back in The Carling Tent Brendan Benson also jumped on the White Stripes cover trend by singing Good To Me, a recent WS b-side. But then he did write and perform the song originally, so we'll let him off just this once. Last time I saw Benson was in Wolverhampton the week before the UK release of Lapalco so it was interesting to see him live again now that his material is so much more familiar to me that I realise I know all the words off heart to self-deprecating 'Metarie', for example. BB got a good reception and rightly so, his tunes are more addictively sing-along than crackhouse karaoke. Don't be put off by the singer-songwriter tag: this is pop music, pure and simple.

It was now the end of the evening, and frankly I was a bit of a mess by this point. Time then to pay tribute to a man who has sustained a career over decades through maintaining consistent viewpoints and musical styles irrespective of the vagaries of fashion and media fads. So I ran as fast as I could from Damon Albarn and his Blur roadshow and sought sanctuary with Billy Bragg who can always be relied on for some witty banter, catchy tunes and touchingly naive faith in the trade union movement.

I know there'll be some who think Bragg a bit of a sad bastard for looking forward so much to the twentieth anniversary of the Miners' Strike and it is sometimes tempting to tell him to shove his red wedge right up his arse, but you've got to admire a guy for sticking to his guns through thick and thin whilst others like Gillespie and Albarn dip in and out of their political consciences as their career befits. Bragg's other saving graces are he very carefully never patronises his audience and he's also a very warm, funny guy. The tent was by no means packed and you can accuse him of preaching to the converted if you like, but those present made an incredible racket in appreciation of a great show from a man who represents the heritage of British alternative culture much more honourably than the gurning opportunist who gave us Country House...

Not a vintage Reading then, but as usual there was enough good stuff around if you went looking for it. Luckily(?) that bad feeling I had in my gut as we left the arena wasn't a portent of incipient evil but simply the onset of a bad case of the trots.

But that, my friends, is another story...



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