On top of the ‘live’ blogging I was doing for The Skinny while in the muddy environs of Inverary last weekend, I’ve also cooked up another series of rehashed mini gig reviews for the magazine. This covers pretty much everything I saw, with the exception of The Roots, who were so disappointing in the acoustically shite Unknown Pleasures Tent that I couldn’t bring myself to write about it.
Plonked behind eight synthesizers, black-clad and distant, like a state-sanctioned pop group of the former Soviet Union, Ladytron are definitely no festival band. Rocking their Eastern Bloc, disco-in-a-tower-block style for all its worth, they are pretty unemphatic in this open-air arena, but Seventeen and set-closer Everything You Touch remind us that they have produced some of the best electro-pop since the Human League.
Manic Street Preachers
There have been those, myself included, who wrote off the Manics as Britpop dinosaurs. How wrong we were, because Bradfield, Wire and Moore rollick triumphantly through their back catalogue, plucking out fan favourites such as Motorcycle Emptiness, Of Walking Abortion, Everything Must Go, You Love Us and tailor-made final song, A Design For Life. Covering Rihanna might smack of ageing desperation, but they’re still a superior live band.
With divided loyalties between Kasabian and Mercury Rev, I can only attest to the first half of the former’s Friday headlining set. They could have ended with a cover of the Postman Pat theme for all I know. But early on it’s business as usual: big, swaggering indie hits like Processed Beats and L.S.F, an impressive lightshow, and the newly long-haired Meighan’s hilarious rock-God complex.
Having enjoyed the Kasabian spectacle for 40 minutes, it is a sense of musical duty that makes me head over to catch the remainder of alt-rock veterans Mercury Rev. Swirling clouds of dry ice may conceal them, but the music is clear, direct, and loud. Their take on Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime, with layers of intense guitar and crescendo, is immense, and they save Goddess On A Highway for a rousing encore.
Late of the Pier
Late of the Pier live up to their name, with their set delayed an hour as they’re moved up to replace the cancelled Joan As Policewoman. An early afternoon in a muddy field is not the best context in which to enjoy their schizoid, experimental pop, but the musicianship and free-range clattering of this freshly-hatched quartet are still mightily impressive. They’d sound phenomenal in a claustrophobic wee club.
Friendly Fires arrive hot on the heels of their self-titled debut album, and they match the hype with a sprightly set of punk-funk. Singer Ed Macfarlane is the main source of entertainment: dancing crazily in skin-tight clothes, a maniacal glare in his eyes, firing off plumes of confetti in all directions. Their music is anything but original, but it still injects some firey fun into a damp Connect.
Spiritualized are one of the most highly anticipated acts of the weekend. We know Jason Pierce’s death-cheating tale, and it’s extra-special to have him, with full electric band, back on stage. They offer no connection to the audience though, facing each other like a studio band, and the set doesn’t nearly delve deep enough into their back catalogue. Just as well the few classics we do hear, like Come Together, are awe-inspiring.
If one band was made for the live setting, that band is Grinderman. On record, Nick Cave’s side-project comes across like cod-badass; it’s only when confronted with his spitting, lanky, wildly gesticulating frame at close quarters, along with his destructive, bearded side-kick Warren Ellis, that you get it. They run riot, dragging us all along with them on the road to oblivion – and huge fun.
One band on the Your Sound Bandstand I am determined to see is Errors. The touted Glaswegians combine esoteric electro with crunchy post rock, and they play a blinding second-top billing set on Saturday night, to a sizeable segment of Scotland’s music-loving fraternity. Salut France and Toes are great, but, as was the case at their Triptych gig, it’s Mr Milk that stands out.
Young Knives are a head-scratching lot. One minute you’re enthralled by the wacky Britpop revivalism of Terra Firma, the next you’re tuning out, put off by the very same-ness of their guitar-bass-drums formula. They do their best to cheer the sodden Sunday early-comers with some witty asides, but it’s impossible to really let yourself forget the conditions with such ironic fare.
If anyone can dispel the rainclouds – or help us forget them at least – it’s Santi White, the effervescent urban diva behind Santogold. Although a delayed arrival means they only play half a dozen songs, White, in a shiny blue jumpsuit, gets the plastic ponchos in the crowd moving with Lights Out, You’ll Find A Way and The Creator.
It is more a lack of options than any fanboy enthusiasm that draws me to the Oyster Stage for Elbow, and this flat set of sleepy indie only embeds my prejudice. The bluesy single Grounds For Divorce does redeem matters slightly, but their uninspiring attempts at emotive, lighters-in-the-air ‘moments’ fail utterly in this early evening slot.
The Gutter Twins
In the general hubbub of Connect, it’s easy to overlook two of modern American rock’s true greats. With little fanfare, The Gutter Twins, fronted by Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli, take to the stage before a sparse crowd. But instant respect is granted to the ever-morose Lanegan, who growls through the songs on autopilot, backed by the loudest, heaviest band of the weekend.
The dusk mist hanging in the pine forest on the hill behind the Oyster Stage provides the ideal backdrop in which to enjoy the mystical splendour of Sigur Rós. They open with the sublime Sven-G-Englar, and even reveal a sense of humour when a brass section marches on stage in See You Jimmy hats. The rest of their extensive set is rarely less than spellbinding, and they even trash their drumkit on exiting.
During their only festival appearance of the summer, Franz Ferdinand play a set that acts as a reminder of their sophisto-pop appeal and reveals the musical direction in which they’re headed. Hits like Michael, Do You Want To and Take Me Out rev up the masses, but another half-dozen new songs get an airing, the majority of which boast a fuller, synth-ier and funkier sound than we’ve been accustomed to.