So much for Saturday. Sunday was all set to be the great day, with the clouds clearing and a glut of exciting bands to enjoy. The only problem was how to take it all in…
After a brief sojourn in the Media Village that proved uneventful (no ‘celebs’ to watch being slobbered over by the Daily Record), we take a walk in the sun to hear one of the more promising of the early starters in the Pet Sounds tent. Don’t be fooled by the name: 1990s are all about the 60s. There is a pre-LSD innocence to their guitar-bass-drums pop simplicity – and even in the way Jackie McKeown shakes his head like a young Paul McCartney. The fans at the front love every fresh-faced second of it, but some neutrals are left checking their watches.
An early afternoon lull in the programme allows refreshments and time to draw breath before the line-up really holds sway. Fed and watered, I follow the muso gang to Battles in the Pet Sounds. I thought Mirrored was an interesting record, but it didn’t completely win me over. That same effect of admiring indifference prevails today. They are all jaw-droppingly talented musicians, and the songs build and build like a gathering storm, but at the back of your mind you can’t help thinking it’s just all a bit pretentious.
Anyone barred entry to Vampire Weekend’s stowed-out show could have done a lot worse than take a walk to the Futures Tent for fellow New Yorkers Yeasayer. Singer Chris Keating endears himself by saying that the few hundred fans present are worth a 10,000-strong Main Stage crowd, and despite a few disparaging whisperings about their live reputation, Yeasayer are phenomenal. ‘2080’ and ‘Sunrise’ are spine-tingling at such close quarters.
Straight over to the infamous Slam Tent, and after 15 minutes of filler techno and a further ten minutes of uncharacteristically mellow pop tunes, the crowd welcomes French dance wizards Justice, the DJs with the rock band image. The twin banks of fake Marshall amps and the illuminated cross all feed into the image: imagine if Daft Punk took off their space helmets and upped the glitch factor. “Got any eccies mate?” asks a bug-eyed face in passing. Justice bang out highlights from last year’s Cross album, meshing ‘Genesis’ into ‘Phantom Pt I’, followed by crowdpleasers ‘DVNO’ and ‘D.A.N.C.E’. The answer to the preceding question was ‘no’ by the way, and judging by the fact that I seem to be alone in my lack, I decide it’s time to move on.
Stumbling through the masses outside the Slam Tent, I pass a motorbike display show. They’re jumping up ramps and then landing on the other side, and people are actually missing bands to watch this. I keep moving, as the sun disappears behind a bank of grey and the Pet Sounds Tent beckons once again, with its promise of some passionate American indie.
Up on stage Matt Berninger, in his usual black shirt/black jeans combo, is leading The National through a beguiling set of their world-weary, heart-broken paeans. It takes a good three songs for them to get into gear, but once they let loose with the eerie majesty of ‘Mistaken For Strangers’, the set takes a steep trajectory towards the sublime, with ‘Fake Empire’ and ‘Squalor Victoria’ the highlights. As he waves goodbye to the T crowd, Berninger looks genuinely moved by the experience.
By this point it had been a long weekend, but a further dilemma remained, the oldest dilemma in the history of festival going: which headliner? REM? Saw them headline here five years ago. Primal Scream? Tempting, but their recent output has been so-so. Aphex Twin? Love to, but can’t handle any more Slam Tent insanity tonight.
So I decided to sample the most talked-about band of the day (in our circle at least): the Brian Jonestown Massacre. A last-minute realisation that a Formula One boss and his misguided rock dream might not be the best headliner for the Pet Sounds Arena resulted in a promotion from the early afternoon for the BJM. And while their heady sonic brew is intoxicating, the small crowd shrinks further during the set. We are asked four times who the band on stage are by curious passers-by. Not that BJM particularly care, especially tambourine man Joel Gion, who resorts to a hissy tirade after being drenched by a thrown pint. As we leave for the bus, he’s still at it: “Is that all you got? Can you spit that far you fucking fag?” Nothing like a bit of aggro to round off a summer festival.