Saturday, June 23, 2007

Glastonbury: yesterday's action

The festival is nearing capacity with over 160,000 people onsite, most of the stragglers arriving after work and just in time for last night’s headline performances from the Arctic Monkeys, Bjork, Spiritualized and Hot Chip. Those that managed to clamber through 10 inches of increasingly sticky mud and stand precariously on ‘Pyramid Hill’ were rewarded with a great set from the clearly awed Arctic Monkeys. Those who paddled through rivers of mud to the Other Stage instead found Bjork in typically inspirational form.

Before all that though there was something of a festival greatest hits set from the Super Furry Animals, graced with the first significant break from the rain that blighted most of Friday morning. Kicking off with “Slow Life”, singer Gruff Rhys was sporting his favourite prop; a giant Power Rangers helmet with a microphone socket confusingly situated at forehead level. They proceeded to give the crowd pretty much exactly what they wanted, playing only a couple of straightforwardly poppy new tracks, including forthcoming single “Show Your Hand".

Rufus Wainwright brought some glamour to this unholy quagmire when, having played a set which included a duet with his sister Martha on “Hallelujah”, he encored wearing a silk dressing gown, bright red lipstick and high heels to deliver a perfectly choreographed version of Judy Garland’s “Get Happy”. Only Arcade Fire, seemingly the hottest ticket on the Other Stage today could possibly go head to head with that. But such is the critical mass that’s been built up around Win Butler’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink Canadian outfit that you wonder why they weren’t offered a headline slot this year. Certainly the massive crowd (bigger than that drawn by Bjork later) and the ecstatic scenes which greeted “Rebellion” and “Wake Up” suggest that they might even be invited back for a Pyramid headline in the future.

It’s hard to envy the Arctic Monkeys, as thrilled as they surely are to be headlining the festival in such relative infancy; this set is a tough act to measure up to. Those who usually triumph here play stirring, complex, slightly otherworldly rock music not keenly observed three-minute indie rock. But perhaps their reluctance to embrace the occasion with the anxious careerism of a Coldplay endears them to the crowd tonight.

They certainly don’t lack ambition and feel rightly confident with the songs, which are played without ceremony or ego. Singer Alex Turner is obviously awed by the occasion, thrilled but struggling to communicate his excitement to the crowd, he glances left and right at his mates onstage, eyes bulging with disbelief. And despite the crowd’s obvious preference for material from the first album, the set gains depth from the complexities and tempo of the best of their new stuff: “505”, “If You Were There Beware” and “Do Me A Favour”. Dizzee Rascal causes a commotion when he comes out for a verse on “Brianstorm” b-side, “Temptation Greets You Like A Naughty Friend” and bless them if they haven’t been working away at a special tune just for us. In honour of Dame Shirley Bassey who plays the festival on Sunday, producer James Ford is brought out on keys and they run through a Monkeyseque take on “Diamonds Are Forever”. A triumph, then.


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