Saturday, 10 September 2011

Reading Festival 2011 Review: Friday

Despite the promise of a weekend in a constant state of intoxication, there is no doubt that when the morning sun rises on Friday morning at Reading Festival, the masses are there for the music. A community of tents has the potential to form overnight in the contagious atmosphere, and already groups of people are circling around those with the day’s schedule, selecting who they can afford to miss and who they never could.

My day started with convincing the group that the NME stage was the place to be on Friday, which didn’t take too much effort; the promise of Miles Kane, Mona, The Naked and Famous, Patrick Wolf, Metronomy, The Vaccines, and Noah and the Whale one after the other was enough to drag even the most hungover of hipsters to the tent of NME. Miles Kane arrived ten minutes late to his slot in the schedule but the fans were awfully forgiving as the opening bars of ‘Come Closer’ sets the crowd on fire- even those who don’t have a clue who this well-dressed young gentleman on stage is cannot resist shouting along to the epic "aaaah, ohhhh" of the chorus. Closing with ‘Inhaler’, there is no way anyone could have left the tent without singing his praises.

However, whilst Miles Kane seemed hard to beat, it was Nashville Tennessee’s Mona that surprisingly stole the show that afternoon. Radio favourite ‘Listen to Your Love’ opens the show and carries through the state of excitement from Miles Kane. A few less well known songs such as ‘Lines in the Sand’ merely give the audience reason to focus their energies on dancing rather than singing, and the final song ‘Shooting the Moon’ caused the tent to erupt. The contagious chorus that consists of nothing but the words "I am, I am, I am, shooting the moon" are learnt in a heartbeat, and live music virgins finally realise what their gig obsessed friends have been talking about all these years. The simplistic yet powerful guitar chords echo through the air, and every person screams their lungs out- I am, I am, I am shooting the moon. In true rock ‘n’ roll fashion, Nick Brown feeds off the crowds energy like it’s fairy dust, lapping it up and jumping into the first few rows before clambering back on stage to smash his guitar into pieces on the floor.

Following a few hours on the NME stage, we regrettably leave prematurely from a Naked and Famous set that is capturing hearts with the epic synth pop tunes in order to migrate to the smaller Festival Republic Stage, to scout out new indie/chart heroes Foster the People. We arrive ten minutes before the start of their set and the devotees are falling out of the tent; there is no room for the hundreds of other people that also thought this would be a low key affair. There is no doubt that the anthem of the summer for many, ‘Pumped Up Kicks’, has taken the country by storm, so really, there’s no surprise that the turn out is bigger than expected. Nonetheless we cram into the tent and push our way to the front, when, unable to breathe, the guitar starts. Opening with ‘Helena Beat’, at first we think maybe we made the wrong decision cramming into such a tiny space for a band that is known mainly for one song. However, as the name suggests, Foster the People really do take on every member of the crowd as one of their own, and after a few more songs and the electric riff of ‘Houdini’, everyone is in love with them. By the time Mark Foster declares it is time for their final song, we’ve forgotten that we’re waiting for ‘Pumped Up Kicks’, and are simply pumped up. Nevertheless, the song we were all waiting for doesn’t get to the second bar before the tent explodes in screams and yells, which continue throughout the song. Foster steps back from the microphone with his hands in his hair, the look of utter disbelief and complete ecstasy covering his face as several hundred teenagers sing every word. He returns and finishes the song with a less than perfect vocal, as he starts to shout along with the crowd, which only pleases us all even more. We worshipped them. We were the kids with the pumped up kicks.

It’s hard to believe that everyone manages to make it to the NME tent for The Vaccines as the mosh pits throughout the day left us with bruises galore. But no one is going to miss The Vaccines, a band unheard of by most this time last year that have jetted so rapidly onto every radio station just about everywhere that no one really saw it happening. Nevertheless, The Vaccines have a prestigious spot on the Friday and following a slightly slow start after ‘Blow It Up’ the pace picks up, and people start to dance. Despite rather serious vocal discrepancies of the previous month or so, lead singer Justin Young doesn’t seem to be having trouble wooing the Reading crowd with his performance, his dulcet tones lapping over the simplistic yet effective rhythm guitar with what is, arguably, perfection. Some people would say The Vaccines are overrated, and my response to these people would be to say that they did not witness the epic ballad that was ‘Wetsuit’. A song containing the lyrics ‘we all got old at breakneck speed, slow it down, go easy on me’ seems deliberately crafted for a festival. The speed of ‘If You Wanna’ causes the ground to shake as everyone jumps, and it’s obvious that if anyone could ever create the perfect pop song, it might just be these guys. As Justin Young and his band of merry men skip off the stage with smiles plastered across their faces, may will wonder if their next record can top their first. What did we expect from The Vaccines? Definitely not this.

Headliners My Chemical Romance face adoring fans and bitter cynics as they are preparing to play in front of hundreds of thousands of wet and muddy festival goers; it has to be said that many have them down as the leaders of a suicide cult. Any doubts are blown out of the water as soon as the unmistakable riff of ‘Na Na Na’ pierces the cold evening air. No one can say that the red haired sporting, biker boot wearing, dancing loon jumping around the stage is the leader of any such cult. This infectious riff and ridiculous fun-loving lyrics has everybody bouncing, and is a well-chosen start to what goes on to be a flawless set. Gerard Way’s vocals are pitch-perfect, delivering song after song with such enthusiasm and pitch-perfect passion that even those who aren’t familiar with the older, perhaps, on occasion, slightly more dark material, manage to enjoy it just as much as those dressed head to toe in their merchandise. ‘Planetary Go’ has the beat of a work out video but of course is ultimately less annoying, and results in a pleasing sight of a hundred thousand people bouncing in unison. The light show going on behind the band depicts perfectly the mood they are going for here, and Gerard Way has the masses eating out of his hands as he commands his loyal followers to sway in time to the slower yet more meaningful ‘The Kids From Yesterday’. The show is unbelievable, and is sure to sway many an indie-worshipping cynic. And the boys leave the stage, and it all ends.

Or that is what we are led to believe. The stage is dark, and quizzical looks are exchanged as a drum beat starts not a minute after MCR have disappeared from view. It is a drum beat that is perhaps the most iconic in music history- We Will Rock you. The beat spreads through the site like wildfire, and every man, woman and drunkard is joining in. All of a sudden the lights return to reveal Brian May himself, and along with MCR, they perform ‘We Will Rock You’ to a festival crowd that will never forget that experience. We know the song word for word, and it’s a dream come true for music lovers to see it performed live, and the legendary guitar solo performed by Mr May is faultless. Looking at the crowd, there is no doubt that his friend Freddie Mercury would be proud. Finishing on ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’, with Brian May still happily grinning and playing away, it is a set that leaves gobsmacked faces in its wake.

The festival experience was made by Gerard Way’s band of heroes, and they make the day, without a shadow of a doubt. When asked if they saw the headliners, those that did simply squeal, and those that didn’t look pained to have missed it. You’d have to be seriously deluded to say that the show put on by Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye was anywhere near as impressive as the event on main stage, even if you hated the headliners. The appearance of Queen’s Brian May was an event all by itself. The fireworks that exploded into the sky seem to portray the feeling that can’t quite be put into words, felt by hundreds as they trudge slowly back to their tents, after a day of what can only be described as music at its best. Whether it’s the drink, the festival atmosphere, or just sheer luck, all acts mentioned here did not disappoint in the slightest, and it is with fond memories and slight drizzle that the Friday of Reading slips into the early hours of Saturday morning; lost, but never forgotten.

By Emily Pratten

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