Benicassim 2009 - Day Four

Blog by Gordon Bruce | 22 Jul 2009

Not many festivals are four days long. Not many festivals enjoy blistering heat. But then not many festivals are like Benicassim. There's always a danger of festivals turning into an endurance test on the final day. Rising bleary eyed on three hours sleep, forcing molten sangria down your throat and then pogoing like a maniac for eight hours sounds fun, but not something you want as a routine. The only antidote to keep those eyes wide, and those legs sprung? Well, excluding anything The Skinny does not condone, music. So Benicassim needs to pull out the stops tonight.

Beginning the Vodafone stage, Dent May plugs in his magnificent ukulele for some unabashed pop. His goal in life? To prove that the ukulele doesn't end with George Formby. Pirouetting the stage in chunky specs and a polo, May strums his minuscule instrument with a merited aggressive passion. This band show a promising future as an American Noah and The Whale, but with better hooks, lusher Beach Boy harmonies, and snappier attire.

After another inexplicable timetable shift, a surge of people are left kicking up chunks of post-hurricane dust as they hear a familiar organ riff in the distance. Like a call to prayer, TV On The Radio's 'Love Dog' draws us in for an hour of music that roughly equates to enlightenment. Judging from the Alex Kapranos shaped silhouette beside the stage, TVOTR are a band to namecheck. The set samples old and new, from the vicious snarl of 'Wolf Like Me', the frantic rap of 'Dancing Choose' through to epic set closer 'Staring At The Sun'- the latter building from shoegaze murmur to sandblasting white noise. Let those mandibles fall to the floor because that's where they belong in tribute to the best band in Spain by a mile.

Friendly Fires have the unenviable task of following this, though the recent Mercury nominees are renowned for a stunning live show, with singer Ed Mac's dancing competing with Thom Yorke for originality. However this time Ed struggles to hit peak notes, and indie-dance classic 'Paris' sounds about as damp and painful as trench foot. For a song with the greatest production value this year, the sound system must be partially at fault here. Though the question remains as to whether this band have been sent up the ranks a little too soon, and that the imposing stage and the deep humidity is taking its toll.

At the Vodafone stage, raven-haired songstress Lykke Li is overseeing vast crowd support. Despite being left out of the girl-with-attitude-fronting-band-of-wimps clique that currently rules Britain, the Swede has enough lip to show them all up- the minimalist arrangement of a sparsely plucked guitar and lightly tapped drums framing her wailing vocals perfectly. She reminds us all of those halcyon days when Bjork momentarily lived on planet earth, whenever that was.

With the lessons learned from Friendly Fires, surely stadium mainstays The Killers can't die by the same sword? A friend of mine described their performance on the main stage perfectly: "It was a two out of ten and a nine out of ten. When you knew the song it was brilliant, when you didn't, you might as well be in bed." Ne'er a truer word.

Via this gig you could track the exact moment at which the band lost the plot. Sure, at 'Mr. Brightside' you wanted to clamber up the nearest pair of shoulders and scream the lyrics above the canopy of heads. Sure, with 'When You Were Young' you could jump a foot higher than usual. But when anything from Sawdust or Day & Age is on, all you can hear is the vaguely bored murmur as the crowd wait for a hit.

It doesn't help that The Killers stage presence is rather odd this evening. Guitarist Dave Keuning seems to want to change the world one power stance at a time. Every minute piece of fretwork requires a wide stance atop his monitors which, considering his guitar sounds painfully muted at times, fails to impress.

In true Benicassim style, things are only beginning. Minimalist techno trendy Popof storms the Vodafone stage. He proves himself a master of swell and fade, build up and release. However, you can have too much of a good thing. By the end, an hour of a 120bpm thumping bass drum becomes rather heavy-lidded.

To wake you from a stupor, Laurent Garnier holds a crowd with his blend of house and trance. It suits the strange scenario of dancing as the sun rises behind to signal the end of a wild four days.

So on the final day, did Benicassim succeed in its promise to keep you there till the bitter end? Well, it took some steely determination, and there was certainly some disappointment from the main act. But festivals don't begin and end with headliners, and as soon as that was realised, you could happily take another swig of Sangria and head down to dance.

This year's Benicassim may only be remembered for the canvas destroying winds of Friday and the consequent disappointment of Kings Of Leon pulling out. But at the end of the day, we managed to see some of the greatest bands on this planet under the influence of incredibly cheap booze with sand between our toes and the sound of sea in the distance. Can't do all that at Glasto now, can you?