T in the Park 2009 - Friday
T in the Park 2009 was largely pre-billed as "the year T went pop", as if it was totally something else before. Bands that write their own songs and play guitars 'n' that can still be pop bands, of course, but this year the presence of fashionable girlies like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry was supposed to show an ideological side-step. And there was, slightly.
For us, this year's disappointing aspect was how the biggest bands on the Main Stage - Kings of Leon, Razorlight, The Killers, Snow Patrol - sucked up the crowds like a black hole in the middle of the site, to the noticeable detriment of the shows on the eleven other stages. It's great that T is trying to encourage diversity by adding more stages, but how long can that last if the punters continue to gravitate to the same predictable big-hitters instead of trying something different?
It wasn't just the Main Stage, actually, it was more about which artists are on the telly all the time: more people watched Tommy Reilly than Nick Cave or Nine Inch Nails, while the King Tut's tent was half-empty for the Manic Street Preachers but bursting full the next day for The Saturdays. That kind of thing's depressing for musos like us, who've had our lives changed by bands like NIN and can't believe so few others have too; and then we can't even get near the front for a perv of Frankie Sandford. It's just a wee bit outta balance, that's all.
Navel-gazing aside, T in the Park 2009 was brilliant. We saw some fantastic performances from a wide variety of bands on loads of different stages. We drank a lot. And the sun came out, and stayed out, for most of the weekend. There's no better way to spend a weekend than at a music festival with good bands, good friends, beer and sunshine. It ended with an epic set from the newly reunited Blur, an hour-and-a-half late but worth the wait. Sometimes a Main Stage band deserves to swallow up the entire crowd.
As one of the festival‘s opening bands, the Maccabees are competing with uncooperative tent-poles for the attention of arriving revellers. But when they appear onstage, flags are flying and bucket-hatted masses are out in force regardless. “We only get twenty-five minutes” they complain before a closing Love You Better, but the crowd doesn’t care: “HERE WE FUCKING GO!” goes the chant, a sentiment delivered not only at the Maccabees but T as a whole. [cb]
An Edwyn Collins gig isn't like a gig for anyone else. Four years ago, the ex-Orange Juice frontman suffered two serious strokes, which he's been slowly recovering from ever since. He can't play the guitar, walks with difficulty, and it takes real effort for him to speak: "I. Am still. Learning. To talk" he tells us, hand clawing forward as if to throw each word out. It's impossible to divorce the context from the performance: this man could easily choose to retreat into a comfortable retirement, but instead he's determined to push himself because he loves playing music. The couple hundred fans here really appreciate the effort; they'd respond rapturously to Falling And Laughing, Rip It Up and A Girl Like You playing on a pub jukebox; to have Edwyn Collins perform them for us is just magical. [ab]
A forty-minute set by The Mars Volta could easily be engulfed by a couple of their more lengthy forays into gratuitous prog-rock. Fortunately they are in buoyant festival mood, particularly singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala who leaps around and even pulls off a couple of impressive handstands. It’s a tight set by any standards, with only a little extraneous space-guitar noodling bookended onto Roulette Dares. It’s punctured, as if by the collective will of the audience, by an effortlessly blistering Viscera Eyes, which manages to sound like all your favourite hoary old seventies rockers playing simultaneously. [dc]
Do you like beer? Are you also, perchance, a fan of cheeky Laaahndaner Jamie T? Then King Tut's Wah Wah Tent is the place to be, with the heaving crowd expertly combining the two by lobbing Tennents-missile after Tennents-missile throughout. Sheila and co garner the loudest cheers, but it’s the new tracks that stand out - if 368’s pirate/haunted house sound is anything to go by, the boy’s done good on album number two. [cb]
13 years since they formed, Camera Obscura finally make it to the Futures Tent. (Well, at least it wasn't the BBC Introducing... stage). Having just released their gorgeous fourth album My Maudlin Career, it's a shame that Camera Obscura are tucked away like this at their own local megafestival. Their performance is tight and professional, and comprises six completely lovable songs, including French Navy and the title track from the new record. They're not the most exciting live band, but with songs like these it doesn't really matter. [ab]
It's been four years since debut album A Certain Trigger, but Maximo Park's Paul Smith can still jump higher than most Olympic athletes. It's his ecstatic mania and joy in his work that brings a large assembly together in a surprisingly communal celebration of such hits as The Kids Are Sick Again and Apply Some Pressure. It's a brighter shade of Indie that's definitely fit for the main stage. [tm]
The memo regarding drummer Colin Newton’s departure from Idlewild may have passed us by [it's paternity leave, apparently - ed], leaving only two original members, but the indie veterans still manage a capable show. A well-rounded overview of their output, minus Captain, is a safe but welcome bet, meaning opening highlight Roseability sits comfortably with crowd-pleaser You Held the World in Your Arms. Like a tourist attraction you obliviously pass daily, Idlewild still manage to impress when you stop to look. [dc]
Though their latest long playing effort has not been the evolution of sonic sound we all hoped that they might achieve one day, Franz Ferdinand can still kick it out of the park when they play live. It's the old songs that hit best of course, and the only band that were ever going to top the singalong of Take Me Out were Blur. Michael, too, is a triumph as we all step so briefly back in time to the excitement of their debut in 2004. [tm]
We're standing pretty close in for Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but it's still difficult to even hear at times. Their two favourite ballads, first album classic Maps and new album re-write Skeletons, are drawn out and whispered so thinly that the guys tunelessly singing along beside me completely drown out Karen O's vocals. But they can't drown out the pipe band which appears at the end of Skeletons, to inevitable roars from a crowd easily pleased by a pop star merely acknowledging we're not English. New songs Zero and Heads Will Roll are much better, and final song Date With The Night goes down a storm too. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are much better when they're audible. [ab]
For an act making their T debut, The Phantom Band exude confidence, and instantly win over at least one inebriated chap eager to deliver to me his endorsement (“WHO THE FUCK ARE THESE GUYS?” “they’re called the…” “FUCKING BRILLIANT EH?!?”). Pitched between Beta Band-style oddity and Tim Burgess-style swagger, their appeal is instant yet complex, and it's doubtful the aforementioned exchange is the only one of its kind taking place as the tent empties. [cb]
Nick Cave's headlining set at the second biggest stage - the Radio 1/NME Stage - is watched by a pitifully small crowd, but he shows no reservations or signs of disappointment - he's as ebullient and theatrical as he would be in front of a packed stadium. Red Right Hand, The Weeping Song and There She Goes My Beautiful One are highlights, but it's the pre-encore finale of Stagger Lee that, ahem, staggers me, with a crazy cacophonous climax and blasting lights followed by an extra verse and another screeching, screaming ending. More people needed to see it. [ab]