The Isle Of Wight Festival has always been renowned for pulling in legendary acts, ever since its early beginnings in 1968, with The Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Doors and Bowie all gracing the main stage.
In 2009, it’s the turn of country crooning folk hero Neil Young. But more on that later. First, the Friday night, where we find Basement Jaxx second in command on a dance-heavy bill which has already seen Pendulum and Ladyhawke whipping up pockets of wild throngs on the opening day. The duo, who are flanked by a full live group tonight, smash out their hits tremendously as they reel off 'Romeo' and 'Where's Your Head At?' in front of their screaming supporters. Their performance climaxes with a dancefloor-denting version of 'Rendez-Vu', and then…
And then, The Prodigy make their apocalyptic entrance.
Two months ago the firestarters slayed Wembley Arena with a hit heavy show that harked back to their hey day in the mid ‘90s (read our review HERE). But tonight something's missing: their set is too bass heavy, often drowning out their usually smouldering anthems, and the energetic atmosphere they whipped up at Wembley isn't quite recaptured, despite both Maxim and Keith Flint's best efforts to set the crowd on fire with their high-kicking and shadow-boxing antics. Sure, the set is every Prodigy fan’s wet dream as they throw out ‘Firestarter’, ‘Breathe’ and ‘Omen’ to wild applause, but too many of their hits fall flat and it's not until 'Voodoo People' kicks in that the Essex boys finally ramp up their set up to the level we've come to expect.
'Smack My Bitch' up, as ever, is disturbingly stunning, and 'Out Of Space' does enough to send the islanders spilling into the bars to satisfying chants. But for headliners we expect something more.
Come day two, Saturday, and the sun is shining down on The Solent. Local newcomers The Majortones kick off the morning with their blend of electro pop, sounding like Foals fronted by Jack Penate. Battle of the Bands winners at the island's Medina High School, the electro four-piece put in a fine performance in front of early festival risers.
They’re quickly followed by The Yeah You’s, who arrive onstage dressed in horrific polo shirts and black suits. Their music isn’t much better either, as they bash out the most awful pop songs since God invented Keane. Fortunately over at the Big Top there's some young talent brewing in the form of angsty rockers The Arcadian Kicks. Handpicked by Charlatans guitarist Jon Brookes, this unsigned five-piece are a girl-boy combination worth keeping an ear out for. Like The Subways and Blood Red Shoes before them, this Birmingham bunch spit out spiky scuzz-rock with soaring sass.
Up and coming Isle Of Wight disco types The Operators follow with a set which sounds impressively tight, but devoid of any real tunes. The day’s first ‘big band’ arrives in the shape of The Maccabees who've had a second wind of late after Arcade Fire producer Marcus Dravs sprinkled his magic all over their new album 'Wall Of Arms’ (REVIEW). Pulling in one of the largest Big Top crowds of the weekend, even they seem surprised by their appeal, as guitarist Felix White modestly shouts: "Thanks so much for coming. We really didn't expect to see this many people." They put in a solid performance mixing frenetic pop ('Precious Time', 'First Love') with gut-punching love songs ('Toothpaste Kisses', 'Love You Better'), but The Rakes blow them off the stage with their fantastic blend of angular guitar pop. Eccentric frontman Alan Donohoe flails his arms around the stage like a comedy Ian Curtis as he warbles his way through '22 Grand Job', 'We Danced Together' and '1989'. He ain’t short of a few jokes, either: "We played on the main stage three years ago. Now we're back here supporting McFly." They end their set with a rollicking rendition of 'Strasbourg' thus confirming their status as one of the most underrated bands around at the minute. Mercury Rev's hypnotic space rock meanwhile is a joy to behold, capped off with the spine tingling beauty that is 'The Dark Is Rising'.
Over on the main stage west London gloom-rockers White Lies are overwhelmed as they face the pressure of "playing their biggest gig ever" in front of a live TV audience. Harry McVeigh and company fail to crack though, instead blasting out the likes of ‘To Lose My Life’ and ‘Farewell To The Fairground’ with more determination than The Wire’s Jimmy McNulty (well, that’s not a weird parallel at all – confused Ed). Their best song by far though is the guitar-stomping kidnap anthem 'The Price Of Love'. Maxïmo Park were the unfortunate sufferers of second album syndrome back in 2007, but they've recently got their mojo back with the success of their third album 'Quicken The Heart' (REVIEW). Tonight finds 'Going Missing' 'Our Velocity' and relative new effort 'The Kids Are Sick Again' all sounding like the pop classics we fell in love with when the five-piece first came scissor-kicking onto the music circuit back in 2005.
Over at the Big Top, a glowstick-waving armada is spilling out of the tent in anticipation of the second coming of Calvin Harris. Thanks to the chart topping success of his recent single 'I'm Not Alone', the Scottish dance wizard could literally fart into the microphone tonight and the crowd would still go mad. Which is a shame because his complacency lets him down to begin with, as his set is hampered by poor sound. But when he does get going, he plays one of the most memorable shows of the weekend with the tent descending into a mass pogo frenzy for the smouldering 'Acceptable In The 80s' and the sex-tastic 'Girls'. But it's his dancefloor-slaying number one hit that creates one of the defining moments of the festival as the whole tent chants the chorus in unifying ecstasy.
And so to Saturday headliners The Stereophonics. Let's face it: the Welsh trio haven't really released a decent album since 'Performance And Cocktails' back in ‘99. But they've had their fair share of worthy singles over the years and tonight that works in their favour as virtually the whole festival descends on the main stage. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they sound terrific, firing out a greatest hits set which, bar a few awful singles, sounds water tight. 'Dakota', 'Maybe Tomorrow', 'Same Size Feet' and 'Traffic' all sound tremendous as Kelly Jones belts out track after track with anthemic aplomb.
Sunday at the Isle Of Wight Festival could be seen as the day of legends given the bill, and they really don't come any bigger than Neil Young. Unless of course you happen to be some band called Pixies. First up though, it's time for a bit of tracksuit rapping form Newport stoners Goldie Lookin Chain.
They haven't had the best of time of late. After being dropped by their label, it seemed like the joke was beginning to wear thin for the Welsh comedy hip-hop stars. That isn't the case in the Isle Of Wight though, as a massive crowd turn out to cheer on the Kappa rappers. Admittedly the newies - 'Space Police', 'By Any Means Necessary' and 'New Day' - don't have the same side splitting charm as their oldies -'Guns Don't Kill People Rappers Do', 'The Maggot' and 'Your Mother's Got A Penis' - but the Goldie Lookin crew are made for festivals like this, and you can't help but chuckle every time Adam Hussein and Dwain Xain open their mouths.
Old-timers Simple Minds attract a similar size crowd but they're clearly past their prime. After kicking off with the pulsating 'Waterfront', their set quickly goes downhill as Jim Kerr's boys proceed to kill their Breakfast Club anthem 'Don't You Forget About Me' and 'Promised You A Miracle'. Across the way, garage-rock revivalists Black Lips pull a few cheers and jeers when frontman Cole Alexander marches onstage in a pair of skimpy white shorts. Their lo-fi set is impressive though, as they rattle off the likes of 'Drugs' and 'Katrina' in self-destructive style.
And so to the band of the weekend, the Pixies, who as ever don’t disappoint. The same can not be said of the crowd though, who seem totally bemused throughout their blinding set. Playing their first UK show in nearly four years, even Neil Young must have been quaking as Frank Black and Kim Deal effortlessly knock out jaw-dropping anthems for fun while Joey Santiago shreds bone-crunching guitar riffs with his eyes closed. As a mark of respect to the legend, the Boston rockers play a creditable cover of 'Winterlong', which was originally recorded on Young's 1989 tribute album 'The Bridge'. But it's their monster classics that really shine tonight. The growling 'Monkey Gone To Heaven, the tremendous 'Here Comes Your Man' and the crowd-pleasing 'Where Is My Mind' put the Pixies in a category worthy of any legend. It really doesn't get any better than this.
Even Neil Young, for all his talent and charm, can't match them tonight. But he has a damn good go as he smashes out riff after riff on 'Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)' before crooning magnificently on 'Rockin' In The Free World'. He offers up a charming cover of The Beatles' 'A Day In The Life', but it’s his songs that make history tonight, sitting pretty with past and present legends.
Goldie Lookin Chain