Reading Festival - Friday

Friday Blog Pt.2
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Fortunately the fantastic The Duke Spirit were playing back over at the NME tent, so after having skulked back through a static main-stage crowd, I found myself standing before Leila Moss and the boys as they casually ran through a set largely consisting of tracks from their most recent LP, ‘Neptune’.

This being the case, it was not one of the bands most energetic performances, lacking the exuberance of their early material. When they do finally wheel out 2005’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous track, ‘Love Is An Unfamiliar Name’ the sound levels do not do it justice – the spiky guitars are buried in the mix - and, having apparently run out of steam, it’s an off-tempo and lacklustre rendition; Leila choosing to drop an octave on the high notes that make the tune so powerful and drew comparisons to PJ Harvey. Still, those without such high expectations as I from this great band are certainly not disappointed.

I sit though a couple of inoffensive sets from The Enemy and Biffy Clyro, both perfectly acceptable performances from two competent bands who are still a long way from the zenith of their chosen genres, though. Friendly Fires have a little more about them, however, as they knock out a sort of New Rave/Experimental hybrid that’s quite agreeable, though the assembled crowd of appreciative bell-ends do bob and peck ridiculously like the band’s ridiculous-looking front-man. Clearly a festival highlight to many, MGMT pack out the NME tent with a crowd surely even greater in number than The Fratellis have over at the Main Stage, stretching far beyond the boundaries of the tent itself. The show is uncomfortably claustrophobic to many as hand-linked boys and girls shove and push to get out of the sweltering stage-front area, whilst yet more, of course, do so in the opposite direction. The band don’t fail to impress though as 21st century boys Andrew VanWyngarden – swamped as he is in a ridiculous tie-dyed kaftan – and Ben Goldwasser run through their millennium-glam-rock catalogue of hits.

The least said about Vampire Weekend, the better. Suffice to say I have no idea what all the fuss is about. It sounds like the backing music to The Little Mermaid to me. I duck out and catch most of Anti-Flag’s animated set, littered as it is with cod-political commentary that they rather naively think the crowd will take to heart.

In readiness for Rage Against The Machine, I start to loiter stage-front, during Queens Of The Stone Age’s set. I’ve seen the guys play live three times before, twice when their line-up sported Dave Grohl, Mark Lanegan and Nick Oliveri and were touring ‘Songs For The Deaf’. This show is guaranteed to disappoint. Josh Homme appears to be a man going through the motions as they rumble through the relatively mundane tracks from ‘Era Vulgaris’ with the clinical precision of session musicians and all of the personality; he puts the album’s tour to bed bereft of the band-mates that helped make the band so exciting seven years ago.

Rage Against The Machine is a band that was exciting audiences closer to 17 years ago, but their recent hiatus and imminent return has the zealous audience ravenously excited. As everyone now knows, the band took to stage wearing Guantanamo Bay style orange boiler-suits and black bags over their heads, obscuring their faces, before launching into fan-favourite ‘Bombtrack’, playing the song in its entirety without revealing their faces to the crowd.

The lights dim and the band disappears, re-emerging moments later sans outfits and immediately ‘Testify’ kicks in. The sprawling, gigantic audience is going crazy and moshing wildly, singing along not only to Zack’s politically-loaded lyrics but – where they don’t know the words – also to Tom Morello’s signature guitar sounds. Rage are one of the few bands I know that have audiences singing along with the instrument lines, for better or worse – though this was not the case when I saw them here last, back in ‘96. Tom is, however, a truly unique and gifted guitarist and at several points - as the cameras close in on his fret-board mastery, displaying his nimble fingers to the whole crowd - the wildly thrashing audience falls silent and still, dumbstruck and jaws agape at Morello’s guitar stylings, still years ahead of his time.

It’ a shame that RATM’s political message is utterly lost on most of the kids here, not least because Zack De La Rocha’s between-song diatribes aren’t clearly audible above the din of the crowd. But it’s the bile, the anger and the timeless tunes that have brought the fans out en-masse, raising clenched fists skyward one moment, playing air-guitar the next. Rage rocked!

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