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Friday

Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood

A chance eavesdropping on a passer-by’s phone call sends us missioning to the Park Stage, snagged guy-ropes trailing behind us in our haste, where we arrive twenty minutes into Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood’s surprise set. Given the crowd already assembled word spreads quickly, and deservedly too: Radiohead are entwined with the Glastonbury mythology, and their absence from the festival’s fortieth birthday celebration was glaring. Whilst Yorke’s solo material starts the set it’s the songs from his day job that leave the mark, the final lines of Karma Police taken up by hundreds and echoing around the field long after Yorke and Greenwood have finished it. A minimalist Arpeggi/Weird Fishes might lack impact but a piano-driven rendition of Idioteque somehow lends its pending armageddon a warmth absent from the chilly defeatism of the Kid A original, heightened by the drawn-out shadows and fading, flickering light.

The performance may add little new but it’s something just to see these two on this stage: far from the impossible expectations of the Pyramid they’re free just to, well, play. Yorke and Greenwood could never have gotten away with a set this stripped-down and laid back anywhere else on site, especially if their names had appeared on the bill: the jarring rhythms of Pyramid Song would have elicited rioting from the England-shirted masses safely cooped before Dizzee Rascal at around the same time. But for those of us there for Street Spirit’s ending moments, the daylight taking its cue from the song’s closing refrain, higher points are hard to come by this festival.

 

Tegan and Sara

Canada’s Tegan and Sara make for an entertaining hour, although more perhaps for their onstage banter than their songs which, whilst interesting, fail to build and develop in any really satisfying way, their spiky, melodic post-punk starting to blur into a homogenous mass by the third song. The omission of Dark Come Soon from the setlist is unforgivable too.

 

Kele

It’s a divided crowd gathering within the John Peel tent for Kele’s afternoon performance. A fair number, it’s likely, are here simply fleeing the heat, currently turning those outside into versions of the Nazi commander who opens the Lost Ark: the rest of us, though, fall broadly into two camps, those here to see Bloc Party and those keen to see what that band’s primary creative force is doing next. Providing some clues for the latter group – and decidedly wrongfooting the former – is the stage set-up, laden with synthesizers and bereft of guitars. But that’s little surprise really: the former Bloc Party frontman has made no secret of his attachment to electronic music and his boredom with indie, an attitude borne out in the increasing digitisation of his late band’s sound and let loose with Kele’s recent solo material, which forms the bulk of the set here. The commingling of synths and beats is nothing new, but Okereke’s voice lends heart to the binary, familiar themes of youthful disenchantment and relationship breakdown a fitting match for the disjointed rhythms and emotive swells of sound.

Shorn of his guitar Kele is free to roam the stage, confident and assured and far more alive than he seemed on last year’s endless Intimacy tour: ‘as you know, I used to be in another band’, he teases, before launching into a medley of Blue Light, The Prayer and Bloc Party’s swansong single One More Chance. The response, warm before, becomes electric, the tent as heated as the air outside. Tenderoni brings little respite, its eighties dance hooks demanding movement, whilst a driving, impassioned Flux closes the set with fresh sweat and weary smiles.

 

Mumford and Sons

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when Mumford and Sons became ubiquitous. Last Autumn they were playing a former public toilet in Tunbridge Wells: here they’re performing to one of the largest John Peel Stage crowds of the weekend, their second appearance of the day after their brief foray in the BBC Introducing tent that morning, the latter sadly marred by Jo Wiley’s execrable live radio banter. Certainly there was a tangible buzz around the band in 2009, much as there was for Fleet Foxes the previous year, but whilst they’ve all but disappeared from consciousness a love of Mumford and Sons has, it seems, become regulation: everybody we meet seems to have seen them, and nobody has a bad word to say.

Which makes criticising them a risky game, really, but here goes. They’re dull. Sure, they play excellently, closer Dust Bowl Dance piquing interest temporarily with a superbly riotous crescendo, and the crowd’s engagement throughout certainly lends atmosphere, but in the main Mumford and Sons’ songs just don’t do enough, the overriding tweeness turning to suffocation by the end of the set. There are highpoints, certainly, a frantic Little Lion Man foremost amongst them, and the band’s considerable onstage charm will carry them far, but staring around the tent at the glut of beards and straw hats framing the rapt attention of thousands of faces, mouths moving in unison with perfect recall of every single lyric makes me uneasy. They’re like a cult. And aren’t cults supposed to offer something new?

 

Gorillaz

All that negative press surrounding the Gorillaz’ headlining performance? Lies, every word: this was tremendous. Ambitious, yes, and far from the usual parade of karaoke hits that the Pyramid Stage churns forth, but ‘disappointing’? Never. Give the people what they want reads the old adage, and it’s a path that leads to Coldplay: kudos to Albarn for forging another route.

Well, journey actually. This was a show that took in the world, rendering genre redundant in an effortless blur of hip-hop, dance, classical and rock. The guestlist was awing – where else will we ever see Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Bobby Womack, Shaun Ryder and De La Soul share a stage again? – but more impressive was that this was a show bigger than any one person, and dominated by no-one. Albarn himself, the photo-boy for so much of Glastonbury 2009’s copy, for the main took on a background role, out of focus but obviously in thrall to the musicians before him, most notably for the mid-point pause for an orchestral ensemble of Lebanese drummers.

And hey, some people may been lost upon the way, but so what: hopefully they enjoyed Shakira or whatever the next day. Those who stayed got the crowdpleasers they wanted in Dare, Feel Good Inc and a bravura Snoop-Dogg infused Clint Eastwood, but these weren’t the point. This was a proper show, and sure, there were flaws: the audio-visual elements weren’t as accomplished as they could have been, Shaun Ryder looked depressingly like a paunched, middle-aged salesman and the guy next to us decided to urinate like a garden-centre sprinkler over all around. But these are minor grumbles – after all, urine washes out – when there’s a performance this sprawling, overwhelming and yeah, interesting.

 

Saturday

Beach House

Baltimore’s Beach House provide a late-afternoon respite, bodies strewn around the Park Stage like refugees. The greatest audience concentration straddles the shadows cast by the mixing desk and the sunlight beside, a mix of sun and shade that befits Beach House’s music perfectly. Gentle yet tinged with melancholy, singer Victoria Legrand’s eerie vocals wash over the assembled like a breeze, cooling yet affecting, with a subtlety that leaves a mark long after the evening’s tinnitus has receded.

 

Foals

The John Peel Tent is heaving with young people, old people, people with limps and people with silly hats, people with beards and people with ice-creams: like the freakshows of old all life has gathered to witness Foals’ singer Yannis Philippakis’ strange canine yelp in the flesh. They’re not disappointed: an early Cassius resounds like a vet’s waiting room, whilst Two Steps Twice has the displaced howling of a van en-route to the Pound. Vocals aside, Foals are tremendous, all jagged, disjointed rhythms and tricksy song-structures, their set buoyed by the infectious energy of Balloons but truly driven by the darker hues and dynamics of Red Socks Pugie and Spanish Sahara.

 

Muse

The crowd is pressed in like a Nazi rally, and there’s more than a touch of the dystopian to Muse’s bludgeoning Pyramid show. Taking the stage to an audience response terrifyingly close to the ending scenes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers – mouths agape and faces twisted, outstretched arms forward – the four-piece proceed upon a monstrous two hours of steamroller electro-metal-classical-glam-whatever through a setlist that reads like the level-selection in Halo.

It’s certainly an impressive show, the Pyramid alive with light and motion, the crowd a Dharavi sprawl of camera-phones and paper cups, even if it is essentially a more industrial Flash Gordon. The drums are truly pounding and the guitar-lines incredible, but Matthew Bellamy’s falsetto is so melodramatic as to render the drama almost farcical, the band’s endless themes of resistance and revolution impossible to dwell upon without snorting cider down your front. Snatches of other artists go some way to leavening the pomposity though, riffs from Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine and House of the Rising Sun wrestling the setlist away from total introversion, and their Edge-augmented cover of U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name is, grudgingly, a masterstroke of crowd-pleasing despite the bile rising in my throat.

With an audience this expansive it was always going to be the singles that played best, and unlike the previous night’s Gorillaz Muse can deliver these in abundance. An early Supermassive Black Hole is met with hysteria, whilst the main set’s closing triplet of Time Is Running Out, Starlight and Stockholm Syndrome is greeted like Jesus’ return (incidentally, the girl sat in a wheelchair in front us actually took to her feet at this point. No lie). Really though, more than any one song this was a performance so assured, so overwhelming as to make criticism a bit redundant: it’s strange that a band so odd with songs so bloated, so teenage in their emotion should have such mass appeal, but when it ends the cheers don’t stop, raising in pitch and fervour until silence itself seems just a memory, dim and fading.

 

Sunday

Dan Mangan

In a weekend full of clashes, surely the toss-up between Canadian Dan Mangan and Toy Story 3 was the most painful, debated to near violence over breakfast and eventually decided only by virtue of the proximity of the John Peel Tent to our own. He doesn’t look enough like Woody – maybe if he shaved – to quite placate us, but the man can certainly perform, his quirky, folky songs charming a weary crowd practically regressing from the combination of sleep deprivation and awaking to see half your body weight condensed on the canvas above. Mangan even has us relearning simple words by the end, a much-extended Robots seeing him take his guitar into the crowd, coaxing us back to sentience like a magical roaming bard.

 

Broken Social Scene

The extent to which the John Peel Tent has strayed from its original remit – it is, of course, the former new bands stage – is evidenced in the very presence of Broken Social Scene on its lineup. The eleven year-old Toronto collective’s appearance on a stage otherwise resounding with new upstarts is largely drawn from their recent fourth album, and whilst these songs all get a warm reception it’s their back catalogue that elicits the cheers, sterling renditions of Cause = Time and KC Accidental chief amongst them. But it’s new album highlight All To All that steals the set, Lisa Lobsinger’s striking vocals complementing the minimal instrumentation and scattered beats perfectly.

 

Chew Lips

Sunday afternoons at Glastonbury tend towards terminal lethargy, so thank God for East London’s Chew Lips who refuse any concessions to the heat and sleep deprivation. Their BBC Introducing Stage set is short but intense, a familiar but passionately-delivered marriage of beats and synths given an edge by Alicia Huertas’ vocals. Early single Solo steals the set for much of the crowd, although it’s closer Gold Key that fires the synapses.

 

Crystal Castles

Waiting for Crystal Castles to come on stage is like being trapped in Skins, blatantly underage teens falling to the floor all around whilst impossibly well-groomed couples engage in soapish spats solved through necking pills. And there’s something of the Skins party to the Toronto band’s performance, too, singer Alice Glass spending at least part of every song flailing across the crowd, her voice a fractured, hellish shriek backed by warzone beats and liquid synths. Pity the stage technicians ceaselessly fixing the microphones and live drums, or the front rows who spend the entirety of the set engulfed within dry ice, lest we gain a clear glimpse of producer Ethan Kath. It’s a thrillingly anarchic, messy show, the sound – like the crowd – all over the place, and all the better for it.

 

Dirty Projectors

So, on Friday night the Dirty Projectors played to a packed Barbican, critical plaudits abounding like manna. On Sunday evening they played Glastonbury. To around forty people. Ok, so they’d attracted a few more bodies by the close of their set, and to be fair the Park Stage is a trek worthy of sponsorship to get to, but still – forty people? Not that this seemed to affect them – although they did sneak some crafty photos of the ‘crowd’ – the six-piece delivering a near-perfect set of off-kilter, twisted indie, song-structures confounding even as the technical delivery awes. The female vocalists’ harmonizing is impossible to describe with mere keyboard presses, but pity all those who missed their unbelievable vocal arpeggios on Remade Horizon, whilst Stillness Is The Move is essentially an RnB track done properly. Stunning stuff.

 

Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip

Playing pretty much the last proper set of the festival, to a Queen’s Head tent largely filled with refugees from Stevie Wonder’s Pyramid show, Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip might be feeling some pressure. Not that they show it: the pair amble on stage with a swaggering indifference, the opening to The Beat That My Heart Skipped uniting the crowd in a flurry of movement. It’s no exaggeration to say that – utterly unexpectedly – this was genuinely one of the best performances of the festival, the combination of driving beats and Scroobius Pip’s witty self-deprecation invigorating and entertaining in equal measure. Songs about suicide might seem an odd theme for a party high but hey, they work here, Pip’s half-hearted costume changes during Angles a rival for any stage show Muse could put on.

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