Last week, on the subject of T in the Park, we mentioned that we’re so insatiable for festivals, we’ve taken to having two reviewers at some of our favourites. Our intrepid Live Editor Paul Brown ventured south for Latitude, and is sharing his weekend experiences with you today and tomorrow. You can read Natalie Shaw’s take on the festival here.
It’s a canny old journey from Gateshead to Suffolk. It’s an even bloody worse journey if your SatNav is making the route up as it goes along, presumably out of spite for you ignoring its instructions when you’re near home and know a better route than it suggests. I swear at one point I thought we were going to end up parked Michael Scott-style in a lake because of the evil electronic bastard. Alas, eventually Mrs Muso’s and I arrive at Latitude on Thursday evening, neatly sidestep any difficulties putting up our shiny new tent, and set about exploring the site on our first visit there. After a wander around to get the lay of the land (and see the multi-coloured sheep), we attempt to take in Guillemots’ improvised live sountdrack to Park Chan Wook’s film Oldboy. Truth be told, as nice as it is too see Guillemots being weird again after Fyfe’s recent pop star adventures, it’s a bit much to take after a six hour journey, so we soon call it a day to regroup for tomorrow’s exertions.
The day starts pretty early with Braids, whose presence at Latitude is a late announcement, and their hazy synthpop provides a pretty great introduction to the weekend. Sure, there are times when they drift off into aimless noodling, but the majority of their set is a triumph, and it’s lovely to see the Sunrise Arena so packed at 11.30 on the first morning of the festival.
Of course, Latitude’s main USP is its tagline that it’s ‘More than just a music festival’, and a glance over the weekend’s schedule reveals a festival which is probably only rivalled by Glastonbury for diversity. This means that as a mere music writer, there will plenty of performances over the course of the weekend that I’m in no way qualified to critique, but it would be pretty rude to ignore them. Simon Armitage is one such performer. His reading in the poetry tent is massively enjoyable, and you can see precisely why he’s a bit of a national treasure. His warm Northern burr and brilliant wordplay make him hugely likeable.
Following on from Armitage is The Phantom Band, who are tough to describe simply because there basically isn’t another band like them in the UK today. Their restless, rangy jams are brilliant this afternoon, and it makes you wonder why Checkmate Savage and The Wants haven’t shifted absolute megaloads. There’s a darkly funky edge to their sound so pronounced that we’re half expecting rainclouds to have gathered when we depart the Sunrise Arena, but alas the sun is still peeling the bark from the trees. Following The Phantom Band we decide to maintain the tenuous Scottish theme by venturing over to the Obelisk to see Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, who, to be honest, pass us by a little. Their usual blend of pretty and evil is firmly there, but sadly it just drifts away on the breeze from a stage this size.
Far more substantial in sound are Deerhunter in the Word Arena. Their lolloping, mesmeric grooves are absolutely glorious. They’re probably the loudest band we’ve seen so far this weekend, spelling out pretty explicitly just how expert they are at all this meaty guitar breakdown stuff now. As impressive as Deerhunter are, though, Bright Eyes blow them, and every other band on today’s bill, out of the water. Having been inducted into the Bright Eyes live experience last Tuesday, I now realise what a fucking huge pop star Oberst is. I’m not sure when it happened, but he’s become some kind of twirling, dancing super-performer, and in the sunshine of the Obelisk, it’s impossible to take your eyes off him. The set is leaner than Tuesday’s in Gateshead, eschewing the quiet heartbreakers in favour of the likes of ‘Lover I Don’t Have to Love’ and ‘Arc of Time’. Bright Eyes provide one of the nicest moments of the day when he wheels out Jenny and Johnny for a sterling vocal cameo on a gorgeous cover of Gillian Welch’s ‘Wrecking Ball’
After the visceral high of Bright Eyes, Glasser initially feels a little deflating. However, the combination of the tribal beats, keyboard loops and that extraordinary voice, at once gentle and powerful, proves to be the ideal post-Oberst comedown. In another swerve of pace, we decide to follow Glasser with a bit of Dutch Uncles at the Lake Stage. The band play to a pretty small crowd, primarily due to The Vaccines playing at the same time at The Word Arena. It’s okay though, because those yawnsome NME darlings very kindly pulled all those Skins-reject kids who litter the site into the one place, meaning us old grumpers are left alone to enjoy some razor-sharp pop, and if a little sound bleed drifting across the field is the price we have to pay, then so be it. Dutch Uncles’ frontman Duncan is a man possessed, flying around the stage and squawking his lines out at a breathless pace.
By the time our chosen headliners The National lope onto the Obelisk’s stage, we have to confess to being a bit worn out by the combination of ten hours of bands, uncharacteristic British sunshine and cider. Maybe this is why the band’s set feels like a bit of a slog at times. Sure, their performance feels like a headline show, which is an achievement in itself given how gradual their rise to this status has been. And their musicianship is typically strong, with the brass section in particular helping to pepper the show with some really spine-tingling moments, ‘Slow Show’ being the biggest example. That said though, it’s hard not to think back to Oberst, and compare his ability to turn solid songcraft into an unmissable show with The National’s stolid performance. St Vincent’s cameo for ‘Afraid of Everyone’ is a nice surprise though, although it’s pretty damn weird seeing children dancing along. I guess that’s Latitude, though…
Part two of Paul’s Latitude Diary will appear tomorrow.