Reading Festival 2009

Reading and Leeds is some kind of British institution these days. If you are a) 18-25 and b) listen to music, then it’s sort of a prerequisite that you go. This year was my first time for the whole weekend, so I wasn’t exactly a Reading virgin and was instead someone who got to second base with Reading, and it was an interesting experience. A lot of people go for the booze and to have a few bands playing in the background, but being the good little straight edge girl I am, it was time to bombard myself with live music and of course, review it for you fine people. Armed with two TBO shirts, my boyfriend to supply me with hand gel and warmth when it got freeze-your-tits-off cold during the last few acts, my sister to generally irritate me and drag me off to bands I didn’t want to see, and my sister’s two Scottish internet friends to attempt to stop the previous item from happening, I was ready to go.

First, there are a few things I found out rather quickly. Number one, camping sucks; number two, toilets there are vile; number three, nobody stays clean; and finally, number four, you will never ever get to see every band you want. All of these facts are rather irritating and not very fun, but are solid tenets of the festival. The food also sucks, and people will keep you awake throughout the night with loud, but admittedly wonderful gems such as “get out of my fucking tent and take a shit!”. As much as people like to bullshit, the vast majority of them aren’t there for the same reason as you – they’re there to get shitfaced in a field. Whilst that’s all well and good, your hair will smell like beer due to the sheer amount of cups thrown amongst the crowd. And all of this is probably making the festival sound awful, but trust me, it’s not! No matter how many small things irritated me, the underlying feeling of “I’m actually here” and seeing a ton of your favourite bands in one weekend (which I was fortunate enough to do) is definitely worth it. And without further ado, onto the bands!

Friday

We started Friday off fairly chilled. We got into the arena early and hung out in the NME/Radio One tent for a bit, catching Glasgow’s Dananananaykroyd first thing. For the first band of the day, they’re a rather odd choice. They sound a bit like a British version of Blood Brothers, which is perfectly fine by me, even if the vocals are pretty unintelligible. They were quite energetic, and rather fun, so I’d definitely check them again. Then, after a brief disappearance to fetch coats before the heavens opened, we came back to watch Manchester Orchestra. Even as a Brand New fan, I had never cared enough to listen to these guys before and that was a big mistake because they were great! Really nice indie rock for early in the afternoon. They also had fantastic beards, and if you’re a regular TBO reader, you’ll appreciate the fact that I am a great beard appreciator. But anyway, they had a great sound.

It was onto the main stage for a while then, and we saw Alexisonfire first there. Almost all the bands today suffered from poor sound on the main stage, but Alexisonfire struggled bravely through it, putting on a rather good show regardless. They played a lot of Crisis material, making the fans extremely happy and serving as a good warm up for their set in the Lock Up tent later. New Found Glory followed them, and were fantastic as always, despite the poor sound. I’ve seen NFG at least five times now and they’ve been awesome every time. They had a great range of new and old songs, playing a couple from new album Not Without A Fight, as well as some classics like Sincerely Me and favourite single, Kiss Me. They were the best received band so far that day, and it was also their first time playing the main stage, as opposed to the Lock Up, so they managed very well.

We then ended up back and forth between stages for a while, hitting up the NME/Radio One tent for Little Boots, who was also really good. Despite a few little hiccups, like almost missing a cue and tripping to reach the mic and the tenori-on losing its output, she performed very well. She did both singles and a few of the other songs from debut album Hands, which has been my favourite album this summer, as well as a cover of Freddie Mercury’s ‘Love Kills’, with a superb reaction from the crowd. And her cape/dress combo was epic. Next came Fall Out Boy on the main stage, and they were awful. I’ve seen FOB about five times, and they’ve never performed so badly as they had that day. The poor sound didn’t even provide an excuse. The set list was the same as ever, with a few songs from the last album replaced with some from the new album, and yes, they finished on Saturday. Pete Wentz tried to be funny and failed, as per usual, he jumped into the crowd screaming like an idiot, as per usual, and they just didn’t meet the standard. Their cover of Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ was quite good though, to their credit. It certainly made a change from hearing ‘Beat It’, yet again. It was off to the Lock Up for the only time that day to check out Bouncing Souls, who entertained the crowd with their sunny pop-punk anthems. Admittedly, it sounded a bit samey, but pop-punk has a tendency to do so every now and again. It was these guys who did the standard Misfits cover this time, performing an acoustic version of ‘Hybrid Moments’ which can only be described as epic. All in all, it was a good, bouncy set. And I like that.

For the rest of the evening, we trudged on over to the main stage, situated ourselves near a screen and bought some donuts and tea to keep ourselves warm. Kaiser Chiefs were back again this year, and they keep getting better and better! The shining star of that band, vocalist Ricky (who’s lost loads of weight, go Ricky!), kept us all entertained with his stage climbing antics and running around like a mad man. The sound had been fixed by this point so they sounded sublime, playing a ton of fan favourites and making everyone move their feet! Well, that could have been the cold too, but I like to think it was the Kaisers. Even my boyfriend thought they were the best band of the day and he can’t stand their songs, so there’s proof of how awesome they were. They were definitely one of my favourite acts of the weekend.

And then it began… Kings Of Leon, the bone of much contention this weekend. Unfortunately, their songs aren’t too lively and they aren’t well known over here except for the singles from their latest album, so they weren’t as well received as the Kaisers were. The sound was fantastic, and I rather enjoyed the set, even if I wasn’t so familiar with it. The band themselves started off fine too, until frontman Caleb turned into a pissy bitch because people weren’t reacting as he had expected and started going ‘if you’re sick of Kings Of Leon, then fuck you!’ which was entirely unnecessary and started trashing things. Trashing your set hasn’t been rock and roll since 1994 and Nirvana, so Kings Of Leon really did themselves no favours, and I found that their behaviour soured the entire evening for me. It’s a good job there were plenty of other bands without that kind of attitude to redeem the rest of the weekend.

Saturday

I spent the entire day here in the Lock Up tent, which I feel was an excellent decision. In order to go charge phones, we ended up missing The Computers, but apparently they were rather good, so that was a shame. However, we did get to see Polar Bear Club, which was badass, because they were just as good if not better than when they supported The Gaslight Anthem in February. For those not in the know, Polar Bear Club play awesome melodic hardcore, and they totally sounded their best that day. They played some new material from their upcoming album which sounded great, and really got us all moving! They were also extremely polite young gentlemen, in stark contrast to a certain headliner, and this was a theme that ran throughout the rest of the bands on today. Great set from a great band, and I’m glad I got to see them again. Chuck Ragan was up next, and his blend of folk-punk-country is something beautiful to behold. With a full band of bassist, pedal steel guitarist, keyboardist, violinist, drummer and himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica, he created a really rich sound that provided a fantastic change of pace in the Lock Up with all the passion of his days in Hot Water Music. Gold Country will definitely be an album to look forwards to, and his collaboration with Tim McIllrath from Rise Against at the end of the set was incredible; two great vocalists with totally different styles, but it worked so well. All in all, very impressed. There were also fantastic beards in this one too.

After a bit of a break, we headed back for Set Your Goals, who I found to be very repetitive. Unfortunately, this is a risk you run when you’re either a pop-punk band or a hardcore band, which SYG are a strange hybrid of. The fans loved it though, and there were circle pits ahoy! The vocalist from Polar Bear Club made an appearance and showed up both SYG vocalists (and I have never understood the need for two vocalists) with his hyperactive self and awesomely gruff voice for such a skinny man. Anyway, their best effort was a ‘heavier’ song from their new album, which did actually sound more like hardcore and more like my kind of thing. They weren’t terrible, but they didn’t deliver like I thought they would. However, Rival Schools were completely the opposite. Having got into them after they broke up, I didn’t think I’d have any opportunity to see them live, so I definitely wasn’t going to miss this set, and I was right to stick to my guns, as they were fantastic! Their set again showed the diversity on the Lock Up stage this year, with their unique brand of post-hardcore sailing out of the speakers at full force. Plus, the announcement of new material got everyone excited, and both the band and crowd were full of energy. And now, I can say I’ve seen SOMEONE from Gorilla Biscuits on stage, so that’s a personal achievement.

We took a break for some not-so-delicious festival food (the idea of a giant filled Yorkshire Pudding would be wonderful at home, made by Mummy, but with instant mash and cheap ingredients, not so much) and I separated from my sister and took my boyfriend for an evening of straight up awesome as we caught Thursday and Rise Against. I’ve seen Thursday more times than I realised previously, and every time, they always sound exactly the same. Geoff Rickley’s got fantastic hips, but his vocals leave a lot to be desired live. They were also a bit TOO pleasant, dedicating every other song to some cause or another. It soon became our little in-joke of the weekend, dedicating fake songs to puppies and people who take their recycling to the right bin and so on. Well, it amused us, that’s for sure. I’m not a big Thursday fan, to be honest, so I couldn’t really recognise half of their songs, but there was a pretty wide range of old and new. Apart from Geoff’s vocals, they sounded pretty good. And then Rise Against came on and totally owned everything that day. Rise Against are a band best seen live, and even if I couldn’t technically ‘see’ anything due to my tiny stature and aptitude for getting lost in pits, there was complete validation of that fact that night. The band’s melodic hardcore works great in a festival environment, and the set was filled with fan favourites and a few classics from Revolutions Per Minute – they played Red, White And Blue, despite my heart’s desperate plea for Black Masks and Gasoline. It was their first time headlining the Lock Up, despite playing it for several years and they certainly stood up to the challenge. Tim McIllrath is also probably one of the loveliest men on the planet, and shows that you don’t have to be a dick to be a successful frontman. One of his statements about the crowd all being ‘family’ is one thing I love about the punk scene – there’s such a great sense of community and you’re all there for the same reason. But I digress. Rise Against were amazing, as per usual, and I heartily recommend you see them some time soon.

Sunday
First thing Sunday morning, I decided to take a different approach and headed over to a lecture on Watchmen by Jeffrey Lewis (Alternative Stage), a singer/songwriter who also happened to do his university thesis on Watchmen, which is extremely badass. He went through a variety of themes and theories, such as discussing the notion of obscured vision and denial (the right eye of many characters/objects is obscured throughout the comic in reference to this), the allusions early on to Adrian’s plan, the symbolism in Edward’s visit to Moloch and other such things that if you don’t know Watchmen, you have no chance in hell of understanding. But for a fan like myself, it was very interesting! It made a great change from music, and provided a wonderful slice of geekery into the weekend. If you like Watchmen, you’ll find Mr Lewis’ ideas very intriguing. Oh, did I mention there was a slide show as well? BADASS.

Frank Turner (NME/Radio One) was the first musician of the day for me, and I can’t say it enough, but it is always a pleasure to see him. Always. He played an absolutely fantastic set, including new songs from ‘Poetry Of The Deed’ (I’ve got it pre-ordered, how about you?) and new single ‘The Road’ which went down great. I was surprised to see such a big crowd, as I didn’t realise he was that well known, but it truly is testament to Frank’s genius and charm. As my sister said, “aww, what an absolute babe!” He sounded great, performed fantastically and even went and did a little mini set on the BBC Introducing stage featuring an epic cover of Dancing Queen! What a lovely man.

Okay, seeing Brand New (Main Stage) is always a fairly intense experience, and not one which is particularly suited to a festival, I feel. It was rather overwhelming if you weren’t a Brand New fan, and my sister being of that variety stood there rather bored going “…what the hell are they doing?” for half the set. This, of course, in reference to all the improvisation included in all the songs, which Brand New now have a tendency for doing. Okay, I like that when Brand New are headlining, but a festival set needs to be snappy and it needs to grab your attention in all the right ways, which the boys just didn’t manage this time. I think it’s because Jesse wasn’t wearing a cardigan. They played a few new songs from ‘Daisy’, due out 21st September, and this was probably the highlight of the set for a lot of people, because new Brand New is always a good thing.

I have only a few things to say about The Gaslight Anthem (NME/Radio One)in general. Firstly, Brian Fallon has the most wonderful voice in music right now. Secondly, he’s crazy – he kind of lectured the crowd on an inflatable hand. Thirdly, they play awesome folk punk. That’s pretty much all you need to know and that’s exactly what went down. They played a mix of songs from Sink Or Swim and The ’59 Sound and much like Frank Turner, they had a lot more fans than I expected! Great folk punk and great people.

Before AFI, we managed to catch a little bit of Bloc Party (Main Stage). The singer has some of the biggest arm muscles in music right now, but that’s besides the point. They had some very impressive lighting and sound effects, as well as playing a ton of awesome songs. I’m not a Bloc Party aficionado, but I at least recognised three out of the six or seven songs we got to see. Also, did I mention the arm muscles? Seriously, you needed two tickets to the gun show for those!

Oh, AFI (NME/Radio One). It really has been too long. Three years, in fact, since you last graced our soils. I’m a total AFI fangirl and I don’t care, they were absolutely incredible. The standard Sing The Sorrow and Decemberunderground set was in place, as well as new single Medicate, with Days Of The Phoenix cropping in as expected and they did A Single Second without Nick 13 and Love Is A Many Splendored Thing!! That was only on vinyl!! It was great to see AFI doing some old material, because since they changed to Interscope, it hasn’t been featuring in their sets at all, and as an AFI fan for almost eight years, it was a bit upsetting last time I saw them to find only Phoenix and God Called In Sick Today representing the Nitro days. Anyway, AFI are really great live. Davey really gets into it, Jade and Hunter do much better spinkicks than Joe Trohman and Pete Wentz and Adam… Well, Adam is Adam! My only criticism is that the levels weren’t great on Davey’s vocals, as he sings fairly quietly anyway and he was almost drowned out in several instances. Otherwise, fantastic set, and my best of the weekend.

The last band we saw was Radiohead (Main Stage), and if I’m being honest, they’re pretty boring to watch. They sound amazing, but they’re boring to watch. They had a cool camera setup going on, where it essentially zoomed in on Thom Yorke’s nose hair whilst displaying all of the other band members in little squares and then Thom Yorke in another one, but it was interesting nonetheless. The set was heavy with In Rainbows material, as Radiohead haven’t brought out anything new since. It was an extremely long set though – almost two and a half hours – comprised of some of Radiohead’s best material. A personal highlight for me was Paranoid Android, as well as Idioteque. So, Radiohead. A bit overrated, I felt, but they sounded good and the fans were pleased.

So, that’s Reading. Leeds coverage is coming from ninthandash soon. Presale is on now at the same price as this year’s tickets for a limited time only, so if you’re interested, head on over to the official site. It was a great weekend for me and hopefully, TBO will be representing again next year!

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