Reading Festival has long been a staple of my summer. This was my fourth year running with a full weekend ticket and about my seventh year attending overall. Somehow, the summer just doesn’t feel the same without a trip down to Reading – usually, my dad drives us down and dumps us at the river, then we slog down to the campsite, set up shop and collapse with drinks in hand (or a Coke Zero for me, let’s be honest) until the bands start on Friday. This year, with the formula slightly altered – sister’s friends drove, all my friends bailed on me – I could just tell that things would be… different somehow. Well, apart from not having a real shower for five days – that’s always going to stay the same.
I kicked off my Friday with Deaf Havana (4/5) on the main stage. Despite already hitting the ciders, the band were on top form to open the festival. With a set comprised almost completely of songs from crowd-friendly but brilliant Fools And Worthless Liars, it was a tuneful, optimistic beginning to the weekend. Finally fulfilling one of their ambitions, as James Veck-Gilodi explained, it was great to see one of Britain’s most up and coming bands play to so many people that early on. Over in the NME/Radio 1 Tent, Hadouken! (4/5) set a completely different precedent to Deaf Havana. Ramping up the intensity to 11, Hadouken! came to party hard and didn’t disappoint. While I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of their recorded material, they’re simply exhilarating to behold on a live platform and the tent was packed – clearly an indicator of their well deserved status.
Back on the main stage, Coheed and Cambria (3.5/5) didn’t live up to the usual expectations. Of course, Claudio is a majestic beast on stage and with the original line-up back in place, it’s clear to see that Coheed are in a better place than they have been in a long time. And yet, the set they chose just wasn’t festival friendly and the crowd stood there for most of the time bored and listless. Nevertheless, when Claudio whacked out the double neck SG for Welcome Home, the energy that Coheed are certainly capable of when they’re in the right place was more than obvious.
A brief segway to the Alternative Stage saw us in the company of Adam Hills (4.5/5), that dead funny Australian bloke off Mock The Week. He was certainly onto a winner with his set at Reading, containing a few new gags that had me and my companions almost crying with laughter. With that new show on Channel 4, plus more TV appearances here, he deserves to be enormous.
The Blackout (4.5/5) simply never disappoint. Merthyr Tydfil’s finest delivered an absolutely phenomenal set, picking the biggest anthems from their back catalogue. Sean Smith and Gavin Butler are a joy to watch as they jump across the stage, chucking mics and screaming loud and proud. The Blackout display a passion that’s sadly lacking from so many performers, as well as a professionalism that’s nearly unparalleled. Don’t ever miss them if you have the opportunity to see them – it’s worth it for Higher And Higher alone. In comparison, You Me At Six (3/5) were suitably tepid. Josh Franceschi demonstrated some pretty killer screams, but the band have taken too much from the school of American bands, thanking the audience after every song. While the sound couldn’t be faulted and they certainly played their particular brand of pop-rock adequately, the performance just felt flat. You Me At Six aren’t exactly known for being risk takers and there was certainly nothing unsafe about their set.
The disappointments continued thick and fast with Paramore (2/5). There’s been a lot of drama following the band over the past year. The shock departure of the Farro brothers left them in a bit of a rut and they’re only just getting out of it. Despite Hayley’s protestations that the show was all about the band as a whole though, it was clearly the Hayley Williams show and very little more. Hayley herself is still struggling to strike the right balance between singing properly and shouting weirdly, which is a terrible shame considering the incredible quality of her live performance pre-Riot!. Of course, Paramore have come along a great deal since that time in one way or another, but for a musician so highly praised for her vocal ability, she just doesn’t cut it live. The rest of the band are background characters – what’s left of them, anyway. A completely safe and predictable performance, apart from bringing on a fan for the final chorus of Misery Business and truly, the final nail in the coffin for my interest in Paramore.
The Cure (3/5) didn’t exactly stop the disappointment train in its tracks. A firm favourite of mine since my teen goth days, The Cure are a British institution. They don’t know how to pick a setlist though. When they played the songs we all knew – Lovecats, Inbetween Days, Friday I’m In Love – we were enthralled. The Cure, even after all these years, are still breathtaking, but only when they’re playing the classics. Most of their set was comprised of stuff that I didn’t recognise or didn’t like because despite being able to write anthems, they also know how to create boring background tracks all too well and too many of those made an appearance in their set. The encore was the best part overall, with the crowd and the band really coming alive for songs like Let’s Go To Bed and Close To Me. It’s comforting to know that after all these years, The Cure can still play very well. It’s less so to realise that their idea of timeless and ours no longer correspond.
Saturday’s start was more than a little unorthodox, to say the least. Sat around the campsite, waiting for people to get ready, I get a text from a friend that says “Green Day are on NOW if you wanted to watch them”, so cue a lot of running, potential abandonment of dignity and plenty of swearing. When we finally get into the arena, they’d blocked off access to the NME tent anyway so we stood watching from the big screen. Green Day (5/5) themselves though were completely unforgettable. All the rumours about a Dookie-only set had gone totally out of the window, instead leading to something more along the lines of every single they’ve ever released, meaning some gems like Hitchin’ A Ride and When I Come Around got to make an appearance. Billie Joe Armstrong is as excitable as a toddler in a toy shop, darting around the stage with water guns and tissue cannons, picking up the cameras and exceeds every expectation. Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool are no less enigmatic and quite simply, Green Day’s refusal to grow up lead to one of the most exciting live performances of the weekend, even without us making it into the tent itself.
Mystery Jets (4/5) are always a pleasure. Their lovely indie-pop floated its way through the crowds during the one little bit of sunshine we had, making for a nice, chilled out set. Fan favourite Girl Next Door had virtually the whole field singing along. OFWGKTA (2.5/5) proved a lot more divisive. Odd is definitely the right word for the rap collective. While at times, Odd Future’s material can be insightful, intelligent and highly original, the set at Reading just displayed some badly timed raps and the weaker parts of their back catalogue. Far more impressive were Don Broco (4/5). The Bedford quartet had the Festival Republic stage completely rammed as they threw out anthem after anthem. The band are born performers and their catchy brand of alt-rock will take them far.
Enter Shikari (4.5/5) have been at Reading for the past four years running and every time, are met with adoration and total devotion to the art form that is the human pyramid. Even after the phenomenal success of A Flash Flood Of Colour, Enter Shikari still perform with the chaotic energy and style that they’ve been renowned for and though an ethical message was prevalent within the set, it was ultimately overridden by the biggest party vibe of the festival. The Vaccines (3.5/5) are not really party people, nor do they have a sense of humour quite like Enter Shikari. Nevertheless, their catchy indie rock is perfectly inoffensive and provided some good clean fun.
The final set of the day for me was that of the truly mighty Young Guns (4.5/5). With second album, Bones, the quintet have leapt from strength to strength and this is perfectly demonstrated in their live show. Gustav and co are charismatic and energetic, their songs emotionally charged and completely explosive. Young Guns truly are going to go atmospheric.
Sunday is generally the best day of Reading Festival. Well known for being the festival’s “rock” day on the main stage, the line up on offer this year was second to none on paper. Band Of Skulls (3/5), new purveyors of grungey garage rock, were fairly samey in places, although it is difficult to sound particularly innovative in that genre. Their too-cool-for-school look seeped through into their performance, which worked on a few levels (Effortlessly fashionable? Check. That kind of despondent movement you can only do with grunge? Check) but on others, was just a vague flashback to the 90s. Frank Turner’s new hardcore band, Mongol Horde (5/5) proved to be far more entertaining and diverse, despite the obvious draw from 80s hardcore. It’s hard to think that Frank Turner can be anything but the folk-punk troubadour he’s become these days, but as he leapt onto stage wearing nothing but a pair of cargo shorts, all and any expectations of what Frank Turner is or was can be safely tossed out of the window. He’s got some of the best damn hardcore growls in the business at the moment, his vocals perfectly fitting songs that owe a great deal to the 80s hardcore scene, as well as harking back to the melodic post-hardcore of Million Dead. More complex than the average hardcore outfit and yet gloriously brutal in places, Mongol Horde are really, really good.
Eagles Of Death Metal (4/5) were fun, plain and simple. Rock and roll, no questions asked. Even though I’m not well versed in their back catalogue at all, I still found myself singing along stupidly loud. They’re just that catchy. And yes – Jesse still has that handlebar moustache. Because that’s rock. So is high fiving everyone on the front row, stealing bandanas and trucker caps and causing mayhem before three o’clock in the afternoon. The Gaslight Anthem (4/5) were just as involving but in a completely different way. The success of American Slang and now Handwritten has made them household names and their place on the main stage has been assured. There’s never anything fancy about a Gaslight performance – just great songs played with passion. The Skints (4/5) are hardly strangers to passionate live shows and had the Lock Up tent fit to burst. Equal parts laid back reggae beats and furious ska punk, a large part of the set came from the stunning new album Part And Parcel. In particular, Ratatat sounded insane.
Until this weekend, I’d pretty much forgotten that Bullet For My Valentine (3.5/5) still existed. Fever was just so shocking, it was easy to forget that they’d written some blazing tunes in the past. Their set this year was a good run through of all the classics – ultimately a crowd pleaser. It was a little bit cheesy in places – can British heavy metal ever not be? – but they’re a good laugh all the same. Kaiser Chiefs (4.5/5) lived up to their reputation of being one of Britain’s best live bands in the past ten years. They know what the audience wants and they blasted through all the singles at lightning speed, ignoring any album tracks for the most part. Ricky Wilson is fearless in his approach, launching himself at cameras and diving off of railings. He makes for compelling viewing, but the rest of the band are just as cheeky and full of Northern charm. It’s impossible to walk away from a Kaiser Chiefs set without a substantial grin. The Black Keys (4/5) possess an entirely different kind of charisma, effortlessly leading the crowd through their catchy bluesy rock. While I think that the Kaiser Chiefs should have had a higher billing than them (but alas, the Kaisers have been featured in far less adverts), it’s hard to see how The Black Keys have slid under the radar for so long as they have. Nevertheless, a UK arena tour is happening and they’re finally getting the adoration they deserve.
Finally, after a long weekend, the Foo Fighters (5/5) took to the stage. Dave Grohl instantly holds the crowd in the palm of his hand with a “What’s up England?” and we stay there until the closing bars of Everlong. Even after almost twenty years as a band, the banter is still strong, the enthusiasm is high and everything is note perfect. The Foos are great songwriters, but also highly competent musicians and guitar and drum solos reign throughout the show. And it really is a show – there’s fireworks and paper cannons punctuating the set, but a balance is struck between arena rock posturing and a more intimate feel. Grohl dedicates songs to his mum and his adorable daughters, who are watching from the side and when he tells the story of his first Reading encounter before Times Like These, the thousands of people watching them that night feel closer to any band than they have all weekend, especially when joined in song. A few covers add some fun as well as some old gems like Generator and whether you’re a fan or not, it’s impossible not to be taken in by the sheer brilliance of the Foo Fighters. For rock fans everywhere, for music fans everywhere, the Foo Fighters are an essential part of your live repetoire.
And thus ended yet another Reading, on what we thought was an absolute high. We weren’t counting on the horrific six hour wait to get out of White car park. And as such, the experience was tarnished for me. Usually, Reading is the highlight of my summer and what was an incredible weekend was ruined by shoddy management. Only in England, eh? I think I’ll be giving another festival a shot next year.