Reading Festival 2012 [Richmond Avenue, Reading]

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.

Reading Festival 2011 – Sunday

I started off the day with a bit of Popcorn Comedy (impossible to rate, too many shorts!), a variety of comedy film shorts and live performances. Of particular note was the Buttery Biscuit Base song, a cat that smeared poo on its owner’s wall to stop her from having a date and Carly Spellman’s song about her brother. And the one dedicated to Simon. You really had to be there for that one. The first main stage act I headed for was Taking Back Sunday (2.5/5), who I was particularly excited for considering their return to their original lineup. I am a big John Nolan fan. And I can tell you that he didn’t disappoint. TBS may be older and wiser, but he’s still got that raw emotion in his voice that made Tell All Your Friends. Adam Lazzara, on the other hand, was probably on something. The songs were fine, they were great even, and they rolled through all the classics, including the stuff that they’d written in the absence of John and co, but Adam was extremely overwhelming. I’ve seen Taking Back Sunday before, I know that he’s a bit of a character. But this was something else, and I honestly felt uncomfortable watching it. A good job that Frank Turner (4.5/5) came along to save the day! Frank’s first time on the main stage and he was positively glowing. The sun came out, the crowd sang along and I lost my voice. Frank and the Sleeping Souls chose their set very carefully, resulting in thousands of voices being hurled back at them. There really is no performer like Frank Turner. The soothing voice, the snappy dress, he’s got us in the palm of his hand. He oozes charisma, but moreso than that, his songs truly connect with so many people. The ‘I won’t sit down’ bit in Photosynthesis is always worth a laugh (essentially he gets everyone to sit down and jump up at a certain point in the song) and with less crush than in the NME tent last year, it actually worked! He’s touring in November, go and see him if you’ve got any sense.

Fast forward a bit to Bedouin Soundclash (3/5). By this point, the clouds had kicked back in, so their brand of reggae/ska managed to cheer everyone up. The tent was filled with people who’d heard that song on the T-mobile advert and not a lot else, but everyone was dancing. It’s happy music, chilled out and made a change from the hardcore being played earlier in the day (I did catch a bit of Off! but it was pretty dire and I wasn’t paying that much attention, so I’m virtually disregarding it). Hot Water Music (4/5) wowed us all. A great return for the band, they played a veritable aural feast from their ‘punk’ catalogue (no Fuel For The Hate Game love?). In fact, I’m surprised that the tent wasn’t as full as it was. Hot Water Music know what it’s all about, and the cover of True Believers at the end where all of their friends came on to join in was inspiring. The whole set was inspiring, really. If I can be as half an accomplished musician as any of them, I’ll be happy with my life. Face To Face followed them, but I didn’t really catch that much of it. What I did catch sounded pretty good though. My apologies to soufex for not seeing one of her faves!

Frank Turner (5/5) played a second set in the Lock Up, which topped his first one by miles, if that was even truly possible. There was admittedly some repetition from earlier, as he played The Road again, but in a much more intimate setting, it was far more involving than before. However, the true highlight of the set was Frank’s cover of Queen’s Somebody To Love, where he ditched the guitar and picked up the mic for an incredible rendition. Screw Glee, Frank Turner is where it’s at! Oh, and The Ballad Of Me And My Friends never ever gets old. As Frank says, “I’m definitely going to hell, but I’ll have all the best stories to tell” and that set can definitely be included amongst the best stories we have to tell. I’m really struggling to write comprehensively at this point, because my brain is just going “AJGDJHFF SO AWESOME” and I think that if a set can reduce me to some kind of babbling mess, it’s got to be worth it, right?

Flogging Molly (5/5) in comparison turned me into some kind of dancing machine. A friend of mine had come for the day and was meant to be watching Muse with his friends, but turned to me and said “I CANNOT LEAVE THIS RIGHT NOW!” To be perfectly honest, it was the most fun I’d had all weekend. Flogging Molly are not one of those bands I’d choose to listen to in the privacy of my own room, not really. They’ve got some great songs and I’m sure there’s some real gems out there, but in a way, I’ve always thought it was too gimmicky. I’m very happy to say I think I’ve been proven wrong. There was a phenomenal atmosphere in the room; everyone was dancing, cheering, clapping, singing… drink was flowing and people who didn’t even know each other were linking arms and dancing with each other. All in all, I think that was a great success. So much so, that Descendents (4.5/5), although they were amazing in their own way, just missed out in topping the list over Frank and Flogging Molly. They may be all grown up now, but they’ve still got it. It was a dream come true to be able to see them, as they covered a huge range of songs from their back catalogue. They clearly love what they do and the on stage banter was hugely entertaining, as well as their choice from a few of the jokier songs in their repertoire (Coffee Mug, anyone?). Milo is a great hero of mine for many reasons, and the true highlight of their set for me was having a mic thrust in my face and singing a line. Punk rock ambition number 12 achieved! The songs sound just as good as on record, even better perhaps as Stephen Egerton takes it up a notch. So the weekend ended on a high, as I got to see one of my favourite bands who I’ll probably never get the opportunity to see again and completely disregarded Muse because I’m a total rebel. This year, Reading rocked.

Reading Festival 2011 – Saturday

Sunday will be posted up later today when it’s dusted off, but in the meantime, here’s a look at Saturday while I go shopping with my mum.
On the whole, Saturday’s main stage was… average. There was a lot of stuff I could have watched in the Lock Up, but for the first time in a long time, I actually had friends with me, and friends means sacrifice. I’m okay with that, but it did mean that I missed out on a lot of stuff that otherwise might have been pretty good. There were a lot of gaps. It was a long day.

But in other respects, I got to discover some stuff that I would never have ventured towards. Like Daniel Sloss (4/5), for example. Quite simply the funniest comedian of the whole weekend. He’s young, he’s relevant, he’s got floppy hair but above all else I was actually in tears at his ‘winning the breakup’ routine. Perhaps because it’s entirely relevant to me right now, but it’s sheer genius. Do go and see him if he tours around your town, you’re in for a treat. Daniel Sloss was followed by the surreal Late Night Gimp Fight (4/5). If you can replace a word in a song with the word ‘gimp’, they’ve done it according to their videos. Some of the strangest, most degrading and yet endearing sketches I’ve ever seen. And a man got his cock out at two in the afternoon. What more could you ask for?

Next up was a trip to the Lock Up for a bit of letlive. (3.5/5) who were pretty decent. On record, letlive. have been one of the most exciting bands around this year. Fake History is incredible. But live, that sound just doesn’t quite come through. Perhaps it’s the acoustics of the tent, maybe it’s because it’s actually quite a polished album, but their live performance is completely raw. Don’t think that’s a bad thing. Admittedly, I was a bit lost in places. It’s a complete sight to see though. Singer Jason Butler throws himself across stages in ways that shouldn’t be humanly possible. Guitarists Jean Nascimento and Jeff Sayhoun shred like there’s nothing else left to do in the world. To listen to, they weren’t at their peak that day, not like I think they could be. To watch, they were insane.

A brief stint in the Alternative tent saw us in the company of Michael Fabbri (2.5/5) who elicited a couple of laughs but on the whole was pretty average. He didn’t measure up to the comedic genius of Daniel Sloss, at any rate. Paul Chowdhry (1/5) was that bad that I actually fell asleep. Apparently nothing exists outside of London. Where the hell do you think you are then, mate? Dire stuff.

Jimmy Eat World (4/5) are always outstanding. Whatever the set, they know their audience and they play to that audience. We got all the hits from Bleed American, Futures and Chase This Light, a couple of gems from Clarity and the latest from Invented. Even at fourth, Jimmy Eat World should have been higher up on the bill. Who the hell are The National? They’re not Jimmy Eat World, that’s for sure. Jimmy Eat World were made for big things and they’re finally getting some of the recognition they deserve. The full touring band this time made a huge difference to their set, allowing them to achieve the depth that’s displayed throughout all of their albums. A Jimmy Eat World set always feels really personal; unlike some acts where you really feel part of the enormous crowd around you, the band always manage to make it feel extremely intimate, despite playing to an audience of thousands. It takes a lot to be able to do that.

During dinner, I caught a bit of Glassjaw (4/5). I feel that I can’t really give Glassjaw an accurate enough review, considering that I caught less than half a set. That half a set I did catch was pretty intense. Daryl Palumbo is demonic in his movements, and those eyes… those eyes. Glassjaw are frequently quoted as the best post-hardcore band around and I find it easy to see why – they are utterly captivating. The King Blues (4/5) in the Lock Up are just as captivating but for wholly different reasons. It’s great to see them back in the Lock Up. Their performance on the main stage last year was good, but it wasn’t where they belonged. As Itch said, “You people in the Lock Up… you’re our kind of people, yeah!” They ran through a blistering set of reggae and ska tinged punk rock, and although I appreciated Tim McIllrath’s statements the day before, he doesn’t really know what he’s on about regarding our country, but The King Blues really do. New song, Power To The People, is a hardcore influenced dub whirlwind, ready to inspire the youth of today. The tent was packed, not just full of the punk crowd, but there were girls with flowers in their hair, mums and dads, indie hipsters and more, proving that The King Blues have a greatly universal appeal.

But it seems that no band has more universal appeal right now than The Midnight Beast (4/5). Much like the HMV Institute on their headlining tour this year, the tent was so rammed that the band had to stop in the middle of their new song in order to get everyone to move back so nobody died. That is how excited people are to be seeing The Midnight Beast. Screaming teenage girls aside, their comedic raps had pretty much the whole tent in fits, including an impromptu cover of Friday which had more people singing along than will probably admit to it. A Midnight Beast set is definitely a show, with so much going on that it’s difficult to keep up. Cheerleaders, fake swords, boyband dancers… they’ve got it all. Comedy rap is a big thing right now and The Midnight Beast are the best of British for sure. The new song shows promise of lots of new material to come, so they’ll definitely be worth watching. Not bad for three guys who covered Kesha’s Tik Tok in their living room.

Reading Festival 2011 – Friday

Let it be noted that the rest IS on the way, but considering I haven’t done a real update in a while, you can have Friday first and the rest in a couple of days when I’ve written it!
Another year, another Reading. One more weekend of sleeping on the ground, of being pissed on by the heavens, of probably catching some kind of STI from the longdrops and of obscenely good music. There are a lot of festivals out there and arguably, Britain has most of them on its shores, but Reading is and always will be my festival. No other festival quite has the variety that Reading does, nor the charm. You’d never get Glassjaw and Bombay Bicycle Club sharing the same stage anywhere else. Some people go just for the “experience”, others for the overpriced alcohol and getting stoned in a field. Those two things may actually be one and the same but I go for music. I’ve paid an extortionate amount of money. And this year’s review actually has a lot of bands (and a bit more comedy than last year) in it. Always a plus.

After a night of essentially being a wetboy (“Can I go to bed yet? I’ve been up since half six!” “NO IT’S ONLY HALF NINE. That isn’t socially acceptable!”) I rose nice and early on Friday morning to wade my way through six inches of mud in an attempt to reach the arena in time for Architects (3.5/5). Architects proved to be a solid opener for Friday’s main stage, playing a mix between their older, heavier material and newer effort, The Here And Now. A substantial wake up call at midday, Architects proved that they can indeed bring it. The Blackout (4/5) followed up with a bloody brilliant set, bouncing all over the place. Sean and Gavin are such charmers. The ever-so-slightly altered vocal dynamic (essentially, Sean doesn’t shout quite as much) that was found in Hope translates well live. I did find myself disappointed that there was no spit catching, but I think that was just me. Spit catching aside, The Blackout brought so much energy to the morning that New Found Glory (3/5) were struggling to keep up. While it was by no means a bad set from the Floridian pop-punksters, it’s clear that New Found Glory aren’t quite at home on the main stage. Having seen NFG multiple times throughout the years, something felt very off about their set in comparison. The main stage at Reading is a big thing, it has to be to get 30 Seconds To Mars’ ridiculous stage set up there and although NFG are big players in the pop-punk scene, their presence didn’t dominate as much as it should have done. Nevertheless, they played a decent amount from their back catalogue, inciting mass singalongs, while I sat in regret at having to sell my ticket for their intimate headline tour (first time I’ve missed them in seven years. SEVEN YEARS). So I guess pop punk’s not dead yet, is it Chad? No. Bring Me The Horizon (4.5/5) played the best set so far that day with an intense experience that only they can provide. The crowd surfing was mental. Oli Sykes, despite his pissant reputation, was positively adorable and simultaneously terrifying as he ripped through their set with high velocity. There’s always a certain aggression associated with a BMTH set which is easily spotted through the various moshpits and walls of death, but as Oli grinned from ear to ear, the notion of a band all grown up shined through. Their latest effort, perhaps their magnum opus, is a sophisticated affair despite having a song called ‘Fuck’ on it and their Reading set was a blinder. Ta very much. In comparison, Rise Against’s (3/5) was a more watered down affair as the band chose to go with their newer, middle of the road material. Following BMTH, it would have been entirely possible to pick out some of the finest from Siren Song Of The Counter Culture or Revolutions Per Minute but I was left feeling underwhelmed. Songs like Saviour are nice, and Tim McIllrath has developed a lovely gruff singing voice over the years which sounds sublime sailing across a sea of writhing bodies but come on… hardcore punk isn’t over yet. Their cover of The Clash’s ‘White Riot’ was superb though, even if Tim’s statement regarding the London riots of late did not go down too well with the crowd.

We left the main stage because Deftones were on there and I’ve never liked them. I always feel like I should apologise for that fact, because they’re such a big institution, but broccoli is a big vegetable and I don’t apologise for disliking that so I think my conscience is clear. Instead, we were wowed by The Petebox (4/5) in the Alternative tent with a simply astounding demonstration of just what the human voice can do. He covered Where’s Your Head At amongst other classic tunes using just his voice! Brill! Apparently he’s got a new album coming out which should be interesting. Henry Rollins (5/5) is always an inspiration. Always. There is never a time when I walk out of a room where Henry has been on stage and feel disappointed. His stories are funny, despite his protestation against such accusations, endearing, on the edge and enthralling. In this set, he gave us some details about his time in North Korea as one of the very few Americans let in yearly, the time when Black Flag got some girl’s eye put out and living on the Santa Monica Boulevard during a high point in male prostitution in the area. This man has lived the most incredible life and he urges us to do the same. If you have never, ever seen Henry speak, or read one of his books, or listened to one of the various spoken word albums he’s done, then remedy this immediately. You won’t regret it.

A brief dinner and then back to the main stage for 30 Seconds To Mars (4/5). Part of me wanted to hate this performance. I mean, I’ve always thought that 30STM have demanded this kind of grandeur out of nowhere. In another article, I discuss this lack of understanding at simply how 30STM are where they are but finally seeing it for myself has made me realise that actually, this is a band that deserve to be centre stage right now. Pretty much everything about this set can be described as epic. The staging, with its huge screens and rising platforms, looked incredible. Jared’s interaction with the crowd was insane – as soon as Kings and Queens rolls up, there are literally fifty fans singing their heart out on stage with him as he prances around in a fan’s tiger onesie. They picked only the most anthemic of their songs, and although they left out From Yesterday which is my personal favourite from A Beautiful Lie (actually… the only song I truly like off that release), the entire field rang out with cheers and screams. 30STM are a highly visual band and as odd as that sounds, they do have to be seen to be believed. I was pretty much half converted before this set, but now I’m ready to go all the way.

Despite their cracking performance, 30STM simply could not measure up to My Chemical Romance (5/5). It’s not been long since the band have been back in the UK but it’s been at least three years since they graced the main stage at Reading and Leeds. And they have been missed. Gerard and the boys were certainly in fine form and loving it. The set was comprised of various hits from their new album, which is superb by the way, The Black Parade and Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge. Unlike Leeds’ set, we didn’t get Our Lady Of Sorrows, but that’s okay. Each and every song was thrashed to perfection as the band whirled their way across the stage. James Dewees (at least I swear that was him under the fursuit!) made a welcome return to keys and knocked out a fantastic rendition of Mama with the band. My Chemical Romance have not lost their passion in any way. I know it’s not all about Gerard, and truly, the band as a whole are amazing, but he completely stole the show in every way possible. In today’s music, there isn’t a better front man. He’s got the voice, the passion, the energy that so many others have but taken to a whole new level. The experience as a whole was taken up about ten notches during the encore as Queen’s Brian May (BRIAN MAY YOU GUYS, BRIAN MAY!!) came on stage for a cheeky cover of We Will Rock You and Welcome To The Black Parade. There were fireworks. There was a lot of hair. There was an epic solo. Gerard looked like a kid who’d eaten too many blue Smarties. Everything was perfect. And so Friday finished in the greatest possible way and My Chemical Romance are the best headliners I’ve seen at Reading ever. True fact.

Lock Up Stage Preview 2011 – Reading and Leeds

And here comes the customary Lock Up preview. Although this preview comes a bit later in the year than usual, it’s perhaps a rather good thing – several bands have dropped out or been added in the time between the announcement and now. In any case, here’s a breakdown of what you’re likely to see at Reading or Leeds Festival this year!… if you’re like me and pretty much stick to this tent alone.

There’s a fundamental difference concerning the Lock Up this year, and that’s the scheduling. Unlike previous years, where the Lock Up ran Friday-Saturday (at Reading), it’s now moved to Saturday-Sunday. Leeds is mostly unaffected, with the Lock Up remaining Sunday-Friday. What this means for me in particular is that I won’t see Muse do their Origin Of Symmetry anniversary set because the Descendents are playing at the same damn time. I’m only sort of okay with that. But for Milo and the guys, I’ll make the sacrifice. But anyway, let’s get down to it – who’s playing and who do you need to see?

Saturday/Sunday (Reading/Leeds)

Leamington’s own, Sharks are pretty well known around my area. They supported The Gaslight Anthem on their American Slang tour in the UK and fared rather well amongst the audience. Their particular brand of punk is possibly better suited to the NME stage – a bit like Fucked Up, it’s rather hard to place but it has too much of a universal affair for the Lock Up stage. Nevertheless, they’re sure to be winning openers for the day.

Title Fight
One of my most anticipated bands of the weekend, Title Fight are awesome. I’m a huge fan of the melodic hardcore/pop-punk hybrid a la Lifetime, Set Your Goals and all that. There’s something in there that just screams a bit of 90s emo as well and it’s ace. I’m not entirely sure how their live act is going to pull together, but frequenting the hardcore circuit in the US, they’re more than likely going to deliver.

Teenage Bottlerocket
Ah, Teenage Bottlerocket. I remember listening to these guys back in the hazy days of middle school, their tracks passed around on mix CDs bearing pretty much entirely Fat Wreck bands with a few Epitaph ones chucked on as an afterthought. Ridiculously fun pop-punk, it’ll definitely lighten the mood if it’s a rainy day (although let’s hope not!).

There’s a lot of stuff I could write here, but I’m saving that for next week’s post-hardcore expose. To put it bluntly, letlive. are one of the best things to happen to the alternative music scene in the past ten years. Fake History is an amazing record and I simply cannot wait to see this band live. Behind Hot Water Music and Descendents, letlive. are on my must see list and I won’t be missing this for the world.

Street Dogs
Mike McColgan’s (former Dropkick Murphys singer) band dating back from 2002, for those of you who didn’t know. I don’t think I did. It’s good old honest shouty punk rock with a far less of an Irish feel than Dropkicks. If you like Bouncing Souls, you’ll probably like these guys. More than likely worth a watch, despite their interruption of what could have been the perfect set (come on, letlive., Boysetsfire and Comeback Kid in one go would be like a triple orgasm).

It has been a hell of a long time since I’ve heard anything from Boysetsfire. Since their reunion last year, they’ve been touring all over and it looks like Reading and Leeds will be no exception. Their particular brand of post-hardcore is wonderfully melodic and atmospheric, which should bring a touch of epic back to the stage. If you’ve never heard them before, a whole lot of After The Eulogy (which rules) is up on their Myspace for your delectation.

Comeback Kid
We all know how much love I have for Comeback Kid by now. A blinder of a set at Imperial Never Say Die last year has set them up perfectly for this. The new album is pretty damn sweet but I’ll be looking for material from Broadcasting more than anything. Hardcore that in the words of Bill and Ted is ‘excellent!’ Get on this if you like lots of gang shouts.

Leftover Crack
I’ve never been a huge Leftover Crack fan. I enjoy ska, but their kind of skacore just isn’t my thing. Nevertheless, their live presence can’t be denied and will probably be worth a watch. Famously described as anti-everything, there’s going to be a lot of fury, a lot of breakdowns and probably some pretty big moshpits.

Ah, Capdown. Yet another reformation to grace the stage. Not that I’m complaining; Capdown are one of my old P-Rock TV staples and should go down a treat. An ideal lead in from Leftover Crack to The Bronx – it’s ska-punk as you know it best.

The Bronx
Here’s a shocking thought for you – this will be my first time catching The Bronx. Unfortunately unable to attend their Coventry show in my first year, I have been left bereft, but no longer! Hardcore legends. If you haven’t heard of The Bronx and you regularly read this website, then something went wrong in your musical education. I’m definitely expecting some violent pits for this one.

The King Blues
The King Blues seemed to fare well enough on the main stage last year, but this is perhaps where they belong and will surely pull a much larger and more dedicated crowd. Punk and Poetry is an ideal summer album, although in my eyes one of their weakest. It still has some great songs on it though and as they won’t be catering to the majority, they’re bound to whip out a few classics.

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
Truth be told, I’ve never listened to a lot of Bosstones. They’ve always been there in the background of my ska listening, but no doubt my partners in crime on the radio would be far more excited for this set. Although they don’t measure up to the headliners of the next day, they’re bound to be a lot of fun.

Sunday/Friday (Reading/Leeds)

Fighting Fiction
Fighting Fiction are apparently dudes from Brighton! Cool! On my trawling through the internet, I spy a connection to Xtra Mile, the record company that Frank Turner is also on. Exciting. But enough about details, the songs sound great. Indie tinged punk rock with a lot of balls, this should prove to be pretty damn good on a Sunday morning.

Spy Catcher
From the one song I managed to find out there on the internet, Spy Catcher seem to be a pretty intriguing bunch. My expectations were shot from the beginning with some very interesting synth work, then into a post-hardcore/emo sound as the guitars kicked in. Perhaps this should have been expected, upon discovering they supported The Get Up Kids last year, but I enjoyed being pleasantly surprised. Here’s hoping the set goes just as well.

Your Demise
After spotting Your Demise at the Never Say Die tour, there aren’t enough good things I can say about them. British hardcore has been at an all time low and Your Demise are bringing it back. Brutal stuff. I bloody love them and you should too. More than likely, this is going to be one of the most intense and energetic sets of the entire weekend.

The Menzingers
I love The Menzingers. Chamberlain Waits is a great punk album. If you like The Gaslight Anthem, you’ll probably be on board with The Menzingers, except there’s a lot less Springsteen and a bit more awesome. Should be good stuff.

The Black Pacific
The Black Pacific seems to be a smorgasbord of punk veterans, including members from Pennywise and Dropkick Murphys. It’s catchy, melodic punk rock by numbers… and that’s not exactly a bad thing. Perhaps not my most anticipated act of the weekend, but they should prove to be not too shabby.

Keith Morris’ newest hardcore project, Off! are once again a mixture of experienced hardcore veterans. Of course, the mere fact that Keith Morris is performing (and that crosses two Black Flag vocalists off my list that weekend with Henry Rollins headlining the Alternative Stage on Friday) will pull some crowds, but is that 80s sound still relevant? I guess we’ll wait and see. It does sound pretty much exactly the same as Black Flag back in the day, but… it isn’t. So I have mixed feelings here.

Bedouin Soundclash
Bedouin Soundclash are an odd choice for the Lock Up, and again may be better suited to the NME tent. There’s no doubt that their ska/reggae influenced rock is pretty popular amongst the scene, but it seems oddly placed on that day and may have fared better on the Saturday. In any case, it might provide a nice chill out segment to the day before Hot Water Music tear it up.

Hot Water Music
When I heard that Hot Water Music were playing Reading, I was ecstatic. When I heard that HWM were playing on the same day as the Descendents, I was over the moon. To this day, Fuel For The Hate Game remains one of my favourite albums. Nevertheless, both the emo and punk rock sides to Hot Water Music are essential and I simply cannot wait until the moment that Chuck and the boys grace the stage.

Face To Face
I was turned onto Face To Face by former writer Soufex who bloody loves them. And I can see exactly why! Now considered to be one of the seminal punk rock bands from the 90s California scene, this is exactly what you think of when you think American punk rock. You just didn’t know it until now.

The secret act!
For once, I’m clueless. There’s usually some decent indication as to who the secret act could be – last year, Gallows and NOFX ended up playing sets which were completely unannounced. In the tradition of the ‘double set’, Taking Back Sunday seem to be the most likely, playing early on the main stage on Sunday and with the original lineup back in place, it’d simply be a waste if they weren’t back where it all began.

Flogging Molly
Flogging Molly. Well. I’d much rather them than Dropkick Murphys. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a bit of Irish flavoured punk but it’s not my favourite. However, I’ll be right at the front, holding my place. A fair few of my friends are up for this one.

Best. Headliners. Ever. Descendents have been one of my favourite bands since I was about 15 and very little has changed. Since Milo’s surprise cancellation at London, this has been announced and waaaay ahead of all the other Lock Up announcements. Positively renowned for an awesome live experience, THIS is why I bought a Reading ticket. And to miss this would be ridiculous. Sorry Muse.