Glastonbury Day 1: Courtney Barnett and Lily Allen
In a welcome blast of sunshine between downpours, an excursion to the fringe stages on the southern slopes of the Glastonbury site provides a welcome relief from the liquid mud lakes and crowd crushes around the main arenas.
The Arcadia field is full of fantastic bio-mechanical monsters, from fire-breathing dragons to beetle-winged military vehicles, all watched over by a scary-looking science-fiction tripod robot bigger than a house that looks like it just stomped out of a Transformers movie. Or a U2 concert.
The Park field is an Edwardian village fete on acid, ablaze with painted train carriages and surreal sand scupltures, plus a fabulous five-storey tower made of rainbow-striped ribbons and topped with a giant wicker dome. The Prisoner meets Edward Lear. Making her Glastonbury debut on the Park stage is Melbourne's Courtney Barnett, the current It Girl of appealingly wonky, sardonic indie-rock. In Australian terms, Barnett is a total dag - dorky and uncool, but with a slightly knowing hipster edge. Casually chugging away on her left-handed guitar, her short set peaks with "Avant Gardener", the greatest Krautrock-grooving, stream-of-sarcasm, one-sided conversational monologue that Jonathan Richman never wrote. Laconic to the max, but hugely endearing.
Back on the Pyramid Stage, another former It Girl is making a comeback. "Thank you Glasto!" Lily Allen yells, before catching herself. "Not Glasto, I hate people who say Glasto... it doesn't need to be abbreviated." A small point, but it exposes something about Allen's brittle bravado and contradictory cockiness. Returning to the festival after a five-year sabbatical involving marriage and motherhood, the 29-year-old singer is a vision of hot-pink, high-heeled, defiantly zingy glamour as she twirls around a stage full of giant baby's milk bottles. Pure Pop Art spectacle. But her wooh-yeah mateyness feels a little forced tonight, much like her four-letter (and possibly defamatory) outbursts against FIFA boss Sep Blatter.
Allen seems to attract so much media and online hate, it is difficult not to like her for that reason alone. In fairness, "Smile" is still an evergreen Londonista carnival anthem that sets Glastonbury bouncing, and "The Fear" still delivers its sly cargo of sharp feminist critique inside a gorgeous Trojan Horse of sumptuous dream-pop, but the recently relaunched diva is an oddly ambivalent performer these days. Britain’s favourite naughty little sister one minute, wrong-headed controversialist the next, she increasingly falls somewhere between tabloid populist and sharp-witted critic of tabloid populism.
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