“I dunno why I’m smiling,” says Damon Albarn, before launching into the ultra-wistful Blur ballad “Out Of Time”, “it’s not a very optimistic song.” This, though, is very much the End Of The Road effect. By sunset on Friday, a combination of the verdant surroundings, the music, the people, the craft ale and the simple fact that it’s brilliant to be doing this all again his created, well, a sense of enormous well-being.
It means that we’ll happily accept a sundown main stage set composed largely of downbeat material, the aspect of Albarn’s oeuvre widely known as ‘Sad Damon’. But while this stuff – much of his upcoming solo album The Nearer The Fountain…, a few The Good, The Bad & The Queen numbers, “On Melancholy Hill” – leans towards the reflective, it’s rarely less than rousing, with vintage keyboards and string quartet underpinned by dub basslines and slo-mo Afrobeat rhythms.
Albarn himself is in excitable form, hopping goofily around while playing the melodica and dropping into the pit to croon to the front row. He starts to babble something potentially dubious about “the science”, compares himself to Kanye West and gets us to the chant the “eighth chakra” as an intro to the best of his new numbers, “Polaris”, which starts out as the ultimate Sad Damon song before somehow acquiring a pumping middle section. And before glorious closer “This Is A Low”, sung along by the crowd with tipsy gusto, Albarn even saves Uncut a job by writing his own capsule review: “It was musical, it was heartfelt… and it happened.”
The difficulty for Hot Chip is that, at this festival, you can’t feed off the energy generated by a previous act. After Albarn, the Woods Stage crowd almost entirely disperses while a DJ pumps out that noted festival banger, “Wichita Lineman”. But Wandsworth’s geeky 14-legged groove machine soon reel them back in with a volley of familiar heart-busting floor-fillers – “One Life Stand”, “Night And Day”, the deathless “Over And Over” – enhanced by gonzo house piano, four-part harmonies and some impressive formation dancing.
The boys from school are now Dads pulling their kids around the site in one of those little trailers, but a sense of not-quite-belonging lingers somehow, lending even Hot Chip’s most straight-ahead thumpers a sense of emotional intimacy. Arguably their newer songs don’t strike that balance quite so effectively, and in order to keep the hit quotient up they resort to pushing the ‘wacky cover version’ button. Their version of Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” probably sounded fun in the rehearsal room, although a discofied take on “Dancing In The Dark” is more successful, melting cleverly into LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” for the ultimate hug-your-mates moment. We can do that now, right? Good.