As the Reading Festival moves into its second day, you wouldn’t be wrong to expect a hint of nostalgia in the air. Yesterday, after all, there was heavy rock, and the return of old favourites Rage Against The Machine. On Sunday, there will be the return of the reassuringly sturdy Metallica, and with them, yet more heavy rock.
Today, however, it’s all change. A day characterized in the main by a rather more pop mood – a calm, if you like, before Metallica’s storm – there are moments of fairly unequivocal modern fun to be had. These could be said to start with a pretty decent showing in NME/Radio 1 tent from The Ting Tings (who prove to be not just a band with one good song, but three), and end with The Killers, fighting against extremely poor sound to deliver the likes of “Somebody Told Me”.
Still, the seeker after interesting, but rather more traditional fare would not have been disappointed either. In the tent, in the afternoon, we find plenty of interest. Not least a man wearing an empty wine box as a hat, and another on whose arm is written, in capital letters, simply: “KNOB”.
There is also a terrific performance from Seasick Steve. A festival favourite anyway, thanks to his winning blend of blues hokum and rambling storytelling, Steve responds to the highly timetabled environment of this festival perfectly, sacrificing some of his more lengthy digressions, but still retaining an element of surprise.
“I need a girl,” he says, at one point. And sure enough, a young woman (named Alice, in fact) pretty much instantly responds to the grizzled ex-hobo’s demands, coming to the stage to be serenaded with a song called “Walking Man”. Elsewhere Steve is joined by his youngest son on inaudible washboard, and leaves with an overflowing cup of goodwill.
If Seasick Steve’s blues sets the old time scene, an early evening set from The Raconteurs fleshes out the sepia picture – here, after all, is a band whose performance appears on the video screens in black and white. From that promising touch, this, though proves to be a rather mixed bag. In principle the joint project of White Stripes man Jack White and his chum Brendan Benson, in practice it’s clear that The Raconteurs are only a joint effort in the same sort of way Jimi Hendrix Experience was.
It’s particularly apparent when, as today, the band appear to be having a bad time. The songs – particularly “Steady As She Goes” and “Level” – can definitely be impressive. When some of the other material threatens to get lost in the aforementioned terrible sound, however, it is White who pulls out all the stops, trying to keep the show on track with his extravagant theatricality. By turns he’s butch, but, perhaps down to his new Sharon Osbourne-style haircut, at times he’s also strangely camp.
If he can’t entirely save the day with his tunes, however, White does a fine job with his words. After introducing the members of the Raconteurs, and thanking the audience, he invites the band to stick around for the next band: “…the politically correct sounds of the Bloc Party.”
This might be the last place you expect to find it – but it was nice to see that see that in some rarified quarters of the Reading Festival, subtlety never goes out of style.