Reading on Sunday is, emotionally speaking, a game of two halves. So much so, at the start of the day it helps to imagine a line halfway between the main stage and the Radio 1 tent, where you can stand and ask yourself: “So. Do I want to be happy? Or do I want to be depressed?”
That’s because you can head towards the main stage and find yourself watching rock music of the most self-lacerating, black clothes-wearing, concealed firearm carrying kind. Or you could simply decide against it, head for the tent and embrace what is, effectively Nu Rave Day.
In the field a young woman walks past covered – as is the style of the day – in scrawled writing. The slogan that she’s sporting describes the day’s dilemma rather well. “Rock off,” it declares. “And rave on.”
It’s a tempting decision, certainly. Not least because the day in the tent gets off to such a fine start. Pull Tiger Tail –essentially what seems to be a goth wolf in nu rave clothing, so well-concealed are their tunes beneath their powerful beats – are certainly good value, even if they do give the impression that nu rave is a hobby for the well to do, much as hunting once was.
But it’s Hadouken! who generate the first genuine mania of the day. “Let’s do this!” they shout. And do it – where “it” is accompany crunching guitar music with some decent, often very funny rapping – they do magnificently. What’s most impressive is the band’s complete lack of front: they work unselfconsciously, promoting a bacchanalian party atmosphere at the time of day where you’d most likely once have been watching Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci.
Almost none of which you can say about New Young Pony Club. In spite of having a genuinely ubiquitous song – in the shape of their perpetually re-released Ice Cream single – there’s something so professional and orderly about their take on indie dance that as hard as singer Tahita works, they are met with a kind of collective cold shoulder.
Cold War Kids, a little later, are a different proposition entirely. In fact, they’re a complete shambles – but this is evidently what the band strive for. This is music which, in content and, occasionally, execution makes a virtue out of failure – their performance totters unsteadily from one extreme to the next, much as do the characters in their songs. The Walkmen, who they closely resemble, may be the better band, but from the resources at their disposal, CWK work a kind of miracle. One man walks in on crutches. By the end of the set, he is at the front, waving them in the air. This seems about right.
So does Devendra Banhart. As befits a man with such a messianic appearance, his show is all about winning converts. At the beginning of his performance, he’s playing the complex, multi-layered “Seahorse”, from his new album, to about two dozen perplexed onlookers. By the end – incorporating a memorable 5 minutes in the spotlight for Sass and Freya from London, who are invited on stage to play a song of their own composition – Banhart and his band are playing to a nearly full house.
Banhart’s thing, if you didn’t know, is charm. Sometimes this can come off as self-regard – the show is as slack as you might expect from a band calling themselves Spiritual Boner – but Devendra’s warmth (“Come on up here, honey…”) and apparent naivete (“I Feel Just Like A Child” is particularly memorable) are an unbeatable combination.
Words: John Robinson
Pic: Danny North