Poor neglected blog. Never mind, the football and tennis will soon be over, Glastonbury has passed…
Ah, yes, the “Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts.” I’ll be honest, I prefer recordings, film, books, painting and so on to performing arts. There is probably something about the focus on the human figure and it’s ego as the centre of attention in live, performing art that I have a problem with. Not that it’s much of a problem, it keeps me focused on what the work of art does rather than distracted by looks, skills, star-quality and all the trappings of celebrity which are almost always hideous.
So, Glastonbury 2014. The BBC TV coverage was excellent. I’ve spent hours accessing footage online and checking stuff I was unfamiliar with. The sound quality was better than ever. No complaints there. The festival was so vast in scope there was bound to be something for everybody so thumbs up for the Worthy Farm team too. But, as a snapshot of the current music scene, there was a dearth of exciting broad-based breakthrough next-big-thing OMG did you see that unmissable shit I can’t wait for their album vibes. If they’re out there, they will be using the internet, the great democratising enabler…except the sheer weight of dross up there makes it as hard as ever to find them before they achieve the tipping point or die of fatigue/old age. It says a lot when the thing that pushed the envelope most was Bryan Ferry revisiting the freaky early Roxy song Ladytron (after 40 years!) and still sounding expansive and futuristic in context.
Festivals are not exclusively or even predominantly for music lovers these days (if ever they were). Glastonbury is an experience involving much more than mere music (I’m told). I think of it as a weekend break with music for those who prefer camping to shopping malls. Similar experience.
But I don’t want to knock it. I’ll never know since I can’t imagine I’ll ever go and find out. I’m glad it’s there and thrilled so many are entertained by the experience. Like Mount Rushmore or The Giants’ Causeway, I’m sure it would be worth seeing. But not worth going to see.
Yes, the BBC is ideal for those who are into music but with no interest in the other trappings. Having veered off in a slightly cynical direction for a minute, let me just say I’m sure I noticed some fans listening during Mogwai’s set. Unusual since the audiences on the whole didn’t seem to be looking for subtlety and were happy with a singalong tune and a beat to jump about or sway to.
There are a couple of bugbears of mine associated with seeing performers. Firstly, singers who emote at me (with accompanying facial expressions) as if they felt this validated their music and helped me “get” its profound significance. Honestly, some singer-songwriters are more pretentious than the most extravagant OTT bands. Secondly, bands who “flesh out” their sound with synth pads or guitar strumming. Flash the chord-chart on the screen and most of us could do that for ourselves if we felt we really needed it. It’s lazy and boring.
The artists I preferred drew you into their unique musical world with effective dynamics and good arrangements as well as the tunes. There is an elusive tight-but-loose quality that the confident, well-bonded bands can achieve which allows the music to flow amongst them with an almost telepathic empathy. Audiences can pick up on it and share that vibe. Warpaint are a bit of an acquired taste and their new album is a slow grower but they have that feel about them. They don’t indulge in any visual presentation gimmicks whatsoever. It’s just them in their world and, if you think you’ve got their measure, their bag is flexible enough for plenty of invention and spirit.
Another band whose set I watched in its entirety was Pixies. I was actually prepared to be disappointed because of distant benchmarks and so on but, after a couple of numbers warming up, they were as formidable as ever. The Black Keys always deliver and are now at a peak of popularity having become a sort of pop/rock ideal for a modern age with a sizeable pop/rock hole at its centre. Interpol seem to be getting back in form, sharp and cool as ever, reminding us how consistently melodic, moody and edgy the magnificent “Antics” was.
Finally, best all round newcomer for me was St. Vincent who proved you can do a visual show without compromising the music if you are talented enough to consider every aspect of the whole and then deliver. Apparently the Americans “don’t get it” but they are still gorging on their overstuffed place where we have a rock/pop hole. There’s plenty of space for Annie to go far.
And speaking of the Americans, not content with outshining us with their spirit in the World Cup, they do the same at Glastonbury?! My musical tastes have always lent towards Europe rather than the trad old U.S. but where was the Brit challenge? The leftfield has bands like Mogwai and cheeky new pretenders Royal Blood but their audiences will always be limited. Too far out. Then you have headliners Kasabian trying desperately hard to be too far in. Since “West Ryder…” which was a very promising modern psych rock album, they seem to be dumbing down so much that Billy Bragg struggles not to confuse them with Spinal Tap. In between these two points…? How long is it since Radiohead delivered the ideal Glastonbury set that was of the moment and an index of possible futures? Really, that long?