The Arctic Monkeys Odyssey

live at roskilde festival

Tonight marks the start of the end of an album cycle that started with Glastonbury back in 2013. It’s been the briefest of cycles focussing heavily on pushing the band’s profile across the Atlantic. It’s come to a point though where any Arctic Monkeys appearance in the U.K. is met with great fanfare, as is evident by the huge crowd sprawling out in front of the Reading main stage, by far the biggest of the weekend. Emerging predictably to a foot stomping ‘Do I Wanna Know’ and then heading through 7 other AM tracks interspersed with select cuts from the bands stellar back catalogue, it’s clear that both on record and in the live environment Arctic Monkeys really can do whatever they want now.

Tonight, whatever they want is omitting ‘505’, bringing crowd favourite ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ back in to their show mid set, and to the disappointment of some ending on 4 tracks from AM. Where Alex Turner was at first mocked for his hip shaking, hands in the air croon at Glastonbury last year, he’s now made the super swish, slick hair rock star look his own.   It isn’t the career defining live moment I still feel Arctic Monkeys are yet to perform, however. tracks like Arabella that should sound impeccably powerful come across a little damp through the Reading night.

Backed by their now trademark AM backdrop it’s a no frills production that brings the music and Alex Turner’s newly found rock star swagger to the fore, a move that works for the first hour of their set but lacks the sort of dynamism in the latter venture in to AM’s material, the crowd constantly waiting for some sort of crescendo that never really grows until going out with a band on R U Mine. Drawing a crowd from all corners of Reading’s expansive clientele, it’s clear the Arctic Monkey’s appeal continues to grow and after last headlining in 2009 I’d bet it will be sooner than a 5 year gap before they next grace this most prestigious of stages.

The decision to choose co-headliners for Reading Festival was always going to be a bit of an odd prospect. Queens of The Stone Age on the one hand have played Reading 4 times and 2 times before on this very stage in the same slot they will occupy on Saturday at Leeds, Paramore on the other hand have staked their claim as the new trailblazers of the pop-rock crossover having plied their trade working their way up the bill in 4 year jumps form the lock up to the sub-headline to the big time. It’s fair to say that both bands walked off the stage having proved exactly why they could’ve been closing the show in their own right on separate nights. Before either of these bands hit the stage though Friday had already had it’s memorable moments.

Opening the NME stage was a newly blood red-haired and blue suited Gerard Way bringing his fuzz laden Brit-pop influenced new sound to a busy and curious crowd. Whilst clearly disappointing a selection of punters hoping to hear his post-My Chemical Romance era pick up where he left off with the old band, his solo rebirth is evidently far more concerned with appeasing Gerard’s explicit love for ‘90s era British music and The Smashing Pumpkins.

Way is as captivating and confident as ever strutting about the stage holding his hand on his hip like the rockstar he is. Whilst the songs do at times descend in to the dangerous realm of ‘festival forgettable’ tracks like ‘No Shows’ with it’s ‘nahnahnahs’, ‘oohoohs’ and a vocal delivery that takes us back to the bratty drawl of MCR’s ‘Teenagers’, the only real remnant of his previous exploits on offer. Ending on a cover of The Jesus And Mary Chain’s ‘Snakedriver’, which flies high over the heads of most in attendance, compounds the self-indulgence of Way’s new direction but then this is all part of the charm, if this is the album he wants to make, on this evidence I want to hear it.

Deaf Havana on the main stage of Reading felt right as the sun came out on a sunny Friday afternoon. Their new direction since 2011’s Fools and Worthless Liars has always sounded like it was made with this sort of stage in sight and since last year’s Old Souls it’s an environment I’ve been excited to hear these songs in. ‘22’, ‘Hunstanton Pier’ and ‘Boston Square’ all sound appropriately massive, now as a six piece complete with 3 guitars and a dedicated keyboardist deliver the soaring choruses with aplomb.

It’s a shame therefore that their set lacks any real momentum, gaps between songs filled with the awkward babble of front man James Veck-Gilodi is endearing at first but his constant thanking of the crowd gets jarring remarkably quickly. Whilst his songs give the illusion of rock superstardom a la Bruce Springsteen, his chat quickly drops the illusion firmly back to earth. A solid set that could have been a great one. There is no other live band that fit in to the ‘solid’ category than Jimmy Eat World. Undisputed veterans of the scene and today playing two sets, it’s hard to level any criticism at a band that sound as tight, professional and surprisingly as relevant as JEW considering they’re now over 20 years in to their careers.

Fitting 11 songs in to a 40 minute set is a lesson to Deaf Havana in what to do with the wasted times in between songs. The set’s culmination in a festival wide sing along of The Middle is a highlight of the day, and whilst their set is uneventful it’s a fitting way to spend the afternoon in a field in the sunshine.The Reading Festival house band Enter Shikari were up next on the same stage, usually so reliable live, often providing undisputed highlights of the festival, are sadly not quite in their usual inspired form. Their set is by no means a flop, tracks like the politically furious Ghandi Mate Ghandi and set closer Snakepit sound as impressive as ever, it’s just disappointing when you know how incendiary this band can be.

The band are let down by a dodgy main stage sound losing the sonic nuances of their recent tracks which make up the majority of their set. Where new number Anesthetist sounded intriguing and powerful in the confines of the Hatfield forum earlier in the summer the unfamiliar tune is lost on the main stage and feels like a wasted opportunity to air one of a host of fan favourites omitted from the setlist. The bands political message, today demanding the protection of the NHS, is refreshing respite from the otherwise decidedly apolitical event. After a brief one-two catching snippets of SBTRKT and Vampire Weekend, the former sounding great on the NME stage complete with inflatable dinosaur stage set and wall to wall hits in Wildfire, and Trials of The Past featuring a pitch perfect Sampha.

Vampire Weekend on the other hand look as though they are going through the motions and the final few tracks of their set do little to make me wish I’d seen the start, dull.Finally it was time for the co-headliners to battle it out. In a fitting stage set Paramore emerged with their name in lights to perform a set that it’s fair to say blew what was initially quite a curious crowd away. Blasting through a career spanning set list with Hayley Williams throwing herself around the stage sporting a new electric blue hair cut, it’s very easy to find yourself completely captivated by one of the most impressive front women in music. Paramore effectively put on a pop show, this is pitch perfect, from the musicianship of Taylor and Jeremy now joined with ex Underoath sticksman Aaron Gillespie smashing it on drums, to their unique backdrop and light show marked throughout by confetti canons and streamers compounding the party atmosphere.

It was when their set took a turn for the unfortunate though that Paramore managed to cement their set as a memorable Reading moment, forever to be known as that time when their sound cut out and Hayley, Taylor and Jeremy lead the crowd through an astounding accapella rendition of ‘The Only Exception’. The whole crowd singing in unison before the sound miraculously returned for the last chorus, as cliché as it may be you really couldn’t have written it. The hold up does mean that some songs were probably cut from the bands set and the set closing trio of ‘Part 2’, ‘Proof’ and ‘Ain’t It Fun’ all taken from last year’s self titled LP is an underwhelming end to a barnstorming set.

They leave all in attendance wanting more, and it’s a safe bet that with another album under their belts Hayley Williams and co will be gracing this stage again. Queens Of The Stone Age then emerge to ride off the wave of Paramore’s fun vibes and pulverise Reading with the sort of brain melting, riff shredding, cool as fuck rock ‘n’ roll that noone does better. Josh Homme tonight is in full on rock star mode, donning a fresh Duster coat the ‘ginger elvis’ rarely ventures further than his amp to fill a glass of whiskey, yet what the band lacks in youthful energy they more than make up for in musical prowess.

Kicking the set off in riotous fashion with the opening one two of seminal album ‘Songs For The Deaf’, meaning No One Knows is the second song in the bands set, they start as they mean to go on. It’d be easy to forget just how many incredible songs QOTSA have under their belt, their set is full throttle, every single track sounds perfect thanks to the loudest and most powerful sound from the main stage in the 7 years since I’ve attended the bank holiday weekend. Cuts from new album ‘Like Clockwork’ are interspersed between an exploration of the singles from their back catalogue including the incredible opening tracks from ‘Rated-R’, when Josh Homme starts listing drugs to a Reading audience before descending in to a monologue about ‘tonight being the night that we hold hands, try and get our heads right’ it’s clear that Josh is starting to embrace whatever he’s chosen from his ‘Feel Good Hit Of The Summer’.

The set is expertly paced as well veering from head banging riffs and mind melting solo’s to arguably what Queens Of The Stone Age do best, the slow down. A smoldering ‘Make It Wit’ Chu’ finds Homme pouring himself a glass of whiskey and smoking a cigarette before seducing the crowd in to submission. Aside from all of this there is a musicianship and professionalism that is not reached by any other band playing this festival.

Each of QOTSA current line up are all on their own musical wave length, rarely even looking at each other, rocking out, shaking their hips in their own worlds, sounding as tight as Alex Turner’s trousers. It’s a musicality that is matched by a minimal production, only occupying half the stage and accompanied only by an impeccable light show complete with lasers creating a roof upon the Reading crowd creating an illusion of intimacy, almost as if you’re watching the band in their practice space back in Joshua Tree.

This is the sort of set that restores your faith in the power of ‘guitar’ music, and makes you question why the phrase ‘guitar music’ even exists, this is music at it’s most visceral, it’s most jaw dropping but most importantly at its most memorable. A brilliant day of music topped off with a sensational closing set. Read MorePosted on Tuesday, September 02, 2014  by Oliver HunterNo commentsA legend gets London dancing, but the “lost art of hip hop” remains unfound. “Tonight I’m gonna give you the lost art of hip hop…I’m gonna play that jam you ain’t heard in a long time”. Sharp in his trademark ‘G’ cap, Grandmaster Flash, one of the legendary pioneers of hip hop music, piles on a weight of expectation before he’s even played a beat. The corporate Disneyland of the O2 isn’t the infamous ‘70s Bronx block parties.

The unifying atmosphere of those famous sound-systems is a distant memory as Flash rallies an initially uninterested crowd. On one level he succeeds. Every song from Bob Marley to ‘Getting Jiggy With It’ is lapped up and sung back by a diverse, largely middle aged, Friday evening audience content to dance and drink the night away.The eclectic DJ set covers all corners of the musical spectrum at breakneck speed. Dropping clips of everything from AC/DC to UB40 and other predictable party fare including surprisingly little hip-hop. It’s an approach that relies heavily on his Macbook; hardly the wax cuts of old.

Where once Flash would’ve let his decks do the talking tonight he repeats cheap calls to throw your hands in the air and make some noise, uniting at first but soon sounding like a broken record. The telling moment comes when he drops the beat to his magnum opus, ‘The Message’. Without the unmistakable rhymes of Melle Mel that introduced rap as social commentary, it’s just a beat, part of a greater whole and it falls flat. He says himself: “there are four distinct elements of hip hop”, tonight only one is present, the DJ.Grandmaster Flash didn’t fulfill the challenge he set; the forgotten ‘jams’ were predictable crowd pleasers and the ‘lost art of hip hop’ remains a mystery.