The V Festival drew criticism this year from many people who saw it as having a weak lineup. Not weak in terms of the popularity of the bands in a commercial sense but more in the musical quality of the headlining acts. There was definitely an anglophile slant to the lineup this year with many of the bands being darlings of the middle of the road Q Magazine section of the British music industry. Snow Patrol, Razorlight, Kaiser Chiefs, Duffy and Elbow all fit the formula of harmless, slightly left or right of centre acts that appeal to the masses without causing any distraction to their day to day life. They fill the same role as others such as Coldplay, Jack Johnson and of course The Killers who were headlining V. The upside of having these big name bands on the bill meant that there were many treats to be found on the smaller stages where you could almost walk straight up to the stage.
Tame Impala filled one of the earlier slots of the day and proved to be a great choice. After seeing them at the Laneway Festival with appalling sound it was a revelation to hear them outdoors through a large PA that did them justice. They cleverly mix a 60’s psych and stoner vibe with some Stone Roses rhythms and a refreshing lack of showmanship mixed with slacker exuberance. The drummer cheekily quipped “My drumkit is broken Mr Branson” at one point. The highlight of their set was the irresistible ‘Half Glass Full Of Wine’ with its Masters Of Reality sonics and time changes.
Time for a change of pace and you couldn’t get a more different crowd and style than Duffy. After the few hundred watching Tame Impala it was quite the sight to see a huge crowd amassed in front of her stage. She has received critical acclaim as well as reaching a large audience but there seemed a real disconnect between her and the crowd. She appeared to totter around the stage as if her mane of hair was about to unbalance her and made pitiful attempts at dance moves in front of her group of session musicians and twin back up singers. Her voice is without doubt a strong instrument but in the context of a large outdoor festival it became harsh and grating. Definitely best experienced in a smaller club or theatre rather than a field at in the sun at 2pm.
French duo The Do (plus touring drummer) are an interesting mix of indie, hip hop and trip hop in a Portishead vein. Frontwoman Olivia Merilahti is a star in the making, mixing Bjork quirkiness with M.I.A verve and attitude. She knows how to play some murky noisy guitar before dropping it and launching into a crowd rousing rap while bouncing around the stage in her hi-tops and outfit of exploding colours. The infectious ‘On My Shoulders’ was still stuck in my head on the long walk home down Oxford St 6 hours later.
The tricky mid afternoon clash reared its head when I had to split my time between Elbow, Jenny Lewis and M83. Elbow only kept me mildly interested for a few songs with their widescreen mature pop. Guy Garvey possesses a strong and engaging voice with the dour looking rest of the band showing why their musical skills led to a Mercury Prize for their last album. Flashes of Genesis and Tears For Fears entered my mind which fans would surely crucify me for. Elbow have an accomplished sound but one that lacks passion and grit to hold the crowd for the full set.
Jenny Lewis is an ex child actor who rose to fame fronting Rilo Kiley. Now on her 2nd solo album she is carving out a place in the indie/americana world and her late afternoon performance was a perfect display of balancing beautiful playing, sweet vocals and a lighthearted festival attitude. In a fetching denim outfit she breezed through songs from both albums including the soulful ‘Pretty Bird’ and a glorious ‘Acid Tongue’ with the band providing backing harmonies huddled round a single mic. The most amusing moment of the day (until Human League) occurred when one of the guitarists stepped up to play three notes on a harmonica, each time drawing a huge cheer from the crowd and much laughter from the band.
Racing back across the parklands we joined France’s M83 mid set and settled into their electronic tinged shoegaze. They produced a magnificent album in last year’s Saturdays=Youth and they have a live show that nicely blends the different extremes of their sound. The 80s pop shoegaze of ‘Kim and Jessie’ had a guitar effected gauze that perfectly suited the setting sun while the back end of the set featured the more electronic krautrock rhythms and darkness of their earlier albums. The crowd responded to the hypnotic waves they created and theirs proved to be the most immersive sound of the day.
Again the contrasting styles of the acts clashed marvelously as the first notes of Madness rang out across the field. Formed 33 years ago they soundtracked the first half of the 80s with their pop ska sounds. They were the more commercial version of The Specials and a more palatable alternative to UB40. Perfectly suited to festivals they had a massive contingent of their countrymen chanting and flying flags to their knees up sound. Always the party pleasing geezers, they worked the crowd with comedy and the tight sound of new tracks and the obligatory favourites like ‘House of Fun’ and ‘Baggy Trousers’.
Meanwhile, on the adjacent stage The Kills were churning out their gutter punk rock n roll. They looked the part with Alison Mosshart in tight jeans, gold boots and a leopard skin shirt and Jamie Hince in Raybans and waistcoat. They have a surprisingly full sound for 2 guitars and a drum machine, Jamie strutting and dipping while strangling his guitar to produce growls and low down riffs. Mosshart is the quintessential rock chick, sexy tough and sassy. She throws herself around the stage, drapes an arm over the mic and drags on a cigarette while still singing up a storm with her rhythmic chants on ‘Alphabet Pony’ and coy melodies on ‘Black Balloon’. They were the one band to bring some sorely missed real rock to the day.
The festival’s most unexpected moment was The Human League performing their classic Dare album plus other hits. The stage was decked out in white with synth stands and electronic drum kit bathed in smoke and white light. The band was a mix of balding black t-shirted musos, the leader of them looking like a pirate with long hair, headband and porn mustache who skipped and pranced around the stage with a keyboard guitar and cheesy grin. If that sounds like too much to take then the crowd was time warped even deeper into the 80s when Philip Oakley and singers took the stage. Phil decked out in a full length gold cloak with raised collar. This was the first of a few costume changes through their set that included the crowd singalongs ‘Love Action’, Don’t You Want Me’ and later single ‘The Lebanon’ from 1984. The audience was in 80s delirium, some nostalgic, others just enjoying the novelty of The Human League’s unabashed retro futurism. It proved to be the biggest guilty pleasure of the festival and somehow they pulled it off brilliantly.
A sense of duty led me to The Killers at the end of the evening but I have to confess I only stayed for a handful of songs. The muddy sound at the back and the turgid mix of guitars and stale groove coming from the stage was uninspiring to say the least. Brandon Flowers was in full Bono stadium mode, asking the crowd “Do you believe in love?” and “Do you want to breathe and fly?”. It was pretty banal stuff but the crowd were loving it.
Now into its third year, the V Festival seems to be cementing its place on the touring calendar and carving out a niche amongst the BDO and Laneway Festivals. This year’s event showed that that the fairer sex is strongly forging ahead across many genres with Jenny Lewis, The Do, The Kills providing some of the more interesting highlights of the day.