Glastonbury 2008

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Mud, sun, fun and Jay-Z, Getintothis delivers the full lowdown from Worthy Farm.


Perhaps it’s a sign of age, but the adventure that is Glastonbury becomes all the more intense, fantastical, inspiring and not least demanding with every visit.
A quick inspection of previous Guardian Guides from each of my trawls to the fields of Avalon reveal that I’ve slowly whittled down the music intake from 37 bands in 2003 to 2008’s still highly respectable 26. It seems only a matter of time when the madness and magic hidden away in the farthest reaches of Worthy Farm absorb my craving for sound and replace it with 72 hours of dwarf battles, apocalyptic acrobats and burlesque dancers nakedly shuffling to flaming jazz-funk bands.
One thing’s for certain, the Glastonbury Festival just keeps on growing and the sensual feast on offer is always overwhelming. And the comedown feels unlike anything else.
The same can be said for the make-or-break English weather as witnessed on Thursday evening. Having landed later than planned due to an inept coach driver and a scrap yard fire mere miles from the site we set off in haste to explore stopping off in the Park area; a place which escaped my grasp last year.
And what a sight it is to behold – a towering, iron look out tower dressed in decorative pink tassels, a vast assortment of play areas and eateries each surrounded by wigwams and mini stages. The BBC’s Introducing Stage provides our first boogie as we sink our first refreshments before venturing into the Silent Disco, which is more crackly interference than rollicking rave due to the first of the weekend’s unwelcome downpours.
Indeed, the rain and foreboding grey skies fill us all with dread when waking up beery-headed on Friday morning and with the ground already resembling a thickening marshland the signs of a fourth year of Glasto gloop is looking on the cards.
Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly’s chirpy folktronica does little to arrest the senses and wheeling out a beatbox joker Schlomo, who’s more ’88 than 2008, only adds to my consternation.
Fret not says Ezra Koenig, for he sees a ‘Mansard Roof from the trees,’ and suddenly all worries are quickly subsided as Vampire Weekend launch into the most restrained, yet giddily ecstatic sunshine set kick-starting the festivities in style. Indeed, Koenig has even come dressed for the occasion, disposing of his jumper, chinos and deck-shoes for denim (!) and pink shades. Marvellous!
The Young Knives, for all their charm, still sound a tad underwhelming, but Turn Tail and Weekends and Bleakdays are true pop gems, but alas the rain is sheeting at this stage and hanging around the John Peel tent as the swamp begins to rise just isn’t an option, so we hop into the nearest bar for some luncheon.
Two of Britain’s great white hopes deliver right on cue as the Ting Tings pull in one of the biggest crowds of the weekend back in John Peel as they switch instruments expertly as the crowd lap up Katie White’s yelp and ballsy joie de vivre. Better yet are Foals, with Yannis Philippakis leading the Other Stage revellers through a bouncing math-punk riot. They rival Vampire Weekend for early doors favourites.
The same can’t be said for Editors who seemingly churn out bland fifth-rate Interpol for the easily impressed. And the more Tom Smith (sporting the most ludicrous facial hair this side of Gogol Bordello) writhes like an addict coming off skag, the more I can’t help thinking this is a huge pantomime joke.
One band not joking are Kings Of Leon. Shit, they’re cacking it so badly that a mere rib-tickle could send them scuttling to the nearest long-drop. Caleb’s vocals are so wobbly as he addresses the crowd you’d think he had spent the last fortnight getting leathered in preparation for tonight’s Pyramid headling slot.

To be fair, this is hardly a surprise, there’s been a fair few bands barely ready to headline the world’s biggest music festival and KoL are just the latest. What they lack in spectacle they make up for in raw, spirited R&R. Problem is too many tracks just don’t have the power to succeed on such a massive scale, and while they don’t fluff it completely like their 2003 Glasto debut, this is still a bridge too far for the Followills. Only Knocked Up, Fans and On Call really nail it.
The frenzied activity in Trash City and Shangri La is beautifully hushed away the next morning as Martha Wainwright’s breathy, back-of-the-throat tones help ease into part two of the marathon. Veteran to this scene is Seasick Steve, who diddly bow in hand, brings blues-hop to the Pyramid Stage bashing his four-string and one-string wrecks intertwining his set with his well-versed tales of train-jumping and being ripped off by his pal Sherman from Mississippi. It’s all fine and dandy, but Steve will need to get some new stories soon.

Golden oldies from Neil Finn (who is quickly becoming Paul Weller’s double) and Crowded House provide an unexpected treat as the Saturday sun beats down while much-hyped Black Kids wrap up their set in blisteringly boisterous fashion.
Neon Neon wouldn’t know animated if it slapped them in the face – but that’s their whole appeal; as Gruff Rhys pulls up a deckchair as Boom Bip provides the electro sheen to quite possibly the finest display of the weekend. From the 80s power pop of I Told Her On Alderaan to the Miami Vice-aping Michael Douglas it is euphoric, yet chilled crystallized beauty. And then Har Mar Superstar gets involved to sing while doing headstands and the brilliant surrealism ups a notch.
Alex Turner’s drunken drawl is a lovely surprise as we limber up the hill to catch the end of a special guest slot for the Last Shadow Puppets before MGMT transform The Park into a glistening phantasmagoria of colour and Syd Barrett-isms as they blend Flaming Lips and Pink Floyd in a 40 minute set of out-rock psychedelia.
Oddly, Black Lips offer zero of their supposed edge delivering a set of straight – and dull – garage skuzz while Simian Mobile Disco do exactly what you expect by playing their record which is pretty neat, if a tad hmmm.
All of which is reduced to mere afterthoughts when Noel Gallagher’s nemesis Jay-Z takes to the Pyramid looking like the lone survivor of an Alien film; all battered khaki, fraying scarf and whopping sunglasses. He looks like he’s fought a battle just to get here. And in many respects he has, what with the likes of Gallagher, Paul Weller and numerous other out-of-touch allsorts quick to offer their idiocy as to why hip-hop has no place at the Glastonbury Festival For Performing Arts.
Under a quite fabulous backdrop of hyper-kinetic iconography and dazzling lights, the Oasis man’s words ‘I’m not having hip-hip at Glastonbury. No Way, man, it’s wrong,’ rain down before the Jigga war-cries out his own version of Wonderwall before launching into a quite sensational 99 Problems. The battle is won. Game over.
For the following two hours, Jay-Z pummels the speakers as the crowd sing as one at the clearly delighted Brooklynite, who for all his tough guy rep can barely conceal his childlike grin.

His crowd-pleasing panache cannot be doubted sprinkling in timely hits with cute samples of Rihanna, The Prodigy and AC/DC before leaving the stage to U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday riff. A friend of mine said you could hear the thousands of voices singing over CSS’s set way up in the skies of the Park Stage – it’s fair to say the world will have been listening intently to a true Glastonbury moment.
Sunday cannot help but feel urgh. A slog, no matter how enjoyable, is still a slog. And the trek to the John Peel Stage in anticipation of Yeasayer’s 1pm showing is amplified by the realisation they’ve swapped with The Whip resulting in missing both Brian Jonestown Massacre and Black Mountain. Sunday Bloody Sunday indeed.
Enduring The Whip’s tinny electro knees up is just about do-able but the disappointment-cum-frustration of Yeasayer’s set is hard to put into words. That they play a mere 25 minutes and just seven tracks – four of which are new – is baffling in the extreme. That said, 2080, Sunrise and Wait For The Summer are incendiary. Perhaps next time they’ll stick to the script. Bloody hippies.
I’d never heard of John Mayer, and meeting up with my sister and Mike who’d decamped for an all-day Pyramid Stage love-in, meant I soon would. What greeted my ears was something not far off hell – all clichéd blues MoR with so much Yank fodder thrown in I was close to vomiting. Happily he soon made way for Neil Diamond, who threw up images of my Nan sitting on her couch clapping gamely as he rocked, albeit gently, like a priest at a wedding reception after his fourth glass of sherry.
From then on Sunday sky-rocketed. Blood Red Shoes’ indie grock was entertaining in a primal way and the hoedown madness in the Pussy Parlour provided another ‘only at Glastonbury’ moment as I tucked into a giant Yorkshire pudding filled with sausage, mash and gravy – served by three lads from Bootle. Obviously, it didn’t take all three of them to lift the mountainous Yorkshire pub. Thankfully, I’d devoured said banquet before a Japanese contortionist lifted her entire body weight upside down using just her teeth.
Crystal Castles were a more than fitting dessert as Alice Glass’ whisper-death-scream penetrated parts of the ear drum I barely knew existed. Armed with more beers I was told their set had been curtailed due to Miss Glass’ naughtiness for scaling the lighting stack. A brief reappearance for a white-hot Alice Practice was then completely abandoned as panic-stricken security staff failed to contain Glass as she wrapped the mic lead round the front five rows and persistently dived into their adoring reaches. Visceral and very exciting, just a shame the staff mistook the gig for a kid’s tea-party.
If ever a band were made for Sunday evening sunsets it is Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized. Having witnessed them about a dozen times I was hardly revved up to see them, especially considering the later material has lacked the sonic intensity of Spaceman 3/early Spiritualized offerings. Yet, what followed was mesmeric. From the stadium-flattening newie Soul On Fire through to classics Come Together, Pierce and his backing band of black stickmen, each decked in shades and leather – and supported by a trio of heavenly gospel singers – raised the roof with an awe-inducing set of tripped out wonder.
As the sun set and the flames rose on the hill over-looking the Pyramid, it was the perfect time to see The Verve close Glastonbury 2008. And with Richard Ashcroft on cool-as-fuck form (‘Shout out to Jay-Z, but tonight it’s all about rock & roll‘) they provided a fitting climax. Even Urban Hymns also-rans like Velvet Morning sounded incredible and the knock-out punch finish of Bitter Sweet Symphony and the club-hit in waiting Love Is Noise left me wishing for just one more day at The Farm.

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