Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Latitude Festival 2009

I'd prefer not to live up to the stereotype of us Brits always talking about the weather but, okay, let's start by talking about the weather. I've never known anything like what was thrown Latitude's way and, with more than a few English 'summers' under my belt, that's saying something. Having arrived in blissful sunshine on Thursday evening, the entire camp-site awaited the predicted storm with trepidation. When it arrived in the early hours of Friday, it didn't disappoint. Thank God, then, for a sturdy gazebo, which I only ventured away from mid-storm to assist three poor girls who were trying to erect their tents in the ensuing monsoon (by 'assist', I actually mean that I stood under a brolly, issuing advice before slying back to my tent before my feet got too wet).

For the remainder of the weekend, the weather went from torrential rain to boiling sun and back again at ten minute intervals, making it impossible to select a suitable outfit to venture to the arena in. The t-shirt/shorts/wellies/raincoat-either-tightly-done-up-or-tied-around-the-waist-depending-on-the-weather look proved popular throughout. Never mind though, the site remained remarkably mud free all weekend, so the affluent middle-class lefties and their irritating kids that made up the majority of the crowd didn't need to summon the kind of Dunkirk spirit that somewhere like Glastonbury thrives on in times of inclement weather.Onwards and upwards then, and Friday began with a great set by Eastbourners, The Late Greats, (above) with two frontmen sharing vocals over intelligent, interestingly crafted, lo-fi post-punk indie noise. Australia's The Temper Trap's sound seems to get more and more imposing and impressive with every show. On this occasion they filled the Uncut stage with movement and the large tent with soaring anthems. Over on the main stage, Ladyhawke offered the first anthem of the weekend in Paris Is Burning.

Under black skies, The Pretenders put in the performance of the festival so far. On a stage that had, earlier in the day, been frequented by some completely unworthy bands (hello, Amazing Baby), Chrissie Hynde owned the entire field. It was refreshing to see a real band playing a back catalogue of greatest hits (I'll Stand By You and Bob Dylan's Forever Young were particularly memorable) and putting on a proper show. Outstanding.

Next, Russian-born New York beauty Regina Spektor cut a teeny, tiny figure at her piano, so much so that half the crowd had to watch the big screens to catch a glimpse of her (above). Her set started slowly but got more and more awesome with each song. New songs Laughing With and Machine were highlights, as was a ramshackle, bashed-out-on-a-guitar rendition of That Time which she didn't know how to finish. "Sorry. I can't play the guitar," she shrugged with a giggle before sitting back down at the piano and playing one of the greatest songs ever written (seriously), Samson. Behind me, a man proposed to his girlfriend mid-song. She said yes. Tears and cheers all round. Even the rain couldn't spoil such a perfect moment.

While Golden Silvers, Little Boots and Bat For Lashes were headlining various stages that night, this reviewer was onstage in the Bafta-sponsored film tent as part of a choir for an acoustic version of Gangsta's Paradise (really), before dashing off to dance like a twat for the magnificent last twenty minutes of the Pet Shop Boys set.

Saturday at midday saw a secret show by David Ford (above) and his band down by the river. He played old and newies to a large crowd (some of whom were made aware of the event via twitter, others who just happened to be wandering past and stopped for a listen), before handing out champagne and ending with his singalong set-closer Cheer Up (You Miserable Fuck).

The rest of the day's line-up was patchy to say the least, and highlights had to really be sought out. While Patrick Wolf was dressing as an owl on the main stage, Dave Gorman chatted about magic poos in the comedy tent. Later Jessica Delfino started badly but was increasingly funny with each ditty at the comedy tent, ending with the brilliant Don't Rape Me. An acoustic show from New York's Jeffrey Lewis (below) was next, during which he tried out a bunch of new songs "for the first and maybe the last time". They showed typical lyrical genius in the very understated way we have come to expect from the artist.

Over in the Uncut tent, Newton Faulkner's arms were flying everywhere in a blur of motion in a crowd-pleasing set as the festival geared up for the arrival its wild card.

Grace Jones. Oh dear, oh dear, Grace Jones. Despite being a weird choice to headline a major festival, hopes were high that she would wow us with an amazing show. Sure enough, there was a costume change after pretty much every song, and the lighting was great, but where was the substance to back it up? "We finally have some new songs for you," she told us, (as if any of us know any of her old songs except for those two), before singing something instantly flat and forgettable. Indeed, once the costume changes lost their ooh factor, the show was only worth watching for the between-song banter, which was intriguing as it was incomprehensible. "Me Grandfather was a killer," she informed us. It was a car-crash of a headline set and not at all comfortable viewing. But then what would you expect from watching a 61-year-old woman with eyes totally vacant draping herself over onstage railings?

The sound of beautiful acoustic guitars woke campers from their slumber the following morning. It turned out to be Thom Yorke sound-checking for his midday solo set, which included the odd Radiohead song. After the biggest crowd of the weekend had stood in reverence at the great man, last night's hero, Jeffrey Lewis, reappeared, this time in the film tent, with his band to play a full set of folk-punk in place of the absent Lightspeed Champion. It was a more than welcome substitution, and those who attended would have struggled to get the chorus of Creeping Brain out of their heads for the rest of the day.
Following The Late Greats and David Ford earlier in the weekend, further Eastbourne representation came from newcomers Capital, who, either side of a power cut, played big pop anthems that seemed to pay a debt of gratitude to The Killers. Rain clouds hovered ominously as Lisa Hannigan began her set, and how disappointing it was that the heavens opened midway through, causing two thirds of the crowd to run for shelter. Still, those who stayed for the whole thing would surely have been dazzled by the breathtaking vocal of Damien Rice's former sidekick.

While, somewhere where I annoyingly wasn't, Javis Cocker was making an impromptu guest appearance, Tricky created a quite an intense atmosphere in the Uncut tent, but while it was nice to hear classics like Black Steel from his magnificent debut album, his set did seem a bit stale. Conversely, Phoenix were all about upbeat indie/disco/guitar pop. Their songs were bouncy and bright enough to banish the rain - even if they did neglect to play crowd favourite, Too Young.

Over on the stage hidden away in the woods, !!! were nicely funky but with paper-thin vocals, and on the Lake Stage, Slow Club's boy/girl tweeness found the middle ground between The Magic Numbers and The Moldy Peaches. Okay, so they weren't anywhere near as good as either of them, but still fun, even if they were a little drowned out by a polished yet uninspiring set from Editors on the main stage.
(I was collared by BBC7 on Saturday afternoon)

And so, to the main attraction of the festival. Sunday night was headlined by Nick Cave (who had already wowed the crowds here last year with his grubby side-project, Grinderman) and his Bad Seeds. It's safe to say he blew every other performance at Latitude 2009 out of the water. The sound that emanated from the stage from the first moment to the last was an absolute aural attack. Songs from the universally acclaimed latest album, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! came at the audience like they wanted to beat the hell out of their eardrums and leave them sobbing in a gutter. Cave, an unbelievably intense frontman, pointed out individual members of the audience and stared them straight in the eyes as he delivered lyrics with venom. Of the older tracks, There She Goes My Beautiful World and the deliciously nasty Stagger Lee sounded as fresh as anything all weekend. Devastatingly brilliant.

Aside from the main stages, there were plenty of other things to entertain; movies were shown, celebs like Vivian Westwood spoke in the literary tent, there was a cabaret tent, a kids area, and lots going on down by the lake, like a classical orchestra, a man playing flute inside a bubble floating on the river (below), a robot dancing between the trees, coloured sheep to ahh at and a charity shop selling second hand clothes.However, while these things continued the tradition of Latitude being a laid back, eclectic, family-orientated festival, nothing could paper over the cracks of the line-up. Sure, there were some good acts and a couple of truly great performances, but generally there just wasn't enough depth of quality, especially for a festival that thinks that it can charge £150 a ticket and get away with it. Okay, so there were some big names and some of the little bands did themselves no harm, but where were all the decent middle-range bands; your Mystery Jets, Jamie Ts, Laura Marlings and Late Of The Piers? Any single day's line-up at this year's Glastonbury was a million miles better than the entirety of Latitude.

So, in a nutshell - Latitude 2009: great vibe, shame about the line-up.


Jenny said...

It was okay. Not as good as previous years. Doves were great though. Did you see them? And some good poetry too.

Bobby Six said...

Nah, I didn't see Doves as I was watching someone else - I can't remember who. I heard they were good though.

I saw a bit of poetry. Some dude - don't remember his name - did a poem called Mrs Fuck. That was funny.