To paraphrase Billy Piper, Latitude is pretty much honey to the b for the ultra middle class legions of the DiS writing team, and thus it was in considerable numbers that we fell upon this year's edition of the idyllic Suffolk festival. In quick conclusion: 1. it was lovely; 2. the drainage is astounding, thank fuck; 3. we were pretty certain there were people on site retouching the sheep after their dye ran in the rain; 4. they're probably never going to move the comedy tent anywhere where it's easier to hear the comics, are they?; and 5. despite its claims to be 'more than just a music festival', if DiS writers are anything to go by it is more or less seen as a music festival. Anyway, without further ado, here are our reviewers' highlights.
Phoenix are to every 'hip' band of this digitalized-indie decade what The Pixies were to grunge, and outside of the influential media scum-domes of the UK and US their success is overwhelming. Yet the pitiful size of the crowd at Latitude shows us up for the race of hype-dribbling morons we in Britannia are. I'm ashamed to share a passport with anyone whose walked off to get a pig's dick in a bun instead of watching THIS! Not that I care so much, as the moment the set begins my body is lost in blanket of synths, my shaking bootie wishing it was the snare and my gaze fixed upon two grandmas in sunglasses pulling 'beefa shapes to 'Listomania'. It's a glorious 40 minutes with tune after tune flung into the field - in an aloof manner, obvs. Pop, pop, pop. Rushes of nostalgia-laced lounge-pop are jolted with electro-pop until the quivering pop chorus erupts - it's a simple formula but time after time it works, creating these hits from an alternate universe. In spite of, or maybe because, they didn't even need to play 'Too Young', today's triumphant show was a masterclass in cool.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
[insert every cliche about the greatest cowboy bar band playing on a pirate ship in the darkest black seas of hell here] - every vague approximation you could ever use to describe tonight's impossibly brilliant show would simply be descripitive posturing. Louder than all of the young 'uns on the bill combined, more intense than the heaviest orchestra-toting metal band and lyrically (especially on set highlight 'We Call Upon the Author') beyond the greatest poets, with tsuanami-like narratives that unfurl in the heavens whilst the imagery mummifies your imagination. Bleak badass blues at its best and then some. Whycan'teverygigbeasgreatasthis?
“They’re ladrock!” commented one punter in the bar earlier. “Aren’t they Mancunians…? Like Oasis…?” says another. A popular misconception it may be but that north/south divide still exists even where music is concerned, yet I swear, no other band unified the diverse Latitude crowd all weekend like Jimi Goodwin and co on Saturday evening. It’s astonishing when you realise just how many instantly recognisable tunes the threesome possess in their armoury, and as setlists go, this was literally their finest hour, a wall-to-wall collection of all the hits and more culminating in a jawbreaking double whammy of rarely played debut ‘The Cedar Room’ and a euphoric ‘There Goes The Fear’. Quite simply, Latitude Festival 2009 could have ended at precisely 9pm on Saturday evening and I would have gone home deliriously happy. If there’s a more understated band in Britain right now, I’ve yet to hear them.
Pulled Apart By Horses
Along with Dananananaykroyd, PABH are one of the most exciting live propositions in the UK at this moment in time, and here, standing out like a sore thumb among their more reserved and tranquil counterparts was no different. Anything can happen at any juncture during a PABH show, and here was no different, an overly congealed ball of phlegm from singer Tom Hudson’s mouth landing full in the face of some unfortunate girl pressed against the front barrier proving to be the main talking point of the set. Aside from that, ‘E=MC Hammer’ was a barrel of fun, while for one day only ‘I Punched A Lion In The Throat’ became ‘I Punched A Retard In The Face’. Hell yeah.
Playing Latitude for the third year in a row, you’d think Wild Beasts would be accustomed to almost anything this festival can throw at them, yet even they must have been distinctly overwhelmed by the reception to their early afternoon set on the Sunday. Indeed, such is the buzz of anticipation around next month’s Two Dancers nobody blinks - and indeed a rapturous reception is afforded - at their decision to play a set consisting almost entirely of (as yet) unreleased material. They’re simply breathtaking, and with the likes of ‘All The Kings Men’ and ‘We Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues’ sounding like bonafide hits in waiting, the big time surely beckons.
While it can never be easy for anyone to have the unenviable task of being the first band on, the fact Chairlift’s set is met with such nonchalance isn’t entirely all of their own making. For a band with such an intricate, delicate sound, their need for the technical side of things to be damn near perfection is made all the more apparent by the abhorrent level of noise emanating from the bass that drowns out almost anything else on the stage, most notably Caroline Polachek’s vocals.
Having transcended both the indie and dance scenes of the mid-Nineties, not to mention the actual charts, Saint Etienne weren’t so much a guilty pleasure, but more a library of musical education, so steeped in iconic values and symbolism were their songs and imagery. Their bucket load of tunes still sound as fresh today as they did over a decade ago - ‘Nothing Can Stop Us’ and ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ out-Kylie the Aussie songstress herself, while ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ proves a magnificent show stopper. Welcome back.
Perhaps tired of the Joy Division/Interpol comparisons, Editors have only gone and reinvented themselves as a robotic electronica combo: while the 'big hits' are still there in all their pomp and glory, what is more fascinating is seeing Tom Smith, Chris Urbanowicz and Russell Leetch simultaneously hunched over three keyboards while drummer Ed Lay knocks out a motorik beat behind them during the half dozen new numbers they play tonight. It’s a refreshing diversion, and one which will ensure those Kraftwerk comparisons will be landing thick and fast in the none too distant future.
Pet Shop Boys
The only criticism anyone seems to be able to muster of the Pet Shop Boys' cube-driven wonderland of a stageshow is “well, it would have been nice if they’d had time for ‘Rent’”. Maybe we're just all nostagia whores, but whatever, Neil Tennant has us from the moment he wanders out with a box on his head and launches into ‘Heart’, a collection of kitsch, blocky robots helping the reassuringly static Chris Lowe out on synths. By the end of the set Tennant will be dressed in royal regalia, the sky will be filled with giant cubes, Coldplay will have been covered, and in a slightly dazed way some of us will still be reeling from the point where a giant white wall collapsed to reveal a Soviet emblem as ‘I’m Building A Wall’ surged ecstatically into ‘Go West’. The pair so comprehensively pwned the current glut of electro-pop bands it's almost silly, Tennant and Lowe blasting us with all four of their UK chart toppers, plus one of Chris Martin's (an enjoyably daft take on ‘Viva La Vida’), topped off with a well-judged mix of fan pleasing semi-obscurities (‘New Cross’, ‘Two Divided By Zero’), the better portions of the profoundly mixed Yes (‘Love, Etc’, ‘Pandemonium’, ‘All Around The World’), and more brilliant singles (‘Being Boring’, ‘Suburbia’). Hating on this is pretty much a refutation of the joys of pop music, showmanship, electricity, cubic objects, and, indeed, joy itself. They’ll be feeling the clever side of my hand if they don't play ‘Rent’ next time, mind.
Given Fever Ray’s live show is more akin to a ritual designed to speed the onset of Ragnorok than something you’d call a ‘gig’, she’s rather up against it playing on a sunny afternoon. Fortunately a pea souper’s worth of dry ice, the fact you still can’t really see her face, and the sheer oppressive beauty of the music weave spell enough. By the time ‘Concrete Walls’ – surely the most un-Latitude song ever – rears its crushingly claustrophobic bulk, it is dark in our hearts and minds, daylight be damned.
Of Montreal pretty much prove one truism: even if your last album confused near-enough everyone, and even if you for some reason decide not to break out your frankly awesome current cover of Bat For Lashes’ ‘Daniel’ at a festival she herself is playing, then you can always win out by mock gassing your dancers to death. Kevin Barnes and friends' giddily surreal disco confessionals and a Serengeti’s-worth of extras dressed as animals pretty much win over a generous crowd willing to be dazzled.
DiS was sure we’d one day use the phrase ‘hypnotised by a pair of buttocks’ in an article one day... turns out it would be in reference to Grace Jones’ scantily-clad posterior. The lady is one BUFF 61-year-old and not afraid to demonstrate the fact. If she has neither the PSB’s budget or hits, her own impressive raft of peculiarities (hula hooping for the entirety of ‘Slave To The Rhythm’; effecting a costume change between every single song; her frankly unfathomable banter) serves to galvanise this Hurricane-spiked set of cult gems, simultaneously electrifying and confusing a rain-lashed audience into baffled rapture.
Magazine have certainly milked their present reformation considerably less than they could have done – a pink jacketed Howard Devoto’s lugubrious banter sounds more like the words of somebody apologetic for popping out to the shops for too long than the returning victory cry of the man who invented post-punk. Or it would do if the music inbetween wasn’t so extraordinary, a set bookended by ‘The Light Pours Out Of Me’ and ‘Shot By Both Sides’ that adds depth (the band sound fantastic) if maybe saps some energy (they must surely have sounded a few shades more visceral back in the day) from a clutch of songs few here ever looked to see live again.
Would probably have to be Pappy's Fun Club's late night set on Friday: they've pretty much honed the English martial art of making being a bit crap seem utterly brilliant to perfection. Basically you need their retarded dinosaur impression in your life. Jon Ronson was great on the Sunday as well, insofar as he comes across EXACTLY the way he writes; he seemed to be rather concerned that his mouth had run away from him and he'd accidentally bad mouthed a possibly psychotic friend of his who currently resides in Broadmoor.
Though it was anyone's guess what was going to happen with this one, the Radiohead frontman's noon solo set proved a generous one for the hardcore fans. ‘Follow Me Around’ (an acoustic number, with slide, previously appearing on Meeting People Is Easy) actually lightens the mood, even with its doppelganger stalking the singer… until they become almost like old friends. A tense, subtle new song – not specified as band or solo – shows off the intricacy of Yorke’s inimitable melodies, however it may develop. ‘Videotape’, of course, is gorgeous / heart-melting / perfect / timeless, and also apposite: “to-day… has been… th’most… per-fect… day… I’ve… ever… seen” As an encore, it’s a pleasant surprise that ‘There There’ works so well solo: Yorke samples his voice sung into the guitar to layer up the harmonies. Finally, ‘True Love Waits’ is introduced – like ‘Follow Me Around’ – “this is another one that’s been on the shelf a long time… for anyone who knows how that feels”. Maybe you’re luckier than that, but if you’re not moved by “true love lives… on lollipops and crisps” you have no soul.
Emmy the Great
Promoted to the Uncut stage after last year’s spectacular show at the Sunrise Arena, Emmy & Co. aren’t resting on their laurels. New songs abound, even if the subtlety of some would have suited a smaller venue, and others need more rehearsal – big guitars and Emmy’s voice don’t quite fit… yet. But the singles are stunning, the recently revisited ‘Edward is Dedward’ works as well now as (five? six?) years ago in a pub basement, and there’s the hope that some of the (toddling) audience Mika left behind are being musically educated.
One word: WHOAH.. After years of not-even-needing-to-resist the likes of Hot Chip, the falsetto-warbling electro-pop of Passion Pit came out of nowhere. Wafts of vapourized sweat pump out of the tent, as we approach. Onstage, frantically rocking keyboard players seem to be prostrating themselves before the Great God Chorus, and if you can’t follow the vocals’ hummingbird progress to the rafters, you can join in on the “HIGHER AND HIGHER” no sweat.
Airborne Toxic Event
One word: BRUCE... ATE may be bearers of the Worst Band Name 2009, but there’s zero toxicity. Throughout Latitude, musical averageness consists of sounding kinda-Arcade Fire-like on the big stages, and kinda-Led Zep-like on the smaller ones. ATE’s frontman has a bandana round his sweaty temples, and the guitarists have plenty of effects to go Swoosh! Not bad.
Cynics and supporters alike may be unsurprised to note that the world’s finest Joy Division tribute band are now entering their New Order years, with synths and drum-machines coming to the fore. Personally, I count myself as a supporter; their music pushes my buttons the way Harry Potter movies do (you have to admire the f/x and production, whatever you make of the dialogue). The final songs following us across the fields and valleys to the coach-stop makes up for missing Magazine. A fitting finish to Latitude.
Walking past the poetry tents, I invariably heard those inane "not good enough to rap" pseudo-poets who use that default cadence of smashing the system with their lyrical pistons cos they're feeling pissed on [pause for applause] and so on and so on (who FYI, it's not jealousy, they're on the bill lower than me, when I rock the mainstage like the prophets of rage... tho I ain't done that in an age; my poetry stylings are more David Berman, which blows them away like I'm driving a Sherman (that's a kind of tank), and they got no comeback when I'm giving them flak, cos they're poetry's w__).
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
For the second year in a row Nick Cave plays the Sunday night at Latitude and he clearly feels at home. Last year he brought along Grinderman, this year saw the full Bad Seeds tear through a set of stone cold classics. Cave is in a playful mood throughout, whether fluffing his spoken introduction to ‘The Weeping Song’ or calling long-time compadre Warren Ellis “a bearded fucker”. His relaxed demeanour doesn’t detract an iota from the intensity of his songs however. Between the portentous opening bars of ‘Tupelo’ to the spectacular closing version of ‘Stagger Lee’ (restored to its full extended glory after a brief, throwaway outing at Glastonbury) the crowd becomes ensnared in Cave’s darkness as the sun fades from the sky. He hurls the likes of ‘Red Right Hand’, ‘Deanna’ and ‘Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry’ direct from the back of his throat into the audience’s ears, with the present Bad Seeds line-up raking up every inch of thunder in the arrangements. Perhaps most impressive is how recent songs stand up against landmarks from his back catalogue: ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!’, ‘Midnight Man’ and the crazed ‘We Call Upon The Author’, replete with fizzing, nonsensical disco-funk breakdowns, confirm the excellence of the band’s last album, while ‘There She Goes My Beautiful World’, from the previous Bad Seeds LP, is surely one of the finest love songs Cave has penned. Of course it’s not quite up there with ‘The Ship Song’, the appearance of which must surely provide one of the most emotionally charged moments of the weekend.
Marnie Stern turns in a typically guitar-shredding performance in the Uncut Arena, despite being dogged by sound problems that flatten out her usually spiky guitar technique. The uniqueness of her style bears up to the sonic scrutiny, whilst chat about her vagina with bassist Malia James keeps the boisterous crowd entertained.
Booked three times at Latitude, Jeffrey Lewis misses his first show – a lecture on Watchmen – after his van breaks down. Despite the hassles, his late Saturday night solo show proves a highlight. Packed with wonderful new songs plagued with the heartache and morbidity that affected his last album, he ends on a rousing rendition of ‘Back When I Was Four’. He returns the next day for a storming full band set, replete with much-loved arguments with brother Jack.
The XX have the rare privilege of playing an outdoor set bathed in sunshine. While this may not match their look – the South London quartet all dress in black and refuse to smile – it suits the dreaminess of their songs, which build from gently beguiling tunes into danceable minor chord mantras.
The Vaselines return continues apace with Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee unleashing a string of glorious hits that never were. The banter is as filthy as ever, as, for that matter, are half the songs. Here’s hoping they never grow up.
Janeane Garofalo’s appearance in the comedy tent was billed something of a coup: the stateside comic has a series of notable turns in major films and television shows under her belt as well as a 20 year history in stand up. In the event it was a damp squib: she came onstage and uttered a couple of humourless observations to general silence before simply giving up and stating it would be better if she just stopped. The typically polite Latitude crowd was neither booing nor slow-hand clapping, just waiting for a joke. None were forthcoming, although there was some amusement to be gained from the fact the MC was in the loo, forcing Garofalo to fill, essentially for herself, for another five minutes before her torture was ended. At least there was one US comedienne who knew how to keep a tent full of grubby individuals entertained: Jessica Delfino’s sickly-sweet psycho-bitch persona was a treat, and she even managed the rare feat of singing comedy songs that were actually funny. Expect to hear a lot more from her.