When is a festival not a festival? When it’s sponsored by a train company and has all the atmosphere of a carpet warehouse. Yes, welcome to the second ‘Urban’ Move Festival.
The ‘move’ bit obviously relates to the stage which has been moved considerably further forward than last year to hide the fact that instead of Bowie, Green Day and Weller we’ve got a second rate Glasto checklist of the Manics, Feeder, and Inspiral Carpets and the accompanying poor ticket sales. Still, REM on Sunday, more of which later.
Even though it’s Manchester we’re in (Lancashire County Cricket Ground in Old Trafford to be precise), God’s got Blazin’ Squad on and it’s sunnier than an Iraqi POW camp. (Still, the other northern stereotype lives up to its name, as one of our expensive digital cameras is readily nicked from our hotel room halfway through Saturday.) Our friends Kinesis kick off Friday to precisely no one and with the press passes not here yet, sadly we can’t go and cheer them on either. The Mars Volta too, are a wasted proposition and though they valiantly bash out the finer bits of Deloused In Delirium, it’s not until Super Furry Animals roll up that anything starts to shine. Full marks to them though, for releasing a single about Ulrika Johnsson: ‘Golden Retriever’.
The Flaming Lips go one better and fill the stage with a bunch of super furry animals, including, we are told, the marketing director of ‘The Train Company’ (!) and repeat their glorious Glasto set for all those who don’t like proper festivals. The sad thing about the all new Top Of The Pops-mark Lips is that their music now plays a far second to the extravagant balloon shows and super-sized toy parade. It’s great fun all the shame, and Wayne Coyne and co certainly seem to be enjoying it a lot more than the Manics.
For the old Welsh guard this is clearly an unwanted bullet point on another promo schedule for yet another compilation album (their second inside a year). This time it’s b-sides, and save for ‘Take The Skinheads Bowling’ and ‘Prologue To History’ the b-sides they choose to play are complete arse. Whilst hits like ‘Little Baby Nothing’ and ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ are sublime, they’re played with all the heart of a vegetarian’s fridge. When the concert finishes after an hour with no encore, the four thousand or so people that did turn up are left more than just dissatisfied. But hey, maybe that’s what an ‘urban’ festival is about.
Saturday’s attendance is much healthier even if the line-up isn’t. The Bees open up, with Puressence (no, us neither) making way for an incredibly well-received Inspiral Carpets set. Home soil does a lot, but fair’s fair - Clint Boon is a living legend. Dave Gahan is taking time off from Depeche Mode to practise magic. He manages to make almost the entire crowd disappear within two songs of his shirtless drone, proving that vocalists should just know their place and sing the songs they're given.
Look at Feeder for example. They know their limits as an insipid yet strangely popular indie-rock lemming; harmless and with the charisma of a two week stay in B&Q, and vehemently stick by them. Even the most callous hearted can’t deny the stupid-perfection of ‘Buck Rogers’, but with ‘Yesterday Went Too Soon’ sounding like Noel Gallagher on a drip, is it any wonder the drummer killed himself?
The Charlatans then, are still with us, god bless em, and deservedly so. ‘Just Lookin’’, ‘One To Another’ and ‘Impossible get thrown into the melting pot with new songs like the blinding ‘Today’ as well as the ill-remembered ‘Can't Even Be Bothered’, back from the dark ages of 1992.. ‘North Country Boy’ is glorious; every great nineties memory screwed together in one tune, but sadly the funky ‘You’re So Pretty…’ falls on its arse courtesy of the demi-shambolic performance. Typically, Tim Burgess is totally fucked and when John Collins’ pedals cut out halfway through; the inevitable live-breast-show keeps the crowd suitably amused. ‘You can bet REM won’t have this trouble tomorrow’ Tim quips. And with the crowd cheering the flesh, Burgess evidently thinks they're applauding him! But anyway, if REM have one tenth of The Charlatans' soul, all will be fine.
Sunday finally rears its sunburnt scalp and comparatively speaking, presents a good line up. By this time we’re done complaining about not going to T In The Park and instead revel in the dumb acceptance of Athlete’s South London charm and soak up the third continual day of blissful weather. It’s gone to Joel’s head though, the Athlete singer applauds, ‘Thanks for coming to see us, and [under his breath] REM.’ In your dreams.
John Squire unintentionally ends up as the day’s comedy act, and though he’s not helped by the sound man (drowning his guitar out in bass), his spirit killing renditions of ‘Made Of Stone’ and ‘Driving South’ don’t help. When Ian Brown played just a few bars of the opening to ‘Fools Gold’ last year, the Glasto crowd went ape. Sadly, when Johnny does it, he only succeeds in monkey-shitting on the myth for many a young Manc.
Idlewild thankfully, are still riding the surf of their critical and commercial tidalwave, easily playing to twice as many people the Manics two days before. Big, bold, brassy and, at times beautiful, the normally nonchalant Roddy Womble and co are visibly enjoying themselves. Despite seeing Idlewild at pretty much every festival for the last two years, it’s still rather a novelty to see them command huge stages so convincingly.
Without the inconvenience of anything more than his guitar and piano, Badly Drawn Boy’s hour warm-up for Da Athens Massive could easily have gone the same way as Squire’s. With the sound man intent on ruining it (how much low end do you need for one man and a guitar?), Badly’s constantly heard shouting for more guitar and vocals, telling the audience that ‘the monitors are fooked!’ Regardless, his performance is as heartrending as it is faultless.
A clutch of b-sides and new songs highlight his wonderful grasp of melody and wit combined with ‘Silent Sigh’, ‘Have You Fed The Fish’ and many of his other hits. His finger plucking guitar style is quite exquisite but what carries the show is his inimitable northern humour and magnetic charisma. ‘This is the biggest gig I’ve done and the closest one I’ve done to my house.’ There is indeed, no place like home.
Where the Manics and Charlatans have both attempted to regain early found form and fame (failing and partially succeeding, respectively), Planet REM has grown rings and gone supernova. They only play two post-millennium album tracks, but when one of them is ‘Imitation Of Life’, that doesn’t matter.
What gets the party moving though, is ‘Orange Crush’, ‘Drive’ and an incredible ‘Find The River’. ‘Fall On Me’ is still the most wonderfully unappreciated eighties gem, but it’s ‘At My Most Beautiful’ that brings jaws to the floor and hearts to the throats of some twelve thousand Stipe disciples. Even ‘Everybody Hurts’ shakes off the spell of overplay to reveal its truly fascinating depth. New songs: ‘Bad Day’, ‘Final Straw’ and ‘Animal’ range from being great, to mediocre to good; and are all very much of the ‘Automatic…’ and ‘Reveal’ mould.
The self-declared weather king (‘Thank me for the blissful weather’), Stipe and his five-piece band are spot on tonight. Wiping out a weekend of inadequacies in one 90 minute swoop, to say it pisses all over their Glasto performance would be to sell it criminally short. REM may not have any boundaries left to conquer but as a band they know no bounds.
‘Can you believe they put a man on the moon?’ Maybe if it was Michael Stipe.
DiScuss: How good were REM when you saw them at Glasto/Move/T?