Live Review: Reading Festival 2012

The three headliners at Reading Festival this year all had something to play for. 

The Cure would arrive for their first appearance since 1979, hoping for a triumphant return; Kasabian, often renowned as the saviors of Oasis-type British rock, would have to prove their capability to headline; and Foo Fighters, because of Dave Grohl’s emotional connection to the world’s oldest music festival, were never going to take the gig lightly.

It usually takes until late evening for festival crowds to fully spring into action however, early on Crystal Castles provided the rowdy moments for which the Reading crowd is renowned for. The electronic productions of Ethan Kath define their sound but it’s the overtly charismatic nature of Alice Glass that sends the crowd into a frenzy. The fantastic ‘Not In Love’ closed the set without the vocals of The Cure‘s Robert Smith, but at least it provided a nod towards what was to come. You Me At Six and Paramore belted out catchy pop-rock numbers which were enthusiastically received by the crowd however, the gothic silhouette of Robert Smith on Paramore’s Hayley Williams’ T-Shirt acted as another reminder of the main attraction.

With the exception of a constantly active smoke machine, The Cure delivered a set devoid of any tricks or gimmicks. Comically, frontman Robert Smith blushed at his incapability of “finding the words” to explain why talking to the crowd is so difficult; instead this performance was all about the music. Renowned for their long sets, The Cure swiftly moved through the back catalogue. Some may find the frontman to be an unimpressive presence on stage because his charisma is delivered, not through jumping around the stage but, by delivering the songs with a mysteriously engaging angst-ridden passivity. The rest of the band join in as well: Simon Gallup, a particularly underrated bass player, is vital to The Cure‘s sound; and experienced new recruit Reeves Gabrels (formerly of David Bowie’s Tin Machine) on distorted electric guitar adds a valuable layer to the output.

For fans of the alternative rock outfit the set was clearly a delight, consisting of a balanced range of upbeat pop from latter years and deeper cuts including a fair share of gloomy early-Cure. Despite this, the noticeably young nature of the crowd may go some way to explaining the relatively subdued atmosphere. ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ and the suitably titled ‘Friday I’m In Love’ were warmly received by all, additionally ‘A Forest’ created a spellbinding atmosphere but much of the two and a half hour set was met with only lukewarm approval. Regrettably, many of the Reading punters are more in tune with indie darlings The Maccabees, who performed simultaneously across the field on the Radio 1/NME Stage.

Green Day opened Saturday with a bang by making a surprise morning appearance on the Radio 1/NME Stage. However despite the extortionate £7 price tag for the small festival booklet; it was still a challenge to find the set times for the scheduled line-up, let alone an unexpected addition, like Green Day.

Feeder proved to be a significant highlight of the weekend; their solid rock anthems impressively filled the intimate Festival Republic Stage. Recently taunted by NME as ‘feckless w*nkers’ akin to ‘cross-stitching on tour’; it’s no surprise that the Welsh outfit were performing away from the larger tent sponsored by the magazine. The music did the talking instead and, judging by the crowds spilling out from underneath the canopy, there’s no doubt that Feeder are capable of a more significant slot. That being said, the bustling atmosphere was undoubtedly more rewarding than an early evening slot on the Main Stage, and for those lucky enough to find a space inside it was certainly a treat.

Considering the pre-festival build up for At The Drive In‘s headline performance on the BBC Radio 1/NME Stage, the reception was underwhelming: the crowds visibly depleted from Billy Talent onwards as punters flocked away from the hard rock themed line-up on Reading’s second stage to take in Florence & the Machine and Kasabian.

On Sunday, The Gaslight Anthem drew in a significant audience and provided rock, which was much more listenable than their skull and crossbones backdrop imagery suggested. The reliable Kaiser Chiefs delivered a crowd-pleasing greatest hits performance, with entertaining frontman Ricky Wilson parading around the stage like a man possessed. The critically acclaimed The Black Keys completed the supporting bill. Their classic rock and blues sound accounts for how recent hit ‘Gold On The Ceiling’ sounds like it has been around for years however, the majority of the set was arguably more pleasant than it was exciting.

In reality, alongside the surprise hysteria generated by Green Day, Foo Fighters were the talk of the festival over the weekend. In conversation with a festival-goer waiting for the American band to appear I ask whether she is a fan, to which the answer comes back along the lines of “Not particularly…but it’s the Foos”. It seems that they are a must see, even for the merest of fans.

Much has been made of frontman Dave Grohl’s affection for Reading Festival: his history with the festival began with two Nirvana appearances in the early 90’s followed by a raucous debut with Foo Fighters in 1995, a brace of Main Stage support slots, and a further two headline gigs since. The set garners early momentum as the vast majority of material from their Greatest Hits album is energetically delivered in the first hour. The drummer-turned-frontman struck a reflective and emotional mood throughout: paternalistically demanding the crowd “look after each other”, calling the field “home”, and gawping at the crowd of “more than 100,000”.

In reality the capacity limit for the whole festival site stands below that figure, and the two and a half hour set doesn’t quite reach the heights implied by Grohl’s billing of “the most important gig of my life” but it’s still a highly enjoyable performance. Despite being a fan, Foo Fighters have never been a band which particularly inspire me to sit down with a pair of headphones and explore the deeper cuts of their numerous albums. Instead, they are masters at producing forceful, populist rock sing-alongs, designed to be belted out at festivals like this.

The extent to which you enjoy Reading Festival much depends on your connection with the line-up. Dominated by rock, indie and the occasional offering of metal, it’s certainly narrower in terms of its focus compared to Glastonbury. Put it this way, you won’t be seeing Pixie Lott making an appearance any time soon.

Two final tips for those thinking of tackling the festival next year: make sure you like who is playing; and make sure you pick up the cups. Yes, that’s right, organisers Festival Republic offer a refund of 10p for every one handed back in. You might not make much of a dent into the hefty £200 weekend ticket price but, considering the vast quantities of alcohol consumed over the weekend, with some effort you’ll more than be able to pay for that souvenir you might want to grab from the merchandise stands.

Robert Smith (@robertdgsmith)

…Robert has been listening to Coldplay – Spies…

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4 Comments on this post.
  • Andrew D
    3 September 2012 at 21:50
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    Thanks for this – I know now what I missed – I was there in the capacity of being one of the army of the army ppl taken on to clean up the mess during and after the event (including loo cleaning) and the music sort of passed us by 🙂

  • LiamColeman
    5 September 2012 at 08:36
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    A positive review of The Cure by someone called Robert Smith? I’m suspicious…

  • Robert Smith
    7 September 2012 at 10:04
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    You’re not the first to mention it! Just a coincidence. My parents like The Cure, but not enough to have named me after the lead singer!

  • D
    10 September 2012 at 23:52
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    It’s too bad so many missed out on At The Drive-In. They don’t know what they were missing. Billy Talent are huge fans of ATDI, and clearly modeled their sound after them. Silly people….

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