Reading Festival is huge. My memory of attending one day of the 2003 festival is fuzzy and this time around I was surprised by the size. The only camping festival I can compare it to is Falls and there's some significant differences. You're allowed to bring alcohol into the campsite, so the streets leading to the site are lined with temporary businesses selling booze by the case. Festival crowds seem to be similar wherever you go, but Reading has some extra crazy. There were the requisite guys in animal themed onesies, but there were also a lot of guy in drag. A lot. There were dozens of girls with technicolour hair much more impressive than mine. There were also plenty of drunk fuck wits who were under the impression that public urination is ok, and groups of teenagers who looked way too young to be there and thus made me feel old.
Every time I go to a festival I'm disappointed by the fact that a huge proportion of the punters are douchebags. Example? During the breaks between bands, music is played through the soundsystem. There were more people singing along to Teenage Dirtbag than Karma Police. Wtf. It wasn't all bad though. There were nice moments: Hi-fiving a fellow Brand New fan when we came face to face wearing the same shirt, earning karma points by handing out tissues in a toilet block where the paper had run out, and on the last day this kid punched his friend when the friend cut in front of me in the bar queue.
I'll happily shell out for a festival with a good line up if it means seeing bands I like but not enough to go to the effort of seeing at a solo show. It makes me sad that the sort of shit you have to put up with from fellow patrons will eventually be enough to discourage me from attending. Props to the other half, who only really went because I was going. He made the first two days much more fun than they otherwise would have been. We'll ignore the fact that because he waited till the last minute, his ticket was £90 cheaper than mine. Scam artist.
What made this one more bearable was not having to camp. Reading is half an hour from Oxford by train, so each night I went home, washed in my own shower, peed in my own toilet and slept in my own bed. Since the bands each day didn't start until midday, and generally there weren't bands I was interested in until after lunch, each morning included a proper sleep-in and a decent breakfast. This plan was awesome, until I missed the last train back to Oxford on the last night (despite getting to the station in time). I was facing a night in Reading train station in the company of a hundred or so fellow wrecked festival goers and a wino couple having a very loud and very angry domestic. Considering my day trip to Reading in 2003 ended with a night spent in London's Paddington station, it seemed as if I'd walked into some sort of unavoidable tradition, but the boy insisted on driving the hour and a half from Kent and rescuing my tired arse. Chivalry, it would seem, is not dead. I was so very grateful to be taken home to my own bed.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Rewind 3 days...
There was a lot of rain at the site the day before the festival started. As a result, the ground was slush by the time we walked in on the first day. My green high-tops lasted me through the day but my feet were cold and wet by the time the sun went down. I'm yet to remove the mud and try to salvage the shoes. I put on my only other pair of crappy shoes the next morning (£2 Primark sneakers) and felt them start to leak as soon as we left the train station. Best footwear purchase ever? A pair of merino wool knee-high socks and some basic wellington boots from a camping store en-route. My feet stayed dry for the next two days and considering I'm intending to stay in England longer than I'd originally planned, it's probably sensible to own a pair of wellies.
There were several bands on the line-up who I've loved at some point, but had never seen live. I finally got to see Deftones, Jimmy Eat World, The Offspring, Interpol and Pulp. Nostalgia was stirred. Deftones were solid. I hadn't heard My Own Summer for years, but it's impact hasn't changed. Their set was followed by The Offspring, who I have to admit, I have a soft spot for. The band are old now, but somehow, they still managed to play songs like Self Esteem without seeming like sad old men desperately holding on to their youth. I suspect it's because they've maintained their sense of humour. And I don't care if it's a novelty song, Pretty Fly is super fun at a festival. We hung around to watch 30 Seconds to Mars and it was pretty damn funny. In fairness, I don't really know their music but the band sounded great. The vocals, however, did not. Leto's yelling/singing voice is fine, but I got the feeling that he was only singing about half of the vocals that are on the original recorded songs. Long sections of the vocals were provided only by the crowd. The bulk of his time was spent posturing and yelling at the crowd to either jump or scream. When singing in the lower ranges, he was barely audible. Perhaps this is unfair, but either there were serious microphone problems, or he can't actually sing very well.
The Saturday was full of happy music. Edward Sharpe were lots of fun and have a band member who may be the world's hottest piano accordionist. Grouplove deserve to hit it big with their debut album. Go listen to the track Colours and try not to bob your head. Their live show is high energy and the whole band looked really fucking happy the whole time they were playing. Late afternoon, Madness took to the stage. The horn section struck up and the whole field started simultaneously skanking. It was hilarious and joyous at the same time. I've not kept up to date with Jimmy Eat World, and there were quite a few songs in the set I didn't recognise, but their vocals were surprisingly strong live and they played enough of Bleed American to keep me happy, and also included a track from Clarity. It hadn't occurred to me ahead of time how much fun a track like Sweetness would be live, due to crowd interaction (Sing it back, woah oh oh oh oh). Pulp know how to put on a show and no-one moves like Jarvis Cocker does. There was something very appropriate about listening to them play Sorted for Es and Wizz while standing in a field at such a huge festival.
Sunday was mixed. Interpol's sound was was clear and strong, but their lead singer is painfully uncharismatic. I was bored. On the upside, the rest of the band are very snappy dressers. Cage the Elephant's front man was the complete opposite and ran around like a 5 year old on speed. They've obviously managed to develop quite a following here. Ain' No Rest and Shake Me Down were met with massive crowd response. Panic at the Disco were a lot of fun as well. They've got a couple of very good crowd singalong songs, perfect for festivals. And there's a fair amount of man-love going on on their stage. It turns out Tim Minchin is huge here and I couldn't even get into the alternative tent to see him. Elbow have been one of my favourite bands for years and I think Leaders of the Free World and The Seldom Seen Kid are both seriously brilliant. It's weird then that I haven't managed to see them live since they supported Placebo in Australia back in 2004. They were simultaneously calm and huge, with a string section and a sing along to One Day Like This to close the set. They played at sunset and the crowd was involved, but also really chilled. I need to see them play a solo show sometime soon. While Elbow keep getting better and better with age, Muse keep disappearing further into their own egos. luckily for me, their current tour is celebrating 10 years since the release of Origin of Symmetry (in my opinion, their last good album). They played the album from beginning to end and it was nice to hear tracks like Darkshines played live. Their set was predictably overblown. Time is Running Out was great, but they didn't touch any of the tracks from Showbiz, which was the only album I really loved. It was too theatrical for me. Smashed guitars and spurts of flame. At one point Matt Bellamy actually showered himself in confetti mid-song. I was in the minority. It seemed as if 50% of the people at the festival owned at least one Muse t-shirt and I was pretty much the only person there who didn't know the lyrics to Knights of Cydonia and Stockholm Syndrome. But whatever everyone else hears, I don't. It's just all a bit too much.
So the fireworks went off and I trudged back through the stinky campsite towards my already departed train, exhausted, but happy that I made it to one big summer music festival this year.