To Die By Your Side

Latitude Festival Day Three – 19/07/2009

July 25th, 2009

Sunday morning and we’re up early for Thom Yorke. Billed as the special guest and due on stage at noon, we’re treated to an early preview of just how special his performance might just be. Bacon sandwich in hand, we sit listening to fragments of songs and half sung vocals as Thom’s soundcheck floats over from the currently closed main arena. An hour and a half later and we’re standing near the front of an crowd that’s getting increasingly busy. By the time Thom ambles onstage it feel as though everyone on site has their eyes on him. Dressed in a casual jacket and jeans combo, he looks relaxed and in good spirits. He sits centre stage at a large black grand piano and opens his set with a stunning version of ‘The Eraser’s title track. From there we get an hour of solo songs, Radiohead tracks and a few that have been left on the shelf. Flitting from piano to keyboard to guitar, Thom plays the role of superstar one man band. Controlling pre-recorded beats with the flick of a switch and looping his guitar and voice to back himself, the sound and stage appear fuller than they actually are. Throughout it all he’s playful with the songs, playfully awkward with his banter and clearly having a whale of a time. A satisfied smile breaking across his face on several occasions. The crowd in turn reply with a reverential silence throughout each song, huge applause between them. We’re treated to a new song, a gentle acoustic number whose destiny is never revealed. Whether set for a solo or Radiohead release, it is quite, quite beautiful, Thom repeating a fragile ‘you am lost’, before suddenly ending to rapturous applause. Called back for an encore we get a stripped back ‘There, There’ and a heartbreaking ‘True Love Waits’. It is the most perfect end to a set that more than lived up to it’s ‘special’ billing. You can’t help wonder how the rest of the day can possibly live up to the standard Thom has set so early in the day.

The truth is, it can’t. Not really. Much of the day is spent flitting from place to place. We meet up with friends. We hide in our tent from the torrential deluge of rain to pass. We wander past people dressed as sheep simulating livestock loving. We eat. We drink. And not until late afternoon do we take in any more music in the shape and sound of The Vaselines. Playing to a reasonably full Uncut Tent, they fill their set with short sharp songs that sound tougher than their twee reputation but no less melodic. A kind of fuzzy, jangling guitar sound that more than confirms the legendary status that Kurt Cobain bestowed on them. The summery vibe spreads form the stage to the sky and the grey clouds finally give way to the sun that had blessed the first two days.

Over at the Comedy Tent, American Tom Stade amuses us with talk of Wolverhampton while Jo Brand transports us back in time to whenever she first started making jokes about being fat and not liking exercise. Yes, she’s funny and draws a huge crowd that spills out the tent sides, but you can’t wonderhow she’s managed to draw out a career based on one routine.

The laughter over, we head back outside for some serious post punk from Editors. Now I’ll be honest, they’re a band that have hitherto failed to impress me and frankly, they do nothing to challenge that. They’re not particularly bad, they just don’t engage me much. Personally, the singer’s voice seems too affected to take seriously. I mean, the songs aren’t bad and they pass the time well enough, but honestly, it’s little more than background music to conversation and the wait for Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds.

A wait brought to an end by the foreboding rumble of bass that signals the beginning of ‘Tupelo’ and the start of a performance that batter’s any sign of Sunday weariness into submission. Clearing picking his better known songs for the festival audience, Nick and the Seeds play an aggressive set, heavy, wild and unruly. None of the middle aged complacency for this band. Nick plays fast and loose with his lyrics. He alters lines, changes the intonation and timing and makes this feel like a completely unique performance to any other he’s given. And the band match his every move. Despite or perhaps because of Mick Harvey’s departure, the Bad Seeds seem more evenly balanced now. Warren Ellis still a focal point but no longer as a detriment to the rest of the band. New guitarist Ed Kuepper a steady, solid foil to Ellis’s wild man. ‘The Ship Song’ offers a brief respite from the onslaught of heavy hitters, it’s stark beauty emphasised by it’s juxtaposed place within the rest of the set. ‘We Call Upon The Author’ is astonishingly fierce. ‘There She Goes My Beautiful World’ pounds along brutally. ‘The Weeping Song’ magnificent despite it’s fluffed intro. The only minor quibble being Nick’s insistence on playing guitar which seems to anchor him slightly and despite scissor kicking his way between chords, his performance is muted slightly by his instrument. Only when freed of his guitar does Nick’s full finger jabbing, body spasming, bile spewing preacher of doom and destruction come to life. Like I say, it’s nitpicking on a tremendous festival main stage closing performance. Finishing with the now traditional sonic slaughter funk of ‘Stagger Lee’, the band depart, depriving the crowd of a much called for encore but leaving no-one disappointed.

We catch the final three songs of the Gossip’s headline set in the sweaty, crammed confines of the Uncut Tent. Once more unable to see a thing on stage, we stick to the outskirts and having missed the build up of Beth Ditto’s performance, it all seems a bit of a damp squib compared to Nick Cave. Undoubtedly a hit with the crowd, we’re just that bit too late to get into the groove and get any real sense of their set. And that’s it. The Latitude Festival 2009 is done. Over. Complete.

We didn’t expect to be there but we’re glad we were. As festivals go it was undeniably great. Not as big as some festivals. Not as essential a line up as others. But it did offer a far more consistent enjoyment. Not once did we feel lethargic or have those inevitable down moments that occur at most festivals. Each morning we woke feeling ready for the day ahead. Ready to explore and investigate. No signs of weariness. And for the most part we were blessed with good weather. All in all , the atmosphere, the imagination, the spirit, the camping, the site, the setting, the performances, hell, even the toilets and facilities were on a level above and beyond any festival I’ve been to before. Better than V, better than Leeds and dare I say it, better than Glastonbury, Latitude Festival 2009 is the new benchmark by which future festivals will be judged.

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