Wow. My first Reading Festival experience will be one Iíll remember forever. Lucky enough to blag tickets for Saturday, I was looking forward to performances by Blur, BRMC, The Thrills, The Libertines, Hundred Reasons, Mars Volta and more. Sadly, the National Rail Service had their heads up their collective asses and decided this 3-day weekend would be a perfect time for engineering works. Good decision, jacknecks. A trip that should take 25 minutes was now to take over an hour. And this was just the start of a day of trials and tribulationsÖ
So the train left London at 1:50 p.m. and didnít arrive in Reading until 3:10 p.m. Luckily, the Richfield Avenue grounds that the hallowed Reading Festival is held on was only about 15 minutesí walk away. On the way, however, one was treated to all manners of sales kiosks, with plenty of cheap bootleg shirts to be had (one even had the Leeds Festival running order and Reading header; good one) and endless truck beds to buy cases of beer to take in to the camping area of the grounds. We finally got to the front of the guest line at 4:20 p.m. Four goddamn twenty, two-and-a-half hours after leaving London, we get to get our wristbands. Except weíre not on the list. Needless to say, I was a bit bent at this point. I gave my US contact a number of phone calls to no avail and then decided to walk back to Reading proper and find a pub. We chose 6:30 p.m. GMT/10:30 p.m. PDT as the cut off time to give up and head back to London. At 5:55 p.m., the phone rang. It was BRMCís manager in LA, apologizing profusely for the mix up. He assured me that BRMCís tour manager knew exactly what had happened and was presently on his way to the ticket window to rectify the situation. 25 minutes (and two beers from the aforementioned street vendors) later we were being strapped with wristbands and our Reading experience was to begin in earnest. At 6:20 p.m.
Since there were only three main stage artists left, and one of them, Beck, was already on stage, it was time to start running out and about. Beck had a fairly huge crowd and they watched him rock his way through the quiet (ìLost Cause,î ìNobodyís Fault But My Ownî) and the loud (ìDevilís Haircutî ìSexx Lawsì) during his set. We had made it out to the Radio 1 stage to check out part of the highly-touted Mars Volta gig. The tent was rammed to the gills with fans, insanely populated for the ex-At The Drive-In crew. Sadly, since we were at the back, the sound was akin to that of a transistor radio from 1000 yards. The kids went mental for it, however, as we headed back to see the tail end of a Beck megamix, including mini covers of ìHot In Herreî and ìCrazy In Love.î His set ended and we headed back over to the Radio 1 stage for a bit of hometown boys Cooper Temple Clause. They kicked the proceedings off with the tune they usually end it all with, ìPanzer Attack,î and for the few songs we got to hear, they impressed the hell out of me. Their new long player, Kick Up The Fire, And Let The Flames Break Loose , is out this fall and if their live set is any indication of how ruling it's gonna be, consider it penned in on my year-end top 10.
Back to the main stage, now, for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The boys I had come to see were finally hitting the stage and in their trademark all-black outfits, they fired up the guitars and didnít take their foot off the gas for over an hour. Old songs like ìLove Burnsî and ìWhatever Happened To My Rock & Rollî are just as incendiary as in times past, but itís the new material that really sets the night afire. ìSix Barrel Shotgun,î ìUS Governmentî and first single ìStopî are all wonderful live. The crowd eats up the performance but itís when they offer their nod to the replaced White Stripes that it goes ballistic: they actually covered ìThe Hardest Button To Button.î It was unreal. The crowd went mental, and rightly so. Now, just wait until their upcoming tour of the US. You are in for a treat.
Backstage for some more beer and to star gaze for a short while. Amongst the people caught backstage are Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream, fellow Festival-planner extraordinaire and the mastermind of the Glastonbury Festival, Michael Eavis, VV and Hotel of The Kills, Vernon Kaye, Creation Recordsí Alan McGee, Gem Archer of Oasis and Hot Hot Heatís super friendly frontman Steve Bays. Time to run off to the Radio 1 stage to see some of SXSW faves Hundred Reasons. There was only time for a few tracks, but getting to hear a rejigged version of the amazing ìRemmusî make the trek across the field of passed out fools and discarded snacks well worth it.
The crowning event of the evening was a masterful two-hour show from Blur. While the new album is a little underwhelming, their live performance was anything but. Pulling out jams from days past like ìThe Universal,î ìBeetlebum,î ìFor Tomorrowî and my favorite, ìPopscene,î had the crowd singing at the top of their lungs. Even Damon Albarn falling off the stage during ìBeetlebumî didnít harm the set, although his response of something along the lines of ìthat was uncool, but Iíve always been uncool,î was an excellent retort. The two highlights of their set were fairly widely spaced. Damon requested help from the crowd on ìTender,î asking them to sing Grahamís part (after roughly dedicating the tune to him) which was heartwarming. Highlight number two was bringing on Quadrophenia star Phil Daniels to reprise his vocal role in encore number ìParklife.î It wasnít as loud, musically, as it needed to be, but seeing Daniels and Albarn exchanging vocals and smiles made it the best song of the night. They closed with ìThis Is A Low,î which, obviously, was the furthest from the truth. This had been a tour de force and an experience Iíll never forget. Big ups to Jenni Sperandeo for sorting my ticket mayhem and for hooking me up in the first place. Iíll send you my anger management/bar bill for those missing two hours.