Story and photos by David Gottlieb.
To descend upon the Isle Of Wight 2006 Rock Festival on the same day as England's opening World Cup match is a feeling of sensory overload. On the sports side, the World Cup is so much beyond mere competition--it is truly the one event (far more than the Olympics and it's genrefied, nicheified sports) that the World stops for. As I make my way around London, first on Friday, June 9 the Cup's opening day, and then on Saturday on the way to the Isle Of Wight, everywhere you go you see the flag of England--draped from windows and buildings, clinging to cars, flying outside every possible business, the jersey on people every 5-10 steps. To be overseas during a World Cup is to truly see how out of step the United States can sometimes be; a land of our own making--and a great land at that--but one detached from some of the things that makes the rest of the world tick.
Next to me on the train to Portsmouth Harbour to catch the ferry for Isle of Wight are slews of music fans, some dressed in rock t-shirts, some in England gear. At 2pm, the country will pause to watch their beloved national side take the pitch against Paraguay. To view this from the historical ground of the Isle of Wight festival (in 1970 the headliners for the three days were Chicago, The Doors & The Jimi Hendrix Experience; The Who's legendary show from here was #2 on the bill before The Doors) will surely be an invigorating experience. After crossing on Ferry to the Isle and a bouncy bus ride to the site, we embark to warm sunshine (ah, June in England!) and about 15-20K Brits walking the festival grounds, soaking in lots of food, alcohol and carnival games. On stage is Suzanne Vega, punctuating the beautiful afternoon with "Luka" and "Tom's Diner", awakening a crowd that spent Friday night being bludgeoned by GoldFrapp, Placebo and The Prodigy. Today's line-up is distinctly British, with The Kooks, Dirty Pretty Things, Editors and Primal Scream serving as the appetizer to Foo Fighters main course, the Foos playing their first real gig in five months as they "warm up" for some UK Acoustic gigs in preparation for the US acoustic tour in July and August, with an 85,000 person Hyde Park show awaiting them a week from today.
Despite the festival grounds being a "football free zone" (meaning no big screens showing the matches), The Proclaimers have the task of playing whilst the World Cup is going and The Kooks face the enviable task of performing after the game finishes. It's a brutally dull game, one which England wins on an early own goal courtesy of the Paraguay defense, but the crowd at Isle Of Wight is reveling in the victory, blistering in the warm sun with warm, celebratory beer. The Kooks perform admirably, exciting the younger portion of the Isle of Wight audience with their pseudo-Sublimeish, but very smooth Britpop. Dirty Pretty Things follow with an equally steady set, peaked by their current hit single "Bang, Bang, Your Dead" and it's infectious, chanting, football (soccer) friendly chorus.
Editors hop on the stage next, kicking into "Someone Says" as the Isle of Wight crowd has now jammed into the main grounds, easily swelling to 35,000 of the 50,000 in attendance. Cranking through a feisty, blasting set highlighting the songs from The Back Room, Editors more than hold their own on the main festival stage, boding well for this summer's US appearances at Lollapalooza and Street Scene. A fiery "Blood", amped up "Bullets" and crisp "You Are Fading" push the set forward in the middle and it takes a volcanic turn for the last third as the crowd jumps in, singing along with "Munich", a cover of Talking Heads "Road To Nowhere" and the signature set closer "Fingers In The Factories" which has the entire first 100 yards of fans' fists in the air.
Primal Scream pounce on stage as the festival site slowly loses the sun behind the trees and hills. Apparently helped along by an unknown extracurricular concoction, Primal Scream thrill the crowd with their modernish Rolling Stones-Black Crowes miasma of sound. Their new single "Country Girl" is all over the airwaves and charts in England and is a dead ringer for an Exile On Main Street lost song, and one which the crowd eats up. Primal Scream is full and playful, setting the crowd up for the sun setting and Foo Fighters taking the stage.
Foo Fighters haven't played a full set since their European Tour ended in early February, and the rustiness is evident during the first five noisy, faster than normal songs: "In Your Honor," "No Way Back," "The Last Song," "Times Like These" and "Learn To Fly." But it's about this time the rust shakes of Dave Grohl's voice, the lasers bust out and the band lights the crowd a blaze with "Stacked Actors," "Monkey Wrench" and "Breakout," churning out a huge sing-a-long from the masses. A hearty congratulations on the England World Cup win endears the band some more and inspires some impromptu football stadium style singing before the band clicks through the end with "All My Life," "Everlong" and "Cold Day In The Sun" (with Taylor Hawkins taking over the vocals and guitar lead and Grohl hitting the drums).
Sunday featured Maximo Park, Lou Reed, Richard Ashcroft and Coldplay and more spectacular weather. A very British weekend indeed.