Sinead O’Connor, Main Stage
What a funny old world we live in. When O’Connor was booked for this year’s Electric Picnic, it seemed a sensible – if unspectacular – move. The festival has a history of presenting artists at all stage of their career, and the time is probably right for some kind of reappraisal of herr catalogue. Since then, of course, there have been certain developments that have taken Friday’s performance to whole new level. Really, the sexual storm in a tea cup is just another example of her pushing Ireland’s buttons but now, instead of shocking people, O’Connor has left herself open to, at best gentle mocking, at worst ridicule. Thus the previously empty main stage crowd swells for her later afternoon appearance, an uncomfortable feeling of voyeurism hanging in the air – not unlike that when Amy Winehouse slept walked her way through her rather dull Oxegen set a couple of years back.
What we get is not a raging fuck you to those who came to gawp, but a tentative reminder of her undoubted talent. The set is scattered with old favourites and it’s these that really hit home, making the point in a far more effective manner then any chat show appearance could hope to. The voice is still in good shape and, this being the Electric Picnic, cynicism soon gives to warmth and while this isn’t the most intense show she will ever play, O’Connor leaves the arena a better place than when she found it. Shame she decided to dash off to Dublin and embarrassingly flirt with Ryan Tubridy.
PJ Harvey, Main Stage
It’s hard to imagine Polly Harvey ever bearing her soul in such a public fashion at any point in her career. She glides onto the main stage, seemingly from out of nowhere and in a somber black version of her recent all white costume, complete with feathery head dress. Standing on her own to the front left of the stage, her three piece band are placed way over on the other side. The effect is almost theatrical, the drama heightened by the down at heel overcoats worn by the trio. It all suits the drama of the performance perfectly. Unsurprisingly it’s Let England Shake that dominates from the off, with the title track first up. Harvey plays the autoharp largely throughout, with the rare appearance of a guitar on her side of the stage provoking whoops of delight. Not that we are to get much of the fiery PJ Harvey of old tonight, as the set dictates that the sound is very much of new record. No-one is particularly bothered though, as the first big name of the weekend strolls to a victory that is never in doubt. It’s hardly a lesson in hit after hit crowd pleasing, yet it’s clear that we’ve witnessed an artist at the peak of her powers.
M:Ward, Crawdaddy Stage
What’s noticeable about the Electric Picnic is that, unlike Oxegen, the appearance of a major act doesn’t suck the life out of the place. The smaller, tented stages are generally always populated with an enthusiastic – if not huge crowd – and Matthew Ward is on the receiving end of some particularly vocal love. Not that it appears to put him in a good mood but, despite his rather hang dog demeanor and moaning about the incoming noise spill from the next door dance tent, his acoustic blues are worth every declaration of support.
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Cosby Stage
Next door’s Cosby Stage, meanwhile, is drawing a much larger but no less vocal contingent, perhaps looking to escape the double misery of Interpol on the main stage and the driving rain. Like an ostrich burger or personal allocation of 48 cans of lager, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros are something that may seem like a good idea at a festival and less so back at home. Right here, right now though they are absolutely blinding. Coming across as a west coast version of Kila or Jerry Fish & The Mudbug Club, it’s immensely entertaining and huge fun. Squeezing ten people on stage could seem like an indulgence (do they really need a drummer and a percussionist) but the energy is infectious and by the time they roll out ‘Home’, we’re having one of those festival moments that makes it all worthwhile. Now, where’s that ostrich burger stall….
Photo by Damien McGlynn. See more of Friday’s action here