Standing alone as the one major Irish festival of the summer, the Electric Picnic made the most of the situation by delivering a vintage weekend. The sun shone, the crowds came in their droves and State was on hand to seek out the best acts on offer. Here’s our pick of day one.
Alabama Shakes – Main Stage
“We’re so glad to be back in Ireland… and I think I even saw the sun earlier!”says a shocked Brittany Howard to a rather sizeable crowd at the Main Stage who are only too glad to be in her company as well. All the way from Alabama, this four piece make their return to Ireland thankfully liberated from the cavernous Academy 2 where they made their Irish debut back in spring and out into the great wide open. Their eponymous EP brought them attention, and debut album Boys & Girls brought them to the masses – and today they treat the Stradbally crowd to the spoils of both, with their influences proudly on show creating a laid-back classic rock n’ roll feel-good vibe.
All-conquering debut single ‘Hold On’ is unleashed surprisingly early in the set, the song that has become overplayed on the airwaves to the point of being an annoyance suddenly regains all of its original charm as the refrains spill out over a sun-kissed audience, who are all too happy to lend their vocal skills. Hearing Bethany Howard speak between songs is almost as much of a treat as hearing the melodic might of her in full song – that southern drawl is so charming, and her anecdotal nature makes her all the more endearing, particularly in the case of the back-story for the album’s title track. If there’s a complaint it’s that an hour is too long of a set – a nip-n-tuck down to 45 minutes might’ve served them better – but Alabama Shakes are undeniably an impressive live outfit, and we look forward to seeing what they’ll have in store for album #2. (EB)
Christy Moore – Crawdaddy Stage
As she-who-shall-not-be-mentioned is recuperating from exhaustion, breaking many an Electric Picnic reveller’s heart in the process with her impromptu cancellation of her set, there’s a gap in the schedule for the Friday night headline slot – Sigur Rós and Ed Sheeran aren’t your thing, so where do you go? To the Crawdaddy Stage – where one of Ireland’s most prolific and enduring songwriters is gearing up to put on a greatest hits performance of epic proportions. Walking into the tent, one could be forgiven for thinking they’d taken a wrong-turn into the terraces of a football stadium – Christy Moore isn’t even on stage yet, but the tent is crammed and from the front row right down to the very back chants of ‘Olé Olé Olé’ and refrains of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ ring out.
For all our notions of being boutique festivallers, Stradbally has all of a sudden gotten very Oirish altogether. Moore arrives onstage with only Declan Synnott for company, launches straight into ‘Missing You’, and the singsong is in full flight from there. ‘Ordinary Man’, ‘Ride On’, ‘Black is the Colour’, ‘Lisdoonvarna’ – no stone from the Christy Moore back-catalogue of crowd-pleasers is left unturned. The always brilliant ‘Joxer Goes to Stuttgart’ tops all else, however – the crowd has expanded to ten-deep on all sides of the tent’s exterior, and the eruption of rapturous appreciation for the immortal line detailing when Ray Houghton got the ball and stuck it in the net is really quite special. Musically, it’s consistently standard Christy Moore fare – although Declan Synnott’s lead guitar flourishes do add some extra weight. But the atmosphere is mighty – and whilst an Icelandic troupe are throwing every bell n’ whistle they can find at the Main Stage crowd, the simple raw power of two men and their guitars was more than enough to provide a goosebump-inducing hour of Electric Picnic magic to round off the evening. (EB)
Cold Specks – Crawdaddy Stage
Electric Picnic marks only the second occasion Al Spx and her band of merry men, a.k.a Cold Specks, have made the trip to Ireland. Having dazzled at last year’s Other Voices festival in Dingle, hopes are high to see how her self-professed brand of ‘doom-soul’ translate into a festival environment. It’s an unfortunate time-slot, with majority of revellers still grappling with their ground-sheets and tent-poles in the campsites, but for those who made it into the Main Arena nice and early to catch this set a real treat lay in store. Working through the tracks of stunning debut album I Predict A Graceful Expulsion, Cold Specks craft a beautiful barrage of melody – her live ensemble is hugely impressive, with an array of percussion, guitars, brass and strings.
At the centre of it all are the visceral tones of her incredibly powerful voice – Spx has the ability to stir the soul with her raw yet velvety vocal magnetism, delivering strife-laden lyrics that are evocative to the core. Debut single ‘Holland’ and ‘When The City Lights Go Dim’ stand out, but it’s the beautiful rendition of ‘Winter Solstice’ that steals the show. She lifts her dark spirit momentarily with a completely random acapella rendition of the theme to ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ – but overall, it’s more than a delight to revel in her misery, and we look forward to seeing it all unfold again in the more intimate confines of The Sugar Club come October. (EB)
Ed Sheeran – Electric Arena
It’s not often that a genuine, current chart topper makes the trip to Stradbally yet if Sheeran is out of place no-one has told the over excited crowd. Screams and mobile phones greet his appearance and for a moment we’re in a very different place. Ten minutes later (when the first song ‘Give Me Love’) finally comes to a close, the singer has already established his credentials as a live performer. To his credit Sheeran hasn’t been tempted to mess around with his original performance formula, still playing solo with a series of loops and effects, and his personality fills the huge tent. Alright, maybe the cover of Snow Patrol’s ‘Chasing Cars’ is a step too far and the more serious music fans have stayed away but this was a highly entertaining end to the day. (PU)
Grizzly Bear – Electric Arena
As some of music’s most outward looking noiseniks, Grizzly Bear seem to understand the notion of not saturating their field with excess. They do love nothing more than sound and when making sound the only tangible sensory intrusion they facilitate excess better than most. But as Edward Droste says himself, “this is our third gig in two years” and you notice that they keep excess inside the performance rather than resorting to glut of shows. Sounding monstrous and lively the band put in a sterling effort at a festival renowned for monstrous sound, the highlight being ‘While You Wait For The Others’ and the general feeling of respect from the crowd (including Bats, who might or might not be our own local Grizzly Bear), the band do things their own way and to impressive effect. (SD)
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