Day two of Oxegen and the overwhelming feeling is of greyness. Not just in terms of the weather – only broken by the odd, ferocious shower – but also in terms of the music. The early hours are a blur of workaday rock (Powderfinger, Newton Faulkner, One Night Only), indie by numbers (Scouting For Girls, The Music, Delays) and the odd curve ball (Camile O’Sullivan). You begin to wonder if all concerned have stretched themselves just a bit too far in attempting to programme three days. Around mid-afternoon, however, it all shifts up a gear and transforms into a day of mostly high quality.
With the Wombats inexplicably taking up space on the O2 stage, the world, his wife and his pint seems to be trying to shoehorn themselves into the Green Room. On reflection, it’s probably a good call. THE TING TINGS career trajectory has been spectacular enough already, to force them into the open air at this point might be a step to far. As it is, they take the moment and make it theirs completely. On the surface they could easily be this year’s Fratellis, the band of choice with the song of choice for the drunken masses but, as the album has already proved, they’re worth more than a pissed sing-a-long. What is surprising is how good they are in this type of environment and how dynamic their live show is considering so much of it is on backing tracks. A good majority of the throng are here for THAT song but the Ting Tings have enough in their armoury to maintain the momentum. Quite honestly, the seeds of something great.
Pity BRITISH SEA POWER, though, who have to watch the tent drain of both people and atmosphere. They respond by coming out fighting but don’t seem to reach their usual levels of intensity until the very end, when the sparks start to fly. Right band, wrong place.
Behold the dark lord. As the sun starts to beat down outside, only Ian McCulloch could arrive in long dark coat, dark glasses and dark charisma. For ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN’s set the Green Room is temporarily transformed into a hang out for the, shall we say, more mature festival goer and we have to say it’s something of a relief. There may be little in the way of chanting, stage diving or mud sliding but for those that were there, the experience is approaching transcendental.
As is the norm these days, all the festival gossip seems to surround the arrival or otherwise of AMY WINEHOUSE. Her dad says she’s definitely coming, no hotels in the area would have her to stay – it’s not exactly tabloid material but maybe that side to the story is starting to run its course. What is more bemusing is quite why so many people have turned out to the main stage to see her. Would they be here to see Candi Staton, Toots & The Maytals, even backing band the Dap Kings with their usual vocalist Sharon Jones? Let’s not pretend that most of this massive crowd aren’t here to gawp and see if Winehouse will tumble off the tightrope again, as she did so spectacularly at Glastonbury. She doesn’t. She’s on time (nearly), sings her songs quite nicely and leaves. There’s no drama, no rants from the stage, nothing to get the knives out. Take all that away from Amy Winehouse and what have you got? Not much to be honest. It’s almost as disheartening as seeing her crumble, this blank performance devoid of any emotion or desire. Once it becomes clear that the expected car crash is not to going to present itself, the interest of the casual observer ebbs away and it all dies on its arse. Woeful, not in the expected way, but woeful nonetheless.
While this main stage travesty is going on, in the New Bands tent LIAM FINN is creating more atmosphere, more warmth with nothing but a fellow musician and a hundred odd people for company. Playing his second set of the weekend due to the absence of Ida Maria, it’s a small gem of a performance – bolstered by a kicking sound and the genuine charisma of Finn and his musical partner EJ. 99% of the people here may of missed it but definitely one of the weekend’s special moments.
Biggest surprise of the weekend? There are a few but ALPHABEAT have to be in with a shout. The New Band tent is rammed before they shimmy onto stage, injecting a welcome dose of glamour (ie a bloke wearing a tie and a blonde lady in a nice dress). Reports of their live show have been filtering through but this is absolutely perfect, arms in the air pop music played by a proper band. The three singles are dispensed beginning, middle and end and it is an astounding set, the energy levels of both audience and performers exploding into one. They play Belfast Monday and Dublin Tuesday. Unmissable we’d say.
It takes a special kind of band to follow such a career spanning set from REM, or at least a special sort of self belief. Step forward Richard Ashcroft and THE VERVE. Their slot may have raised a few eyebrows but a couple of weeks ago they undertook a similar role at Glastonbury, so this is approaching a walk in the park. Ashcroft was born to do this (he must have been a nightmare to live with during the wilderness years) and it’s his belief that carries the Verve through. The set feels surprisingly short at twelve songs but the point of the Verve’s return is emphatically made. They sound amazing too, Nick McCabe proving that he was perhaps the most underrated guitarist of his generation. Hitting the home straight with -The Drugs Don’t Work’ and -Lucky Man’, -Bittersweet Symphony’ closes proceedings in absolutely majestic style. Except it doesn’t. Only a fool or a genius would try and follow that with a new song. The Verve do and -Love Is Noise’ sounds every bit as good. Normal service has just been resumed.
With Pendulum having ripped it up to such devastating effect earlier in the evening, PRODIGY arrive either as a relic of the past or to reclaim their crown. The verdict is hard to reach as they are cursed with the worst O2 sound of the weekend. According to the screens and pulsating strobes, there seems to be a lot going on on stage but you’d never guess it from the timid noise coming out of the PA. We can tell you that Keith Flint looks ridiculous and that Maxim says the F word a lot. Inexplicably, the sound is better towards the food vans at the back of the arena and we chuckle at the juxtaposition of Prodigy’s rendition of ‘Their Law’ at the exact same moment a gaggle of gardaÃ walk past us. Apart from that, they play ‘Spitfire’, ‘Firestarter’ and ‘Breathe’ but having witnessed this exact same spectacle over the last 10 years, we wonder why they are even playing and wander off into the night.
Photos by Shawna Scott
The Ting Tings
British Sea Power