by / July 11th, 2011 /

Oxegen 2011 – Sunday: The National, Primal Scream

Primal Scream – Heineken Green Spheres Tent

How often do you go to a gig knowing exactly what’s going to be performed, and mostly in what order? Primal Scream can get away with that kind of stunt, especially when the album in question is Screamadelica. The crowd might be congregating elsewhere, but Bobby Gillespie is in the mood for a full on psychedelic dance off. The walls at the back of the stage seem to flow with multi-coloured paint or swirl away in trippy rotations of that sunny logo, while the band deliver the likes of ‘Come Together’, ‘Loaded’, ‘Higher Than The Sun’ and ‘Moving On Up’ in full-on, extended form. While Gillespie spends the set strutting and swaying, there’s some truly outstanding gospel backing coming from the stage wings, and a slow-building atmosphere that’s all about the tasty rhythms and dreamy, spaced-out atmospherics.

The Screamadelica tour is certainly not for the casual fan: it’s far from short and snappy, and leans heavily on extended rhythm sections and an appreciation for the general atmospheric of the album rather than its hits. Many of the tracks extend into six to eight minute beat pieces; a heady mix to the say the least. For all its mellow rhythms and an undeniable lack of the punch that Primal Scream have been known to exhibit, this is a show packed with mind-melting melody and mashed-up, upbeat stage antics. All is not lost on the rock out front, either: we’re treated to that burst of energy at the end, in the form of ‘Country Girl’, ‘Rocks’ and ‘Jailbird’. They’re three bouncy cherries on top of one exceptionally euphoric cake. Happy 20th, Screamadelica!

The National – Vodafone Stage

Being tasked with performing at the same time as Beyoncé is certainly not an enviable one, and The National’s Vodafone Stage appearance is greeted with a predictably tiny if enthusiastic crowd. Don’t get us wrong, High Violet is one of the musical highlights of the past year or so, but this is just not The National’s favoured setting, and on a tired Sunday evening, Matt Berninger’s dingy baritone comes across as intensely morose and somewhat difficult listening. That’s not particularly surprising in context. The National have always been a band that thrive on dark atmospherics somewhat better than muddy fields, and sing-a-longs to the likes of ‘Conversation 16’ and ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ just aren’t enough to lift the show out of intensely dour doldrums for anyone but the front few rows. When Berbinger jokingly suggests that the band cover ‘Single Ladies’ and instead fires up another moment of poorly mixed mournfulness we almost – cringe – wish they had gone for the Beyoncé cover. As loved up as those down the front seem, from around the field a less-than-perfect sound layering and performance that’s unusually static and drab don’t quite cut it. Especially next to, their brilliantly stark Olympia and Electric Picnic performances in the fairly recent past. It’s just not really The National’s day.

Photo by Jamie Tanner.