All day State has been worried. Although the weather has finally cleared up and we have had a largely positive day, still something is bothering us and it’s the imminent arrival of The Specials. Our worry is this – if Blur’s mid-nineties repertoire proved a little too much like ancient history for the Oxegen masses on Friday, what the hell we they make of a 2-Tone retrospective? When we arrive at the main stage our fears look like being realised, it’s pretty empty with most people seemingly over at Katy Perry. Oh well, we decide that this is too good an opportunity to ruin by fretting and just enjoy the experience. And then it starts to rain, boy does it start to rain.
So – country in recession? Check. A sense of misery and impending doom? Check. Crap weather? Double check. Ladies and gentlemen, THE SPECIALS. Little could they have realised when they planned this 30th Anniversary jaunt that they would return to such a familiar landscape. And watching them here today it really is like the last 26 years have melted away. They may be older for sure, but seeing Neville Staples sprint around the stage and Lynval Golding skanking away is still a pure joy. Terry Hall is as gloriously deadpan as ever and you wonder how these six men lasted so long not being in the same band together, so clear is their enjoyment of the whole thing. Yes it’s a nostalgia show but when the first five numbers feature ‘Too Much Too Young’, ‘Gangsters’ and ‘Rat Race’ there aren’t many better than this. By loading the hits so early in the set there is a chance that the feared audience disinterest might set in but the kids at the front keep going alongside those of a more mature vintage (State included) right until they close with ‘Ghost Town’, a song that could have been written yesterday. Worth every second of the wait.
The prospect of seeing JANE’S ADDICTION had us equally concerned but for very different reasons. Never really a fan of them the first time round, the prospect of them giving it a go for the third time was hardly a thrilling one. As we round the corner to the O2 Stage Dave Navarro is in mid-solo. By the time we battle our way through the now heavy mud to the front he is still going. Yet far from confirming our worst fears, Jane’s turn out to be one of the best acts we see all weekend. Their (not at all) secret weapon is Perry Farrell, who somehow seems to have turned into the funniest / campest man alive – even getting away with the worst Irish accent known to man. The music backing him is so fantastically muscular too that we begin to wonder if we have spent years missing out on what could have been one our favourite bands or just that, unlike most, Jane’s Addiction have actually got better with age.
From where State is standing we can see the crowd gathering for FLORENCE & THE MACHINE. There were plenty of grumbles about her playing on one of the smallest stages on site but these are missing the point. Festivals need gigs like this, where actually seeing a band needs a degree of effort rather than simply hanging about eating overpriced chips. Besides, we’ve grown rather fond of the Red Bull stage over the weekend, the sound has been great and the open sides mean that most can catch some view of the band – even if they are playing in the dark. Expectation is as high as for any band over the weekend and, after a slightly wobbly start, they don’t let us down. Such is the atmosphere that it would have covered a multitude of sins but F&TM are on fire. Not since The Arcade Fire came our way has a band created such a chest rattling, heart swelling, inspirational noise. The roar that greets ‘Dog Days’ is such a sheer outpouring of joy that the singer herself is forced to take a step back. A year ago, State saw Florence Welch play to a small crowd at a festival in London, seemingly just too left field to ever appeal to a mass audience. That she has got to this point (the only non-Michael Jackson album in the Irish top 5) without sacrificing any of her uniqueness makes us feel good about the music world. It’s also the kind of moment that Oxegen needs more of if it is going to avoid going down the route of just another corporate, mainstream festival. That debate will have to wait though, for now she most certainly has got the love of us all.