As everyone will testify, Saturday afternoon / evening at Oxegen is a tough one for all concerned – bands, crew and especially the audience. What we need now is an early dose of classic songwriting and a band who can create an atmosphere to transcends the gloomy conditions. Ta-da, step forward SQUEEZE. Of the three iconic British bands from across the eras making their return this weekend, they have been largely forgotten but their early afternoon main stage set is just the tonic we need. The first, confusing, thing we notice is that they sound SO much better than Blur did last night. The second thing is that people are standing in the pouring rain and smiling, singing and – in the case of a few hardy souls down the front – doing a conga. With songs the calibre of ‘Cool For Cats’, ‘Tempted’ and a glorious ‘Up The Junction’ lodged firmly in our brain, Saturday has got off to an unexpectedly bright start.
Over on the O2 Stage, THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM are attempting a similar feat from a very different starting point. A more punked up, heavily tattooed version of the Hold Steady’s take on Bruce Springsteen, they succeed today by whit of sheer passion, energy and belief, as well as a handful of good songs. ‘The ’59 Sound’ is their one truly great moment so far and, even without a hoped for Springsteen guest spot (he is just down the road after all), it still sets them out from the punk pop crowd.
Up at the Red Bull Music Academy Stage, a nice little – almost club like – vibe is developing. It’s helped enormously by the endeavors of MESSIAH J & THE EXPERT. Fired up on a mixture of booze and energy drinks, the crowd are after something upbeat and they certainly deliver, proving what a fine live proposition they’ve become. The sound is clear and kicking and J leads proceedings with authority, commitment and humour. With that buffoon The Game pulling out of the festival at the last minute, hip-hop has got short change at Oxegen this year but MJEX provided the very best example.
Despite these glowing moments, the day can’t help but drag. The tents become full but the smaller bands are still often playing to a harder audience of disinterested, sheltering punters. Once ELBOW walk on stage in matching plastic ponchos, however, you know that everything is going to be alright. In our pre-festival imagination, this band were going to play as the sun descended on a golden evening and it would have been a triumph. It turns out, however, that there is little better company on a wet, utterly miserable day than Elbow. From that opening moment of camaraderie onwards it is indeed a triumph. Guy Garvey is the audience’s favourite uncle, constantly inquiring as to their welfare and even apologising before a heart stopping rendition of ‘Weather To Fly’. There have been times over the past year when we have wondered whether Elbow’s late acclaim had been down to some kind of sympathy vote. After today we hang our head in shame at the thought for this was truly magical.