Glastonbury Festival 2011

With its 40th Birthday celebrations in 2010 received as an undisputed success, the challenge for Michael and Emily Eavis this year was deliver something equally diverse and memorable, without the grand sense of occasion to fall back on.

Friday 24th

After arriving to a downpour on Wednesday and with the mud firmly bedded in for the weekend, by the time Friday came, I suspect I wasn’t the only one more than ready for the bands. Despite a gloomy start, Chipmunk provided some unlikely relief on the Other Stage, his playful R’n’B supplemented perfectly with some of Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Fix Up Look Sharp’. Metronomy then keep the grooves coming with their jilted electro rock on the Pyramid, before Mona blew away the John Peel tent, complete with standard stage climbing antics.

As the rain started to make an unwelcome return I found refuge in the brightly coloured West Oxylers Dance tent, complete with inflatable space invaders. First on Emmy The Great soothed with gentle melodies and a superb cover of Pixies ‘Where Is My Mind ‘ with Ash frontman Tim Wheeler, followed by Guillemots, who despite their best efforts, still feel like a band who have lost their way.

Fittingly just as Bright Eyes emerged on the Other Stage, the rain really started pour down. However, sporting his very own poncho, a seemingly intoxicated Conor Oberst was determined not to let the weather dampen spirits. Racing through tracks old and new, and dashes of non-chalant humour, for an hour I forgot it was raining. In contrast, Radiohead’s surprise set up at The Park was seen as a disappointment by most – the band announcing they would only be playing material from the recent ‘King Of Limbs’ and previous ‘In Rainbows’. With two surprise sets in as many years, you can’t help but feel their next proper headline outing is not too far away.

After pulling out at the last minute last year, back injury or not, U2 had it all to prove on the Pyramid. Opening with five tracks from Áchtung Baby’ was a bold start, before the inevitable onslaught of hits. They even found time to play the god awful ‘Get On Your Boots’ amongt the classics; ‘One’, ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’, ‘With Or Without You’ etc etc.  Despite overcoming the torrential downpour, and trying just about everything to create a legendary moment – including covering ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Yellow’ and a superb video message from the International Space Station during the middle of ‘Beautiful Day’, U2 delivered only just about enough to deem their performance a success. At times euphoric, but ultimately predictable, they just can’t hide those ever increasing signs that they have passed their best.

Saturday 25th

Hotly tipped for big things in 2011 Yuck couldn’t quite deliver on the John Peel Stage. Maybe it was the sludgy treck into the tent, or perhaps the band’s lack on engagement with the crowd, but you can’t help feel it was a missed opportunity for those not already familiar with their superb revival of 90s alt grunge. The sun finally appeared in time for The Gaslight Anthem who fittingly emerged on the Pyramid to the saxophone solo of ‘Jungleland’ in tribute to the late E-street band legend Clarence Clemmons. Whilst there was never any way the band would top their 2009 outing, which featured a guest appearance from Springsteen himself, a generous hour of material from all their three albums and one EP was lapped up by an adoring crowd.

A quick nip to West Oxylers see Pulled Apart By Horses give the festival a sharper edge with their glorious onslaught of noise and onstage vomiting, before Jessie J, The Kills  and  Jimmy Eat World  all deliver exactly what you’d want a sunny Saturday afternoon. For the pop diva that’s plenty of family friendly singalongs, for The Kills it’s razor sharp grooves – Alison Mosshart is equally alluring and terrifying with a siren like presence, where as for Jimmy Eat World it’s their own brand of American soft rock that has been consistently amazing for a now whopping seven albums.

It may have been the worst kept secret in Glastonbury history, but Pulp special guest slot at the Park was nethertheless glorious. Unlike Radiohead they instead opted to play everything you’d want to hear; from the inevitable climaxes of ‘Disco 2000’ and ‘Common People’, to ‘Something Changed’ and ‘Razzamatazz’, all superbly supplemented with Jarvis trademark northern wit. The only disappointment was their set came at the cost of Elbow’s return to the Pyramid.

It’s certainly a hard act for Coldplay to follow and yet they, as they seem to make a habit of doing at Glastonbury, once again raised the bar. Back with a new lease of life, even slower tracks such as ‘God Put A Smile Upon Your Face’ were given an almost punk makeover – with Will Champion providing to be an absolute beast behind his drum kit.  Given that the band can throw out some of their biggest tracks in ‘Yellow’ and ‘The Scientist’ within the first half hour and not struggle for the big moments later on is testament to their wealthy back catalogue. The set really comes to life with the still astounding ‘Viva La Vida’ and latest single ‘Every Tear Drop Is A Waterfall’ which both perfectly channel the festival spirit, during the latter the Pyramid was illuminated in a wash of colour. Suddenly U2’s effort on Friday felt very pedestrian by comparison.

Sunday 26th

With the sun shining hotter than Saturday, and the mud finally starting to dry up, The Low Anthem got the closing day of a perfect relxing start, before Cold War Kids deliver their bar room blues to a sunkissed Other Stage.

Unfortunately for Paul Simon, despite drawing the crowds in, his legends set on the Pyramid didn’t quite deliver as much as hoped – perhaps a little thwarted to be the now overwhelming mid afternoon heat. Thankfully TV On The Radio brought the grooves, and despite the recent loss of their bassist Gerard Smith played an uptempo set, with ‘Staring At The Sun’, ‘Wolf Like Me’ and ‘Caffeinated Consciousness’ all stunning. There was even time for a somewhat unexpected but awesome cover of Ray Parker Junior’s Ghostbusters theme.

A steady treck up to the Avalon stage was rewarded by a disappointing second set from The Low Anthem. Not that their distinctive vocal harmonies didn’t hit the spot, just playing an almost identical set to their earlier main stage outing felt a missed opportunity to do something different. City and Colour  followed and were in high spirits. Whilst some will have felt Dallas Green’s much loved acoustic sound has become a little overcomplicated with the addition of a full backing, there’s no denying the progress the band have made in a few years. New material was eased in gently, with solo renditions of ‘Body In a Box’ and ‘O’Sister’ shining brightly midset.

Having already missed the first hour of Beyonce and in no rush to catch the second, I’ll admit I’m perhaps not the best person to the review the diva’s headline outing. Of course, there were hits aplenty, eye boggling dance routines and even a surreal Destiny’s Child medley. But for me too many pauses between songs, onstage shenanigans, and covers of Prince, Kings Of Leon and Etta James all felt like an act trying a little too hard to compensate for being too far out of her comfort zone. Fun and different, but dare I say, shouldn’t have been headlining.

With Glastonbury now on hiatus until it returns post Olympics, there’s no denying 2011 gave it a strong send off. Make no mistake work will have already started on a strong comeback for 2013. Only 700 or so days to go!

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