New Order, James Blake and more reviewed – Saturday’s music at Glastonbury 2016 – The Guardian

Anna Meredith – West Holts stage

Anna Meredith


Anna Meredith … ‘Mushroom cloud of doom’. Photograph: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

Approaching the waterlogged West Holts stage on Saturday morning feels and, thanks to Anna Meredith, sounds like an end-of-days scenario. The Scottish experimental composer opens with Nautilus, its swelling brass fanfare and tense, horror-score-style strings blasting a mushroom cloud of doom over the hungover and unwashed. But it soon dissipates as she and her troupe of tuba player, cellists, drummer and guitarist skip perkily through songs from her techno-influenced debut album, Varmints, and her earlier more indie-pop-centric material.

The former, minus vocals or tweeness, are the most thrilling, less like songs and more like crayon-sketched crescendos full of light and dark. They swirl with colour, like an animated Studio Ghibli hero being chased by a dragon. Best of these is R-Type, which sounds like Brian May in a rave, before Meredith and her drummer double up with the pounding and it bursts into a ruinous thicket of emphatic sound. Often these parts could be accused of being too fussy: they are one mis-step from fighting with each other, which is what gives Meredith’s organised chaos its sense of taut suspense and momentum.

“The guitarist has been practising that one for a year,” she quips after one particularly complex song. But despite the noodling, by the end of the set, Meredith manages to draw out a few dancers among the fray. An enthralling start to the day, now not so much the end but the beginning. KH

Cat’s Eyes – Park stage

Faris Badwan of Cat’s Eyes.


Faris Badwan of Cat’s Eyes … cat on a hot tin roof. Photograph: Gary Calton for the Observer

There’s a lot of obscure faffing about with keyboards and such before their set, but it all proves worth it – Rachel Zeffira and Faris Badwan, leading a group bolstered to 13 people on stage, play a dreamy set of crooning pop, where the girl-group sweetness of the six-strong backing choir is given a dash of salt by anxious swirls of guitar.

They close with a cover, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and open with the Twin Peaks theme, sharing that show’s ability to take classic tropes – one song features sassy, Shangri-Las handclaps and backing vocals – and twist them into something eerie, Badwan’s wandering voice taking them to a less sunlit place. Chugging garage-rock guitars add further menace, streamlining into a motorik pulse. The songwriting may be a bit vaporous at times, but this waking dream proved a pleasant way to walk you into reality after the night before. BBT

Dua Lipa – John Peel stage

Dua Lipa


Dua Lipa. … slick but slightly soulless. Photograph: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

For some acts, Glastonbury is but another stop-off on the grizzly summer-long festival circuit: during Dua Lipa’s show, however, it feels as if she and her team have steely ambitions set on ensuring she is 2016’s more significant breakout artist. The singer, born in London to Kosovar-Albanian parents, shares management with Lana del Rey; who surely expect her to achieve the same level of mega-success. Today’s performance, calculated and confident, begins with her three bandmates, men dressed in Adidas tracksuits, ramping up the audience with anthemic drums and momentous synths; her name up in huge purple lights, ensuring everyone in the audience not only knows it but believes a major league star is about to take to the stage.

She arrives a few minutes after that elaborate intro dressed in a long pink trenchcoat, choker, goth platforms and a leotard, her presence part-Pussycat Doll, part-Charli XCX. The music itself – previously described as having an “off-kilter, it-girl sound” – is gloss-pop ramped up by turbo synths and attitude-laden lyrics (“If we don’t fuck this whole thing up, I guarantee I will blow your mind,” she sings before blowing a big kiss). To establish her more credible side, there’s a quick cover of Jamie xx’s (I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times), all of which is performed pristinely, if somewhat vacantly.

She is genuinely surprised by the big crowd (“It’s a massive dream come true for me!” she enthuses) in which there are many flower-garlanded girls covered in glitter and taking selfies. The Sylvia Young Theatre School attendee is an arresting artist to behold, such is the thought, time, talent, money (and probably pressure) that’s been piled into this setup. While the rest of us scrabble around in mud, this slick, slightly soulless operation is probably the most polished, proficient pop Glastonbury will witness all weekend. HG

Lady Leshurr – Park stage

Lady Leshurr


Lady Leshurr … technically astounding.

Lady Leshurr is already one of Glastonbury’s hardest-working performers, putting in three gigs and a spot of DJing – but the Birmingham MC should really squeeze in a set in the comedy tent, too, given the sheer hilarity of her punchline raps and between-song patter. Emerging triumphantly on stage before realising she’d left on the protective sheaths for her boxfresh trainers, she launches into a set full of brilliantly witty and disdainful lyricism.

She’s technically astounding, tossing out her word-perfect version of Chris Brown’s Look At Me Now – a feat that would be beyond most MCs – just “for the bantz” early on in her set. She then marries that exact flow with an exacting focus, destroying her enemies via withering barbs about their underwear, lips and more. She’s incredibly endearing, too, as she explains how an encounter with Sister Nancy’s Bam Bam aged six kicked off her career in music, and how Queen’s Speech 4 – a freestyle fixated on dental hygiene – paid for her mother’s mortgage. She tells an already energetic audience that she needs more energy from them, joking that they should “imagine it’s Adele or Rihanna up here” – but everyone only has eyes for Leshurr. By the end, people are chucking their toothbrushes up on stage in admiration. BBT

Madness – Pyramid stage

Suggs


Suggs … well-cheered. Photograph: Stoyan Nenov/Reuters

You have to wonder quite how heavily Madness, and Suggs especially, have been partaking in the refreshments at Glastonbury. Suggs takes to the stage wearing a shaggy wig and claims he is “the big hairy cornflake”, which, given the original big hairy cornflake, Dave Lee Travis, was found guilty of indecent assault, seems a bit “different times”. The bloke next to me suggests that Suggs is, in fact, “off his nut”, and later in the show he ends Baggy Trousers with the words: “Mr Pharmacist … I can’t tell you what a fantastic weekend I’m having.”

The other reason for suspecting they are well cheered is that the set divides strictly into two. The first half intersperses hits with newer material, and it’s not quite working; they are playing to a crowd that stretches pretty much to Bristol, who are willing Madness to let them party, and Madness keep teasing them. Then guitarist Chris “Chrissy Boy” Foreman performs a karaoke version of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell (“I’ve had a lot of requests, but I’m going to do it anyway”) – literally singing over the record – which makes one suspect it’s all going to go completely pear-shaped.

Instead, the group run seamlessly into a run of hits that pretty much define British pop in the early 80s: One Step Beyond, House of Fun, Baggy Trousers, Our House, Madness, Night Boat to Cairo (which Suggs prefaces, painfully, by putting a towel on his head. He manages to resist actually saying “towelheads”, thankfully), a cover of Bowie’s Kooks. And then to finish, a version of It Must Be Love that has every single person singing along, and a fair few of them in tears. MH

Mø – John Peel stage

Mø … a little wearying.


Mø … a little wearying. Photograph: Gary Calton for the Observer

Scandi-pop stars are known for their ability to craft intelligent, future-facing pop, but perhaps key to the scene’s legacy is the total sincerity of its performers. Punk activist-turned-pop star Karen Marie Ørsted’s show at the John Peel stage is a lesson in physical endurance and heartfelt intensity – if a little overwrought at times. The Danish artist’s songs, sung like Lana del Rey if she had spent her teens sticking it to the man in a squat, is mirrored by an unrelenting barrage of semi-aerobic dance moves, fist-clenching and general psychical theatrics; raving as if she’s 20 pints down at the Glade.

While it’s an exciting prospect for the first 15 minutes, the set gets a little weary in the middle; its more minimalist, downtempo ballads seem repetitive and billowy. Mø thankfully ends her set on the Major Lazer track Lean On – the most-streamed song ever on Spotify, which she co-wrote – before crowd-surfing, hands still pumping the air, the audience carrying her towards a thrilling finish. HG

Kurt Vile – Park stage

Kurt Vile … Stick to the records.


Kurt Vile … stick to the records. Photograph: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

Kurt Vile presents a festival conundrum: on the one hand the US songwriter’s albums are the ones I hum along to at home when I’m making toast for dinner, or panic-play when friends come over. But on the other, during a dreary afternoon at the Park stage at Glastonbury, when spirits need to be lifted the most, his low-slung mumblecore Americana becomes monotonous enough to sink you deeper into the mud banks.

The Vile formula is thus: lambent guitar, sometimes banjo; wry stoner lyrics about being “an outlaw”; transportive enough to make you feel that, at points, you could be rolling around in a lovely hay bale with the Instagram filter set to Earlybird. And yet he lacks the crowd-engaging charisma that’s so desperately needed to turn his set into a memorable one. It’s one note – until the end, when the pace picks up and a saxophonist squalls into the grungy, lackadaisical mix. Think I’ll just stick to whacking on his records at home. KH

John Grant – John Peel stage

John Grant


John Grant … communal euphoria. Photograph: Gary Calton for the Observer

Midway through his performance on the John Peel stage, John Grant announces that he’s suffering from flu: “I’m losing my voice, but Sinéad O’Connor told me it’s not about the notes, it’s about the feeling, so I’m just going to scream.” In fact, his admission, coming just before arguably his most beloved song, Glacier, is the moment that tips his set over from merely great (split between pounding, techno-influenced tracks, during which Grant proves himself to be the very model of hip-shaking funkiness, and piano ballads, with his mordant lyrical wit amply on display) into something tumultuous.

When his voice starts to fail, the audience pick up the slack, to Grant’s visible delight. The title track from his debut album Queen of Denmark becomes a startling, moving epic, full of dramatic peaks and silences; Greatest Motherfucker improbably provokes both an audience singalong and a sea of waving arms, the communal sense of euphoria in the crowd weirdly at odds with the self-baiting bitterness of the song’s lyric. “Amazing!” rasps Grant at its conclusion. “What did we just see?” gasps the MC after the singer leaves the stage audibly, and quite rightly, impressed. AP

The Very Best – West Holts stage

The Very Best


The Very Best … the sunshine boys. Photograph: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

Zero doubts who brought the most sunshine to Glastonbury on Saturday: it has to have been the Very Best, a band who could just about represent the best advert ever for one version of this country, who played in beautiful late afternoon light for a beatific crowd at West Holts. The band, at their core, comprise Swedish producer Johan Hugo and Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya, and the members on stage here included Nigerian-born Londoner Seye Adelekan on guitar – and all of them first met when living in the capital.

Songs such as Kondaine and Makes a King, the title track from their most recent album, sounded anthemic, making even jaded ravers in the slurry dance, while a succession of guests added thrills: first Baaba Maal, who had earlier welcomed Adelekan on stage for his set on the Pyramid, before reciprocating the favour now; then rapper Afrikan Boy and four-piece female vocal outfit the Trills (who looked beyond thrilled to be here), before the Temper Trap joined for the final number. It was a brilliantly refreshing, uplifting show from a polyglot cast, and then – ping! a Glastonbury moment – a rainbow appeared above the stage at the very end. CLS

The 1975 – Other stage

The 1975


The 1975 … entering the battle of the fey British frontman. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

As foreboding rain clouds clash with the blistering sun, a rainbow arcs over the Other stage, a surreal backdrop to the 1975’s funk-coated modernist pop extravaganza. Fags are smoked on stage, political statements are made, and a band fling their moody urban love stories into thousands standing in a muddy field.

Today is the battle of the fey British frontmen, what with Hurts’ Theo Hutchcraft’s sophisticated yacht-rock suit, Alex Turner and Miles Kane’s typically arch sartorial swagger during the Last Shadow Puppets’ set and Matt Healy’s showy attire: an all-white Vegas-era Elvis suit. That it doesn’t quite fit his tiny frame makes for an even more endearing sight.

The set begins with the elastic groove of the INXS-aping Love Me, crescendos during Chocolate and, apart from a slightly self-indulgent interlude during If I Believe You in which a sax solo and slow-burning melody waft over a fidgety audience desperate for a singalong, it’s a vibrant, energised performance.

It’s not all posturing and pomp, however. Whether or not you buy into the pseudo-intellectualism Healy spouts in interviews, you couldn’t help but feel heartened during his rallying cries for optimism mid-set. “This song is about compassion,” says Healy ahead of Loving Someone. “I know that lot of people my age feel like there’s this sentiment of anti-compassion from the older generation … Glastonbury stands for everything our generation fucking wants!”

Fusing the silly and the sincere, the 1975 are a bombastic and brilliant festival highlight; it’s bizarre they’re not higher up on the bill. HG

Floating Points – Park stage

Floating Points


Floating Points … overwhelming soloing. Photograph: Dan Medhurst

With a full rainbow looping over the rainbow-coloured viewing tower at the Park stage, the evening was already fairly psychedelic before Floating Points came on, and – at its best – his set massively intensified it. With a sumptuous band including wind, strings, guitarists and a sensational drummer, Mr Points himself was stationed behind a bank of synths and keys. Together they built up studies in earnest space-rock that cruised towards maximalist climaxes, for better and worse. Sometimes the flurries of drums and vamping synth noise was mere bluster, but sometimes it clicked and became as cosmic as intended.

This was mostly thanks to overwhelming soloing, first from Shabaka Hutchings on sax, whose extended freakout was both massively confident and almost hysterical in its anxiety, and then from an electric guitarist channelling the Balearic euphoria of Ashra. When they play like this, like a jazz ensemble with electronics as the bed, they swerve through the stars; when they go all post-rock, they get stuck in Glastonbury’s gluey mud. BBT

Tame Impala – Pyramid stage

Tame Impala


Tame Impala … swirling psychedelia. Photograph: Andrew Cowie/EPA

It doesn’t seem so long ago that Tame Impala were a shy stoner psych-rock band with promise from Australia doing the UK toilet circuit. And it’s apparent that frontman Kevin Parker can’t believe it either when he announces, barefoot, to a packed out Pyramid stage crowd, “I’d tried to imagine how amazing this would be”, and can’t quite find the right words to finish his sentence.

But words are mostly unnecessary when their mutant dreamland jams are as swirly and wafty as this. Whether it’s rock whammer Elephant or blissful breakup song Eventually, the crowd are either swaying with 360-degree grins or singing along to the full-blooded riffs, laced with a pastel-coloured haze. Which is actually nicer than it sounds.

The band are stoic despite their newly added falsetto funk-disco influences – they’re the Bee Gees it’s OK to like – which is possibly why the big screen keeps cutting to the obligatory girls-on-shoulder shots. Occasionally, their instrumentals become claggy, too bogged down in syrupy gloop. But then they’ll rescue it with a track like Feels Like We Only Go Backwards: Beach Boys pop filtered through a lava-lamp projector. Cosmic gushing aside, it was just massive. HG

James Blake – West Holts stage

James Blake


James Blake … didn’t get the hedonism memo. Photograph: Gary Calton for the Observer

If Saturday night at Glastonbury is meant to be a time of hedonism and excess, then James Blake clearly didn’t get the memo. Polite to a fault between songs, he offers up a set that, on occasion, reduces the West Holts audience to awed silence. Flanked by just a drummer and a guitarist, he is shorn of much of the bells and whistles of his recorded output – “No Ableton here,” he quips at one point. Instead he makes use of that memorable voice of his, that deft falsetto floating over snatches of looping piano on tracks like Life Round Here.

At its best it’s bewitching. Yet for all Blake’s accomplishment, it’s impossible to escape the sense that this is a strange fit for him. At a time when much of the festival is either engaging in a massive karaoke session with Adele or getting ready for a big Saturday night, his spare electronic sounds feel just a little too refined, never quite impelled to break out into something truly euphoric. Even guest appearances from Justin Vernon and Vince Staples can’t mask the fact that he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. GM

New Order – Other stage

New Order


New Order … Bernard Sumner tries for that fourth chord. Photograph: Harry Durrant/Getty Images

If your band had long ago been accused of Nazi sympathies over its choice of name – it was suggested it was a reference to Hitler’s demand for a new order in Europe – as had your previous band, which film-maker’s footage would you be least likely to use to introduce your set? You might think the work of Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s favoured propagandist, was a bit close to the bone. Not New Order, who use her footage of divers at the 1936 Olympics to preface their headline appearance on the Other stage. Bernard Sumner may now look like a dyspeptic Tory MP who’s been given street styling for a magazine feature, but that’s taking the off-colour jokes a little far.

It’s a set that takes a while to catch fire. It’s not that newer songs such as Plastic and Waiting for the Sirens’ Call aren’t good (though the latter continues Bernard Sumner’s run of bathetically awful lyrics: “Travel with a document / All across the continent”); more that people who’ve been standing in the mud for a couple of days really just want to hear the whole Substance compilation played from start to finish. So the set really catches fire in its last 25 minutes or so, opening with The Perfect Kiss (featuring the ur-bathetically awful Sumner lyric: “I have often thought about / Staying in or going out”), followed by a fabulously pummelling True Faith and Blue Monday – which sees flares being lit around the audience – before Temptation causes the crowd to keep up the “Ooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooh” refrain after the band have stopped playing. They close, after moaning that Adele is probably being allowed to play longer, with Love Will Tear Us Apart. The singalong could probably have been heard back in Manchester. MH

Comments

Write a Reply or Comment:

Your email address will not be published.*