tUnE-yArDs, the brainchild of the clearly unhinged but super-talented Merrill Garbus, opened my Glastonbury 2010 (Rolf Harris doing ‘Stairway To Heaven’ doesn’t count) on the West Holt Stage early on Friday afternoon, with a set of songs from debut album ‘Bird-Brains’. In contrast to the lo-fi sound of the album, recorded solely by Garbus using a sound recorder, a full band complete with 3 drummers, including Garbus herself, meant that the tribal energy of the songs broke through. Driven by a kind of afro-beat rhythm that builds and builds on top of Garbus’ distinctive chanting and yodelling, this all came together to form a sound that’s brilliantly smart and stupidly brilliant, exemplified in ‘Sunlight’.
Rivaling Liam Gallagher in terms of misplaced arrogance, the totally repugnant yet totally irresistible Snoop Dogg finally arrived in Somerset to put the G in Glastonbury. Indulging the secret faux-gangsta desires of the crowd and demanding to speak to the ‘ladies’ in the audience between every song, Snoop is a formidable entertainer. The Dogg has played a part in some of the best hip-hop of the past decade in songs like ‘Still D.R.E’, ‘The Next Episode’ and his own songs ‘Gin and Juice’ and ‘Who Am I (What’s My Name?)’. But he’s also responsible for some absolute pap, with commercial powerhouses like ‘I Wanna Fuck You’, ‘Sensual Seduction’ and ‘Beautiful’, which meant his set had a distinct patchiness. With hip-hop heavyweights getting more and more accustomed to the Pyramid stage surely it’s only a matter of time before Snoop’s mentor and N.W.A legend Dr. Dre makes a much-needed appearance at Glasto?
Sensing that the ‘special guest’ billed later that evening was going to be very special indeed, what with the festival’s relatively underwhelming line-up and it being its 40th anniversary, we endured The Big Pink’s tortuous ‘Dominos’ and went straight for the front of the Park Stage. Gradually more and more assured whisperings that Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood would play spread through the audience, before Micheal Eavis bounced up onto the stage and introduced them. During the 40 minute set, spread evenly between Yorke’s solo work and semi-acoustic Radiohead songs, it was obvious which the crowd wanted more of. This is no slight on Yorke, as he remains an intensely watchable singer all on his own, even when all you can see of him is just the reflection of his scrunched up face on his piano. But the crowd was itching for a singalong and, despite the appeal of the jerky electronics and funk-bass of ‘Harrowdown Hill’ and ‘Black Swan’, you could almost hear a collective sigh of relief when Greenwood came on stage and picked up a guitar.
Playing ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’ from ‘In Rainbows’ without drums is like eating cereal without any milk, but anyway, complaining about a secret gig from Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood must be just as annoying as the people who said Glastonbury was ‘too hot’ this year. ‘Pyramid Song’, ‘Idioteque’ and ‘Karma Police’ followed, the latter inducing the much-wanted singalong. ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’, as frequently played at a Radiohead gig these days as a convincing performance by England at a World Cup, closed the set. It’s a song of such burning intensity and emotional strain that you need a sit down after hearing it- the sense that we’d just been witness to one of the biggest Glastonbury surprises in recent years was almost tangible.
Although their music is better suited to weather the polar opposite to the glorious sunshine that they found themselves in on the Other Stage, Saturday afternoon, The National‘s live performance gave credence to their almost overbearing critical adoration. Playing songs mainly from 2007’s ‘The Boxer’ and this year’s ‘High Violet’, lead singer Matt Berninger, a cross between Bruce Springsteen and Ian Curtis, was a constant frenzy of half-drunk energy, clearly desperate to justify the accolades heaped on the band to the burgeoning crowd. A bottle of wine, two reverse crowd-invasions (he’s the beardy one with the shades in the photo above) and 13 atmospheric and impassioned songs later, The National left the stage after giving one of the best festival performances I’ve ever seen. Interested to see how The XX‘s music would transmit live, I was left disappointed. Whether it was the John Peel Stage’s vastness that caused the sterile atmosphere or the band’s lack of stage presence, the XX seemed out of their depth, unable to alter their linear and bass driven songs enough to engage a large audience, who may as well have just been listening to the CD, albeit on shuffle. The band were probably better suited to the open-air yet intimate Park Stage they played on the night before, but I had to miss that in order to fulfill my duties guarding a deserted pedestrian gate through the night as an Oxfam steward.
So far over the wrong side of ridiculous they’ve forgotten the meaning of the word ‘restraint’, Muse gave a predictably OTT performance headlining the Pyramid Stage on Saturday night. Sunday was a write-off for more stewarding, save for Stevie Wonder closing the festival. Admittedly a bit of a stranger to the majority of Stevie’s work, I couldn’t help but immerse myself in the obvious fondness directed to the man from the thousands of people in the field, later cursing myself for basing my opinion of him solely on that duet he did with Blue……. Sorry Stevie.