Electric Picnic: Saturday
Kevin O’Neill details for us his opinion on events on Day 2 of EP.
Saturday morning in Stradbally began the way that all Electric Picnic mornings do: the sound of mass hungover groans, the shouts of “tea, coffee, hot chocolate” dispensers and the distribution of the impromptu editions of the Ticket, printed overnight in a shed somewhere on site.
Struggling to life, the festivities are in full swing on Saturday as the Comedy Tent (big draws are few and far between this year, however. Omid Djalili, Ardal O’Hanlon and David O’Doherty the best of a bad bunch) and Mindfield open their doors to the masses. Often simply a refuge from the rain, both offer a refreshing alternative to the music. Mindfield, in particular, was of a very high standard this year. The area hosted its usual debates (David McWilliams having invited Bob Geldof, amongst others, to the Leviathan Tent), alongside the Hot Press signing tent (ASIWYFA, Beirut and more made appearances) and the Stradbally farmer’s market. The 50c fudge was well worth a taste, as I’m sure the €5 wines at the Wine Buff would have been, had the line ever abated. “Trainspotting” scribe Irvine Welsh was in attendance, as were the Brad Pitt Light Orchestra, Roddy Doyle, John Banville and Paul Howard.
Musically, Saturday was undoubtedly the strongest day of the festival (unfortunate, given that the day tickets were only available for Sunday) Headline acts included Arcade Fire, the Chemical Brothers, Lykke Li, James Blake, Toots & the Maytals, Public Enemy, OMD and Flying Lotus, though the tough choices were evident throughout the timetable. Midlake or Lykke Li? James Blake or John Grant? It was a sticky one…
Many of the weary festival crowd made their way through a slight shower to attend the Trinity Orchestra’s take on Daft Punk’s “Discovery” album. Though the reviews afterward ranged from “karaoke” to “brilliant”, near everyone was in a better mood when they orchestra took their bow at the end. The clouds had cleared, sun was splintering across the fields and “One More Time” was echoing.
The unfortunate timetabling meant that Irish acts were in abundance early on Saturday, Bitches With Wolves, Le Galaxie, 3epkano and Rarely Seen Above Ground all crossing over one another. Opting for RSAG (as did many it seems), the Crawdaddy Stage was the venue for an all new show from Jeremy Hickey and his goose-stepping bassist. As comes with the territory (Hickey plays the drums while a laptop dictates the rest, a virtual band broadcast on a screen behind him), technical hitches were aplenty. However, when he got going, Hickey was on flying form. His riveting drumming captivating the audience: energy levels now pumping, we were ready for the long haul on Saturday.
Cork’s Toby Kaar was a name that cropped up everywhere across the site over the weekend. The problem being that he played so many shows, I adopted the approach of “I can skip this one and catch him on the Little Big Tent/Love Box Stage later on” and ended up missing him entirely. Many could be heard offering appreciation for the electronic sounds he pumps out, however. Expect big things to happen over the next twelve months.
Instead of Kaar on Saturday, I opted to amble through Adebisi Shank (ambling and Adebisi Shank do not go together. The high energy, manic entertainment on offer is more befitting of a computer game soundtrack in parts – not for me, thanks. The hype continues to puzzle me), Republic of Loose (utter drivel. How do they attract an audience? What sounds pretty shoddy on daytime radio sounds ten times worse in person. Off key, void of any sort of “funk” as they may put it…) and much of the art and craft area. I was lucky enough to encounter another Cork band, John Blek & the Rats (or in this case, the Rat as only one was in attendance alongside frontman John) playing to a handful of their friends in a tiny tent close to Fosset’s Circus and the inflatable church. A short, stripped set was buoyed by the perfect harmonies of the two – they sound a lot more polished than a band of their experience should.
Next on the list was the enigmatic Richie Egan and his band of merriment: Jape. Taking to the Electric Arena, the band were in thrilling form. The set comprised largely of the forthcoming fourth album, touching on previous hits. “I Was A Man” and the now customary live mixing of “Floating” were highlights, while “Hands of Fire” stood out amongst the new tracks. Egan, himself, was centre stage, thanking the crowd for the attendance and expressing genuine joy that people still enjoy the band after all these years. As thanks, he invited out the rest of the Redneck Manifesto to close the set with a number from his former premier project. The irrepressible excitement that gripped the audience was plain to even the most disinterested fan, the set becoming one that all other performances over the weekend would be measured against.
As evening took hold, so too did the most pressing clash: John Grant on the Cosby Stage or James Blake on the Main? I opted for the former, thinking that Blake’s minimalist beats could be lost in the void of the main arena. According to those who chose the Londoner, there was no need for such fear. Blake, shy and reserved on stage, propelled pulsating hit after hit at the crowd. A surprise success it seems.
However, the choice of John Grant was to prove to be the right one. A short set the only disappointment as the former Czars frontman, watched by close friends Midlake, blissfully crooned his way through much of the stunning “Queen of Denmark” LP. He was another who seemed to be shrouded in genuine joy as the audience sang every work – Grant’s own vocal, however, was so crisp and clear that it overpowered all. A note perfect performance, this was something very special.
Post-Grant, we had Yuck who seemed a little overawed by the occasion. For half the performance, their eyes barely moved beyond their own feet, though complaints can be few as the band sounded exceptional. “Get Away”, in particular, was a highlight.
Close to the end of this set, however, it was time to run as Lykke Li took the Main Stage. The sultry Swede raced through the hits, the likes of “Dance, Dance”, “Get Some” and “I Follow Rivers” inspiring mass singalongs and hip-swinging throughout the crowd. Many felt the sound was lost a little – her Tripod show apparently far more suitable – though this is inevitable when taking an act of her size to a location such as this. The only complaint I can muster is regarding the bass on the stage. All weekend long this was a problem, but for me it was never more noticeable than during Lykke Li. It was overpowering at times – her vocal drowned by a thumping repeat. Unacceptable at a festival these days. How can nobody have mentioned to the organisers that the bass amp can be set lower than 11?
After her departure, the crush set in as the entire festival tried to squeeze into the front two rows for Arcade Fire. Luckily, the band did not disappoint. Their 2005 set was at the front of everyone’s mind – the show having become the stuff of legend for the band and those in attendance, but the Canadians revelled in it. They opened with “Wake Up”; typically the band’s closing number, the entire crowd joining in. This was my third time seeing the band in the last year (the other two being their now less than legendary Oxegen slot and the first of two shows at Dublin’s O2 last December) and I am glad to say that the show has not gotten old. The video playing as part of the backdrop has been changed, while the tracks have been reinvigorated by a spell on the airwaves.
“Wake Up” was a wonderful moment, thousands of people united in that infamous opening chorus of “Ooh-Ooh…”, while “Haiti”, “Intervention” and “Sprawl II” were quite simply glorious. Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, in particular, seemed thrilled to be back at the festival that they referred to as their “European hometown show” and this was evident. I’m getting shivers down my spine just writing about it. If ever a band and a festival were made for one another, it was Arcade Fire and Electric Picnic.
I pity any act that had to follow that, though the options were numerous. I opted for a split shift, taking in the start of Chemical Brothers (the light show a disappointment after the Glastonbury show – apparently it was the BBC responsible for much of the imagination there), a few tracks from the Walkmen (“Angela Surf City” was excellent) and finishing with a few minutes of Flying Lotus (I wonder, did anyone answer when he asked why there were no black people in Ireland?) Typically, those who attended any of the three bands in full maintained the shows were spectacular, though my shorts stints at all three offered little of memory beyond the above.
The Main Arena emptied around 2am as the promise of a “dirty rave” in the woods with the Rubberbandits or the Mercury nominated Ghostpoet on Body & Soul proved more appealing than standing in cold, empty tents. Who saw that coming, eh?