Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A modern way of letting go: Truck Festival Sunday review

A disturbed night's sleep later, Sunday kicks off in the Lounge at 11am with Witches, a six piece on so small a stage the trumpeter is hidden behind the PA. For the early start they're in a confident mood, playing expansive, twisted folkpop somewhere between Sparklehorse and pre-Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Wilco in a highly promising vein. In a completely different vein on the main stage, The Walk Off's industrial drum'n'bass with punk shouting over the top sounded like a mess at this early stage, and on reflection would at any stage. More promising was Truck regulars Keyboard Choir, literally an instrumental collective entirely on analogue keyboards, producing sounds that add up to somewhere between first album Hot Chip and Future Sound Of London trance, the inevitable lack of immediate stage action furnished no end when some people in home-made robot costumes appear towards the end and proceed to get down with their good cardboard, tinfoil and sellotape selves.

Napoleon IIIrd starts well, as ever he does with an opening assault of Hit Schmooze For Me and This Is My Call To Arms. Then he introduces Guys In Bands, and it all goes a teensy bit wrong as his reel to reel tape player refuses to find anything to play. Some tampering and crossed fingers ("anything might be on this - bit of Radio 4, we could have a debate about it") later and it comes up with, er, Defibrillator, requiring a very hasty band changearound. We leave him wondering where it's taking him next as we have Sky Larkin in the curiously small for them confines of the Market Stage, where everyone is sitting down, Katie Harkin likening the experience to displaying her work to school assembly. It's obviously far more accomplished than that despite a bass drum intent on escape from Nestor's thunderous drumming and facial expressions as if his stool is sending ten thousand volts through him every time he plays the bass drum or cymbal, which calls into stabilising action the stagehand's leg, then a fire extinguisher, then a packing case, then packing case plus stagehand's foot, and finally packing case with bassist Douglas Adams standing on it. Musically they're on top form, deceptively and hugely smart indiepop shapes that recall a skyscraping Breeders or a Long Blondes deRimmeled and plugged into the mains, frantic but controlled. They'll go places fast if the right people are listening.

The Mules are a post-punk band, but not one people who follow the surface of that much-maligned term would recognise, warping melodies like a kindergarten Pere Ubu and playing around with the genre's standards. And they have a singing drummer. And a song that sounds exactly the same as Madness' version of the song they named themselves after. It's not quite happening in full today, the highlight ending up being their cover of Life During Wartime, but you suspect more through off-day than paucity. Someone who could just show up and not fail to become a showstopper is Thomas Truax, doing his annual trick of packing out the Market stage. The mad scientist of antifolk brings the Hornicator (gramophone horn plus varied loops and odd effects) and Sister Spinster (detailed semi-drum machine) plus who knows what else from this crowd distance to bear on his genuinely one-off sound, like a mad DIY Tom Waits. No wonder there was such attention.

On the main stage Fonda 500's Casio disco-funk grounding takes many a turn inwards but again something indefinable's not clicking that's not making it all work today. In the Trailer Park Gravenhurst's Nick Talbot has a greater immediate issue in that none of his bandmates are available so he's playing solo. It could easily have gone west; that it doesn't is due to the sole guitar approach, aided by loops and pedals, bringing out the intricacies of the folk-influenced melodies and by turns yearning and direct lyrics, ensuring a low-key triumph after all.

Pagan Wanderer Lu has cancelled his Market/Quilting (don't ask) tent set, which was impromptu to begin with, which leaves us at the mercy of George Pringle, part-performance poet, part-stream of consciousness lo-fi electro from an iPod backing. We suspect we're not really in the mood for this. Alone on the main stage with just an acoustic guitar for company, Chris T-T has popped by mid-tour, which shows quite a few others up. He's still largely plugging away at 2005's 9 Red Songs political scree and the best of what we can ascertain are the new songs is the one he makes up on the spot after a curious heckle about wasps killing bears, but he's got a presence alright and leaves enough room to keep us trusting that next year's third in the prolonged London trilogy of albums will be fine enough. Back down the field, a good crowd is gathering to watch through a fence as backstage a roadie is taped to a table in plain view and left to fend for himself.

Something interesting then happens. A special guest is advertised for the main stage, to go up against Truck favourites The Schla La Las in the Trailer Park. The Trailer stage time comes and goes with no activity. Ten minutes later, the tent still fairly full, the Schlas start on the main stage. Now that's a surprise. (Whispers have it that Robin Gibb, of all people, was booked but didn't show up, and the band will mention that they were only informed of the upgrade at a very late stage) Roped into last year's hugely specious New Girl Groups 'scene', the Schlas are a goodtime fuzzy glitter-garage rock fivesome containing Piney Gir among others and today sporting - quiet at the back for this - matching retro-styled polka-dotted dresses. Chatty between songs - Katrin, soldiering on with a broken bass string, revealing she'd been dumped by text message two nights earlier - they make for as pleasingly raucous a diversion as they ever have, and as the Panther Girls join them for their last two songs George reveals this is their final gig. No backup word on their website or Myspace a week later, but if so at least we got in there at the death.

The Rock Of Travolta were feared gone long ago, but they returned last year to a main stage welcome. In the reverberating Barn this time around their instrumental huge rock riffage as constructed by MC Escher chimes with the strobes and, to a lesser extent, the ironic points skyward to seem all the heavier. Somewhat less wilder are much touted locals Jonquil boast a sound that takes folk in a progressive direction without being prog, a more trad take on the freak-folkers. We've loved what we've heard of their new album Lions, so why can't we get into this set as much as a lot of people down the front are? There's nothing wrong with the sound or their loose enough musical interlocking, it's not that different from the recorded approach, but we still come away thinking it could have been magical but was instead slightly pedestrian.

As for large parts was Glenn Tilbrook on the main stage. We saw Tilbrook solo last year and he was endlessly entertaining. With his solo band The Fluffers today his effect and charm is dimmed, and for some reason he's playing more songs now from his sole solo album than he did playing essentially to his people. He eventually breaks out a few Squeeze hits for the keen types at the front but the die for us has been cast by circumstance. Seeing Gerry from SixNationState in a large pink fluffy hat with a plastic airhorn hung round his neck - someone bought him those drinks, then - outside the Barn is more entertaining than Pull Tiger Tail therein, the energy of their first couple of songs dissipating into A N Other artrock.

The Electric Soft Parade have probably never had the sort of distraction onstage before as here with the festival secretary having his head shaved for the cause. Alex White has to ask for the sound of the trimmer to be turned down at one stage. No Need To Be Downhearted gave them a career high this year but even factoring out the sideshow it's not taking off tonight, the worsening weather not helping a set that seems drained of most of its life, a disappointment after last year's restating of their psych-pop claims here. Meanwhile Metronomy's stripped back electropop has never really convinced, unsure whether it wants to be DFA IDM or chase down the dance revival of the day. The chest-mounted lights turned on and off by means of complex choreography look impressive but like the band's sound are mere paste pearls when put into context.

After a prolonged set-up that threatens to send most of the huge audience elsewhere should it have lasted much longer, Idlewild emerge with a point to prove, you feel as much to the audience as through themselves. It's been hard for them to reconcile their famed "flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs" excitable origins with their streamlined Scotpop REM middle phase and the inevitable grown-up phase, and Make Another World's attempt to become punky again seemed a lost cause. Live, though, they still have plenty to give, dynamic and focused, even if it does slightly seem like Roddy and co haven't quite grasped what makes a Truck audience so subtly different. Satan Polaroid is dropped in for the Chandelier kids but a surfeit of tracks from the last album dampens the Sunday headliner atmosphere somewhat, so that like the Futureheads last year it's a perfectly fine set that never reaches the heights it could have. Not that it really matters by this stage - Truck is and remains its own beast, completely seperate from the day's big things, and that's what gives it its charm. Let's just see if we can't manage Truck Eleven at the proper time of July next year, god of meterology.

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