Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Truck stops here: Truck Festival review

Actually written for someone else, hence the comparatively formal tone, but they didn't want it and we'd written too many words to abandon it. Anything you want expansion on, comment/tweet. We saw Young Knives and the Go! Team too but had nothing special to say about them

The most aesthetically pleasing thing about this fourteenth Truck Festival was that it still felt like Truck Festival. There were times over the last few months when it looked like it might not, the extension to a third day accompanied by a raising of capacity by 3,000 to a total 8,000 and the weekend ticket price likewise to a pound under the £100 barrier, up £39 on the face value of three years ago and just in time for a much reported downturn in general festival business. Days before the event a 48 hour £40 weekend ticket offer turned up on Groupon. It had meanwhile been noted the traditionally heavier bands in the Barn had been largely cut out, as had the Barn itself apparently for safety reasons, while the main stage was a great deal folkier than usual. Had the Bennetts misjudged their audience in exacting a seeming demographic shift? Caught between identities, what sort of straits had this most amenable of hipster garden party communities ended up in?

As it happened, any paradigm shift apart from the aforementioned was negligible. The main stage being shifted into an adjoining field may have been for extra space reasons but provided much better sight lines, only added a couple of minutes to walking time and cut down on noise bleed between stages. The new second stage tent was comfortably big enough for most of the time, the kids' activities and theatre tent were unobtrusive and surprisingly great weather helped the traditionally friendly atmosphere prevail. The Rotary Club were still there with their minimalist takeaway menu (burger, veggie burger, bacon roll, chips), traffic at the bars still flowed freely and nowhere got really crowded. Of course, the latter especially comes with that attendance caveat. Had it actually sold out - no hard figures, but I'd be surprised if they made it too far past the previous capacity - you might have feared for what it meant for camping space and amenities, food outlets and so forth, and at times it did feel a little empty for all the new space and that it seemed to be full of university kids and nuclear families with little in between.

On to the music. Friday's quality laurels were walked away with by Transgressive Records, the first of three curators of the new Clash Stage (presumably named for the magazine, though there was no visible branding). After Gaggle's reliably beaty-shouty thing kicked off the whole weekend, Marques Toliver set an early, very high water mark. With just a violin, autoharp and glockenspiel to hand and a huge scarf around his neck, the virtuoso Brooklynite gave full rein to his impassioned soulful voice and rhythmic playing, drawing every last drop of vulnerable stricken drama from his compositions. And then he drops in a bit of 'No Scrubs' just to keep us on our toes.

Toliver later joined Mechanical Bride, Lauren Doss casting aside the buffed to a shine sound of her recent album for something more intimate and on edge. Peggy Sue's darkly poised harmonies followed, a couple of new songs suggesting a more raw, raucous second album come September, before Liam Finn embarked on a one-man mission across the songwriterly span from slow Laurel Canyon-like harmonies to frantic, distorted psych-outs, culminating in his maniacally careering across the edge of the stage, effects pedal in hand, before taking to his own second drum kit and beating it to within an inch of its life before eventually collapsing backwards off the stool.

Such theatrics aren't what you'd get from Johnny Flynn, but around the time of his emergence you similarly wouldn't have expected his set to be littered with mass girl screaming as if One Direction had showed up. Such is the pull of the current commerciality of folk, though, that such a reaction is what he's bashfully regarding after every song. Graham Coxon left that world of teen acceptance behind years ago and his new songs tend towards the clangingly garagey, which doesn't entirely suit the couple of cuts from The Spinning Top but goes well enough with his older material, 'Freaking Out' inevitably taking off.

Before leaving Friday alone a word for headliners Bellowhead's high energy trad folk reels, cementing their position as a live act to savour, and in the BBC Introducing-curated last.fm tent the locally popular Spring Offensive, whose wiry, dark post-punk shapes can seemingly take on bleak futility or intense surges as equal partners.

That same last.fm stage, a smaller tent right next to the main camping area, for Saturday belonged to Blessing Force, Andrew Mears booking the stage and filling it with artworks, looping videos and vocal cut-ups between bands. Obviously you could see most of the bill's make-up coming a mile off but everyone seemed to be spurred on to great things by the friendly competition, from the opening Fugazi/Mclusky hardcore jolts of The Cellar Family at the start of the day to ODC Drumline vs Coloureds' post-midnight throwdown spearing glitch-hop against a martial four-drummer assault. In between Solid Gold Dragons introduced Arthur Russell-like future funk-disco to math-pop, Wild Swim gave a valiant go to introducing theatrical harmonies to drum and bass rhythms, Jonquil unleashed more of their tropical pop development, Rhosyn's lush strings and Rose Dagul's emotive warmth cemented their role as the avant-pop Brodsky Quartet, and Trophy Wife garnered the most human traffic and rewarded that interest with a pulsatingly propulsive math-electro-disco of their own quiet dynamism. As we approached midnight the tent turned into a pulsing sweatbox, or as close as an oddly third empty tent got, to the euphoric peaks and joyously creative washes of Chad Valley. Hugo Manuel's second shift of the day, and he and his colleagues can continue to be very proud of what they're achieving.

Back out in the fields Gruff Rhys stretched out a 90 minute set of pastoral oddness. Employing capable surf instrumentalists Y Niwl as his backing band lent a certain extra swing to much of the set but it was always in Rhys' own image, creating a looped white noise coda for 'Cycle Of Violence', lending one song six seperate key changes and ending with all 20 gripping minutes of 'Skylon!' Rhys' common touchstones of psychedelia and Brian Wilson are things Fixers know all about and Jack Goldstein entered into the spirit of the occasion by delivering the whole set while wearing a sea captain's hat and huge false beard, but their own main stage set never quite took off or made much sense of the myriad layers of their recordings. For proper eclecticism and knowledge of working a crowd we had to look to Wowtown's favourite mad scientist son Thomas Truax, exiled to the cabaret tent with his homemade instruments and odd ideas for songs but captivating a steadily growing audience, one he took the opportunity at one point to walk amongst and circumnavigate the outside of the tent singing and playing a now unplugged guitar. Even earlier on the main stage Richmond Fontaine's Willy Vlautin had held court for 45 minutes with just a guitar sideman and a stack of densely literate low-life vignettes, those from September's tenth album The High Country just as strong and intricately painted.

You know just what you're getting with Edwyn Collins after thirty years or so as a recording artist, but quite aside from being pleased he's still here with us to deliver these songs which over that time have barely sagged in quality, his presence and richly subtle vocal ability seems undimmed. There's a lot of love for him in return, the announcement of 'Rip It Up' nearly taking the roof off the Clash Tent (Heavenly being the day's sponsors, later bringing along Saint Etienne), 'A Girl Like You' quickly filling any gaps left therein. A triumph.

Sunday brought the hottest weather of the weekend and its only real bunching up of stage clashes, meaning having to abandon a succulently ethereal Treefight For Sunlight set (thereby missing what seems to be a faithful cover of 'Wuthering Heights') to take in the epic alternately blissful and thundering dynamism of Maybeshewill, then straight right across the site for the more in keeping with the weather nuanced country folk of Caitlin Rose.

Despite such running around Dean Wareham doing Galaxie 500 songs still lost out to the singular live entity that is Islet. Since last summer's festivals they've gained a member, lost half their second drumkit and added extended bits to their songs, not least 'Jasmine' doubling in length with a motorik throwdown. Otherwise they're still much the same, Mark Thomas circumnavigating the front of stage barrier and jumping up and down on top of an amp while sundry temporary drummers utilise the low hanging lighting rig for extra percussion and their all too easy to overhyphenate noisy genre stew percolates. Before any of the above Edinburgh's Mitchell Museum proved themselves one of our better kept secrets, collapsible offbeat Flaming Lips psychedelics on a lo-fi budget, while later on Electric Soft Parade, who headlined Truck in 2005, downsized to the last.fm stage looking back with 'There's A Silence' from their hitmaking days and forward with some new songs majoring on heavier Big Star-like qualities.

The Clash tent was left in the capable hands of Bella Union for this day, again spoiling us with quality. Alessi Laurent-Marke's quirky charm ties in with the whimsically unforced quality of her songs as Alessi's Ark, even if she had to stop one of them as her wristband had got in the way of her fingers. Philip Selway should do this more often, his intimately fretful songs set to a pulsing beat, sentimental but not slushy. With only the organisers' own band The Dreaming Spires to follow John Grant is most people's last act (ours included) and despite more than a year touring Queen Of Denmark he still sounds as fresh as someone with this amount of personal weight invested in these songs can, breathing new life into them with his crystalline cracked vocals. As the sun sets on Steventon for another July Sunday it proves that there may be troubles ahead but something about the atmosphere and ethos of such a well developed festival will always win out.

1 comment:

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

The troubles ahead that you speak of may be very soon. Hearing rumours that Truck has gone bust :(

Let's hope the rumours are untrue...