Thursday, July 24, 2008

You don't stop believing in the band : Truck Festival Sunday review


Sunday begins with an artist who reflects this post-communal hangover's need for a quiet, reflective mood. Oh, no it doesn't, it begins with a large bald man bellowing with the voice of Tom Waits stricken with laryngitis. That someone is one Liam Ings-Reeves, aka Mephisto Grande, and he's constructed a peculiar gothic madness sound out of pure Swordfishtrombones, or at least crossbred with Leicester's currently missing in action space antifolk epicentre Misterlee. Ings-Reeves plays guitar and squeezebox, an accomplice has a clarinet in one hand an a saxophone in the other, and there's two drummers and a synth player. Oh, and a fourteen piece choir who contribute in the round to slow building dark junkyard shanties, not least an actually moving version of Will The Circle Be Unbroken? And then they do a free jazz cover of Frere Jacques. But of course.

A comparatively more linear but just as impressive find turns up early in the Barn. The Youngs Plan, of whom it says here Alexei Berrow is a fan, are a phenomenally young looking local five piece who've clearly been supping at Andrew Mears' well and decided that the drawn out bits are good enough for others but don't do much for youthful vitality. Choppy riffs, tricky time and rhythm changes and passages of melodic awkwardness, Bends Radiohead one moment, This Town Needs Guns the next, make for something that far transcends their direct influences and could go on to do serious business. The only possible way to follow is by watching the Drowned In Sound DJs either clear the Beat-Hive or get several people involved in worrying spasmodic dancing - were you aware it's possible to slam dance to Atlas?

Ben Elliott of Restlesslist may be the most rakish man on site going on his hot summer's day choice of three quarter length black coat, half open dress shirt with vest underneath and striped hiking socks. His partner in horror sonic playfulness Matt Twaites' bumfluff moustache just can't compete. Unfortunately neither can the sound, as the beat producing laptop employed in lieu of usual drummer that man Tom White (who seems to have a right cob on with the festival this year, having also pulled out late from a listed solo set) cuts out repeatedly during the first two songs and leads to a lengthy gap involving much playing around with the thing. When it works the set shows off their eclectic instrumental chops to an earthier degree than on their album; then on what should have been triumphant closer Butlin Breaks there's clearly more malfunctioning as the band go completely out of sync at least twice. Someone who looks a lot like Laura Marling just to our left doesn't seem impressed, but these things happen.

Things meanwhile have taken a more down-home turn on the main stage, firstly with The Minnikins' roots country-folk, again featuring a version of Will The Circle Be Unbroken?, and Little Sister's Celtic and Gillian Welch inspired trad folk and magic four-part harmonies. Meanwhile over in the Barn, taken over for the day by the Sonic Cathedral people and opening earlier with a surprise set by the never especially shoegazing Winnebago Deal, Kevin Shields associate and recent MBV Roundhouse support Le Volume Courbe sound at times like Isn't Anything reconfigured for acoustic guitar and at others like Mazzy Star with a rocket up their backside. Vulnerable and open of vocal, frontwoman and sometime Piano Magic contributor Charlotte Marionneau is every inch the French emigre modern yé-yé girl, even looking sussed when playing a swanee whistle on one track. It's more winning than The Early Years, who seem to have turned away from their fine motorik past towards textured Suicide drones to no great effect.

So, as we observe Sam Duckworth in the Rotary Club queue holding a banana smoothie and wonder whether we've just seen a Truck cliche come to life, what now? What words can anyone say at this point that will singlehandedly breathe full life into this festival afternoon, make us feel that everything in music is joyous and wonderful and firing on all cylinders again?

"Hello, we're Johnny Foreigner from Birmingham."

Yeah, that'll do.

So of course they're great despite a truncated set at both ends by a malfunctioning bass at the start and Alexei finishing five minutes earlier than he clearly thought at the end, rejecting entreaties to continue for longer as "they can't fuck up the best festival in the world just for us". In between there's a fine new song, a particularly full pelt Hennings Favourite, Alexei breaking a pedal at a crucial moment in The End And Everything After and the usual obliterative finish of Yr All Just Jealous/Absolute Balance which ends with Berrow on the barrier taking the receptiveness of the committed, of which there must surely be more after this.

Back in the Hive Pivot are clearly having sound problems as well, judging by the angry faces and frenzied pointing at irregular intervals. The Australian trio come across like a scaled-back Battles, energised by propulsive drums and driving bass, but there's the nagging suspicion that there are times when this works best and those aren't at 4pm in a very warm tent. Just across from here is where Jetplane Landing played their last gig to date two Trucks ago, our favourite Truck memory until the previous night. Cahir O'Doherty now returns on the big stage with Fighting With Wire, pre-major label Biffy Clyro-esque on record, in a class of their own live with Cahir still throwing himself about while delivering the goods of pinpoint supercharged streamlined modern rock like the Foo Fighters are too comfortable to care about any more.

Piney Gir has, for the second year, got herself her own marquee, and her friends have come up with another big idea. The Nuns are an all female outfit featuring members of Mambo Taxi, the Priscillas, Thee Headcoatees and on banjo, wow, Debbie Smith of Curve and Echobelly, and they deal entirely in covers of eccentric Fall-influencing proto-garage rockers The Monks. You feel this is the sort of idea that was really waiting to happen, and they carry it off with no little aplomb. Meanwhile back in the still over full Village Pub tent SixNationState are becoming Truck hardy perennials of their own, this time in an acoustic set-up that makes no allowances for the lack of electricity coursing through their indie-ska done properly veins. They've picked up a good number of diehards too by the looks of it, as was always going to happen.

For the first time all festival Robin Bennett allows himself a Truck stage personal introduction for Camera Obscura. The Glaswegian greats used to have a reputation as an awkward live act, and as Tracyanne Campbell maintains her usual poker face while all around look like off-duty postmen (and woman) you can well believe it, but two years' touring Let's Get Out Of This Country has made them a warm, highly assured proposition and in these conditions their best songs just fly, the title track especially. New song French Navy adds some Postcard to the post-Motown and sounds a treat on first listen. Knowing we'll see them again at Summer Sundae we sneak off to take in less mellifluous experiences from Let's Wrestle, who excellently are being watched by the Senegalese kora player who'd been playing in the Market tent earlier on. Such is the cross-cultural possibility of Truck. Let's Wrestle try hard to be shambolic with their fuzz pedal punk-pop but can't quite manage it, the hooks and Wesley Patrick Gonzalez' deadpan lyrics too good for all that. Their eponymous closer gets at least one person making up their own accompanying dance moves.

Then we meet a reader. Hello, Jim. (Actually, he was the third person to recognise us but the other two were Alexei and Junior so don't count)

Back in the Barn Ulrich Schnauss isn't making for much of a visual spectacle seated at a laptop and set of keyboards, but the waves of electronic tones and complex patterns he produces makes it seem less relevant. One person who's never had problems with how to engage an audience is Frank Turner, finally making it to the Truck stage with a band that now features Chris T-T on keyboards and investing more life in the songs from this year's disappointing Love, Ire And Song album as well as the fist-aloft anthems of his preceding work, while carries on a not entirely serious war of words with Fighting With Wire that started during their set (and getting Cahir's water bottles thrown at him). In between popping over to see him there's plenty else on, but unfortunately not Cats In Paris, who it transpires had had to pull out due to technical issues, only nobody thought to tell the punters for some time. Instead it's back to Piney's Pavilion for The Bronsteins, Absentee keyboardist Melinda Bronstein's deceptively simple and fun poppy drummerless trio. Then the sound from the Market tent of a goodtime bluegrass version of Teenage Kicks called us away, as this was The Coal Porters, the estimable ex-Long Ryder Sid Griffin's band, cutting loose. It's pleasing to see The Research back in action and Russell The Disaster can still spin between song banter with the best of them, but can we suggest that some of the wonky pop charm has been diminished now he's moved to guitar?

We can't usually go a festival without our seeing Brakes, but as we approach Market to see a solo set from Eamon Hamilton there seems to be something going on outside the tent. In fact the Coal Porters have pitched up again to play a couple of songs without the benefits of mikes or staging, and Didcot resident Bob Harris is here to introduce them and conduct an inaudible interview with Griffin. A lurking TV camera may have been involved somewhere along the planning line. Hamilton meanwhile plays all the Brakes favourites, even the ones like All Night Disco Party he admits he can't really do justice solo (Marc Beatty is lurking at the back, he could have helped), plus three new songs, concerning alien abduction, a response to Hamilton's bank overdrawn letter and Consumer Producer Chicken Egg, which lasts as long as Comma Comma Comma Full Stop. Displeasingly, our feet hurt so much we collapse upon leaving the tent. Pleasingly, on recovery we realise his set has finished just in time to catch the last three songs of another Truck favourite, Thomas Truax and his dispatches from Wowtown and array of unique homemade instruments. The Hornicator remains the popular favourite, and not without reason.

Three years ago the unknown Truck stage opener, Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly's progress to headlining has been a storied one, and immediately it writes another twist as something or other fails before the first song has started and he has to open acoustically. We intend to actually see quite a bit of his set but in the end don't, partly because of the promised reforming surprise guests closing the Barn whose set up takes so long we long since lose interest in who it is (it was Chapterhouse) but mostly captivated as we are by two women elsewhere. Piney Gir and the Age Of Reason is our Pavilion host's new project after the relative success of her Country Roadshow diversion. There's something of the lounge cabaret about this incarnation, partly due to Piney's decision to turn out in what seems to be a air stewardesses' hat and moreover the being joined on one song by a man dressed as a bee, but equally there's some likeable, well crafted confections in these new songs, and a joyous Greetings, Salutations, Goodbye to finish for which the stage is further packed out by the famed Panthergirls. The Age Of Reason album itself is supposed to be more electronic, so let's wait and see. Meanwhile, yet again straining the capacity of the Market tent, Laura Marling's darker than she's letting on folk parables lead us into the night while causing sporadic outbreaks of shushing, her voice being quite a tender thing but perfectly adept at making even these cramped conditions feel intimate, while her band indulge in much instrument swapping and she checks that Noah & The Whale weren't too comfortable without her.

And as the weekend night falls over Steventon and we realise our neck is quite sunburnt, Truck Eleven closes, retaining its allure and all-encompassing brotherhood of the discerning. Latitude? That 25,000 don't know what they're missing.


Dead Kenny said...

I was beginning to worry that The Research had split up. Reassuring news!

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