Reading Festival, it’s an unlikely Eden where even nu-ravers may walk freely without fear of violent reprisal; where the emo may lay down with the skater; where even the haggard and grizzled hacks slowly roasting themselves in sticky white garden furniture backstage somehow manage to occasionally plaster a smile across their jowly front pieces for a second or two. What the English laughingly refer to as ‘summer’ has finally (finally!) kicked into gear and the stage is set for the very finest three days of your life. Get the crate of warm lager from the dodgy man with the truck, build a fire and slap on the jester’s hat. Enjoy. Because it really doesn’t get any better than this.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 24
Blood Red Shoes: In this crowd — girls dressed in vintage dresses and boys with beautiful hair — if you’re over 18, you’re either a journalist or the band’s Dad. This makes perfect sense, as vocalist/guitarist Laura-Mary Carter and drummer Steve Ansell oozed a joyous, youthful noise early afternoon Friday. A quick survey revealed that most in attendance were here out of curiosity, but within seconds, as long as it took for the first song to arrive, a chorus of feedback, jackhammer drumming and dozens of brightly coloured beach balls, hundreds were instantly converted to Blood Red Shoes‘ shouty rock bashing. Having seen BRS a couple of times in small basement clubs, I initially wondered how their skittery, angular sound would translate to a stage as big as Reading, but the band was more than equal to the task. For a duo so small in stature, they were surprisingly huge sounding. “ADHD” in particular made a truly deafening din, with Carter’s shrieks of “I’m So Distracted” burrowing into the skull and setting up home. Friday’s best band, no question.
The Gossip: “Hello Reading! Are you having a good time? Is the food expensive?” The Gossip‘s Beth Ditto arrived onstage resplendent in a hot pink sequined number that she, “borrowed from a skinny friend of mine,” only to remark seconds later, “it’s too fucking tight!”
By far the most mesmerizing performer of the weekend, and with the voice of a ‘What You See Is What You Get’-era Tina Turner, Ditto tore apart the Main Stage. ‘That’ dress rides waaaay up, but eventually comes off completely, and the first anthem of the weekend, a muscular “Standing in the Way of Control” turned everybody within earshot into grinning, dancing loons.
Jimmy Eat World: Jimmy Eat World play two shows on Saturday — a relatively muted set at the Main Stage and a ‘secret’ second appearance at the Radio 1 Lockup Tent a few hours later. The second show was the one. Full of hardcore Jimmy Eat World fans only, the band treated us to requests (an elegiac “23”), fan favorites such as “Polaris” and a storming version of “Sweetness,” complete with the traditional massed sing-along. The band seemed more engaged, energized by the relative intimacy of the venue to deliver a hugely impressive set.