Glastonbury Diary, Part Three: The Music

by Gordon Elgart on July 7, 2009

Seeing this on the screen was only a hint of the excitement to come.

Seeing this on the screen was only a hint of the excitement to come.

What follows is a pretty simple list of every single musical act I saw at Glastonbury 2009 for at least one song.  There were others that I walked by, and sometimes it takes a whole song to walk by them, but when I don’t know who’s playing until I’m finished walking by them and have gone back to my tent to look at a list of who was just on stage, I don’t think that counts because I wasn’t paying any attention at all.  I’m looking at you, The Script (or was it The View?)  I’ll make very brief remarks about some acts, and pretty lengthy ones about others.  I probably won’t say too much about the music for some bands, but will assume you know them already instead.  Find out which acts had me dancing, which had me skankin’, which ones had me screaming, and which one left me in tears.  Buckle up, because this is going to take me a while.

FRIDAY

Gabriella Climi – When she came on stage, the PA wasn’t on and she was trying to get the crowd going.  She was probably yelling “C’mon Glastonbury!”  But no one could hear her.  My friend remarked, “she’s really hot so I’m not sure it matters if I can hear her or not.”  We stayed for the one song we couldn’t hear very well, then moved on.  She apparently covered “Bad.”

Dan Black – Dan Black is great.  Caught the last three songs of his set, which were straight up gems of pop-disco sweetness.  He had me checking the schedule to see if it was possible to see his entire set at a different time (it wasn’t).  I wanted to buy his album, but it’s not out yet.  The kind folks at Rough Trade East told me they’d be glad to ship it to me when it comes out, inviting me to their website.  My friends will all love this guy, too, I promise.

The Rumble Strips – The night before this set, I was drinking and dancing with the wife of one member of this band.  She told me I should check them out, and I wasn’t planning on it, but we came here to see Fucked Up and got here early enough to see the entire set.  Think Franz Ferdinand with horns as produced by Mark Ronson.  Now, make the vocals not as good, the songs not as memorable, and the horns pretty lackluster.  That describes this band.  Pretty boring.  A typical British “The” band.

Fucked Up – This was the first utter musical highlight of the weekend.  This was an insane tour de force of a performance.  Pink Eyes, the lead singer, spent 98% of the set NOT on the stage.  From climbing the light tower to much stage diving to performing a good portion of the set in the audience itself, there was a lot of craziness going on.   He uses a corded microphone, so just watching the crew try to keep adding on more and more cable to support his wandering was fabulous entertainment in itself.

And I found a video that shows a bit of the craziness, and I’m in it, very clearly.  That’s me in the A’s cap right in front of the person taking the video.  Sweet!  Watch the other videos posted by the same user to see more of the madness.

Hot 8 Brass Band – I wanted to check out this band while drinking delicious Pear Cider.  I have to admit:  the cider was far better than the band.  That’s not to say that the band was bad; they were just a bit boring.  The cider (from Brother’s) was delicious.  The group I was with was really just coming early to check out the next band, who had been recommended to me but I had never heard.

Lamb – This was supposed to be a big deal, hearing this band after all this time.  They had split up, but I guess because they’re local, it’s easy for them to just pop over to Glastonbury to play for 10,000 people.  So they did.  They sounded nice I guess, but I wasn’t too into them.  I just like my music to be more energetic and crazy, and the Fucked Up set had put me into a more aggressive mood.  So off I went.

Friendly Fires – I wrote a full review of a show of theirs recently, and not much has changed.  They’re still insanely danceable.  This set was my first exposure to the craziness that occurs when a popular single is played at Glastonbury.  When they kicked into “Jump in the Pool,” the crowd went into a glorious uproar, singing and dancing with rigorous joy.  It’s moments like this–that just don’t happen in the same way over here–that are why I made the trip in the first place.

The Specials – My original plan didn’t have me seeing The Specials, but I was told I’d be “a wanker” if I missed them.  so I changed into a flat cap (from the baseball cap seen in the Fucked Up video) and went to skank for an hour or so.   This was a totally fun set.  I knew one song (Message to you Rudy) but the crowd knew them all, and there were songs that were wholly familiar to everyone in the place but me.  I had to explain that The Specials were never really a big deal over here, and I only knew one song.  Except I was wrong: I knew “Ghost Town” as well.  So after burning crazy amounts of calories in an hour, I went trudging through the evening mud to catch the last half of the Ting Tings set.

The Ting Tings – Except when I got to the Ting Tings, they hadn’t started yet, so I ended up seeing the whole set.  They brought on horn players and extra musicians, and I thought that the show just didn’t work.  They were trying way too hard to play big rather than just be themselves.  In order to stretch out the set, the singles were augmented in ways that ruined their already perfect hooks, so the expected big payoffs didn’t happen.  It’s definitely time for the Ting Tings to work on some new material.

Bloc Party – Everyone told me how amazing Neil Young was at the Pyramid Stage, but I came to England to see English bands.  Bloc Party definitely didn’t disappoint, as I was dancing and shouting gleefully in the mud for their set.  They played all the way through curfew, so it was their complete normal set.  All of the best songs were here, and they were played with Bloc Party’s normal fervor.  Some of the British folks around me were surprised I knew the songs so well.  They congratulated me by handing me many cans of cider.  Sometimes being from out of town is great!

SATURDAY

Metric – Started out this sunny day with Metric.  Surpisingly, this was my first time seeing Metric, and I thought they were great.  Their sound is big enough for a giant field, and the songs are terrific.  The crowd only seemed to know “Monster Hospital,” but no one looked disappointed.  There were more people here at the end of their set than at the beginning, but this is a field that can hold 50,000 or so, which means it was still mostly empty.  Absolutely love the new album Fantasies, by the way.  Pick it up if you haven’t already.

Spinal Tap – Watched a few songs of their set on the main stage, but I was really not feeling it.  Jamie Cullum came on to do one song with them, which was boring.  Their jokes fell flat.  “Stonehenge” included dancing druids, but I still didn’t get into it.  Turns out I missed Jarvis Cocker joining them on bass, but I had already moved on.

Japanese Popstars – I thought I was going to be seeing some actual popstars from Japan, like Puffy or Ayumi Hamasaki, but instead I saw three Irish house DJs.  This was a pretty entertaining set to watch because one of the guys gets really into it.  But it took this set for me to realize something I kinda knew before, but was never sure of.   That is that I don’t really like house DJs all that much.  Sure, I danced.  Sure, they sound good.  But the music never really “went” anywhere.

Horace Andy – It’s no secret that I don’t care for reggae, mainly because of the people who enjoy it too much.  So when I got to the stage early (to see the next act), I was a bit disappointed to find I was seeing a reggae act.  But this guy is amazing!  He’s a great singer and his band was top notch.  I only heard about 4-5 songs of this, but I would definitely enjoy hearing an entire set by him.  As long I weren’t around a bunch of reggae fans.

This was my favourite of Shlomo's guests.

This was my favourite of Shlomo's guests.

Shlomo & Guests – Shlomo is an amazing beatboxer, and at Glastonbury he brings out a group of friends to help him do his set.  A poster on the efestivals forums had said that this was the best thing in 2008.  Since I like beatboxing, and I like best things, I decided to go.  And I’m so glad I did!  Not only was his solo stuff amazing, but then he brought out a vocal orchestra made up of top notch beatboxers and singers to perform a set of material.  And then he took it up one more notch by bringing out special guests:  DJ Yoda, Imogen Heap and Jarvis Cocker!  Wow!  I had a smile on my face for the entire hour.  Just pasted there.

The Klaxons – This band was listed as “special guests.”  This is one of those bands I’ve heard of a million times, but never heard or seen before.  Everyone likes them, I guess, but the only reason I stuck around once it became obvious that they were the secret act was because I had such a good space to stand, and people seemed to be jazzed for it.  They came out in costume, and proceeded to play this aggressive dance music, more punk than I had expected, like the harder of the Oingo Boingo material.  Since everyone was telling me to get my glowsticks out, I was expecting something a lot more ravey.  The crowd was absolutely insane, and I was bored.  I moved on.

Deadmau5 – I spent about an hour at this set, which was another house DJ.  This guy is “progressive house,” which is definitely better than house.  But with the sun up, and no alcohol or more popular dance chemicals in my body, I  just couldn’t get going here.  The music and visuals were excellent, and I’d definitely go out to see him again, but this wasn’t the right soundtrack for today.

White Lies – I walked by the John Peel tent as White Lies were about to come on.  When I reviewed their show earlier, I was a bit bored by them.  Although their material is really really good, their stagecraft is really really boring.  I listened to a few songs, sang along, and then made my way over to the Pyramid field because I wanted to hear The Boss say “Is there anybody alive out there?”

Bruce Springsteen – I got to the Bruce set in time to see him open with a Joe Strummer cover called “Coma Girl,” a song about the Glastonbury Festival.  (Later, a friend told me that when he excitedly said “A Joe Strummer cover!” the person standing next to him said “Who’s Joe Strummer?”  And this was in England!)  Then he kicked into “Badlands” and the sound was horrible.  All I could hear was bass and vocals.  That’s it.  So I moved around some until I got to a better spot, heard Bruce say his “Is anybody alive out there?” three times to get some sort of reaction, and at this point I realized I was simply not in the mood to see Bruce Springsteen.  “Thunder Road” would be played, but I wouldn’t be there to sing along.

Stanton Warriors – I started wandering randomly and I found myself at a tent where the Stereo MCs were about to go on.  Some DJs were on, and they were ripping it up.  There was a huge sweaty crowd going nuts so I asked who was on stage, and I was told it was the Stanton Warriors.  I didn’t know anything about them except that they get the party going, so I looked them up.  According to Wikipedia, they are a breakbeat duo.  There you go.  I would absolutely go to whatever place they’re playing.

Stereo MCs – They came on, and people were pushing and shoving, and I knew I wanted to be at the far end of the festival in time for Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, so I said “screw it” and moved on.

No. 1 Station – This was my second ska band of the weekend, and my second cover of “I Chase the Devil” by Max Romeo of the day (Horace Andy did the other).  Madness actually recorded a cover of this song, so I thought I might hear a third version on Sunday (but I didn’t).  I skanked like a mofo during their set because tiredness was starting to settle in, and I was in this club for the long haul.  I knew part of what was coming later, and there were rumours about the rest.

The craziest partiest band in town.

The craziest partiest band in town.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble – Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are a Chicago-based brass band, but there tour schedule is Eurocentric.  This is the case for most brass bands as the music is simply more popular there.  So I had to go to England to see them, and man was it worth it.  This was a non-stop raucous party, and the whole club was required to join in.  All of these people started pushing through to get up front for the next act, and I told them all “you can only stay if you dance!”  And dance they did.  This was a lot of fun.

Africa Express Soundsystem – Starting to get pretty tired now, but the next act was two hours of “afrotechno” featuring an all-star band of DJs, drummers, singers, synth players, beatboxers (Shlomo returns), and more, all from Africa and England.  The group was put together by Damon Albarn of Blur, and supposedly he was going to be here.  He had been on stage with Hypnotic Brass Ensemble for a moment (brought out for a quick cheer), and one of the keyboard players who stayed out of the lights the whole time looked like him or his long lost twin brother.  There was an argument as to whether or not it actually was him, and it was never resolved.  He was never introduced, and he never talked.  I was thinking yes at the time, but now I’m thinking no.  In fact, I have no idea who any of the special guests were.  I’m told Baba Maal was on stage.  There was a grime MC that I don’t think was Kano or Dizzee.  No matter.  The show was a total blast.  It was two hours of improvisational jamming by amazing musicians.  Who could ask for anything more at 3AM?

Plaster of Paris – I’ll pause for a moment for a story.  A woman came up to the front of the house during the break when the stage crew was setting up for the next band.  They were putting out amplifiers for the “special guest.”  The MC said it was going to be some sort of “super-super-superstar.”  She told me that the staff was coming down to watch because Gorillaz were coming on at 3:30.  Gorillaz!  Wow, neat!  Then a flute beatboxer came on stage and explained he was there to stall for time, so he stalled for time.  Then there was a lot of running around backstage looking a bit panicked, and it was obvious there was a change of plans.  A different guy came on stage and announced that a group called Plaster of Paris were coming on.  More stalling?  Or was this it?  Plaster of Paris feature a woman who sings and plays a kazoosaphone.  She’s great.  But she was just a placeholder.  Where was the special guest?

The Correspondents – This ended up being the emergency replacement special guest.  Glastonbury does not use “special guest” lightly.  It always means someone who is a big deal.  Earlier in the weekend, it was Jack White, The Klaxons, The Futureheads and a Supergrass side project.  Not some duo that had just finished a show an hour earlier that are without notoriety.  But here they were.  And they were awesome. They were referred to as the “kings of the new swing remix.”  It was basically a DJ playing swing remixes and a singer/rapper/dancer up front who sings great, raps great, and dances more than great.   I implore you to check out their stuff on Youtube.  It was 4:30 in the morning, and the place was more full when they finished at 5:15 than it had been when they started.  By the time they were done, I didn’t care that they were the emergency replacement special guest.  I was happy to have been there.  This is the kind of act that probably won’t get to travel stateside very much, but if they do, I will be there.

SUNDAY

Worth putting off eating.

Worth putting off eating.

Art Brut – The first thing I needed to do on Sunday was hike all the way across the festival to find a cash machine that accepts American ATM cards, so I was going to miss Art Brut.  But then I decided that I could power through on water and an Ampen bar and make it through the Art Brut set.  It was totally worth it.  Eddie Argos is so much fun to watch and listen to, and he had his A game for Glastonbury.  His stories were bigger for the bigger occasion.  This was not a well attended set by any stretch, but I am pretty sure that all who were in attendance were happy with it.

Amadou and Mariam – It was now time to park myself in front of the Pyramid stage for the rest of the day in order to see a great day of music, and to have a great spot for Blur.  I wanted to be in front of the flags!  It started to rain, so I grabbed a poncho from a vendor and stuck it in my pocket.  I would not surrender to some mild rain; I needed a downpour!  I wasn’t that in to A&M, but I did appreciate their chants of “Sun! Sun! Sun!” before every song, and by the time their set was done, they had brought out the sun. Thanks guys!

Tom Jones – I’ll go see Tom Jones whenever he plays because he’s such a great performer.  And to see him close enough to Wales where there would be dozens of Welsh flags was an absolute treat.  But instead, there were many flags shaped like panties, flags made up of panties, flags with panties attached to them … well, knickers, that is.  Anyway, a lot of panties got thrown toward the stage including a giant pair of paper mache panties.  This was one heck of an event.  The singing along to Delilah was deafening, the reaction of the women was overwhelming, and the performance was tremendous.  What a great start to an amazing evening.

Flying sax player!

Flying sax player!

Madness – Oftentimes, VH1 will run a special showcasing one-hit wonders, and Madness is always included.   This is complete madness because Madness have had plenty of hits.  In England, that is.  I knew a lot of these songs, and I was very very excited to be seeing Madness.  The people near me for the set were also quite excited, so there was plenty of singing and dancing.  A house of fun, indeed!  The set itself was good, not great, until the moment that the sax player was being flung around on a harness, playing a sax solo while flying high above the stage.  This was the only moment of epic stagecraft that was to be had, but the ska/pop material of Madness was really all that was needed to make this set good.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – It was really clear that nobody up front, save a few here and there, were familiar with Nick Cave.  And the energy in the crowd was a little weak.  But he was awesome.  Nick Cave is perhaps the coolest guy alive.  “We Call Upon the Author” absolutely gave me chills.  He was great.  But he was, in this venue on this day, simply a support act.

Blur – On the one hand, I feel bad because I dismissed Blur quickly when they were at the height of their U.S. popularity.  Song 2, their only significant U.S. hit, was such a parody of what was going on in rock that I considered the whole project a trifle.  What I didn’t know is that the song was practically meant as parody.  It wasn’t until years later when I moved to San Francisco and made friends with a bunch of Blur fans that I actually started listening to their other songs.  And wow, they were great!  So this was my first time seeing Blur, though it wasn’t my first opportunity.  I just never gave them a second thought during the time they previously existed as a full band.

The very first time I saw The Polyphonic Spree, they had me in tears.  This was because they really represented everything I like about music.  They were my dream band come to life, and I was completely blown away.  Until the Blur set, this was the only that had happened, but then as Blur finished their set with The Universal, I started welling up.  There was an emotional outpouring here from audience to band that absolutely overwhelmed me.  Being in a crowd like this was another dream fulfilled, and I lost it a bit when their set was over and I was walking back to the campsite with thousands of Blur fans singing “Tender” at the top of their lungs.  I’ll never be able to hear that song again without thinking about this night, and that’s a good thing.  You can count this gig among the handful of my favorite things I’ve ever done.

I noticed today that registration for the 2010 Glastonbury tickets opened today.  So I registered.  Will I be able to go back?  I don’t know, but I’m definitely going to give it my best shot.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Dakin July 7, 2009 at 9:47 pm

I think I’m going to try to make a flag out of panties for outside lands this year…

Reply

Ben July 8, 2009 at 7:12 am

> You can count [the Blur] gig among the handful of my favorite things I’ve ever done.

That, and being in my wedding party, right? : )

Sounds like you had an amazing time. And well-deserved too.

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Joel July 8, 2009 at 8:18 am

The Klaxons are big at KSCU. Our RPM director, or whatever the kids call it these days, is a fan.

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Marie Carney July 8, 2009 at 11:17 am

I cried the last time I saw Blur at Great American, but I probably shouldn’t admit that. Now I am very sad I was not there!
But that sounds amazing! I’ll have to read through this again to get some hints on new bands. :)

Reply

Gordon Elgart July 8, 2009 at 1:14 pm

I’m recommending Dan Black to you. He just posted a bunch of his new album on his MySpace, so definitely check him out.

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Vanie July 8, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Marie, I cried seeing Blur then too. I believe it was during “This is a Low”.

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Joby July 8, 2009 at 10:18 pm

There’s different kinds of one-hit wonders. There’s the ones the rest of whose catalog is perfectly good (Blur, Madness, Placebo, dada, Ben Folds), the ones the rest of whose catalog I’ve heard and can tell you is horrible (Roachford, White Town, Buckcherry), the ones the rest of whose catalog I don’t need to hear because it’ll obviously be terrible (Toni Basil, Taco, t.A.T.u.), and the ones I wouldn’t be surprised either way (Dexys Midnight Runners, Right Said Fred, Len).

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roxy July 9, 2009 at 11:40 am

horace andy is awesome, i’m glad you were able to find reggae that you enjoy. old reggae is fantastic, it’s the new things that i’m not so into.

when you get into first wave ska and really old reggae and rude boy things, it’s all wonderful.

check out desmond dekker and toots & the maytals too.

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Glastofreak July 10, 2009 at 3:47 pm

If you went this year you don’t need to register again

Reply

Glastofreak July 10, 2009 at 4:00 pm

by the way you should all come

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Glastofreak July 10, 2009 at 4:34 pm

What Gordon experianced is a fairly dry year. Glasonbury is held in a valley, covered in tents, on a soil which is mainly clay and is tramped down by 180000 people. Give it a couple of days of rain and ……………..

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karl powell July 11, 2009 at 3:33 am

Thanks for your write up , I didnt get to see Blur instead went to watch prodigy , If you ever get chance to see them its a must

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Gordon Elgart July 12, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Thanks Karl! I saw Prodigy a few weeks before in San Francisco. They were a lot of fun, but it wasn’t as crazy as the video I’ve seen from Glastonbury.

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erin September 19, 2010 at 9:26 am

blur forever!!

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