The Ultimate Reading Festival Review…

Last weekend saw me yet again, attending the annual Reading Festival, for the fourth time! Returning again, in a year when a lot of my friends decided to go elsewhere for their festivaling (namely Bestival or Latitude), what attracted me was the stellar lineup of acts and the chance to see a variety of headliners, none of which I’ve ever seen before! Over my four years attending the festival, one factor that typifies the festival is its electric atmosphere, and this year was no different, with even the soaking wet conditions not putting a downer on proceedings.  One of my major fears about returning as a uni student was that I’d be one of the oldest punters in attendance, given the festival’s popularity amongst GCSE and A level students, however this was not the case as the festival had a very varied audience, possibly due to Metallica’s headlining set. Anyway, here’s my thoughts on the bands I got to see over the course of this year’s festival and a list of my favourite performances!

Frist off on the Friday morning I caught hyped british indie rock act The Bulletproof Bomb, who played to a packed Festival Republic tent (partly due to the eagerness of the crowd to get stuck into their first band of the festival). With clear inspirations from acts such as The Libertines and Jamie T, their brand of indie rock is not entirely spectacular but well suited to the Reading crowds, with tracks including Suitcase and Five Green Bottles in particular kicking off some of the first mosh pits of the festival. Similarly, over in the NME tent Philadelphia born US garage rock band, The Districts, were putting on their own raucous show with frontman Rob Grote bounding around the stage in typical rock and roll style! A truly talented band, as showcased by final song Young Blood which saw stage dives, extended jams and guitar solos in a landmark set for the band. Following this, I caught two of Britain’s best young bands in recent years, with Drenge preeceding Palma Violets on the Main Stage, a first time for both acts. Drenge tore through a set of grungey mosh pit inducing tracks off their two albums, with Bloodsports and We Can Do What We Want in particular reeking chaos across the main stage crowd! However, the standout track for me was Standing in the Cold, a true anthem which shows the band at their darkest yet more controlled best. Palma Violets also put on an equally chaotic show, switching between tracks off their two albums in front of an adoring main stage crowd, in particular first album tracks Best of Friends, Rattlesnake Highway and Step Up for the Cool Cats, whipped up the craziest frenzies. A true Reading and Leeds regular (having played every year they’ve been a band) performing at the peak of their powers. Back to the NME tent and there was another couplet of Britain’s best new bands in the form of Birmingham indie rockers Peace and Swim Deep. First up were Swim Deep, a band I’ve never been particularly keen on, who performed an experimental brand of shiny indie pop and also boasted one of the bizzarest festival moment when a dancer joined the band for the song Fueiho Boogie and went about spinning around for the songs long duration. I can’t say I was totally converted, however the final two tracks She Change the Weather and King City did impress and were hits with the crowd. Peace, who followed drew an extremely big, and highly excitable (with a great deal of swaying) crowd, even before they’d arrived on stage. Airing big hits including; Wraith, Lovesick and Lost on Me this was clearly a landmark gig for the band and a highlight of the opening day of the festival, with frontman Harry Koisser toting one of his landmark oversized coats and lapping up the applause of the crowd. Over on the Main Stage, Alt-J were playing their own landmark set, as they flew up the bill following their headline slot at the NME tent in 2013, following the success of latest album This is All Yours. Attracting a large crowd, the band’s indie art rock tracks including; Breezeblocks, Left Hand Free and Tesselate greatly impressed, especially when coupled with a spectacular light show! With minimal audience participation, Gus Unger-Hamilton and co. cracked on with an intricate, exceptionally performed setlist of tracks from both of their two albums, a real stepping stone for the band, with many tipping them as potential future headliners. The headline act of the first night was indie folksters Mumford & Sons, a rather contentious choice of headliner for many of the Reading ‘Rock’ Festival hardcore fan base, who greatly disproved of their commercial edge, particularly on previous album Babel. However for this set they borrowed largely from latest album Wilder Mind, an album that has seen the band drop their barrelhouse banjo playing personas for more leather clad electric guitar classic rock and to great success! Opening track Snake Eyes immediately set the tone for the evening as the band burst onto stage in energetic fashion, followed straight up by two of the bands biggest songs the band have written to date in Little Lion Man and I Will Wait, both of which prompted mass singalongs. If anything this performance proved that Mumford & Sons are more than just that band who play the song about a cave and actually arena rock stars who are more than capable of putting on a great live show! Switching between their traditional instruments and the classic rock setup (guitar, bass and drums), big highlights cropped up in the form of The Cave, Lover of the Light and Ditmas, the latter which saw frontman Marcus Mumford diving into the crowd and performing the majority of the song from amongst the audience. The crowd, loved it and the spectacular closing song The Wolf topped off a set that silenced the doubters and holds the band as one of the nation’s biggest arena rock acts, whether you love them or hate them, you can’t deny the anthemic power of Mumford & Sons.

The second day was similarly packed with talent across many of the stages! I personally started off watching California surf punk band Fidlar, who’s chaotic set saw the band play slacker classics No Waves, Cheap Beer and Cocaine, also airing some material off of new album Too, which looks set to be one of the best released this year. Following this I rushed straight to the NME stage and caught the backend of Chicago punk’s Twin Peaks, who managed to evoke mosh pits on their biggest tracks  Morning Breakfast and I Found a New Way. However, the key reason that saw hordes flooding towards the NME tent was due to the speculation of a Foals secret set in support of new album What Went Down. To the roar of an eager crowd, Yannis and the band stepped out and performed a short yet spectacular set, opening with Holy Fire single My Number, followed by new track Mountain at My Gates, the epic, crunching Inhaler and fans’ favourite slow burner, Spanish Sahara, with its bombastic crescendo. Following this the band dipped into earlier material in the form of Red Socks Pugie, before the band let loose on set highlight, the monolithic title track from their new album What Went Down. The song saw Yannis jumping into the crowd to scream the furious chorus over the thundering guitar riffs, a sound that gives the latest album in the Foals cannon its darker tone. A majestic set from a band most certainly destined for bigger things! And the chaos didn’t stop there as next on were Tunbridge Wells born punks Slaves, who tore a hole in the NME tent, taking no prisoners with their aggressive but short blasts of primal punk rock, with tracks including; The Hunter, Cheer Up London and Sockets proving sure fire hits with the energetic crowd. A very good live act, who you could tell were loving every minute of the show, bounding around the stage and amusing the crowd their absurd sense of humour (guitarist Laurie dedicated a song to his dead goldfish). The great run in the NME tent continued, this time with a shinier style of indie guitar rock with Spector and Circa Waves further geeing up the crowd with their crowd pleasing anthems, with in particular Chevy Thunder (Spector) and T-Shirt Weather (Circa Waves) evoking large sing-alongs. Excitement hit fever pitch for Wolf Alice, the next band due to appear in the tent, with the legions of adoring fans they’d managed to pick up over a year of extensive touring all trying to push to the front of the tent to catch as glimpse of Ellie, Joff, Joel and Theo. The set kicked off in enigmatic fashion, with the likes of You’re A GermGiant Peach and Moaning Lisa Smile in particular proving as crowd pleasers, creating mosh pits and seeing both Theo and Ellie jump wildly into the crowd. However, on the greatest moment for me was the quieter Blush, off of the EP of the same name released in 2013, which showcases Ellie in particular’s amazing vocal ability in one of the more fragile, yet perfect moments of the weekend. Away from the NME tent I caught up and coming US punk brothers Radkey in a grossly under attended performance at the Festival Republic stage, which showcased their true musical talent in playing their instruments and their knack for writing short, sharp punk tunes, of which deserve a much wider audience! Give them a listen, I recommend Dark Black Makeup, a song that has an intelligent depth yet with a distinctive punk attitude. Coinciding with this was the monolithic set from one of the greatest success stories in British rock music, Royal Blood (unfortunately I Had to miss Everything Everything)! You could tell they’d been touring with Foo Fighters, with Mike Kerr’s new found talent for showmanship as he paraded around the stage carrying the huge crowd that he and drummer Ben Thatcher had drawn in the palm of his hand. As can be expected from Royal Blood this was a muscular heavy rock show, with circle pits emerging during the likes of; Little Monster, Loose Change and Come on Over. The best example of the band’s pure fury can be seen in set closer Out of the Black, which showcases the tantalising chemistry between the two band members as they switched up dynamics and sent shockwaves through the main stage crowd, even managing to squeeze in a jam session, performing Black Sabbath‘s Iron Man mid song. A true talent and another act tipped to potentially, one day, headline the festival in the near future! Back over at the NME tent fellow 2014 upstarts Catfish & the Bottlemen had punters heaving outside of the tent for their eagerly anticipated set, flying through all the hits off their successful debut effort, The Balcony. With minimal chat and added singalongs they were very popular amongst the Reading crowds, however somewhat unremarkable in their delivery. A good, yet not spectacular set from the band saw even frontman Van McCan admitting that it was their first show back and that they might be ‘rusty’, however I must concede that they are still a very good festival band and with songs like Kathleen and Homesick, never fail to get a crowd going! Saturday nights headliner was the forever touring Lords of Metal that are Metallica, who unsurprisingly lured an army of black t-shirt  wearing fans to the Main stage for what was promised to be a huge show from the band. Coming onto the music from a Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western film, the scene was set for the epic forthcomings, with the band launching straight into heavy thrash metal classics Fuel and For Whom the Bell Tolls. It was easy to see that Metallica were seasoned headliners, interacting with the crowd throughout and interspersing the gaps between instrument changes with Kirk Hamett’s blistering soloing (possibly one of the best guitarists I’ve ever seen live) and Lars Ulrich’s thundering drumming of which the crowd lapped up. The wet conditions worked well with the band’s apocalyptic stage set and suited the sinister feel of the band’s power ballads such as The Unforgiven and Nothing Else Matters. Frontman James Hetfield is a true showman and worked the crowd throughout, particularly as he eased the band into the massive set closer Enter Sandman, which caused the main stage to erupt into a frenzy, with giant, black inflatable balls being thrown into the audience, alongside a huge firework display. True legends of rock music, this was a masterclass in how to headline a festival, my only question would be, when’s the new material coming?

Sunday began in a slightly quieter fashion than the previous two days, as I instead took the opportunity of the lack of good bands playing early on the Main Stages, by taking in some of the new talent emerging on the Festival Republic stage. Catching a promising run of bands including; Black Honey, The Last InternationaleSundara Karma and Hippo Campus. In particular Black Honeys fuzzy indie guitar riffs and the nimble fretwork of US college rock band Hippo Campus stood out as potential future success stories who could easily move up to an early slot in the NME tent if they manage to produce a successful debut album. Over on the Main Stage, one of the surprisingly low billings was New Jersey born heartland rockers The Gaslight Anthem, who’s heart on sleeve anthems have seen them previously sell out Alexandra Palace. As can be expected they played a high octane set containing some of their biggest hits (45, American Slang and The 59′ Sound), with frontman Brian Fallon beaming out at the large early Sunday morning crowd that had flocked to see his band, in what turns out to be their last show before an indefinite hiatus. This saw the start of a good run on the Main Stage, next up were Wakefield’s own The Cribs, who were playing their 8th Reading Festival and built up a cult following of hardened fans over the years. A band of three brothers, the band were extremely tight and raced through big hitters We Share the Same Skies, Different Angle and Man’s Needs, with in particular Ryan Jarman showing his rock n’ roll antics as he smashed his guitar and amp up during final song Pink Snow before throwing the remains of the guitar into the crowd. The Maccabees also played an important set which showcased their huge rise as one British indie rock’s most loved band after the release of Marks to Prove It, even topping an NME reader’s poll as the best act of Reading and Leeds. Flying through a set of hits from across their four albums, old classics Love You Better, Latchmere went down just as well as newer tracks like Marks to Prove It and set closer Pelican, that prompted one of the bigger singalongs of the weekend. A well tuned guitar act that are going to get even bigger of the back of their latest album. The crushing began just before, Wimbledon born troubadour Jamie T took to the stage, propelled the massive success of comeback album Carry On the Grudge. This was a set many had been anticipating, and he didn’t disappoint with the crowd singing back almost his every lyric, with crowd pleasers in particular coming from Sheila, If You Got the Money, Sticks ‘n’ Stones and the Clash inspired indie punk hit Zombie. Topping off a massive year for Jamie T, which has seen him slay the majority of the country’s biggest festivals, again this is another act tipped to one day headline the Main Stage and based upon his stage persona, big anthems and wild fan base, I can’t see why not! Bizzarely, this run of British indie bands was interrupted by extremely hyped Compton born Rapper Kendrick Lamar, who drew an enormous crowd, and whilst better than last year’s Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, was not really my thing, with a few songs (I in particular) impressing alongside a largely talented backing band, I still can’t take to unnecessary swearing and nonsensical lyrics in songs like Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe and Fuckin’ Problems, for someone who’s prided on his song writing abilities I thought that was quite poor. However, I can see hints of his lyrical prowess in other tracks and his level of performance was far superior to Kanye West’s self indulgent headline slot at Glastonbury. The bigger act of the evening came in the triumphant return of The Libertines, with Pete and Carl and the boys lapping up the applause as they returned to the Reading Main Stage, this time armed with their first material in over a decade. Again, this was highly anticipated affair, as I saw many of the crowd wearing the Red British army jackets often donned by the band, alongside a variety of different Libertines-esque hats. This set had it all, flairs, anthems, circle pits and the reunion of one of British indie’s biggest bands! With all the hits off their first two albums, think Can’t Stand Me Now, The Delaney, Vertigo  and What Katie Did, sitting perfectly alongside new tracks like Gunga Din, this was a set that spanned the ages, with even fan’s favourite unreleased track You’re My Waterloo being aired to rapturous applause. Pete, Carl and especially Gary were on top form, with a typically shambolic on stage persona! The highlight would have to be the undisputed festival anthem that is Don’t Look back Into the Sun, which was personally my favourite moment of the whole festival. The return of the likely lads, was truly spectacular, now I just hope their new album can impress in the same way!

It is quite clear to see that Reading is one of the best festivals around for new music and its atmosphere is unparalleled. A must for music fans new and old and the perfect festival for any first timers. Reading will always be a home to great music and never fails, at least in all four years I’ve attended, to be a spectacular weekend!

Top 12 Bands of the Weekend:

  1. The Libertines
  2. Foals
  3. Jamie T
  4. Metallica
  5. Royal Blood
  6. Peace
  7. Slaves
  8. Mumford & Sons
  9. The Maccabees
  10. Wolf Alice
  11. The Cribs
  12. Drenge
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