9 Jun 2015

Field Day Sunday : the review

Field Day, as I've said time and time again has the most amazing line-up this year. It had loads of my favourite bands, cost £40 for it's best day, and it was only a few tube stops from London Waterloo, Liverpool Street or Victoria. Too good to be true? I went on a bit of a field trip to find out, 100% totally purely for, umm, your enjoyment - here's my rambly, over-excited, highly personal review of Field Day.

So I got to the festival for doors, and it was definitely the right day for it - one of the hottest days of the year so far, the kinda temperature that you could actually almost be persuaded to pay near a tenner for some sun cream and a fiver for a pint. And the door security people were quite welcoming too - they didn't ask for ID (making me question why I paid £15 extra to fasttrack a citizen card) - and they were certainly polite individuals, which was a refreshing change from the past few festivals I'd been to.

So the day - my day - at least began with the explosive US trio Ex Hex - who were watched eagerly by DIIV. Immediately the riotous grrls exploded to life with cuts off of their debut album Rips, which meant that they certainly had a fantastic body of work to belt out - You Fell Apart, Don't Wanna Lose and Beast all highlights. The band were a bit on the rigid side at the start, but by the end of the set, the two frosty cool be-sun-spectacled frontwomen Mary Timony and Betsy Wright had so much chemistry and a really electric stage presence, really kicking off Field Day in style.

Photo: Ben Bentley/NME

This set was maybe followed by the two most unspectacular Field Day sets I saw; Beach Baby's scuzzy Wavvesian fuzz rock was entertaining for a good few songs, but maybe soon enough their blissed out #vibes wore a bit thin. Following that was my first main stage venture; Vapour Trail favourites Eagulls had got their big Field Day break playing to a fairly large crowd. However, although it sounded as though their new material is something to look forward to, their sound was so badly mixed, and their arrangement was so messy that the edge that made them one of my favourite bands of last year was gone. The 'gulls were about as edgy as the satsuma, and whilst that could have definitely been prevented by better mixing (s2g their sound was 90% drums), their set was the worst I've ever seen the Leeds noisemongers.

Whilst Eagulls are the opposite of the perfect summer band, they were followed by someone who are pretty much the sound of the summer, every summer. DIIV haven't played a UK show since they totally blew my mind at Latitude 2013, which really meant that this DIIV show had been 2 years in the making for me. DIIV's set was made mostly out of new songs from their forthcoming album, Is the is are; most of them formulaic yet formidable that were very much all you've heard before by this band - their summery, accessible breed of shoegaze guitars were combined with a new keys section and whilst it was verging on messy and boring at the beginning of the set, when DIIV really got into their groove they were something to behold. Electric versions of Wait and How Long Have You Known? from their first album were fantastic in a live environment, but the highlights was one of the untitled new songs, which is as yet untitled, but an early version can be found here on youtube. Maybe the musical tightness of DIIV, though, was loosened slightly by Cole Smith's on stage chit chat, which was sort of as follows - "Hey we're DIIV and we're from New York City this a new song" [plays song] "Hi everybody we're called DIIV and this is a new song" [plays song] "We're called DII-" - which went on between every single song during the set; in fact, he even said it during the middle 8 of Wait. I can't work out if it's cool or not, but by the time Cole said that they had indeed been DIIV before closing with Doused, I couldn't help but laugh at the whole affair; maybe they're not quite 'voice of the generation' that Zachary Cole Smith thinks they could be, but if they lose the slimey bigoted bass player they could be such a great musical force.

After this, I nipped off to get some food and rejoined for the most of Mac DeMarco, whose slacker beach rock seemed to really capture the crowd. He's basically the golden boy of indie rock, and whilst the music's kind of woozy 3 minute song after 3 minute song that would be forgettable by anyone else, but DeMarco's charismatic enough to encapsulate one of the biggest crowds of the day; Annie and Viceroy off of his 2 album were particular highlights of a crowdsurfing, bombastic set. Meanwhile part time space-rock songwriter part time goddess Jane Weaver was psyching out the Moth Club stage, and so so worth leaving Mac DeMarco for. Her band were dressed in all black, and amongst the day's most talented musicians of the day, accompanying Jane's enigmatic presence with some of the coolest space-rock sounds imaginable. It was Jason Pierce's musical wet dream accompanied by one of the most beautiful, celestial voices in music today.

From here though, Field Day came into it's own; Patti Smith's band performing Horses was up next, and it was, quite simply, perfect. Patti, high priestess of punk rock, was a complete woman possessed throughout, and just the most incredible stage presence. Fairly obviously, she started with a soulful rendition of Gloria before working her way through the rest of the album; she grooved around to Redondo Beach, and slightly fluffed the start to epic poem Birdland forcing the remark "I do nothing perfect, I only fuck up perfect". After that though, Patti absolutely turned up the gas, Free Money was a vicious snarl that left everyone blown away, and whilst Kimberly and Break It Up were every bit as perfect as they are on that seminal, seminal album, the absolute highlight came as Patti belted her way through Land - she snarled the hook of "HORSES! HORSES! HORSES!", before the song ended with a smashing, all conquering reprisal of Gloria. The final song of Horses, she dedicated to the many beautiful, liberating musical forces that have passed on; Joe Strummer, Joey Ramone, Johnny Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone, Robert Mapplethorpe, Fred 'Sonic' Smith and, of course, Lou Reed - Elegy was a beautiful, tear jerker, and the huge crowd were left speechless. She took a bow with the most part of her original band, and finished with a few of her other great songs - Because The Night among them, before ending the show with a cataclysmic rendition of The Who's My Generation. And unlike The Who, she sang it with real conviction (missing out the 'Hope I die before I get old' lyric), really rocking loud and fast, and just plain furious. As Patti grabbed a beautiful blue strat, lay down a bit of thrashy soloing, and then tore the strings off one by one, it dawned on me that The Who are literally headlining Glastonbury, whilst Patti's on a smaller stage lower down the bill? Seriously Glasto, get a grip. Patti Smith's Field Day set was one of the single greatest things I'd ever seen, and if anything was headline material, the eternal genius that is Patti Smith is.

But Patti finished, and an hour wait was go! Maybe the longest hour of my life, sonically accompanied by DJ duo Beyond the Wizard's sleeve, maybe most famous in indie circles for doing a remix album of Temples' Sun Structures that was 10000x better than the lackluster original.

And then, an hour after the legendary Patti Smith Group left the stage, a band deserving of just as legendary a tag walked on. Ride, dressed mostly in black, understated clothes, holding sexy, overstated guitars, walked on to the rolling organ sample that opens up Leave Them All Behind. The freshly reunited Oxford four-piece launched into an all-consuming, planet-shifting version of their 1992 single that saw most the crowd singing back - considering Ride basically don't really sing about a lot, Leave Them All Behind is one hell of a mission statement. As the band powered through the ten minute masterclass, they genuinely looked so overwhelmed and so grateful for the huge amount of support they were getting. LTAB was followed by 3 minute power pop blast, and with that, the huge main stage crowd went from singing back every word loud to losing themselves; and the crowd was such a good mix of passionate young fans and old veterans that saw Ride five or six times 'back in the day'.

When I interviewed Mark Gardener a year or so ago, one of my confused fanboy questions was whether the songs on Nowhere named after animals were deliberately done so... whilst I obviously wasn't quite thinking straight for questions, because the two songs aren't really in any way connected, Polar Bear and Seagull were ripped through back to back next, Polar Bear showing off majestic, serene psych band Ride, and Seagull showcased the bands roaring Sonic Youth sounds and absolutely scouring pedal-driven noise. Sure, the majestic sound Ride had 20 years ago sounds just as beautiful today, but really, they're at their best when they're really, really going for it. Black Nite Crash, Time of her time and Taste were mid-set highlights that got the passionate crowd really going, whilst sounding cleaner and more aggressive than their album counterparts.

The reason though, for me, that Ride's comeback shows have got such acclaim, is the sonic development on a few of their songs. With the technological innovations (well, new pedals, and stuff - when I saw them in Oxford, Mark, Steve & Andy had over 50 between them) that weren't there in 1990, songs like Dreams Burn Down take on an even more aquatic, spaced out quality that makes standing there listening to them being like standing in the sea on a hot summer's day. DIIV and the like might be going for that sound, but Ride are the masters of it.

The song that got the best reaction, maybe obviously though, was the eternally perfect glacial pop song Vapour Trail, which is really the closest to a Smells Like Teen Spirit or Love Will Tear Us Apart that Ride have. When they played it, grown men cried, and grown women cried, and uhhh, there weren't really any children there because it was 18+, but they'd have cried too. It's beautiful chord progression and Andy Bell's delicate little voice meant that even Field Day goers who'd maybe been checking Ride out and hearing them for the first time were stood in absolute awe.

Ride completely gripped the audience all the way through, time zipped by quickly, but they were at their most enthralling at the very end. Drive Blind is a banger anyway, but in a live environment, it takes on a beautiful Swans-esque holocaust section that is a 5 minute blast of gorgeous white noise. It's an absolute extreme of what guitars can do, and even in the open air it sounded beyond amazing. "That's dedicated to the Valentines", noise-monger in chief Andy Bell added after the song, before the band quickly broke into penultimate song, Going Blank Again album track Mouse Trap. The band closed their triumphant headline set with the track that really started it all; track 1 side 1 on their debut EP, and song 16 of 16 at Field Day, Chelsea Girl's thumping Steve Q bassline, extreme pedal-power, and some of Loz Colbert's finest drumming made it a stunning close; starting like a bit of a jangle-pop footnote, it spiralled out of control as Andy and Mark's guitars stepped it up a gear and the entirety of Victoria Park was awash in a blanket of thrashy reverb. It build up, and up, until after it's fuzzy climax, when the noise faded away, and Mark Gardener remarked "this has been one of the best shows of our lives, thank you so much" (or something like that), and the Oxford band walked off full of gratitude to the cheers of an elated crowd. Following Patti was a tough act, obviously, but instead of making me wanna go 'oooh Patti was best! No Ride were!' I've just come to the conclusion that the last 4 hours were the best four hours of my life.

Photo: Getty

SO YES, Field Day was an absolute triumph; it felt like an actual festival, and the sound was mostly spot on all weekend. Although the clashes were heartbreaking, I can't explain my gratitude to Field Day Fest for bringing me this oppurtunity to see Ride and Patti Smith and DIIV and Mac and Jane and all the rest. All the best guitar music in the world, in one place, for a reasonable price. Thank you Field Day, thank you.

On a final note: Who was best? Here's a highly scientific graph to show you my sorta thoughts