The Reading/Leeds double festival extravaganza hits the UK at the end of August each year. For those who don't know, the two festivals happen at the same time just outside their respective cities, sharing the same lineup over three days (though obviously in different orders). While painfully and increasingly filled with unending hordes of 16-year-olds having their first drink, drug and rape-filled weekends away from home, the Lockup (punk) Stage and a few bright sparks on the main stage provide enough worthwhile material for a review on this site--despite appearances by the Axl Rose show (under the banner of "Guns âN Roses") and various indie-dance flavours of the week.
After a Thursday of mud and beer, the festival site was surprised by the appearance of genuine sunshine on Friday morning. The Lockup lineup included a more-than-usual number of questionable bands (Civet...), so the first band I ended up seeing were Static Thought--decent enough but lacking any real charisma or individuality.
Next, however, were Long Island's This Is Hell, a band I feel are massively underrated (see my review of their latest full-length). They work and tour hard, playing fast, heavy hardcore with a strong thrash influence and heaps of energy, yet seem to draw less and less people at club shows whenever I see them. Their Reading set consisted mainly of new stuff, with a couple songs off Sundowning thrown in, and considering the barrier and large amount of space, I think they pulled it off pretty well: first circle pit of the day (though at times dwindling to just myself and a couple of others), and enough of a sweat worked up to catch NOFX on the main stage.
Though they've become more of a nostalgia band for many, NOFX were in fine form, racist jokes and "Stickin' in My Eye" included. It's amazing how effortless these guys make it seem, slipping from reggae jam to offensive banter to breakneck punk in the space of five minutes.
Strike Anywhere were finishing up on the Lockup as we moved back for beer and food--they had a sizable pack of fans singing along, but the spacious crowd highlighted the problem with medium-level punk bands at this festival. The barrier and huge stage dilute a good part of the energy, particularly when these guys are used to filling up clubs during normal tours.
Towards evening, however, Sick of It All were absolutely incredible! I'd never seen them before, but holy crap were they heavy, angry, and got the crowd going. Fantastic atmosphere in the pit too--aggressive, but not violent, even during the infamous wall of death.
Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said for closers Alkaline Trio, who suffered from terrible sound and a poor selection of songs, as well as numerous dicks in the crowd presumably unwilling to commit during the preceding NYHC overlords, but more than willing to help ruin Alkaline Trio for the rest of us.
Overall a pretty good day, though by no means legendary--the cavernous punk tent and inconsistent lineups being the main problems. Saturday and Sunday remained to make this year's Reading truly memorable for fans of decent music.
3 Songs of the Day:
- This Is Hell: "Shadows"
- NOFX: "Stickin' in My Eye"
- Sick of It All: "Scratch the Surface"
In terms of lineup, Saturday represented possibly the best of the three Reading days--choices had to be made and I ended up missing several acts, most notably Frank Turner, because of clashes in the day's schedule.
Mystery Jets, an indie-ish band I hadn't heard but who one of my friends recommended, opened the day with inoffensive and danceable summer pop. Not really my thing, but they did what they do well before the disappointment of the Gaslight Anthem. Yes, they're an amazing band; yes, I've seen them before and loved it; but the guitar sound was completely absent for this set--all that could be heard were bass, drums and Brian's unusually strained voice as he struggled to address the huge open-air crowd rather than the far better and more appreciative NME tent of last year. It was so bad I didn't even recognize "Old White Lincoln" until halfway through it.
Hoping for something of a pick-me-up, I headed to the Lockup for Paint It Black's Reading debut. Now, even though I see these guys as being up there with This Is Hell, Blacklisted and Gallows in terms of my favourite recent hardcore acts, they in particular seemed to suffer from the lack of crowd interaction and stage dives. Dan Yemin really went for it at first, coming down to the barrier for a brief sing-along, but mostly looked slightly awkward and isolated on stage. Musically they were on top form, though, with classics like "CVA" played alongside their amazing new material like "Sacred," "Salem" and the slower, bass-heavy "Bliss."
And this is when I made my error of the weekend: going back to the tent with the guys to drink more, convinced that the next band, the Rats, were unworthy of my attention. By the time I was back for Cancer Bats, they informed the crowd that this had in fact been UK legends Gallows. Heavy and amusing though the âBats were, the feeling of missing Frank Carter and crew took a fair bit away from it. Then again, how miserable can you really be when a band introduces its last song by screaming: "WE'RE THE MOTHERFUCKING CANCER BATS, AND THIS SONG IS CALLED 'HAIL DESTROYER'!!!"? Plus, they hinted at another unannounced guest to come, owing to the pulling out and breaking up of Crime in Stereo earlier in the year (who would have played right after PIB).
Hopeful and restless, the wait seemed unbearable until NOFX's trademark tiny banner appeared above the stage--the night was genuinely becoming something very special. The Californian jokers played the best show I've seen them do--"The Decline," complete with Frank Turner (who looked as if he felt 15 again!) being an unbeatable highlight.
Just when it didn't seem possible to improve on, headliners Bad Religion showed us all why they've been able to do this for 30 years and counting. A lengthy, pounding set spanning their entire career, the elder statesmen of modern punk gave a lesson to up-and-coming bands as well as making more "famous" oldies like the Offspring seem tired and irrelevant now. Highlights included "American Jesus," "New Dark Ages" and a Fat Mike-assisted "21st Century Digital Boy"--brilliant, inspiring, and a fantastic close to the weekend's second day.
3 Songs of the Day:
- Paint It Black: "Bliss"
- NOFX: "The Decline"
- Bad Religion: "American Jesus"
It's questionable whether even mentioning Sunday review is really necessary--the Lockup stage becomes the dance stage and generally halves any enjoyment to be had. The main stage, however, showed off a few hidden gems as heavy hangovers began to set in.
The King Blues, who I'd heard of but never listened to beforehand, got the crowd going surprisingly early in the day, their ska/folk/punk hybrid sound a hit with anyone within listening distance.
The increasingly serious Thrice were up next, and besides hearing the usual complaints about no pre-Artist in the Ambulance material, no Alchemy Index stuff, etc., from some guys behind me, I thought they pulled off newer material incredibly well. A few classics were thrown in and it's kinda hard to dance/go crazy for a song like "Beggars," but overall they gave an interesting and energetic performance.
The sun stayed out and the drinking continued until the infamous return of Limp Bizkit to regular touring and general existence. Just so those reading understand: I am entirely aware of how ridiculous Mr. Durst and his merry men are, how banal and irrelevant their simplistic rap-metal hybrid was even in their heyday, and how they stand for seemingly everything I oppose and despise in music and life. But "Rollin'" and "My Generation" sound like the coolest things ever when you're drunk in the sun! Plenty of questionable-aged (read: underaged) breasts were on show for their closing song (and George Michael cover) "Faith," adding to the guilty-pleasure appeal of the whole performance.
Longstanding hip-hop act Cypress Hill kept the good feelings going with less guilt--certainly no one objected to hearing "Insane in the Membrane" so many years after the group started out.
However, all Sunday's acts turned out to be only a prequel to what was easily the day's best band, Weezer. Rumours I've heard in various places (including this very website...) portray Weezer as a dull and limp live act, but this impression was nowhere to be found here. Opting for a greatest hits-style set, a barrage of "Beverly Hills," "Hash Pipe" and even a cover of "Teenage Dirtbag" amped up an already euphoric Rivers Cuomo, who leaped and ran about the stage, infecting everyone with a need to dance and enjoy themselves. Unforgettable.
Sadly, this made final act Blink-182 seem somewhat tired in comparison. Yeah, I liked them back in the day, and hearing "Dammit" and "All the Small Things" was pretty cool, along with a drum solo from Travis Barker as his platform flipped over. But Tom Delonge was clearly wasted from whatever he'd taken/drank beforehand, and the band's general sloppiness detracted a little from the joy of seeing them reunited.
3 Songs of the Day:
- Limp Bizkit: "Rollin'"
- Weezer: "Beverly Hills"
- Blink-182: "Dammit"
2010's Reading had a hell of a lot of brilliant moments, plenty of amazing bands and a pretty good atmosphere throughout. Yeah, there were disappointments and a couple of lower points, but these were quickly offset by the wealth of memorable performances. However, this does beg the question regarding how this many decent bands could be present next year, and whether the increasingly priced tickets are really worth it...