Thursday, 16 July 2009

T in the Park 2009

T in the Park 2009, Balado, Scotland
covered for The Skinny

I suggest (if time allows) reading the full coverage over at The Skinny website, for a much broader picture including blurbs by Darren Carle and Chris Buckle. Friday review here, Saturday here and Sunday here.

But here's what I wrote anyway...

T in the Park 2009 was largely pre-billed as "the year T went pop", as if it was totally something else before. Bands that write their own songs and play guitars 'n' that can still be pop bands, of course, but this year the presence of fashionable girlies like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry was supposed to show an ideological side-step. And there was, slightly.

For us, this year's disappointing aspect was how the biggest bands on the Main Stage - Kings of Leon, Razorlight, The Killers, Snow Patrol - sucked up the crowds like a black hole in the middle of the site, to the noticeable detriment of the shows on the eleven other stages. It's great that T is trying to encourage diversity by adding more stages, but how long can that last if the punters continue to gravitate to the same predictable big-hitters instead of trying something different?

It wasn't just the Main Stage, actually, it was more about which artists are on the telly all the time: more people watched Tommy Reilly than Nick Cave or Nine Inch Nails, while the King Tut's tent was half-empty for the Manic Street Preachers but bursting full the next day for The Saturdays. That kind of thing's depressing for musos like us, who've had our lives changed by bands like NIN and can't believe so few others have too; and then we can't even get near the front for a perv of Frankie Sandford. It's just a wee bit outta balance, that's all.

Navel-gazing aside, T in the Park 2009 was brilliant. We saw some fantastic performances from a wide variety of bands on loads of different stages. We drank a lot. And the sun came out, and stayed out, for most of the weekend. There's no better way to spend a weekend than at a music festival with good bands, good friends, beer and sunshine. It ended with an epic set from the newly reunited Blur, an hour-and-a-half late but worth the wait. Sometimes a Main Stage band deserves to swallow up the entire crowd.


An Edwyn Collins gig isn't like a gig for anyone else. Four years ago, the ex-Orange Juice frontman suffered two serious strokes, which he's been slowly recovering from ever since. He can't play the guitar, walks with difficulty, and it takes real effort for him to speak: "I. Am still. Learning. To talk" he tells us, hand clawing forward as if to throw each word out. It's impossible to divorce the context from the performance: this man could easily choose to retreat into a comfortable retirement, but instead he's determined to push himself because he loves playing music. The couple hundred fans here really appreciate the effort; they'd respond rapturously to Falling And Laughing, Rip It Up and A Girl Like You playing on a pub jukebox; to have Edwyn Collins perform them for us is just magical.

13 years since they formed, Camera Obscura finally make it to the Futures Tent. (Well, at least it wasn't the BBC Introducing... stage). Having just released their gorgeous fourth album My Maudlin Career, it's a shame that Camera Obscura are tucked away like this at their own local megafestival. Their performance is tight and professional, and comprises six completely lovable songs, including French Navy and the title track from the new record. They're not the most exciting live band, but with songs like these it doesn't really matter.

We're standing pretty close in for Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but it's still difficult to even hear at times. Their two favourite ballads, first album classic Maps and new album re-write Skeletons, are drawn out and whispered so thinly that the guys tunelessly singing along beside me completely drown out Karen O's vocals. But they can't drown out the pipe band which appears at the end of Skeletons, to inevitable roars from a crowd easily pleased by a pop star merely acknowledging we're not English. New songs Zero and Heads Will Roll are much better, and final song Date With The Night goes down a storm too. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are much better when they're audible.

Nick Cave's headlining set at the second biggest stage - the Radio 1/NME Stage - is watched by a pitifully small crowd, but he shows no reservations or signs of disappointment - he's as ebullient and theatrical as he would be in front of a packed stadium. Red Right Hand, The Weeping Song and There She Goes My Beautiful One are highlights, but it's the pre-encore finale of Stagger Lee that, ahem, staggers me, with a crazy cacophonous climax and blasting lights followed by an extra verse and another screeching, screaming ending. More people needed to see it.


So maybe I'm just too old - I have a beard and have been drinking legally purchased beer after all - but Unicorn Kid's so-called chiptune niche is just Nokia Tuned happy hardcore, right? This being T In The Park, the wee crowd at BBC's Introducing stage is going, going, going fucking mental for 17 year old Oliver Sabin's fairground beats, but that's because they've clearly forgotten an important lesson from history - Bonkers. It's a responsibility of every sanctimoniously minded elder to remind the youth of today of the horrors wrought by Bonkers, lest they occur again. Ten minutes of Unicorn Kid's Jamster Dance is enough to concern any right-minded citizen about this country's future.

It'd be easy to snark on Edinburgh hip-hop trio Young Fathers, if they weren't such endearing live performers. It's the natty synchronised dance moves that do it -- well, the beats are pretty sweet too -- and final track Straight Back On It really gets the crowd going, if only after a bit of on-stage cajoling. There's one definite lull -- a ballad with the line "do you connect to my ringtone?" -- but Young Fathers' party jams do exactly what they want them to do - they ignite a party atmosphere, for a few dozen folk at least. Watch the set here.


It's a bit silly having The Twilight Sad on the BBC Introducing stage - it seems to be the biggest crowd this stage gets all weekend, and no-one is being introduced. From near the back, beyond the roof, the sound swirls out a bit, and the nearby Slam Tent's beats interfere; but I can also see the whole crowd, and how positive and excited everyone is. There's several stunning moments: new single I Became A Prostitute's explosive drum slams; the slow, almost a cappella intro to Cold Days From The Birdhouse bursting into its ascending three-chord maelstrom; James Graham screaming "head up dear, the rabbit might die!" as And She Would Darken The Memory approaches its incredible cacophonous crescendo. With a second album just approaching, it's tempting to feel that The Twilight Sad might be on the verge of something big here: the Futures Tent, beckoning for 2010. Watch the performance here.

(Here's a shot of Andy and James from The Twilight Sad performing an acoustic version of their new single, I Became A Prostitute, in, eh, a tent dressed up like an old fashioned kitchen, in the media bit. Expect the video to be posted to within days.)

Bloc Party's last two albums haven't been as rewarding as their first continues to be, but they do deserve credit for making significant efforts to do interesting things with their sound. Some of the bizarre noises they sneak into their mid-afternoon Main Stage set are quite unsettling, and not what crowds standing here are usually challenged with. A new song, for example, starts with heavy 4/4 Slam Tent beats, a giddy piano riff and a low-slung grooving bassline, very odd in combination but it seems to work. Mercury continues to be divisive, with the hardcore fans near the stage lapping it up while the rest of us get distracted. But of course, no-one's attention wanders during This Modern Love and Helicopter.

"Stay calm, stay calm, stay calm" Adam Thomson sings during Roll Up Your Sleeves, but nobody's staying calm at We Were Promised Jetpacks' early evening T-Break set. Everyone is waving, singing, clapping, cheering, jumping, moshing, climbing on shoulders; the energy in this packed out tent is incredible. Then before Quiet Little Voices, he lies: "This is our only decent song"; it segues straight into an epic Ships With Holes Will Sink, and then Short Bursts keeps up the momentum as blinding lights flash at every cymbal hit. Wow.

The Pet Shop Boys' first ever T In The Park show comes across like a Kraftwerk pastiche at times: the German-language sloganeering, the tinny techno beats, the dancers wearing blocks on their heads like robots. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe know they have no stage presence, so they entertain us with blockheaded dancers and bizarre video wall projections instead. Pet Shop Boys aren't just a singles band but few here know anything other than the big singles: it makes for long spells watching the screen between momentary eruptions for Go West and Always On My Mind, before noticeable numbers trail off for Blur.

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