Thursday, 27 August 2009

Green Man 2009 Review

The seventh Green Man festival kicked off with Pagan Wanderer Lu’s underwhelming set at the Green Man Pub Stage. The one man band’s lo-fi tunes and oblique humour requires the full attention of an audience, which on this occasion was lacking as the crowd settled in while basking in the glorious sunshine.

Midway through their storming set, Errors frontman Simon Ward mischievously announced that his post-electro band were happy to be back in their ‘spiritual home’ at this most folky of festivals. They provided a perfect serving of dance music with a hearty slab of throbbing bass, a side order of dazzling bleeps and a garnish of glistening electro fuzz that had the youthful front rows of the Far Out Stage in raptures.

In fact, Animal Collective could have taken a few lessons from their Scottish peers, as their vapid performance lacked any concessions to the verve or vibrancy needed to entertain all but their most fervent of admirers. Not even the brilliant-on-record My Girls could fully rouse the ever-thinning main stage crowd, proving beyond doubt that the Baltimore trio’s brand of experimentalism is unsuitable for a festival headline slot.

The anticlimax to Friday’s musical line up could not dampen spirits, however, as many of the 10,000 plus revellers huddled together in the communal bonfire area where they spoke to newly-made friends or sang along to strummed songs around the warmth of the blazing flames, before heading back to their tents for some much needed rest.

Most of the musical highlights were to be had on Saturday, which saw lovely daytime sets from The Leisure Society, Jonny and Blue Roses to name but a few. The latter’s singer Laura Groves has the most delicately beautiful voice this writer has ever heard, and the duo’s vocal harmonies during opening song Greatest Thoughts was sure to give goosebumps to even the most thick-skinned members of the spellbound audience.

The cutest moment of the festival occured when a girl of around two years old tottered to the railing at the front of the Pub stage to show her cuddly toy to singer songwriter Le B who giggled through her words throughout the song. It’s safe to say you won’t see anything like that happen in Reading or Leeds this weekend.

Nor will you have the chance to hear legends such as music journalist Jon Robb or PiL bassist Jah Wobble wax lyrical about their experiences in the music industry. One could have sat in the literature tent all day listening to Wobble’s tales of his time spent with the agent provocateurs of punk in London in the ‘70s, had there not been so many great bands to act as distractions.

Later, Wooden Shjips brought their psych-trance-garage histrionics to the Far Out Stage, then Beach House filled the tent with a delightfully warm ambience, before singer Victoria Legrand joined Grizzly Bear on the Main Stage for an unforgettably stunning rendition of Two Weeks. The band got their performance spot on, including fan favourites such as Lullabye, Knife and On A Neck, On A Spit, which sounded even more gloriously uplifting live. Each member was given equal prominence with the drummer sat under a spotlight stage left, and even the bassist found time to compliment the beautiful surroundings of the Brecon Beacons and pay tribute to cleanliness of the site. How rock’n’roll!

Bon Iver headed up an incredible pairing of bands, performing songs from the much-heralded log-cabin album For Emma, Forever Ago as well as the recent Bloodbank E.P. Justin Vernon’s distinctive, heartbroken vocals caused a hush to fall over the entire field as most of the audience held back the tears, while the others cried like babies. The silence was broken only during Wolves, when the crowd sang ‘What might have been lost’ in unison as the dusk settled and Sugarloaf Mountain became silhouetted in the background. Mesmerising.

I can fully believe that Erol Alkan’s ‘60s inspired after dark DJ set was as good as the witnesses reported on Sunday morning, but I’d passed out by that point through sheer drunken exhaustion.

The final day of music was the least exciting on paper, but there was still plenty to look forward to. Camera Obscura got heads nodding to the excellent French Navy, and it was a pleasure to hear them play on a vastly superior P.A. system than that at Cardiff’s Big Weekend, which buried their lush arrangements and shimmering percussion under a ton of thudding bass. It’s apparent just how little work their producer has to do in the studio, as the songs sound fully realised when played live, but it was disappointing that they omitted the meandering, melancholic ballad James from the show here.

As the night came, Amorphous Androgynous’ singer bounded around stage looking like a loony Jesus to his band’s impressive psych-rock; Unicorn Kid had parents and kids alike dancing to his Tetris tunes, and Joe Gideon & The Shark brought with them gloom and spectacular drumming.

The scene was set for Wilco to close proceedings in style, and they delivered an almost regal performance to justify their position at the head of the folk rock table. Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline’s virtuoso guitar playing transformed the band’s modern classics such as Jesus Etc and Spiders into a soundtrack to the festival in the Beacons’ natural amphitheatre. The band were clearly enjoying themselves as they implored those of us sat on top of the adjacent hill to clap along during their two song encore. A class act.

Then it was time for the festival’s emotional climax, as thousands of bleary pairs of eyes witnessed the Green Man himself, carved from a looming tree in the top field, set ablaze. Fireworks lit the sky as the crowd felt a mixture of awe and sadness, as the Green Man would not be resurrected for another year.

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