Wednesday, March 16, 2011



When there is such a high level of expectation around a band and a festival there is a lot of room to fall, but The Hold Steady entertain no such notions. Blasting a gapless, breathless rush of smart and verbose punk rock, the band pack so much energy into the music that frontman Craig Finn comes across like Woody Allen if Allen had dabbled in brilliant punk rock instead of respected jazz clarinet. Though most of the incredibly dense lyrics are lost, the sheer thrill of songs like Hot Soft Light, Sequestered in Memphis and the twin guitar attack of Rock n Roll Problems seal the deal that this will be one of the shows of the festival.

If watching Airbourne is like watching Jersey Shore (as one punter accurately notes), then watching Wavves is akin to watching a reality TV show. Will he lose it this week? Will he argue with the crowd, his band or both? As it turns out the recipients of Nathan Williams bitter ennui are an overly aggressive security guard, the sound guy and ‘fucking grasshoppers’. Opening with So Bored and King of the Beach before continuing to get mopey about California and being young, the brilliant low-fi haze of his recordings is lost live, and the songs become more mechanisms for eliciting a steady stream of bodies across the crowd barrier. Job done.

Possibly the band most people are most excited for Belle and Sebastian prove that plane fares for a twelve-strong band plus crew is not wasted with a complete blinder of a set. Though meek in voice, Stuart Murdoch is anything but on stage, careering along the front row, crowd-surfing, high-fiving and kinetically expressing his joy at playing. With a set that’s heavy on If You’re Feeling Sinister and The Life Pursuit plus a version of Kinks’ Victoria that gets everyone on side, they are a perfect match of venue, songs and audience, even if certain tough-looking musicians occasionally yelp and flinch at an unexpected insect landing on them.

Landing a pressure-heavy 9PM slot on the last day is Architecture in Helsinki who choose to return from a yearlong absence with a new look and new songs. Unsurprisingly, it all goes brilliantly and the new look; white suits and tails with blue sparkly bow ties matches their mid-80s lightweight electro-pop perfectly. Mixing in crowd-amping new versions of old favourites, it’s the new songs that really impress. Deep Down will be all over the radio and in charts before the year’s out, while the titles Escapee and Desert Island won’t mean much now but are songs that are sure signs the band are stronger than ever and their forthcoming album is something to hanker for.

While Hawkwind were fascinating from a ‘how will they do it?’ angle (the answer is they don't, with robotic dancing girls on stilts and overlooking your classic single), World’s End Press take that awkward 2AM-after-the-headliner-slot and run it into the ground. Earning deafening vocal love and several hundred elevated shoes partway through their blinding single Faithful, W.E.P are a bizarre beast. One misstep and their blend of 80s beats, flailing dance moves, sparkling lamé and rubbery basslines would come crashing down, but their sheer energy, sincerity and undeniable conviction means they become an unlikely high point of a festival whose success is largely based on familiar acts playing familiar songs in a familiar setting.

While that’s essential to a certain degree, this year’s Golden Plains was one full of surprises, the most welcome of which was the programming; eclectic, complimentary and almost impossibly, without a dud. From Graveyard Train’s piercing cry of ‘Wake the fuck up Golden Plains!’ as they redefine the role of opening Day Two, to the micro-second thought process written on hundreds of faces as ‘who’s Imelda May?’ turns to ‘holy shit this is awesome!’ the only sensible reaction is; ‘Golden Plains, you clearly know what you’re doing, please carry on.’

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