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Electric Picnic 2008: Sunday

My Bloody Valentine, Grinderman and Sinead O'Connor all star on Sunday, but the abiding question remains: were the Sex Pistols any good?

Ruraidh Conlon O'Reilly, 01 Sep 2008

In more sedate times, Stradbally would be woken by church bells of a Sunday morning. Pity the poor campers, then, who awoke to a My Bloody Valentine soundcheck. The day is a scorcher and finally, finally, finally the atmosphere arrives to match the occasion.

The perennial Dublin Gospel Choir provide spiritual cornflakes first thing on the main stage, with ‘Oh Happy Day’ and ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ lifting the mood. The excellent Dublin Big Band are to be found off the beaten track in the IMC World stage. With repertoire from John Coltrane and Count Basie it’s perfect Sunday afternoon music, further improved when the band leader encourages us to “enjoy the Sex Pistols.”

Adrian Crowley and Mark Geary present their singer-songwritery wares, before the sexed-up New York groove of Hercules and Love Affair in the Electric Arena brightens up affairs.

“This is going to be a soft, gentle set… I hope it’ll make up for a lot of the stressful music you’re gonna hear later” says Sinead O’Connor, backed by a guitarist and keyboardist. Sensibly closing with ‘Nothing Compares 2U’, the singalong is mighty. Then it’s over to the main stage for Michael Franti and Spearhead, a feel-good performance set against the backdrop of two fingers giving the peace sign. Relentlessly entertaining, Franti takes on ‘Pass The Dutchie’ and leaves thousands smiling.

Krautrockers Faust embody a different brand of crowd interaction though. Kicking into an industrial dirge that hardly ever lets up, things plod along in the same vein before, very suddenly, all hell breaks loose. A chainsaw is produced, and sparks begin to fly as it meets the metal of an old oil drum. There are two huge canvasses onstage, and Dulux is applied liberally. Jean-Hervé Péron tosses bundles of cut grass into the front rows, and chucks a slab of Kingspan insulation in there too. This may be the “stressful music” Sinead O’Connor had warned us about.

Grinderman, in their own rock and roll way, are no less frantic. Essentially fronting a stripped down Bad Seeds, the unstoppable Nick Cave is matched by the lunatic energy of Warren Ellis, who repeatedly smashes cymbals with a pair of maracas. ‘No Pussy Blues’ is deranged – as is all of their set, save for the poignant but no less twisted ‘Man On The Moon’. “That was the last Grinderman show for a while”, says Cave, but relents for a surprise encore of Bad Seeds standard ‘Tupelo’.

The earplugs are handed out for My Bloody Valentine (pictured). We don’t get much more from Kevin Shields than “hi” and then that enormous vicious wall of white noise, but that’s ok. It is a different beast to their earlier reunion shows: the setting less controlled, the occasion not as unique. Up close it’s an impossible feat of endurance, and those who are out of their depth are easily spotted. The middle of the tent, though, is where the music shimmers and the light show makes sense. There is no compromise whatsoever here: no effort at showmanship, no sense of the festival. Opener ‘When You Sleep’ begins the onslaught, and much of Loveless is aired. ‘Only Shallow’ is a savage gem: “I’ve waited sixteen years to hear that song live,” shouts one punter, finger in ears. The wings of the stage tell another story: from Grinderman to Louis Walsh, a lot of people have waited sixteen years to hear that song live.

Why leave early? To go from one nostalgia trip to another. The Sex Pistols’ main stage headliner is a triumph of farce over festival spirit. Arriving onstage to ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’, they open with a pisstake country bumpkin version of ‘Pretty Vacant’ before the real deal hits like a bomb: Steve Jones’s guitar sound is immense and the whole band is on the money. Court jester Johnny Rotten, dressed like a military Big Bird in camouflage attire, provokes and insults an audience there to be entertained rather than confronted. Swigging from a bottle of brandy, you either get it or you don’t: mooning the crowd is either an act of defiant nonconformist brattishness or a joke fallen on deaf ears. Bottles are thrown, giving Rotten the opportunity to harangue the crowd further, walking off on two occasions.

No matter. That’s all part of the occasion, all part of the deal that allows a band who released their only album in 1977 come along 31 years later and headline a festival. They run through the hits and covers from ‘Holidays In The Sun’ through ‘No Fun’ and beyond ‘God Save The Queen’. They sound great.

Yes, but is it a great spectacle or complete rubbish? Oddly, it’s both. It’s the cheesy pantomime you can’t help but watch, with Rotten cast as the villain. Who’s the hero? Perhaps the audience. A weekend spent at the midpoint of infinity is tiring, and after three days’ revelry their faces bear the mark of happy exhaustion. The abiding, abhorrent memory? Johnny Rotten’s backside beaming over thousands of pogoing people stuck between love and hate.

Five years of Electric Picnic. Five years at the midpoint of infinity. Here's to five more.

Check out our reports from Friday and Saturday.

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