Tanya Sweeney rounds up Saturday evening
Live reviews of PJ Harvey, Orbital, Elbow, N.E.R.D and Kings of Leon
The Hot Press Newsdesk, 11 Jul 2004
Orbital are certainly up against the greats this evening, but their last ever Irish show simply cannot be missed. There is an overwhelming sense of occasion in the Green Room tent, which is packed to the rafters with people eager to wave goodbye to a small part of their youth.
More often than not, electronic music is clinical - a triumph of sonic innovation over emotion - but not tonight. Phil and Paul Hartnoll previously promised a spectacular send-off, and with their delivery of heart-stopping performances of ‘Satan’, ‘Chime’ and ‘Halcyon’, they are staying true to their word. In a way, it’s almost difficult to comprehend why the brothers Hartnoll are turning their backs on such alchemy. Unlike many electronic acts they appear to treat every dot, click and loop of their music with care and affection, punching the air occasionally as if to emphasise the point of each pulsating beat. Their music is a perfect throwback to 1990’s hedonism – hell, we’re indoors, and people are smoking.
They even manage a wry stab at electro-clash, cannily splicing Belinda Carlisle’s ‘Heaven is A Place On Earth’ with The Darkness’ ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’. The set is joyous and bittersweet, an evening where two average brothers from middle England finally become true superstar DJs.
As is ever the case at an Orbital gig, there’s little else to do but dance with childlike abandon and party like it’s 1999 (as it were). Already, the world is a much bleaker place without them.
A few years ago, protocol decreed that it was decidedly naff to watch pop acts at a music festival, one might think that crowd would be composed largely of curious onlookers eager to get an eyeful of Pharrell Williams (before heading off to get an earful of The Strokes), but N.E.R.D. have amassed quite an evangelical following of their own. In Williams’ words, “You guys sure know how to make a fucker feel welcome”. By late evening, the Punchestown site is less of a racecourse and more like a war-zone, and their unique brand of ghetto fabulousness serves as welcome relief.
In fact, N.E.R.D., with their pristine army garb and diamond earrings that can be seen from the Japanese Noodle bar, are quintessential superstars; paragons of pop perfection. Admittedly, their infectious brand o f sassy, accomplished pop doesn’t exactly blow the encrusted dirt off my trousers, but as far as hip-hop euphoria goes, N.E.R.D can more than hold their own. Their set is a refreshing, energetic antidote to the unending succession of rock acts, and for that alone we must be grateful.
As dusky, post-rainstorm evenings go, you couldn’t wish for a better soundtrack. It’s often difficult to achieve a real sense of intimacy at a festival, but Bury’s finest manage the feat with true elan. Mercifully, Elbow’s set is both relentlessly bracing and uncommonly solemn, as Guy Garvey and his cohorts transport their adoring crowd to a world away from the chaos and grottiness of the festival site. They certainly mean business tonight, and have even drafted in vocalists and violinists to recreate the ethereal, inspirational qualities of their two albums. ‘Fugitive Motel’ is a calm, plaintive moment, and during ‘Grace Under Pressure’, Garvey makes for an unlikely, stubbled choirboy throughout. ‘Newborn’ is certainly a high point, and builds from a heartfelt song to an apocalyptic-sounding climax. Surely greatness on a global scale beckons; inexplicably, Elbow remain one of rock’s most criminally underrated talents.
Kings Of Leon
After a rather soggy afternoon, Kings of Leon take to the stage and, in an inspired sense of timing, the clouds finally break to reveal a calm, sunny evening. Kings Of Leon’s New Band Stage set were arguably the ‘hidden treasure’ act of last year’s Witness festival, the band that only a few privileged revellers managed to catch, so it comes a little surprise to find them occupying the Main Stage this year. Their ‘upgrade’ is wholly justified, and fortunately their knack for a rip-roaring riff translates just as readily to the open-air crowd as it does in an enclosed tent. Nathan Followill’s recent injury has done little to dampen spirits in camp KOL, and the freshly-shaven outfit deliver a spiky, up-tempo set which is spiked with Southern discomfort. From the melancholic calm of ‘Wicker Chair’ to the shambolic sounds of ‘Red Morning Light’, Kings Of Leon do what they do with little pomp or ceremony, but they manage to hit the spot nonetheless. Calb Followill certainly has questionable sense in eyewear – maybe he should have gone to Specsavers…
Generally speaking, each festival boasts a majestic set that will be spoken of in bars, rehearsal rooms and offices across Ireland for months to come, and this year’s crown already belongs to the much loved Polly Jean Harvey. Delivering a career spanning set punctuated with such favourites as ‘Dress’, ‘A Perfect Day Elise’, ‘Big Exit’, and ‘Good Fortune’, PJ Harvey’s evocative on-stage presence is truly something to behold. She is a powerhouse of emotion and visceral rage wrapped in a sinewy, delicate frame, her guttural performances punctuated by her delicate, Home Counties-accented banter. Simply put, festival performances don’t come much better or more evocative than this.