- 19 Jul 05
It was 'crack open the Factor 40' time as the sun beat down on Oxegen, and some of the biggest names in music entertained the Kildare masses.
We’re desperately seeking Angels of Mons, but cannot, for love nor money, on this whole woefully un-signposted site, find the Ticket Stage. Finally, after much trudging and muttering, we enter a marquee that says ‘The Ticket’ on one side and ‘The Irish Times’ on the other – which turns out, naturally, to be the, er, New Band Stage. Here we find the bubbly, smiley Director, who specialise in a kind of kids’-television early Beatles but with extra McCartney, hold the Lennon, an impression the lads’ jaunty Macca-style head-bobbing does not diminish. That said, it’s only half one in the afternoon and the marquee is stuffed with believers. They don’t need us, so.
We emerge into the dismal grey non-sunlight in search of the Ticket Stage again, but first we have to negotiate the carnival, a blaring, nasty nightmare that’s half cheap-ass Vegas casino, half Dante’s Inferno as painted by Bosch.
Anyway. Let’s ignore this, and let’s ignore, stinking up the Oxegen Stage, the Saw Doctors, currently re-murdering the corpse of ‘Is This The Way To Amarillo?’ and let’s find that blasted Ticket Stage… whoops, it’s not this one either, as football chants of ‘Flog-ging Molly!' suggest, and as the eponymous American speedfreak-ceilidh outfit crank up their opening number and several bare-chested, tricolour-caped young men bound in, whooping, your writer moves equally quickly in the other direction.
Ah, finally, the Ticket Stage – in time for The Departure, the British version of the American version of an, er, classically British type of music that we are now, post-Interpol and The Killers, quite familiar with: there’s razor-wire guitars doing, alternately, ringy things or stabby things, and there’s that peculiarly early-Eighties bring-your-heroin-habit-disco-dancing combination of partyosity and gloom. The Departure come down firmly on the side of celebration, however, and they bang out a glammed-up, barnstorming set, (even if, for now, their influences are obvious and their tunes slightly less so.)
On to another, quite different type of Anglophilia. With their self-deprecating sense of fun and football-chanty boyishness, Kaiser Chiefs are as gorgeously, quaintly English as fish and chips – but if anything, their wonderfully unpretty la-la-la-ing backing vocals and playfully rowdy boy-gang feel, not to mention Ricky Wilson’s sheer unbreakability as a frontman (throwing himself around, plunging into the audience, pogoing maniacally), put you in mind, weirdly, of The Ramones. (‘Oh My God’ is a dirge for when you’ve loved (or played footie) and lost; the agreeably oikish ‘Every Day I Love You Less And Less’ picks a fight without ever descending into thuggery; and a rambunctious ‘I Predict a Riot’, sure enough, sends the crowd mental.)
It’s a good thing we loaded up on fun with the Chiefs, though, because Razorlight are here and we’re gonna need it. We try to not find Johnny Borrell’s Lennon-with-a-head-cold rasp excruciating. We very carefully examine the piano-jittery ‘Golden Touch’ and complainers’ anthem ‘Somewhere Else’ for signs that they might be Great Pop Things after all and not just Eurosaver Britpop sung by an (ostensibly) good-looking youngfella. It doesn’t work.
Much more fascinating is Snoop Dogg, whose backdrop, a B-movie-poster pastiche with bleedy Rocky Horror-style lettering, reads, marvellously, Tales From The Crip. He waddles louchely on, dreds wagging, to the wail of police sirens and the boom of gunfire and the cameras zoom in just in time to film a massive factory-stack belch of opaque grey smoke leaving the Doggfather’s mouth.
“Everybody make some muthafuckin nooooise!” hollers one of Snoop’s several megaphone-voiced height men, as troupes of shimmying ra-ra-skirted dancers, a thumping turntablist, an athletic jazz-rock drummer, backing singers to match your every mood, two enormous, cartoonishly spherical white-clad ‘security’ men and of course the man himself lead us from the classics straight through to brand-new Justin Timberlake collaboration ‘Signs’ (sadly, today sans Justification). Meanwhile, yer man smokes like a train throughout and, by gig’s end, is as woozy as a toddler at Christmas.
Half an hour later at the Main Stage and Queens Of The Stone Age manage to look as impressively monster-regal as they sound: tattooed circus-weightlifter type on drums, black-haired S&M mistress on keys and of course Mr Josh Homme, who delivers a brain-blistering set of old-school, psychedelic, prehistoric rock complete with crunching sixty-foot Tokyo-eating riffology, spooky metal-tastic falsetto bits just like Ozzy used to make and totally unabashed, irony-free, we-have-all-the-time-in-the-world guitar solos (hee!) that, for all their frowning, through-the-looking-glass complexity, float off into the festival afternoon in perfect stoner-rock style. The drug-fucked dark-brown crunk of ‘Feelgood Hit Of The Summer’ feels just as good several summers later, and the new material, including the murky thud of ‘Burn The Witch’, sounds great. ‘You are a beautiful fucking bunch,’ Josh beams. Right back atcha.
When the Queens finish, we can distinctly hear The Bravery’s raffishly eyelinered Moroder-style electro-disco Duranning away on the Ticket Stage, as it’s mere feet behind us. Insanely, it’s nonetheless 20 minutes away on foot. As much as we long to see them, an attempt to cross the site – or, more accurately, to make a ludicrous U-turn, away from it and then towards it again, over bodies and rubbish and through that stupid carnival – is more than your reporter has the stomach for. So we stay where we are and, just in time, The Frames provide a set so lovely it’s impossible to stay cross. Granted, it’s a bit of a predictable one, with no new songs and no surprises, but as the band unspool an emotional ‘Red Chord’ and the bitter and delicious swelter of ‘Dream Awake’, we’re genuinely amazed at what a balm for the soul it is to hear them.
Sometimes you don’t need to talk to communicate. Case in point: Interpol, who utter not a peep for an hour but are the most powerful and transformative thing we witness all day.
When Daniel and singer Paul Banks turn to each other and burst out laughing at the outro of ‘Evil’ as the crowd exuberantly bay “Olé, olé olé olé” at them for no apparent reason, it’s clear the ’Pol are having a special one. “You guys were fucking amazing!” yells Paul at the end, in an uncharacteristic moment of PDA.
In case that wasn’t enough bonhomie, we exit just in time to hear Billie Joe Armstrong issue a friendly wager from the Oxegen Stage: if someone can crowd-surf all the way up to the front, they can join Green Day on guitar. A punter is duly passed arm over arm and deposited before him… and turns out to be a smallish teenage girl; she indeed joins the ’Day and plays the guitar so well Billie Joe lets her keep it. “Awww,” he coos – and then, before you get out your hankies or anything, he bawls, bloodcurdlingly: “Now get off my fuckin’ stage!”, gives her a shove and crash-lands into ‘Basket Case’. Well, it is a rock festival.
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