Glastonbury 2010. The tap-boom of flying beach balls, tents sprinkled on to distant hillsides, baying, expectant fans.
Daunting for most; for shy Laura Marling, two years ago, it would have been unthinkable. But at this year's festival she flew through it like a much-needed breeze. Critical success gives you wings. Marling's appearance was just another waypoint in the endless cycle of British musicians breaking through, becoming accepted and then lionised.
A man proposed to his girlfriend during Marling's set, prompting the singer to relay an anecdote about another, previous proposal, at one of her gigs. In doing so she rose above the safety of burying herself in her performance; something moving – most of the songs played came from her appropriately-titled album I Speak Because I Can – became unforgettable.
So much of Glastonbury 2010 depended on experience, charisma, programming and luck. A power failure can dent a fledgling band's confidence and leave them reeling, as may happen with Sunderland four-piece Field Music. Their technical jitters, through no fault of their own early on in their set, sent capricious fans away. We Are Scientists' comedy skills raised them above the hum-drum. Meanwhile, choose experimental over popular and it could cost you, as Gorillaz learned to their chagrin (despite the criticism they attracted, they were still vastly better than the majority of acts playing).
A festival the size of Glastonbury – maximum capacity 177,500, making it temporarily the third biggest "city" in the south west – cannot fail to have something to interest most parties. It is something of a cliché in Britain to talk about the weather, but so much of the festival was defined by incessant rays. It began with optimistic blue skies, which soon became oppressive. By the time Sunday came around, clouds began to materialise; moods were lifted, frazzled, and fizzled out. From then on it was up to the talent to shine. In this regard, some of the risks paid off. Festival stalwarts delivered a mixed bag; music emanating from England seemed often the least interesting.
Critics looked to the John Peel and Queen's Head stages for decent new material. Northern Irish hopefuls Two Door Cinema Club, on Thursday, kicked off with tracks from their debut album, Tourist History, including "What You Know", "Eat That Up It's Good for You" and "Undercover Martyn". Despite their geeky image, the band has won plaudits from Kanye West – look what that did for Mr Hudson – and their songs never venture above three minutes in length. That's perfect for people with thousands of choices, underlined by their promising beginning: lyrics included, "Let's make this happen girl/ You're going to show the world that something good can work." Away from metropolitan office life, such sentiments seemed temporarily credible.
Egyptian Hip Hop, meanwhile, four wide-eyed Mancunian hopefuls tipped in the BBC Sound of... poll earlier in the year, are comparable to Klaxons and Battles. Their sun-dappled guitar sound flooded the Queen's Head Stage; funky backbeats toasted an enthusiastic audience freshly arrived, who gave them a pivotal portion of their day.
But Local Natives, playing the same evening, towered above them. Enlivening the soft-focus melancholy of their recorded work, the band's empowering, folksy harmonies wowed a capacity crowd in the first of two performances, the initial one at the Queen's Head Stage. One of the hits of last year's SXSW, they are heavily indebted to Fleet Foxes, though their intimacy loses nothing through segues up-tempo and the frenetic rocking back and forth of lead singer, Taylor Rice. It was something shared by The National.
Those holding fast to robust profiles included Miike Snow, who shone with anonymous pizazz – until the masks slipped. It's clichéd, but seemed to work: the band sneaked out on stage wearing white masks on their faces and identical black jackets before taking them off in an extravagant flurry. The reveal was a highlight; the sophistication of the team – Andrew Wyatt, and the producing team of Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg, tipped by sometime collaborator Mark Ronson last year – sweetened what could otherwise honk of curdling milk.
Hot Chip's live set, with its beatsy, fuller sound, at least compared to their recorded work, steadily matures. Despite a crowd sapped by the surprise appearance of Thom Yorke in a competing field – he did something similar at Latitude last year which went down equally well – the group cranked through "We Have Love", "I Feel Better" and "Ready for the Floor".
For a group so young, it is hard to believe they have become so well-established, and so critically recognised, so early. You could similarly zero in on Grizzly Bear. Ed Droste punted off their set by shaking his tambourine to "Southern Point" as England kicked off against Germany. Crowd-wise, they were another victim of curious circumstances, but battled through. Recent tracks from their album Veckatimest abounded during a cerebral and mellow set; it becalmed roaring headaches and Sunday's increasing draw of home.
What's it like for the performers? Matt Berninger, The National's lead singer, penned a précis: "This is how it looked like in our heads. But it was a little darker," he intoned from the stage. "And there were more girls down the front." He headed out into the crowd twice; doubling, leaping, crouching, stirring in his emotion and mastery of literate rock. Ironically, his subjects are dark, though "Fake Empire", to a retreating sun, unified the jaded and gave a leg-up to the drunk.
The larger acts, necessarily, had farther to fall. MGMT's last album, Congratulations, took a wrong turn into left-field (not the Glastonbury arena of the same name, sadly) and slapped their mainstream fan-base in the face; much of the live material followed suit. Scissor Sisters, meanwhile, were perfect mainstream fodder, and fun, though unvarying in their cabaret. Flaming Lips's show was steady, but always ample craic.
Meanwhile, all paled next to Stevie Wonder: a man wowing festival audiences for decades traced heritage in the upper echelons of pop. Acts like these, or Shakira, or Seasick Steve, or the timeless professionalism of Willie Nelson and even Rolf Harris kept the familial contingent happy; goodwill seeped into any cracks like Polyfilla.
After-dark shenanigans were the next phase, played out in the dance arenas, like Arcadia and Shangri-La, these two often shut of an evening as they quickly reached capacity. They benefited from the Balearic climate; intense, shape-shifting arenas of flame thrown into the sky by sculptures, skeletons, the shells of military vehicles. "Belgian electronica with twisted beats" has never been so enlivened by girls in hot-pants climbing fifteen feet into the air or men dressed like Rubik's Cubes.
There was even the opportunity to relax away from the bigger stages. Vashti Anna entwined polymath influences – carnatic music, particularly – to ensnare the audience with indiscreet tales of her relationships on Thursday night. Such performances, in the more relaxing hills to the south, were soporific. There, in the shade, the grass was strewn with punters snoozing. There was maybe even the odd performer, seeking a balm for the blisters delivered by punishing skies, not to mention the scars left by the unforgiving burn of critical glare.
Hits and misses
1. Local Natives
Silver Lake's mellow crooners captivated with epileptic moves and unrelenting winners from their 2009 album, 'Gorilla Manor'.
2. Miike Snow
Sophisticated, anthemic pop from a front man with the best moustache not grown for charity: Andrew Wyatt. Boasted an impressive vocal range, which buoyed the stand-out hit "Animal".
3. Laura Marling
"Blackberry Stone" and "Don't Ask Me Why" flooded across the Park Stage during a blissful Saturday evening set. It was a landmark in her evolution as an artist. It also provoked one man to propose to his girlfriend (she said yes).
4. Dizzee Rascal
"Dance Wiv Me" rendered the crowd an expansive, pogoing mess. The Bow-born rapper even got a smacker from Florence Welch after their duet for "You Got the Dirtee Love". The modern pop equivalent of Sonny and Cher?
... and the worst
Being joined on stage by their assembled shiny friends cemented the feeling that you had to be on the inside to enjoy it; not helped by material from their brain-bending latest album, 'Congratulations'. Stand-out track was, yet again, "Kids".
6. Field Music
Sunderland-based rockers fronted by fraternal team David and Peter Brewis failed to ignite with a selection of damp-sounding songs on the John Peel stage, the festival's stand-out platform for new music. Protracted technical glitches at the start didn't help.
7. Scissor Sisters
Their shtick never varies: and the New York glam factor seems a little dated post-Gaga. Popular among a dancing crowd, though a little more variety might have helped them to shine like Kylie who made a welcome guest appearance in thigh-high studded boots and cape.
8. Lightning Seeds
Played an acoustic version of "Three Lions"; given England's later performance, a poor choice. Seemed heavy-limbed alongside frenetic younger bands, and undeserving of the large crowd they attracted to the Pyramid Stage.
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