The War Against Intelligence

John Williamson's web stuff


July 2004


Here is part one of T in the Park review – edited version appeared in the Herald.

T in the Park (Saturday)

The overwhelming impression of Saturday at T in the Park is one of waiting for the real goods on the Sunday. Never has the festival’s line up had such a lop-sided feel, and from the traffic queues on the way in to the numerous occasions on which the two main stages fell simultaneously silent, much of the day is spent waiting for, or looking for something truly inspiring.

Indeed, much of the early part of the day is thoroughly mundane. Jesse Malin is a pub-rock Springsteen sledgehammering his way through Neil Young’s “Helpless” and Costello’s “Oliver’s Army.” Pink is equally unsubtle. Her voice is big and she wheels out the hits, but in between, the ballads drag and a cover of 4 Non Blonde’s “What’s Up” is less than convincing.

When she announces that she was once arrested for singing, one is forced to wonder why Tayside Constabularly pass up the opportunity to curtail the agony. Michael Franti is his usual energetic self in the King Tut’s Tent, but Keane draw the biggest crowd of the first part of the day to the NME Stage.

Their success is a curious thing: polite and well mannered, “Everybody’s Changing” shows they know their way around a tune, but there is a timelessness about their work that acts against them: in essence, they are Deacon Blue for those too young to remember the eighties.

Starsailor are also inconsequentially unlovable. They offer “a disco song” (“Four To The Floor”) that is about as funky as Bon Jovi and by the time they launch into “Alcoholic,” a trip to the lost property office with a found mobile phone is an infinitely more appealing prospect.

Ash –a much more appealing and successful outfit – simultaneously pack out the King Tut’s tent, and would have been a better main stage act than the Wiagn dullards. Their set, which spans “Girl From Mars” to “”Starcrossed” marks them out as one of the best singles bands of recent years. Wu Tang Clan combine parody and profanity to little effect, and Carl Craig has some dancing around their JJB Sports’ carrier bags in the Slam Tent.

Katie Melua is another uninspired selection. Clearly ill equipped for a festival appearance, her svengali, Mike Batt (and a band that looks like it is drawn from his golfing buddies) offer a quiet and lumpy accompaniment for a clearly able singer. The Charlatans, by contrast, are a model festival act, though their durability is often more admirable than their organ solos. The Libertines are rough and admirably rowdy.

Of the headliners, Ocean Colour Scene can, worryingly, still fill a five thousand capacity tent, while Muse have mastered the art of projecting their epic rock to large arenas. Although slightly more subdued than their Glastonbury performance, “Sing For Absolution” and “Stockholm Syndrome” still count among the songs of the day.

Crazy outfits, a pipe band, a Radiohead cover and a pyrotechnics show: The Darkness certainly work hard to maintain interest in their antics. The latter is the only excellent part of their hystrionic display. The smell of cheese is pungent.


T in the Park / Sunday

T in the Park (Sunday)

It may be that the de facto headline slot of this year’s T in the Park took place not in the late evening, but in the broad daylight of Sunday afternoon.

Nowhere is Franz Ferdinand’s ascent ovcer the last 12 months as apparent as here, where they have moved from the beer tent to the Main Stage, and even feature in the between acts adverts on the big screens for the sponsor’s fare.

The move from local aspirants to a brand in their own right is reinforced by their continual references to their musical roots in Scotland. “Come on Home” is self-explanatory, “Jacqueline” is dedicated to old friends, and fifty thouand people soak up the hits “Matinee” and “Take Me Out.”

Though the performance is flawless and energetic, the sound is, for the most part, apalling. By contrast, The Thrills’ performance is subdued. The newly acquired beards seem to mark a dilution of their summery pop inclinations.

Of course, pop is not a label that sits easily with P.J. Harvey, and the brutal, abrasive onslaught of “Who The Fuck,” “Shame” and “Cat on the Wall” is at odds with many of the more mainstream festival tastes. However, Polly Harvey rightful place is in the main arena: a brilliant performer, she is able to call on the songs from “Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea,” her biggest selling album, as crowd-pleasing back up.

On the smaller stages, there are some equally notable performances, though not from the Complete Stone Roses. The amount of drink required to make them appear a worthy tribute would be measured in gallons. The Killers are moderately appealing, but beset by technical problems, and a solo Tim Booth seems to have cut much of the pomp and excess of James, despite reworking some of their songs.

Amy Winehouse has an extraordinary voice that marks her out as the most exciting of the new jazz-infused crop. Drawing on a number of apparently unsuccessful relationships, the likes of “You Sent Me Flying” and “In My Bed” are simultaneously mature and bitter. However, the excellent musicianship only highlights the failings of many of her other songs. Her best albums are clearly ahead of her, whereas with Badly Drawn Boy – who was excellent – the opposite may be the case.

As darkness falls Sons and Daughters are an apt and vibrant precursor to the Pixies. The hairlines have receded and the waistbands expanded, but there is no one on the planet who can sing in Frank Black’s sustained falsetto to such effect. “Gigantic,” “Debaser” and “Gouge Away” are the pick of the set, but Pixies have come back both bigger and bolder than when they left.

As headliners, it is doubtful whether the Strokes have quite the range or depth of material to warrant their place, but this is a much improved model. The songs remain the same, but this is a sharper, more engaging rendition of them than on their last tour. Perhaps Franz Ferdinand have forced them to raise their game.

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