Glastonbury, Damon Albarn and Radiohead

This weekend was the first weekend for years when, for obvious reasons, I didn’t get to see very much of Glastonbury on the tv. Not that I was that bothered with U2, Coldplay and Beyonce headlining the famous Pyramid Stage. Yesterday evening, having showered and had a glass or two restorative Pimms after getting back from Newmarket, I had a look through some of the Saturday afternoon highlights on I-Player. Apart from Metronomy performing The Look for Whiley and Radcliffe, I decided that everything was crap. And then turned in for an early night. In doing so, I missed out on my hero Tricky, making his first appearance in a headline slot at Glasto. Though, of course, he was only doing it via an apparently “baffling” duet with Beyonce. Perhaps it’s best I missed it.

There have, clearly, been some rather stunning performances on the main stage over the years, and some indifferent ones too. Last year, Damon Albarn and the Gorillaz collective stepped in to replace U2, but their set divided a few people. I could understand why. I thought it was a good set and, having seen Gorillaz live at the O2 last year, I still thought it was a good set. But was it the right kind of set to close a Saturday night at Glastonbury when people have been on their feet all day? Do thousands of festival goers want to mellow out, or do they want to rock it hard?

Well, we saw in 2009 the kind of reaction Damon Albarn is capable of generating when he puts together a set full of crowd pleasers because the reaction to the Blur reunion set was something else altogether (and probably fed into the more muted reaction to the Gorillaz set). For me, I thought that actually the set Blur played at Glastonbury (identical to the Hyde Park gigs) was a bit too full of Parklife era tracks and they could have afforded to shine a little more light on the tracks from Blur and 13. Which only goes to show that there, clearly, is no pleasing some people.

Likewise, for years and years, I naively argued (with Jo mainly) the case for The Bends being the pre eminent Radiohead album- although I came to accept that I was wrong a few years back. Their 1997 headline slot has gone down in Glastonbury folklore as one of the absolute, all time, classic selections. I had never seen it up until a couple of weeks ago, when the BBC broadcast a selection of songs from it and it was a very good set. But, years away from my belief that The Bends is THE Radiohead album, I found myself missing songs like The National Anthem, like Idioteque, songs that hadn’t been created yet. That said, the emotional power of the trio of High And Dry, Fake Plastic Trees and Street Spirit (Fade Out)… it’s tough to think of a Radiohead album since that has three songs that could match them.

It has to be said, at this point,  that the Radiohead set from ’97 has attained a mythical status for reasons other than the emotional power of the songs from The Bends and the genius of OK Computer. This is the set that, by all accounts, could have seen Radiohead- Thom blinded by the lights and unable to hear anything- flushed down one of Glasonbury’s portaloos. But they turned the lights onto the crowd and turned it around. The BBC didn’t show much of what went on before that turning point, so I wonder how aware those in the crowd were of the difficulties Radiohead were experiencing.

I guess the point I’m making in all of this is that, sometimes, it’s the context of the performance that is as important as the actual performance itself. Would Radiohead have become such legends had they not been faced with such difficulties on the stage that year? Would the reaction to Gorillaz have been less muted had Blur not torn it up the year peviously? Finally, would Blur have torn it up as much as they did had they not been away for so long? I think the answers to these questions are; yes, possibly and no. Not that I doubt Blur’s ability to make something happen, I just know that there was a power to that 2009 show that couldn’t have been there otherwise. I know that because I experienced it for myself at Hyde Park.

Interestingly, Radiohead played the Park Stage on Saturday and completely changed my friend James negative opinions of the King of Limbs album. Jo and I are very much hoping to see them out on tour by the end of the year, or if not this year then certainly next year. Having been slightly underwhelmed by King of Limbs on record, I look forward to having my eyes opened properly when we do so.

Paranoid Android- Glastonbury ’97

Song 2- Glastonbury 2009




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