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Saturday, 27 August 2011

Reading Festival.

After my chat with Bethan Elfyn earlier this week, I began to get nostalgic for Reading, and as the ever derisory TV coverage disappoints again, I decided to share some of the most memorable moments from the five times I attended. I’ve seen many great performances there, not all are listed here, these are instead the biggest, funniest and craziest stories that stick out when I think back.
One of the great things about Reading is the mix of new and old bands, especially getting to see reformed bands there before anywhere else.
I was mainly waiting for Smashing Pumpkins, one of my favourite bands of all time, who, having reformed after a seven year hiatus, were closing the festival on the Main Stage in 2007, when I caught Nine Inch Nails immediately before them.
I’d heard a few songs but didn’t know too much of their music but was blown away during their hour set, which culminated in the band completely trashing the stage, including throwing a pretty large amp off the stage. Trent Reznor then reappeared alone amongst the carnage to play Hurt in one of the most poignant moments I’ve witnessed at the festival.
Smashing Pumpkins came out and played a great set, which just topped the evening off, but NIN’s set has always stuck in my mind.
Another great newly-reformed and UK exclusive set came from Rage against the Machine in 2008. They were the main draw of the festival for many and rumours abounded from when we arrived on Thursday about what crazy stunt they would pull. Surprisingly enough, one of the more far-fetched rumours turned out to be true, as the band were marched onto the stage to the sound of sirens, dressed in orange ‘Guantanamo Bay style’ jump suits , complete with black bags over their heads.
It was a great protest from the ever politically-charged band, and their impressive commitment saw them play the entire opener ‘Bombtrack’ still with the bags over their heads. An incendiary set peppered with anti-Bush and Blair statements followed, it was the stuff of legend.

The Foo Fighters headlining in 2005 was another great headline set, the highlight undoubtedly being Dave Grohl stepping back behind the kit 13 years after Nirvana played their iconic last UK gig.
The next great moment again involves a reformed band, but again they weren’t the stars of the show. Having missed the craze of the Libertines by a year or so, I was excited when they were announced to finally reform in 2010, with many doubting they would ever make it onto the stage together. They did however, pulling a huge crowd and playing a decent set just before unlikely headliners Arcade Fire.
Unfortunately, for the many that left after Pete and Carl had cleared off, Arcade Fire came out and in their own humble, quirky and infectiously passionate way, stole their thunder with the best performance of the weekend, mixing material from the epic The Suburbs with anthems from their debut Funeral.
Other great headliners came from the Pixies in 2005 and Metallica in 2008. Not all headline sets go so well, and my ill-feeling towards the Red Hot Chili Peppers was set in stone with a frightfully indulgent and boring set in 2007, they had no chance against the Smashing Pumpkins anyway, but they didn’t even try, instead playing a quiet set filled with long solos and breakdowns. People booed, it was dreadful. Other poor sets came from Franz Ferdinand in 2006 and Razorlight in 2007, both of who shouldn’t have been anywhere near a headline slot.  Rant over.
Some sets not going according to plan can however lead to them being more memorable. For instance, we weren’t paying any attention to Panic! At the Disco in 2006 until singer Brendan Urie was knocked unconscious by a bottle thrown from the crowd. He deserves respect for getting up and finishing the set.
Placebo’s set, also in 2006 was blighted by technical problems, and in the longest gap of no music in the middle of their set, the cameras instead panned around the crowd and twenty minutes of impromptu flashing occurred. Nowhere else but at Reading.
Crazy punks Be Your Own Pet had announced that their sets at Reading and Leeds in 2008 were to be their last, and they must have been in a celebratory mood before their penultimate set at Reading, playing a half an hour set completely smashed. Singer Jemina Pearl could barely speak let alone sing and their usual two minute songs ran at around 45 seconds each. Still it was pretty funny.
Playing a smaller stage at the same time as the biggest band of the moment can also be a problem, as Coheed & Cambria found when coming up against Arctic Monkeys in 2006. However, their small crowd, which made up maybe only a quarter of the tent, didn’t let it bother them and they obliged with one of the best gigs of the weekend.
And a million more.

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