Review: Electric Picnic 2012 – FridayTweet
Bags packed, whiskey decanted into plastic containers and the annual haul from the office to the bus stop whilst looking like a tortoise with over-sized shell complete: it can only be time for the annual Stradbally pilgrimage, and Ireland’s best-loved festival. With Oxegen dropped for the year, there are fears that the comparatively alternative late-summer extravaganza might be overrun with the crowd from its less alternative rival. In the most part, the spirit of the festival quickly shows itself to be alive and well, with love-buzz galore forming ‘festival families’ around us throughout the weekend. We sent James Hendicott and Ros Madigan down to check out the weekend.
Alabama Shakes (★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆)
After the huge mistake of having Alabama Shakes play their first show in Ireland in The Academy 2 back on the 5th of May, it seemed yet another blunder had been made by having such a well-loved new band play so early on the Friday evening. Once we had rounded Casa Bacardi an cleared the gaze of the massive Oak tree for the first time of the weekend, it was clear to see that Alabama Shakes had drawn a huge crowd. Not long into the set, we were greeted by the sounds of Hold On, from the debut album ‘Boys & Girls’. A powerhouse of a single that has shot this band to international acclaim. The songs floats over the clean clear grass below and serves as the perfect kick starter to the weekend ahead.
Brittany Howard, the bands powerful lead singer, coupled with an Indian feather headpiece roars out into the sunny Stradbally sky as festival go’ers begin to get their bearings. Hang Loose and Goin’ To The Party stand out in a set full with non-events. Apart from the charming and entertaining Ms.Howard, the band themselves look and feel lost in the shadows of the colossal main stage. Considering the journey from The Academy 2, Ireland’s smallest and worst venue, to the main stage at Ireland’s premiere music festival, it ain’t half bad. They gave it there all, but you couldn’t help but think of how special they could have been in anyone one of the large tents during the weekend. The perfect venue now awaits them on the 14th of November in The Olympia, don’t miss it. RM
The Jezabels (★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆)
Having caught the Aussie four-piece’s astonishing vocal highs at The Button Factory earlier in the year, we had huge expectations on settling in before The Jezabels. Today’s Picnic appearance is actually their second (they played a minor stage last year), but since 12 months ago their profile has gone through the roof, and the live show quickly shows just why. Fan-favourite Disco Biscuit Love might have slipped from the set list, but its replacements, tracks lifted from debut full-length Prisoner, focus still more heavily on sublimely intense vocals from the charismatic Hayley Mary, a hollering, grooving front woman who’s every bit the star.
Like earlier in the year, the Aussies show the confidence to drop biggest single Endless Summer fairly early on, with the likes of City Girl and Long Highway feeding aural perfection and offering simple opera-rock brilliance. In a late-afternoon tent slot, their atmospheric, vocal-led rock never quite reaches the highs of a headline gig, but they’re a top start, and certainly leagues ahead of an unconvincingly weird Gavin Friday over on the main stage. JH
Grizzly Bear (★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
For a band that don’t play all too often, the chance to see them on our front doorstep was all too appealing. An uncongested stage time of 6.30 aided the accessibility factor as Grizzly Bear took to the stage to an impressively large showing. The first three quarters of the set list would see a rather disconnected string of songs play out. There seemed to be neither rhyme nor reason to song placement within the set. Just as you thought the set was looking up, the lads would tear it right back down with an unknown and drawn out track. Just as all hope was fading, the band would give the crowd what they wanted as While You Wait for the Others and Two Weeks would bring a welcome change in mood and tempo. These songs showcase the variation that makes Grizzly Bear so intriguing. The final injection of sonic substance was to prove too late as the damage had been done early on. A disconnected set from an otherwise talented band. RM
Metronomy (★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆)
We soon find ourselves back on the impressive Crawdaddy Stage for a synth-pop set from the catchy Metronomy. Early signs are good: Metronomy are nothing if not a band to throw euphoric shapes to, and with a set up reminiscent of any old synth rock band, they’re able to do so with the kind of on-stage energy that has the potential to be a bit special. Sadly, a closer looks quickly takes the gloss off proceedings. Whilst the stage is sparsely populated with instrumentation, there are kettle drums, drum rolls, extra layers of guitar and even female vocals (not from drummer Anna Prior, though she does contribute) thrown into what’s coming through the speakers, part of a really quite substantial backing track.
In the right mood, these things count for little: there’s no denying that the live production of sound sometimes takes less emphasize than the overall experience in modern day music, but the likes of The Look and We Broke Free go beyond their stated ‘fun’ intentions into plain silly territory when you have to look away from the stage to avoid chuckling. On occasions, drummer Anna carries on tapping out a simple rhythm while a series of those drum rolls flood through the speakers. It’s musically impressive, but the music snob in us is screaming in protest, and Metronomy’s faux-complexity is something you just can’t un-see. Shame. JH
The XX (★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆)
The XX might well represent a bit of an organizational mis-step tonight: it becomes clear fairly early on that the performance aspects required in the open-air of the main stage simply aren’t there. Under the circumstances, though, in sticking largely to that wonderful grower of a debut album, the emotive indie darlings make the best of it. We’ve had a sneak preview of The XX’s second effort, and dire isn’t an exaggeration, but here we’re treated to sing-along-ish indie anthems Crystalized, Islands and VCR in fairly quick succession, and they even come across as uplifting.
The issues with this set were clear before we began, though: even those singles are quiet, slow-building and mellow, and The XX’s reputation as a live spectacle is already poor enough that it’s hard to expect them to rise to the occasion. They’re a band that are all about the subtle layering of sound, rather than big, brash stadium-scale presence, and the set goes in two directions for us: serenely stunning highs and periods that slip from memory almost as soon as they pass. JH
The Vaccines (★ ★ ★ ★ ★)
The Vaccines, contrarily, play the ‘big, dumb indie anthem’ card to perfection, and we suspect they know it. If You Wanna, for example, is a battering ram approach to music: loud, lyrically stupid but oh so easy to just let loose to. That turns out to apply to much of the set: Wreckin’ Bar, Post Break Up Sex and Norgaard are suitably spread amongst tracks from new release album ‘Come Of Age’, and singer (and the most unlikely of former folk strugglers) Justin Young’s vocal degradation issues seem to be a thing of the past.
At this time on the first evening, The Vaccines are the anti-XX: perfectly placed on the bill, inciting an enviable riot and delivering in a straight-faced blur of energy. Pleasingly, the tracks from ‘Come Of Age’ don’t seem quite the dark about-turn they seemed on record, and filter happily into the bulk of the set, with Bad Mood, Ghost Town and the defiant Teenage Icon in particular standing tall. A rammed to capacity Electric Arena grinning manically and throwing shapes like a shower’s far less than 2-3 days away doesn’t lie, this is just epic. If they wanna come back… JH
Ed Sheeran (★ ★ ★ ★ ☆)
A small break in the timetable would see us sticking around for the start of the Ed Sheeran set, which would prove to be the best mistake of the weekend. So many people cursed the presence of the ginger pin-up boy in a festival usually saved for alternative acts. He was deemed to be the musical anti-Christ that would bring about the “un-savoury” Oxegen folk that scared off so many EP purists. We didn’t worry too much about the purists (they’re no craic anyway) as Sheeran rip-roared through an impressive juggernaut of a set. From the electric opener of Give Me Love where Sheeran essentially makes the loop pedal his bitch to the tender and stunning vocals he employs on the track. Signs of vocal restraint are then assaulted with piercing high notes.
Yes, this is unashamed accessible pop but that’s no reason why it shouldn’t feature on the bill – the kids got talent. You Need Me I Don’t Need You, his second single, shows Sheeran’s more urban and rap influences as he engages with the crowd more than before. The atmosphere within the tent deserves a special mention as the boisterous crowd just lapped up every syllable the young man uttered. The set wasn’t without its fault as Sheeran played crowd karaoke one too many times before Westside Story elements started to creep in. The cover of Chasing Cars went down a storm even though it was musically the worst few minutes of the set. Nonetheless, Sheeran merited his inclusion in a lineup of alternatives, showcasing his true talent and ability to control the masses. RM
Sigur Ros (★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ )
Sigur Ros, then, are left to close our first night, and their delivery is an almost religious experience. The Icelandic act’s balance has always been a clever one: by rejecting their own language in favour of assorted meaningless syllables and utilizing them with the kind of phonetic perfection that lifts its meaning more from the listener than any obvious intention. It’s a recipe for an organic style of brilliance: Jonsi’s voice is fabulously instrumental, flitting through the carefully placed tones of a backing band playing with astounding and touching restraint, adding tweaks of wondrous oddity to a style that at its simplest has a lot in common with the most beautiful and original of orchestras.
Hoppipolla is an obvious highlight, immediately drawing enraptured whoops from the assembled, but a Sigur Ros set isn’t built around songs. Hell, sometimes they’re not even playing songs in any real sense, simply bridging gorgeously between more standardized melodies for a minute or more at a time, reaching naturally into the next moment against a hypnotizing backdrop. We’re carried away, soaring on glistening crescendos together, and riding back into those restrained troughs knowing full well the next sensational high is just around the corner. It’s slow but not in the least bit plodding; subtle in its build up and startlingly intense in its highs, and crowd interaction is pointedly overlooked in favour of keeping the spell alive. Many are quick to attach the word ‘magical’ to Electric Picnic; here it’s fitting: Sigur Ros might not be the super-sized draw that some past headliners offered, but they are capable of hitting quite unbelievable highs. JH