Photo: Nick James Clarke
A fixture of the summer since the 1970s, Reading festival is one of the heavyweights of the UK festival scene. With a sister site now also in Leeds the weekend's line-up featured headline acts My Chemical Romance, The Strokes, Pulp and Muse.
Delays in getting into the arena on the Friday meant missing Cherri Bomb, the first act on the Festival Republic stage, but second-on-the-bill Mini Mansions were a brilliant way to start the day. Their layered sound filled the small tent, with a set including a cover of Blondie's 'Heart of Glass' and 'Majik Marker' from their self-titled 2010 album. Stand out performances on the NME/Radio One stage were The Naked and Famous and The Vaccines who both put in
predictably fantastic showings. The Vaccines, who played a 50 minute set off the back of their much-hyped first album, sensibly cut this 5 minutes short, meaning that they maintained the energy that makes them a consistent delight to see live. Their set included crowd favourites 'Norgaard' and 'Wreckin' Bar', as well as new single 'Tiger Blood' penned with Albert Hammond Jr, which was reassuringly in line with previous material. They also got guitarist Freddie Cowan's older brother Tom Cowan of The Horrors on stage, “because blood is thicker than water”, for a well-chosen cover of The Standell's 'Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White'.
On the smaller stages Foster the People packed out their tent with a crowd who were mostly only interested in summer anthem 'Pumped Up Kicks', and Clock Opera played a short but enjoyabl set on the BBC introducing stage, which proved them worthy of a higher billing next summer.
On the main stage 30 Seconds to Mars and My Chemical Romance brought the day to a close, while a characteristically dour Liam Gallagher closed the NME/Radio One stage with band Beady Eye.
Day two boasted arguably the most 'buzz' band of the line-up, OFWGKTA. While admittedly entering the tent a complete sceptic, it was hard to remain unaffected by the frankly fevered excitement of the young crowd, and while I still can't help but feel that Odd Future aren't really offering anything new, they certainly know how to work both the media and the crowd.
Saturday was a strong day for the Festival Republic stage, and Camden's own Tribes set the bar high with a set of catchy pop and crowd singalongs, including single 'Sappho'. Mariachiel Bronx's contagious enthusiasm led to several spontaneous conga lines.
On this first listen their songs were almost indistinguishable, but they were incredibly enjoyable none-the-less. Cults managed far less rapport with the audience, possibly as a result of sound problems at the beginning of their set. Unfortunately this did detract from the performance, leaving you with the feeling that it could have been a lot better and, based on their debut album, it certainly should have been. In stark contrast Cloud Control's set was one of the best
performances of the day, the set reaching its peak during the intense, atmospheric crescendo of 'Ghost Story', including wildly appropriate lyric 'I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up'.
Pulp and The Strokes shared a co-headline alot on the Saturday nigth. The Strokes may have been headlining at Reading, but Jarvis didn't miss out on the glory as the New York band brought him on stage for a cover of The Cars' 'Just What I Needed'.
The Strokes have clearly come a long way since headlining Reading in 2002, having only released 'Is This It?'. Thankfully they are now a clearly deserving headline act, and have a great deal more knowledge of the kind of show required for the job.
Sunday's line-up sported not one but two performances by Frank Turner, who took to the main stage in the early afternoon and then the Lock Up stage for a 'Special Guest' slot in the evening. Frank is one of few artists to have played every stage at the festival and was endearingly humbled by his main stage turn this year. He delivered a reliable performance of rousing singalongs, although when he asked the crowd at the Lock Up stage if they'd seen Hot Water Music, who'd given a brilliantly fast-paced but under-attended performance earlier in the day, you couldn't help but feel that he'd slightly misread the tastes of his fans.
Friendly Fires were a real highlight of the weekend; they handed out Hawaiian shirts at the beginning of their set, and singer Ed Macfarlane outdanced the crowd throughout. Headlining the BBC Introducing stage, with YouTube views of their number 8 single 'Down With The Trumpets' currently standing at 2.5 million, it was unsurprising that there was little room to breathe in the large crowd keen to see Brighton duo Rizzle Kicks, who put in a surprisingly slick performance.
Last on the line-up for the Lock Up stage, the Descendents delivered a high energy set of almost back-to-back hits.
Muse's two-hour set closed the festival in style, and judging by the amount of Muse merchandise knocking around all weekend, it was clear that they were greatly anticipated. As the band had promised, their stage décor was based on the Origin of Symmetry artwork and the set included the 2001 album played in full, an indulgence that might not have been tolerated had there not been such a predominance of Muse aficionados in the audience.
Muse always triumph at this kind of event, and they brought Reading festival 2011 to an appropriately grand conclusion with fireworks and 'Knights of Cydonia'.
The response of the audience to this years' line-up demonstrated how much live music has moved into the mainstream; while My Chemical Romance were bottled from the stage in 2006, and I can't imagine 30 Seconds to Mars would have been particularly well tolerated, these bands have now become the main attraction.
However, while the crowd at Reading is now much more mainstream than the metal-heads of the 1970s or the grunge-kids of the 1990s they are still a good bit more hardy than those at the summer's more boutique festivals, and a bit of rain and mud was nowhere near spoiling their fun. Reading Festival might not be the most quirky (see Secret Garden Party) or hipster (see Field Day) festival of the summer (warning: you can't take dance classes and there's no fancy dress theme) but arguably this leads to crowds who are actually there for the music, and the support they showed for the bands created a genuinely fantastic atmosphere.