After Josh Homme’s strong hints on Lauren Laverne’s 6 Music show, Queens Of The Stone Age did play a secret set at Reading and Leeds. They kicked off at Leeds in the morning before whizzing down to Reading to a packed NME/Radio 1 stage to an enthralled crowd Whilst those who follow QOTSA’s social media channels or keep an eye on the music press will have known, not everyone on site had a clue, but those that did were seriously dedicated fans. Spending time at the front of the crowd as they walked on in a hazy fog and knocked out the opening chords to ‘No One Knows’ the mosh pit was about as intense as crushes at the front of gigs ever get.
It’s as if the surprise element raised the adrenaline exponentially, and moshers took no prisoners, the feint hearted had to scurry back. ‘No One Knows’ gave way to ‘Feel Good Hit Of The Sumer’ and things got even more thrilling as Homme crooned “c-c-c-c-c-c-cocaine!”.
After the predictably fun buzz of hearing the classics, emotion did reign in a bit, but only marginally. Of the newer material outside of the first three untouchable albums, new song ‘The Way You Used To Do’ was a firm Gigwise favourite. It had that hip shaking quality that Homme claimed his intent for on 6Music. Without sacrificing the grit, they introduced rhythms more often associated with cleaner cut rock 'n' roll from the 50s that you could jive to. It shouldn’t have worked on paper but they made it their own. Since this was a surprise set, it was also very short. This gave the band an opportunity to do a slick but sweet show with barely a second wasted in between songs, keeping the energy pumping solidly and the crowd deliriously happy throughout. This however left no room for the band’s other seriously fun live ability: to go on Zeppelin-esque wig-outs and 15- minute versions of songs, something they did especially well when they played this very festival in 2005.
After QOTSA it was on to Kasabian, who had just announced two dates at the 02 arena. The Leicester band showcased their ability to nail it on the world’s biggest stage – they had the crowd wrapped around their finger from the start.
New material came off in a very good light. ‘God Bless This Acid House’ is a timeless hit and could fit in Slade, T-Rex and Status Quo’s back catalogue seamlessly. It’s a superbly crafted hit single and the band showed how diverse they were when it followed on from some Hacienda-esque electronic wig outs, some metal riffery from Pizzorno. Given Meighan had an illness that forced him to have to cancel a Belfast gig, we were slightly apprehensive at the start. But even if he was still ill, Meighan powered through and the show’s emphasis was all about creating a spectacle, something they managed incredibly. Each time we thought they’d pulled out their finest moment, they went on immediately to surpass it. The introverted, melancholic indie rock of ‘Stevie’ with the despondent words: “And all the kids they say / Live to fight another day / Live to fight again,” set the mood perfectly low for Serge Pizzorno to then go and dedicate a cover of Nirvana’s ‘All Apologies’ to the victims of the Barcelona attack.
They refused to dwell in melancholy too long however, and they bounced back with a storming cover of ‘L.S.F – always the best song of their set. After the encore they charged through ‘Comeback Kid’ before Noel Fielding joined them on ‘Vlad The Impaler’ in vampire costume – “I host cake show” he said in Transylvanian accent after jumping about on stage celebrating Kasabian’s emotional pride at the world living out their dreams. After Pizzorno initiated a scene where thousands of people got on shoulders so he could see their faces, he lived up to his role as man of the people by going down to greet the fans at the front. Triumphant scenes.
Meanwhile, Danny Brown Headlined the Radio 1Xtra stage and was a definite fit for Reading's musical legacy; it’s a barely acknowledged fact that the Detroit rapper is one of the strongest advocates for British rock music here. From lifting the title of his most recent LP from a Joy Division song, to swaggering on stage to Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”, Brown’s experimental hip-hop evokes the creative, soul-stirring spirit of our nation’s venerable musical history in a way that many guitar bands around today have been unable to do. “This is the way, step inside…” You have-beens and rip-offs playing the main stage take note.
Brown took the sweltering crowd blazing through his radical rap discography, bringing out the most violent, rumbustious reactions when he played songs from Atrocity Exhibition, his most masterful and realised record to date. He was possibly the most impressive artistic talent to be seen on Friday, and his set is undoubtedly set to be one of the highlights of the festival weekend.
Earlier in the day, stars of the mockumentary People Just Do Nothing – a show that follows the lives of aspirational and deluded Pirate Radio DJ’s MC Grindah and Kevin Beats, their manager, and other hanger oners – were brilliant.
When they conceived of the idea of an Ali G or Alan Partridge-esque show taking the piss out of over aspirational people so disconnected with reality, it’s probable that they never hoped for a second series, never mind to be here beyond the perimeter of half of Brentford – and way beyond Zone 6, Beats.
We saw Steves manning the decks in his dopey looking hat, and for once given more responsibility than the grave yard shift or smoking. As ever, self-proclaimed legend MC Grindah was the centre of attention and Chabuddy G – the champion of peanut dust and 10p Space Invaders - was good to see in the flesh. After all, they’re all stars. And whilst they’re obviously a spoof group, forming the best British comedy since Peep Show, they’re actually a great live act, bringing some sweet beatmatching and slick word-play to their piss-taking antics.
One band that should have been way higher on the bill were The Districts; The Killers’ Brandon Flowers was very wrong in saying new rock bands aren't as popular because they're not good enough because this band are incredible.
They're the sort of band who'd keep The Killers on their toes, plus they’re on their second album and still young so they have the chance to climb the ranks still. As fellow American indie star Trevor Sensor suggested in his recent interview with Gigwise, they could be thought of in the same breath as Kevin Morby and Whitney.
The Districts should ride this next wave of sincere songwriters who deserve to be recognised for being the very best at their art, to be held in the same regards as the likes of The National And Sufjan Stevens, to take the baton and instil a bit of youth in the scene. Especially good last night was their set-closer, 'Ordinary Day', from their brand new album Popular Manipulations. Unforgettable brilliance.
In terms of new UK bands, there's no one building as much steam as Bristol's Idles. Their set on Friday afternoon took Theresa May et L’Ancien Régime to the guillotine with a vengeance that perhaps no other band has accomplished yet.
Their debut album Brutalism gave us the punk rock record so many of us have needed in 2017, singer Joe Talbot’s lyrics holding a dark, dystopian mirror to a divided nation where trash culture goes to bed with high art, cursing about everything from Mary Berry to Tarquin, Francis Bacon to selfies. Their words were given new power in a spitting and bruising live set, and whilst many other bands’ recent forays into politics have come off as uninspiring, even self-indulgent, Idles produced one of the most original, exciting and important performances of the day.
Peckham-based Cosima was another absolute highlight. She condenses the political power of a girl group into an unstoppable solo act. Her voice and her melodies have a chart radio appeal, whilst her orchestrations evoke the otherworldly soundscapes of a shoegaze band. If there’s one reason why she attracted such a sparse crowd at Reading, it’s because of her elusive paradoxes, her prospective appeal to both alternative (at one point she covers Jeff Buckley’s “Everybody Here Wants You”) and mainstream audiences. On Friday afternoon it looked like Cosima just hadn’t found her demographic yet, but when she does she’ll be selling out far bigger arenas than the Festival Republic stage.
Reading Festival continues today with performances from Eminem, Flatbush Zombies, Tigercub and many more.