Here's what happened on Saturday night at Heaton Park
Midway through Lorde’s euphoric early evening Parklife main stage performance, she pays unique tribute to the city’s hedonism.
“There was this one guy at my gig here, he was so sweet, he must have been so lit. He projectile vomited over the barrier. That feels like a Manchester thing to do – I appreciated it a lot.” Looking round at the up-for-it crowd losing their shit – if not their lunch – to her Disclosure collab ‘Magnets’, she might have a point. Dressed like a rave belly-dancer and backed by a troupe of interpretative dancers, it’s a well-honed festival setlist, but tonight she says she’s feeling giddy. “We have that end of term feeling,” she admits. “We’re ready to party.” Opening with ‘Sober’, she deploys sophisticated pop bangers like ‘Homemade Dynamite’ and ‘Tennis Court’ with ease.
“I want to sing you a song about being lonely which a really strange thing to sing at 6pm in the sunshine” she says – looking out into a sea of novelty inflatables being waved at her – before perching on the lip of the stage to deliver the intimate ballad ‘Liability’. The hushed reverence is undermined slightly by the beats coming from a nearby dance tent. But Lorde’s not taking the competition lying down. During ‘Supercut’, she laughs: “That fucking club music is insane right now. It’s slamming,” and orders the sound tech to turn her up to drown it out. “I want to be louder than them.” She runs along the barrier hugging fans while singing ‘Perfect Places’ – fortunately none vomit over her – while, greeted by a shower of ticker tape, closer ‘Green Light’ is transcendent.
With an enviable CV, Pharrell Williams is a man who can drop hits nonchalantly like cigarette butts, but faced with an initially sluggish crowd, party-pumpers N*E*R*D, come on like a band with something to prove. They rightly deserve a better response; and are ready to ensure they get it. “I want more moshpits and crowd-surfing than this country has ever seen!,” commands Pharrell, before counting each new one to show he and Chad Hugo aren’t kidding.
Beginning with ‘Anti Matter’ – and accompanied by formation dancers – they pull out every trick in the book: imploring the throng to duck down them jump up at once, splitting them in two for a ‘Who’s loudest?’ face-off and getting people in the front row to sing parts of ‘Brain’. Snippets of the festival perennial ‘Seven Nation Army’ are played to predicable chants of ‘Oh! Jeremy Corbyn!’. After ‘1000’ – from last year’s comeback album ‘No One Ever Really Dies’, Pharrell references the city’s response to the terror attack last year. “This is the place where evil tried to come, at Ariana Grande’s concert,” he says. “We watched this town, this resilient place stand up and look evil in the face and say fuck you.”
By the time they reach a medley of their Neptunes work – which includes Clipse’s ‘Grindin’ and Snoop Dogg’s ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ – Parklife is smitten. ‘Everybody Nose (All The Girls Standing In Line For The Bathroom), ‘She Wants To Move’ and ‘Rockstar’ are home-runs. It goes wilder. As ‘Lemon’ – featuring Rihanna’s pre-recorded vocals starts, Pharrell invites the crowd to join him onstage. As more clamber over the barrier, it’s flooded with so many people, it joyously resembles a Pharrell-based edition of ‘Where’s Wally?’.
The xx are finely-tuned headline machines now, with Oliver Sim and monochrome-co delivering a mesmeric set that pulls off the high-wire act of being both intimate and epic, with the neon-napalm of ‘Loud Spaces’ reaping predicable rapture. But over on the Valley stage – which channels the dystopian downtown Tokyo cityscapes of Blade Runner – A$AP Rocky is going more off-piste.
Turning up 40 minutes late for his 9pm stage time, he bounds out of the traps with ‘Distorted Records’ from latest album ‘Testing’, as a burnt-out car looms behind him and pyro fills the stage. Ahead of his main stage performance tomorrow, Skepta is brought on for a thrillingly vital run through of their recent team-up ‘Praise The Lord’. A waterfall of sparks greet the woozy ‘LSD’ but he’s fighting against time. “Before I get off stage, I want to fuck shit up!,” he says, marshaling moshpits. But he’s barely started ‘Wild For The Night’, when finale fireworks explode, leaving him looking – bizarrely – like somebody whose party-popper has prematurely gone off before the end of a New Year’s Eve countdown. With the sound cut due to the 11pm curfew, he valiantly still tries to carry on. “At least let me say goodbye!,” he rages, eventually. “They’re kicking me out!”. All isn’t lost though. Fingers crossed he joins Liam Gallagher tomorrow and is introduced as “WhatsApp Ricky”.