Making their first ever appearance at the festival in 2013, Wolf Alice battered Reading and Leeds silly. At Reading on Saturday afternoon, the crowd screamed every word of tracks like ‘Blush’ and ‘Bros’ back at the band. At the end, the whole tent posed for a selfie with the group. Armed with their top five debut album, this year Wolf Alice will bite even harder.
Reading and Leeds 2014 will go down as the weekend Arctic Monkeys waved goodbye to ‘AM’ in style. Alex Turner posed and puffed out his chest during a bulldozer of a set that cemented his band’s position at the very top, proving they can ace every stage they play on in the process.
Prior to 2013’s secret Reading set, Jamie T hadn’t played the festival since 2011, and had fallen completely off the map in the meantime. Hearing old favourites like ‘Sheila’ and new songs ‘Don’t You Find’ and ‘Zombie’ was electrifying. Expect more of the same – only on a much bigger stage – this year.
One of the most iconic images in Reading Festival history was Kurt Cobain’s wheelchair-bound entrance in 1992. Pushed onstage by journalist Everett True, wearing a surgical gown and wig, Kurt was making a statement about media coverage of his drug habits. It was a memorable start to a heroic, awe-inspiring performance that has gone down in history.
By 2002, The Strokes had graduated to headline status. They only had one album to their name, but such was the demand they went ahead with it anyway. To make the night feel extra special, they drafted in fellow man-of-the-moment Jack White for a souped-up version of ‘New York City Cops’. The hottest two musicians in the world were briefly as one.
They weren’t even the headliners, but it felt like the only thing anyone wanted to talk about in 2010 was the long, long awaited return of The Libertines. As chaotic as to be expected, with stops and starts throughout both shows, they were nevertheless emotional triumphs, with grown men crying out front, and Pete and Carl hugging and kissing throughout.
Beetlebump! 2003 found Blur at their most high-minded as they headlined in support of their ‘final’ album ‘Think Tank’. A little light relief came when Damon, in a world of his own, fell clean off the stage, landing on the camera crew platform. “I’ve always been uncool,” he said.
Arctic Monkeys were still five months off releasing an album in August 2005, and they were the hottest thing on the planet. Thanks to the ‘Beneath The Boardwalk’ bootlegs, the indie world knew and loved every single song intimately. On an afternoon slot in the new bands tent, a Main Stage sized crowd gathered, and history was made.
One of the most memorable wardrobe moments in Reading history was PJ Harvey’s in 2001, or rather, her lack of it. At the height of her playful pop period following her ‘Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea’ album, she paraded round in a PVC dress and black bra top.
2010 was the year Biffy Clyro finally fulfilled their destiny as a truly big, big band, and their Reading and Leeds shows were the crowning moment right in the middle of their victory year. The world had been wowed by the pure pop of ‘Only Revolutions’ but Biffy had one more trick up their sleeve, Simon taking to the stage in a shock of white-blonde hair and figure-hugging pink trousers.
Kurt Cobain killed himself in 1994, and Courtney was left to pick up her life. She had to do her grieving in public, but a lot of it was onstage, and Hole’s performances over the next two years have been described as “part therapy and part eulogy.” There was nothing pleasant about watching a widow break down in public, but their Reading show was devastatingly intense.
At The Drive-In were one of the most pulverizing post-hardcore bands of all time. There was no clearer evidence of than when they smashed up the Carling Tent back in 2000. At the height of their powers thanks to incendiary album ‘Relationship Of Command’. They were burning so brightly it couldn’t last, and the band imploded not long after.
Nothing says the rock’n’roll abandon of the festival season like rock stars getting their bits out. And as Queens Of The Stone Age broke into the big time in 2001, bass player and chief party animal treated the Reading crowd to a full-frontal screen shot of his Johnson. The show was quite memorable as well.
Guns n’Roses’ 2010 performances were, at the very least, entertaining. Arriving on the Reading stage an hour late, they powered through what hits they could, before having the power cut at midnight. Cue a sitdown protest from Axl Rose and an angry week of Tweets where they called organizers “money-grabbing pricks.” We kind of doubt they’ll be invited back.
A disturbing but entrancing spectacle from 1999: Former Dexys Midnight Runners hero Kevin Rowland taking to the Reading Stage dressed in stockings and suspenders to unveil his covers album ‘My Beauty’, featuring rousing renditions of ‘The Greatest Love Of All’ and ‘I Can’t Tell The Bottom From The Top’. Rowland would later admit it was all a bit of a mistake.
For those who still couldn’t stomach Blink and lacked the patience for G n’R, 2010’s grown-up headliners were Arcade Fire. Well on the course for their Brit and Grammy wins, the band were on magisterial form, unfurling heartstopping songs from ‘The Suburbs’ and bringing the day to a dignified end.
Rage Against The Machine made one of the most anticipated rock comebacks of recent years. After a dry-run at Coachella a few years before, they arrived back on UK soil in 2008 and hit Reading in shock-and-awe style dressed in orange Guantanemo Bay suits. Shame the wind was against them and so they sounded far too quiet.
The Emo wars raged in 2006 as the Daily Mail went up against a generation of disaffected teens in an epic battle for music’s soul. Revealing their new alter-egos The Black Parade, My Chemical Romance distanced themselves from a “bullshit war” but survived an initial torrent of bottles to emerge victorious.
By 1994, Manic Street Preachers had become a ticking time bomb. ‘The Holy Bible’ had emerged as their best, but bleakest record, and Richey’s issues were beginning to get the better of him. In an attempt to halt disaster, he was packed off to The Priory and the band agreed to play Reading as a three-piece. But the stresses on the band only served to ramp up the urgency and intensity of their show.
Daphne and Celeste were a pair of gobby American teens with a wicked turn in sarcastic bubblegum pop like ‘U.G.L.Y.’ They were ridiculous but amazing. Still, somebody was having a laugh putting them on after Placebo on Rock Day in 2000. They bravely faced off an onslaught of piss-filled bottles and took the whole thing is tremendous sport, cackling all the way to the dumper not long after.
Rock Day is one of Reading’s most honourable traditions, and headliners don’t come much more ferocious than the mighty Metallica. They last brought the metal to Reading in 2008, as they enjoyed a critical revival with return-to-form album ‘Death Magnetic’.
If Metallica are the mightiest metallers in the US, that honour in the UK must surely fall to the one and only Iron Maiden. They last did the big headline thing at Reading and Leeds in 2005. Back then, their set comprised a love letter to their faithful, since played songs only from their first four albums.
For obvious reasons, the world couldn’t wait to hear Dave Grohl debut the Foo Fighters in 1995. Quite a lot of the world as it happened, so organizers wanted to move the band to the Main Stage after Bjork. Grohl didn’t want to headline Reading on their first US show, so they went on in the tent as planned, in one of the most intense hours of Reading’s history.
Another big Strokes moment at Reading came when they first broke through in 2001. With the indie world frothing with panic at the prospect of rock’n’roll being saved after a period of lull, there were always going to be more people turning up than would fit in the small stage they had been booked on. NME stepped up with a campaign to move them onto the Main Stage.
To a generation of twenty-somethings, Blink-182 were the gateway band that got them into guitar music, but that they never got to see live. So their return to action, and headline R&L slot in 2010 was a cause for true excitement. The threesome smashed it and revived pogo memories of ‘All The Small Things’ and ‘The Rock Show’ in everyone else.
Eminem headlined Leeds and Reading in 2001 and brought the southern site to a close on Sunday night. But he had one more shock up his sleeve, wheeling out Marilyn Manson. The joint kings of controversy got together for a pointed rendition of Em’s hit ‘The Way I Am’ in protest to media haters.
Underworld in 1996 will go down as one of the most banging dance sets in Reading history. Two factors helped their cause. First, The Stone Roses were finally imploding over on the Main Stage. Second, a little film called Trainspotting had turned ‘Born Slippy’ into the party anthem for an entire generation.
Them Crooked Vultures had announced themselves suddenly in 2009 with a series of shock-and-awe shows at Coachella and supporting Arctic Monkeys. Rumours spread round the Leeds site all Friday morning but nobody could believe it. Then, with a simple Tweeted location, Josh, John Paul and Dave powered onto the second stage and shook Yorkshire to its very core.
In 1998, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant performed together, giving younger music fans a chance to experience Led Zeppelin live (well, as close as it could get to Led Zeppelin at the time). By the end of that year, the pair split ways and didn’t perform together again until July 2001 for the Montreux Jazz Festival.
Pearl Jam played backup for Neil Young during his 1995 set. The band had also contributed to Young’s album ‘Mirror Ball’ (though contractual oblications kept the band’s name off of the album, their individual names were included in the liner notes).
Who could forget Muse’s supermassive appearance in 2006? Not the pink-shoed girl held in the arms of this crowd, that’s for sure.
2010’s Band Of The Weekend award went to Mumford & Sons. It had taken a full year for their debut album ‘Sigh No More’ to sink into the nation’s consciousness, but this weekend their ecstatic NME Stage performance – which saw crowds packed twenty deep outside the tent – sealed the deal.
Klaxons, 2007. The year of the Mercury win, the debut album ‘Myths Of The Near Future’, and for anyone who witnessed it the peak of the ‘new rave’ phenomenon. Whatever you called the mid-noughties neon revolution, these performances represented its zenith.