REM, Flaming Lips, Idlewild, The Proclaimers, Biffy Clyro, Skin, Martin Grech
Right, let’s lay our cards on the table: everything today pales in comparison to the show by The Flaming Lips – a set scheduled to replace the absent White Stripes, who pulled out after Jack White broke his finger in a car accident in Detroit. The Lips rise to the challenge to pull out one of the performances of their career: a confetti-blast of acid-assisted good vibes and dancing animals which features a cover of ‘Seven Nation Army’ and a renditon of ‘Happy Birthday’ directed to the absent Jack White – which sees the Super Furry Animals marauding the stage dressed as yetis, and REM’s Peter Buck sticking his head out from side-stage to toast the occasion. It is – and this probably goes without saying – totally fantastic.
If only today had begun so well. But it begins with Martin Grech. Look around, Martin. This field is full of nice people that paid good money to celebrate T in the Park’s tenth anniversary, and not only are you and your band playing a particularly tiresome brand of scab-picking major label emo-rock, you’re playing it like it’s The Most Important and Serious Thing in the World. A sparse crowd looks on like they’re witnessing a particularly joyless maths lesson.
In crisp white shirt, new head of hair elegantly sculpted, Skin looks about as great as anyone who spent half a decade in Skunk Anansie has any right to be. Her solo stuff works best when she’s not trying to be the Nina Simone of nu-metal; by siphoning off the bombast and quietly emoting over the skeletal electronics of her new album, ‘Fleshwounds’, Skin sounds like she’s finally hit on a tone that suits her.
Bring on the Scots. South of Hadrian’s Wall, Biffy Clyro have until recently been obscure rock plodders notable only for their slightly embarrassing record sleeves of scantily-clad young ladies. Here in their homeland, however, they’re on the verge of sparking off Biffymania – and they rise to the challenge. With mop of blonde hair plastered Cobain-like over his face, frontman Neil Simon leads his band through a clutch of serrated guitar screechers that kick the crowd into life.
Now here’s one for the dads. In theory, The Proclaimers are to T what Rolf Harris is to Glastonbury: a totem of pretence-feel celebration that transcends cool and wins everyone’s heart in a heart-stirring spectacle of inclusivity. In practice, mind, they’re shite – all wanky pedal-steel Nashville-lite – at least until a barn-storming ‘Letter From America’ turns everything pleasantly kitsch. And The Cardigans don’t fare much better, raven-haired frontwoman Nina Persson wheezing into a harmonica as the band trawl through a long, dull afternoon of country numbers.
Now here’s a sure bet: Idlewild, a band made in Scotland, quite possibly from girders, who figured out the simple equation that The Smiths + Screaming = Great Rock’n’Roll long before those emo kids were out of snotty hankies. Roddy Woomble is still rocking the cool geography teacher look – verily, no-one wears a brown jacket better – and the likes of ‘When I Argue I See Shapes’ and ‘Little Discourage’ froth and growl like rabid puppies.
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Finally, the other side of the Flaming Lips’ triumph, REM bring the day to a close with a career-spanning set that mixes the hits – ‘Losing My Religion’, ‘The Great Beyond’, ‘Man On The Moon’ – with a treasure-trove of tracks from their distant indie past. It’s not the ideal set to bring to a festival crowd. But Michael Stipe – sporting a vivid splash of orange eyeliner that’s almost as striking as Wayne Coyne’s fake blood facial – remains the sort of aloof presence that it’s hard to tear your gaze from. They encore with an ‘Everybody Hurts’, and everyone’s holding their mobile phones to the heavens, dialing catharsis home to absent loved ones. Sappy? Well, yeah. But it sure beats lighters.