September 2, 2009
Live Review: Green Man
The folkie mecca is evolving into something much more exciting than just traditionalism. Crickhowell, Wales, Friday August 21 – Sunday August 23
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Although the druids who earlier this year performed a ritual to end Green Man’s rain curse seem to have succeeded in their magick, the downside is that a cloudless Friday means the temperature falls with the night. Steam rises from a still pond, and the sound of a thousand sets of chattering teeth waiting for Animal Collective recall Gang Gang Dance’s polyglot tribal futurism earlier in the day. This is a crowd that wants to drive away the Usk valley’s nocturnal chill with dance, but what we get is Animal Collective experimenting with new material and mangling old. Much like the drunkards undergoing gong therapy in the hippy garden, even ‘My Girls’ fails to achieve transcendence; nevertheless, their desire to already be moving beyond the sounds of ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’ should be applauded.
So from the future, to the past and British Sea Power’s soundtracking of 1934 documentary Man Of Aran. Their first set on the main stage might have been a bombastic triumph (who needs a 10million quid claw when you’ve a stage strewn with the finest Welsh flora?) but even that is topped by their accompaniment to the film, brass-tinged instrumentals as heroic as the islanders’ struggle against the bitter waves that washed Aran’s rugged shore. After a standing ovation, we’re left to wander into the night ruminating on the fact that compared to the struggles of the Aran Islanders (two days to kill a basking shark to get enough oil to light their lamps) we in the Welsh chill have it easy. In a similar spirit, Blue Roses makes the walled garden come alive on Saturday with her full-voiced odes to Yorkshire, while Grizzly Bear’s accompaniment to the sunset brings the spirit of the Cape Cod foreshore that shaped ‘Veckatimest’.
This year it’s these groups, evoking the landscape around them, who outshine many of the contemporary folk acts on the bill. It’s a form that succeeds when light and dark and time and place are crafted into a timeless whole, but Noah And The Whale, despite the undoubted class of their new album, and the beauty of tracks like ‘Blue Skies’ stir nothing more than a pleasant homage to their influences, while on Sunday The Three Craws, featuring King Creosote and James Yorkston, turn trad songs away from their bawd, boozy roots into something as polite and bland as tourist knitwear.
In contrast, and further evidence that Green Man is evolving, internationalist loonies Zun Zun Egui have crowds pouring down the hills to the call of their kraut-meets-math-meets-post-hardcore noise and multilingual vocals from a dude who grabs his crotch and says he’s called Motherfucker. Calm down sir, this is a family festival. That’s a fact that Camera Obscura have paid too much attention to, censoring the sex and sauce from Gallic pop and Motown. The result? Anodyne parping for adults to dance like children to. After that surfeit of twee, and so many kaftans and plastic flowers in young girls’ hair, it’s refreshing to see a gent in a suit at the festival’s end, especially when it’s accompanied by the most rock’n’roll performance of the three days.
The Dirty Three’s dapper Warren Ellis high-kicks and spits in the air, conjuring as much distortion as melody from his violin over Mick Turner’s guitar and Jim White’s mellifluous drums. It’s raw emotion drawn from instrumentation alone and as wild as Ellis’ beard. With that, it’s left to Hawkwind to stir a psychedelic brew you could stand a spoon up in as outside the tent, a Green Man blazes. Who knows into what incarnation he will be reborn next year.
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