They’re still sombre, but the Manchester pop duo flirt with optimism on a fist-pumping third album
Victoria Park, London, June 15-17
As if a 10th birthday party wasn’t reason enough to get hammered on warm beer and flail around wildly in a field, Friday presents us with Canadian noise punks Crystal Castles’ first set in the capital since February last year. Sloping on stage during England’s Euro 2012 match against Sweden, Ethan Kath and Alice Glass are greeted by a smaller crowd than they deserve, but those who’ve forgone patriotism for the duo’s return aren’t remotely bothered.
Opening with the same (as yet untitled) new song they unveiled at Manchester’s Parklife festival last weekend, they start as they mean to go on with Alice stomping her foot against the monitor and nonchalantly puffing on a cigarette between ear-bleeding shrieks. It’s the only unheard track in the set, but more than enough to bring back the giddy rush of excitement that befalls all those that allow Crystal Castles to assault their ears. A spring-loaded, euphoria-flooded homage to rave, it’s the perfect reintroduction to the band.
Rabid cheers greet their every move – from Ethan’s hunched knob-twiddling to each whip of Alice’s lilac hair – but, typically, they stay silent between songs, shooting steely glares at each other, at the engineers side of stage and at the crowd. ‘Baptism’ and ‘Crimewave’ elicit zealous dancing from both band and fans, but it’s final song ‘Not In Love’ that unites the two parties in one big, soaring singalong. Its climax signals an abrupt end to a thrilling show, Ethan waving goodbye as he hurriedly follows Alice offstage. Elsewhere on the Friday, Dagenham rapper Devlin falls flat on the main stage with misguided lyrics about being “positive like HIV”, while Joe Goddard makes his first of two appearances of the day with The 2 Bears. Their set is 100 per cent party fun and sparks the first stage invasion of the weekend, as half the crowd piles over the barrier to join him and Raf during ‘Bear Hug’.
Over in The Big Top, Magnetic Man team stadium-esque visuals with pounding dubstep before one third of the group, Skream, returns for his own headline set, inviting the tent onstage, much to security’s fury. There’s no such drama for Hot Chip as they finish the day’s festivities, getting Victoria Park dancing to ‘Over And Over’, ‘Night & Day’ and ‘I Feel Better’, segued into a surprise cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Everywhere’.
Saturday dawns, and if Lovebox’s attendees are feeling a little worse for wear, they don’t show it. BBC-endorsed grime star Dot Rotten is the first big hit of the day, performing tracks from his upcoming debut album ‘Voices In My Head’, but can’t outshine Kelis, whose greatest hits set is one of the highlights of the weekend. Splitting her time between strutting around the stage and playing the drums, she races through her staggeringly good back-catalogue of ‘Trick Me’, ‘Caught Out There’ and ‘Millionaire’ before letting loose a mash-up of ‘Milkshake’, ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ and Madonna’s ‘Holiday’.
Friendly Fires might not have any mash-ups in their set but they still match Kelis for party atmosphere, despite the weather attempting to dampen spirits. “Just pretend you’re on a tropical island right now,” instructs frontman Ed Macfarlane while shaking his hips and, with the power of visualisation and his band’s calypso rhythms, we’re transported somewhere sunnier and warmer than east London, before being brought back to reality as the last echoes of ‘Kiss Of Life’ ring out around Victoria Park.
Then comes Sunday, and it’s positively carnival-esque, a riot of outlandish costumes, vibrant colours and garishly good fun. This sense of flamboyance comes across in Patrick Wolf’s early evening set as he crawls across the stage seductively before jumping off and arching backwards over the barrier into the crowd. Back onstage, he nearly trips over some cables and almost plays ‘Time Of My Life’ twice (“I thought we hadn’t done it,” he blushes). Closing on a dance version of ‘The City’, it’s an endearingly scatty performance that puts a smile on everyone’s faces. Later on Lana Del Rey makes her UK festival debut, and after some heavily criticised performances throughout 2012, exceeds all expectations with a charming, if short, set. Predictably, ‘Video Games’ gets the biggest response, with Lana gushing afterwards “there really are no words”. She needs to work on becoming more engaging onstage but, in time, there’s potential for her to become a great performer.
Closing the festival in euphoric fashion, first a denim catsuit-clad Chaka Khan transforms Victoria Park into a ’70s disco with classics like ‘I’m Every Woman’ and ‘Ain’t Nobody’, before making way for Grace Jones’ grand finale. Whipping out her hula hoop and baring more flesh than any 64-year-old should dare to, it’s a jubilant end to the weekend and proof that Lovebox is a festival worth celebrating.
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