Smoke flares in red, blue and green engulf the crowd, the chug of indie rock strikes up, the Reading old schoolers emerge from the holes they’ve buried themselves in ever since Dua Lipa strutted into sight. Courteeners finally swagger into the almost-headline Reading & Leeds slot their fanbase undoubtedly deserves, perhaps a little narked that it took the festival embracing shameless populism for them to get here. “I know we’ve not always been flavour of the month,” Liam Fray snarls at a crowd who’ve danced their legs down to the knees to J Hus, Post Malone and Brockhampton and now fancy a bit of guitar rough of a Sunday night. For those few remaining Reading Noelites starved of their red-meat indie rock all weekend, the Courteeners’ flavour will do just fine.
As the poppier offspring of ‘90s ladrock, Courteeners suit the role of a kind of High Flying Birds for the Panic! At The Disco fans, and they certainly throw themselves into their elevated stature like eternal mid-tablers grasping at the winner’s medal. Initially an oh-so-familiar indie stomp like ‘Are You In Love With A Notion?’ smacks of waxwork museum novelty, like taking a trip through Readings past to see what grandad did during the Britpop wars, but Courteeners quickly expand their remit. ‘Cavorting’ is decidedly visceral and ‘No One Will Ever Replace Us’ (from 2016’s ‘Mapping The Rendezvous’) incorporates synth disco electronica into a band you’d expect to scowl in a surly manner around a dancefloor’s edge in oversized overcoats rather than shake any amount of funky stuff. Before long the chirpy knee-up Oasisisms of ‘Bide My Time’ seem like throwback sops and Courteeners’ sound becomes dominated by synthetic sizzle. There are bits of ‘Take Over The World’ that would make Coldplay instinctively bash away at a church bell.
They’ve yet to strive far beyond pastiche, mind – the awesome ‘Small Bones’ is only really awesome because it’s basically their ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’, and before their fifty minutes are up they also try their hand at being Depeche Mode (‘Lose Control’), U2 (‘The 17th’) and The Killers (‘Modern Love’). But nobody goes to a Courteeners gig for pioneering sonic adventures; they go for the closing one-two of ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ and ‘What Took You So Long?’ – which Fray tellingly twists into James’s ‘Tomorrow’ – which are just the kind of beery britrock jog-alongs that Reading 2018 needed to clear the pop slosh from its glitter-clogged lungs.