Catfish & The Bottlemen at Reading Festival 2021: a slick machine potentially powering down

August 27: the Welsh lads race through the motions and crowd-pleasers amid the split rumours

Not for the first time in their career, Catfish & The Bottlemen are closely followed by rumours of their demise. Widely-spread whisperings of a split were quashed in 2017, but they’ve reared their head again in recent weeks with the Twittersphere and tabloids claiming that the Llandudno lads will go their separate ways after their series of upcoming summer shows, headlining Reading & Leeds this weekend before rolling onto Swansea’s Singleton Park and Warrington’s Neighbourhood Weekender next month. NME approached a Catfish spokesperson for the response, but they were unable to respond.

One of our longshots paid off,” sings frontman Van McCann on opener ‘Longshot’ from 2019’s ‘The Balance’ – a heartening notion for most bands who dream of headlining the hallowed stage of Reading. As he later pines on 2016’s ‘Soundcheck’ from ‘The Ride’: “Because you grew up in a small town / You’ll appreciate it more”. Circle pits swirl and the vast crowd grows a little more feral, and it’s easy to see how Catfish became one of Britain’s biggest guitar bands. They’re slick as fuck; a well-oiled machine of indie proficiency. Their songs are at times invigorating, rushing through a checklist of stadium rock crowd-pleasing tick boxes.

Catfish & The Bottlemen at Reading Festival 2021. Credit: Emma Viola Lilja for NME

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Take ‘Conversation’. It has an old-school warming indie charm, inviting a whole lot of crowdsurfing and arms a’waving, but it smacks of rock dinosaur era Oasis by its closing drawl and wig-out. ‘Outside’ makes for a Reading-ready gnarly romp, but there’s a bit too much wankery in the extended drum solo and psych-y breakdown on ‘Business’ for it to make a connection. At times in the set, it’s like watching Motley Crue covering The Cribs, or at least some session musicians covering Catfish & The Bottlemen.

“Thank you for letting us headline,” says McCann, introducing penultimate song ‘7’ before ending on early favourite ‘Cocoon’. Catfish are crowdpleasers for sure, and for their knack of that they deserve credit. There’s no grand farewell announcement during their Main Stage West performance at Reading on the opening Friday, but there is the sense of a band racing through the motions. It’s all a bit too mechanical, with not enough heart. Stormzy’s headline set follows on the opposite main stage, and feels like a much more raucous and momentous affair. That’s not to take away from the good time given to the Catfish crowd, it just felt like the party was over on stage.

Check back at NME all weekend for more reviews, news, interviews, photos and more from Reading & Leeds 2021. 

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