“I’m going to try something,” says Sports Team’s vocalist Alex Rice midway through their set as he picks up a guitar, ready to play ‘Long Hot Summer’. Moments later, the strap has broken and he’s quickly handed it back to usual guitarist Rob Knaggs, suggesting they play ‘Here’s The Thing’ instead. If that sounds chaotic – well, welcome to Sports Team.
The band have spent the past month playing every basement venue, record store and rooftop that would have them, reconnecting with their diehard fanbase after months of nothing but virtual banter. Those small, sweaty, intimate shows were a fierce reminder that Sports Team are one of the most exciting indie bands going and today, they’ve come to stake their claim on Reading Festival‘s Main Stage West.
Swaggering onstage to Oasis’ ‘Rock & Roll Star’, the band set the bar from the off. In previous interviews with NME they’ve comfortably declared themselves “the best live band in the world” and time away from the stage hasn’t softened that faith.
Above them, a custom blimp floats about the stage as a display of their stadium ambitions. In typical festival fashion, though, the number printed on it only ends in a voicemail. Similarly, the guitar can’t be heard for the entirety of opening number ‘Fishing’, but the reaction from the crowd is so euphoric that the band clearly have no idea. There’s even a rowing circle pit that would make Download Festival blush.
The guitar cuts back in for the jangly hammer of ‘Happy (God’s Own Country)’ and for the rest of their all-to-brief 30-minute set, it’s absolute carnage onstage and off. Rice jumps into the crowd for ‘M5’, pulls out a harmonica for ‘Margate’ and climbs up a stack of amps for the off-kilter alt-rock of ‘Kutcher’. The whole thing could come tumbling down at any moment, but that seems to suit Sport Team just fine.
As for the crowd: the entire front-section becomes a swirling, joyous moshpit as Sports Team deliver cuts from their Mercury Prize nominated debut album ‘Deep Down Happy’ while towards the back, small groups of friends trade dance routines to those indie anthems. People who have wandered over out of sheer curiosity quickly become caught up in the ecstatic crowd.
The band have built a fiercely loyal fanbase over the years but rather than close ranks, today sees them throw open the doors and welcome everyone in. Sports Team’s message of inclusion, community and togetherness coming to life as the band play the biggest of stages. “After the year we’ve had, this is amazing,” grins Rice.
At the very end of the show, he collapses into the crowd and is carried off before returning inexplicably with an Elmo bucket hat minutes later. That same group of people will carry Sports Team to Brixton this autumn, then maybe Wembley and beyond. With this fierce and friendly a following, anything seems possible.
Check back at NME all weekend for more reviews, news, interviews, photos and more from Reading & Leeds 2021