Live Review: Kanye West Wireless 2009

Kanye makes a fail bid for the vacant King Of Pop title but the UK’s reign supreme as parklife turns bonkers. Wireless Festival, Hyde Park, London. Saturday, July 4 – Sunday, July 5

Just days after Blur’s triumphant Hyde Park comeback shows and you might have expected an air of hungover contemplation to settle over central London’s greenest acreage. Far from it. The Essex lads who chanted ‘Parklife’ all the way back along the Central Line last night have merely been replaced by their younger brothers yelling ‘Bonkers’, ripped to the tits on pear cider, poppers and sunstroke.

At least it means that everything on Wireless’ rather eccentric, cobbled-together bill gets a raucous reception, even the mumsy Europop of Saint Etienne or a brief flurry of vogueing from Britain’s Got Talent dance divs Diversity. Only the fey, folky sounds drifting over from the Bella Union bandstand succeed in thoroughly perplexing the gangs of shirtless geezers marauding merrily through the festival site.

The parkies are still fishing Blur-branded bumf out of the Serpentine when The Phenomenal Handclap Band bound onstage at 2pm. An eight-strong troupe of hippy-dippy New Yorkers fronted by two near-identical raven-haired beauties and a bloke who looks like Justin Lee Collins, they play cosmic ‘70s funk-rock with the smiley, cult-like zeal of The Polyphonic Spree. It’s not quite phenomenal, but it’s certainly a lot of fun. Jack Peñate’s new tropical direction, meanwhile, is tailor-made for the mid-afternoon sun and, fleshed out by brass and backing singers, he’s sounding better than ever. If only he wasn’t so dislikeable. His between-song banter is hopelessly insincere and he keeps moaning about the heat, despite refusing to remove the jacket that makes him look like a Ukrainian mobster on safari.

Inevitably, the day’s best outfits belong to the ladies of Basement Jaxx: one minute they’re new-rave lollipop ladies, the next they’re clad in mirrorball hoodies, then they’re back onstage dressed as The Supremes. The hits come thicker and faster than the costume changes: ‘Oh My Gosh’, ‘Red Alert’, with newie ‘Raindrops’ slotting right in. It’s an exhilarating spectacle. But the nagging feeling of something missing is underlined when they drop in a snatch of ‘Sex On Fire’ and it elicits the biggest singalong of the festival.

Sunday is inescapably Kanye West day. He’s inveigled his two latest protégés onto the bill – Kid Cudi is bouncy and charming but unlikely to ever have another hit; Mr Hudson is slick and annoying but will have plenty – and backstage gossip concerns the silly money Kanye is apparently getting for turning up. At least he’s ploughed some of the cash back into constructing an incredible sci-fi stage set that makes it look like he’s singing from inside a giant game of Asteroids.

From the moment he kicks off with ‘Coldest Winter’ it’s clear that Kanye isn’t playing the obvious summer festival game. His set draws heavily on the introspective Auto-Tuned balladry of ‘808s & Heartbreak’, with even ‘Touch The Sky’ and ‘Through The Wire’ painted in yearning, melancholy hues. It’s a bold, impressive move, and we’re with him, right up until the lumpen ‘It’s Amazing’, when four topless, gold-painted models stroll on and drape themselves at his feet like he’s some kind of minor deity.

“Sometimes people don’t understand what I do,” moans Kanye, before embarking on an interminable version of ‘Say You Will’. As the irascible crowd resume lobbing plastic bottles at each other, Kanye only becomes more and more distant up on his crystal podium. Then it hits you: the rolled-up jacket sleeves, the shades, the gloves, the Christ-like poses, the swooning acolytes at his feet, the way he never once looks down at the crowd but always up to the sky as if he’s getting his affirmation from a higher power – Kanye actually thinks he’s Michael Jackson. He’s spotted the vacancy for a King Of Pop and this bombastic, self-indulgent performance is his application form. Expect to see a 50-foot high statue of Kanye West floating down the Thames any day now.

Ultimately, the weekend belongs to two British MCs without such lofty views of themselves. Dizzee Rascal reprises his Glastonbury turn with even more infectious gonzo energy and ‘Bonkers’ goes off like a firecracker, sending everyone in a mile radius completely doolally. It’s in danger of all going a bit Club 18-30, however: Dizzee’s corny new single ‘Holiday’ is perilously close to being this generation’s ‘Agadoo’.

It’s left to The Streets to inject some love into the occasion. Discarding his bomber jacket and T-shirt as the Stage 2 tent reaches a temperature that could support nuclear fusion, Mike Skinner orchestrates his congregation of sweaty, strung-out ravers to skank, mosh, ‘go low’, laugh, cry and sing their hearts out. It’s the only set of the festival to generate the same kind of heart-busting bonhomie as Blur managed the night before. Maybe we don’t need a new King Of Pop: we just need a slightly out-of-shape chap in cut-off denim shorts telling us everything’s going to be alright.

Sam Richards

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