V Festival – Hylands Park, Chelmsford, Saturday August 22

Kasabian's Lairy Absurdity Shines In The Essex Countryside

Festival mega-sets are such a regular part of the Kasabian summer calendar, you’d forgive them for forgetting where they are. Tom Meighan yells “Chelmsford!” so often during this victory parade at V it’s like he’s got it scrawled on his hand, but they’re committed to the lairy max wherever they’re playing.

As the whopping great ’48:13′ digital countdown finally hits 00:00:00, they lurch into ‘Bumblebeee’, a blaring statement of vague intent. ‘Shoot The Runner’ finds Meighan picked out in shocking pink silhouette on the big screen, pinpointing the camp that counterbalances Kasabian’s laddier side. It’s followed rapidly by the brilliantly stupid ‘Eez-Eh’, then ‘Underdog’, ‘Days Are Forgotten’ and ‘Club Foot’ in a 25-minute thrill ride that starts to feel like the greatest gig ever. Meighan and Serge Pizzorno grin at each other – this is, well, eez-eh.

Such breakneck momentum can’t last, but Kasabian’s essential absurdity can. During what’s surely Tom’s “comfort break” (the frontman disappears from view for a good few minutes) Pizzorno interpolates Cameo’s ‘Word Up’ into ‘Re-Wired’, then gives us his weepy cover of Fugees’ ‘Ready Or Not’. Chelmsford surely can’t get any more bewildered, but suddenly here’s Meighan, dedicating ‘Goodbye Kiss’ to the late Cilla Black (“God bless Cilla Black”). He looks like he means it.

“Raise your hands like you’re an empire,” he yells later, demanding the implausible. “Are you? Are you an empire?” While Essex ponders his question, Kasabian gear up for inevitable closer ‘Fire’ and now it’s Pizzorno, asking for something a little more achievable: “Let’s go fucking mental!” The crowd duly go so out of their mind they even tolerate the guitarist playing hide and seek with himself for the next 90 seconds, repeatedly darting from behind the keyboards to the lip of stage.

No-one’s going anywhere near “mental” for Sam Smith a couple of hours earlier. The 23-year-old seems to have skipped 50 years and gone straight to his Las Vegas residency, sauntering around the stage doing slushy talkie bits while the pianist tinkles away behind him. He pulls the kineticism out of crisp dance hits like his Disclosure collaboration ‘Latch’, turning them into supper club standards. If this is pop in 2015, we want out.

Alternatively, if 2015 pop is Chvrches, there’s hope. At the MTV Stage, Lauren Mayberry’s touched anyone’s turned up at all while the “massive” Hozier‘s playing: “Maybe you confused ‘Take Me To Church’ with Chvrches.” This set, still heavily reliant on 2013’s debut ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’, is becoming as familiar as an old sock but it still packs a punch and there are people here hearing ‘The Mother We Share’ for the first time, so it’s worth it. There’s one new track, ‘Leave A Trace’, which Mayberry prefaces with angry words about some of the online reaction to ‘Never Ending Circles’ (the second song unveiled from upcoming second album ‘Every Open Eye’) over the past week. “Being a woman in music is hard,” she concludes, “but to quote Melanie C, ‘Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough!'”

James Bay isn’t hard enough. The Brits Critics’ Choice winner belts out his ersatz drivetime rock in the afternoon sun (he’ll cook in that bloody hat), but between songs he’s an even weedier Cliff Richard, repeatedly telling the crowd how “incredible” they are in his mid-Atlantic drawl. This is blues reduced to PR soundbites.

Something a little more real is happening with Courteeners and Reverend And The Makers. Liam Fray’s lot are still your meat-and-potatoes indie-rock band but anthemic new single ‘Small Bones’ sounds huge and, in a sweet moment, the evergreen ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ is dedicated to The Maccabees for their recent Number One triumph. Jon McClure is more concerned people are sitting down for the Makers’ lunchtime gig. He’s so distracted by their lazy arses that he introduces ‘Shine The Light’ twice, but most are soon jumping to his “solid gold party bangers”.

Maybe he’ll have livelier punters on Sunday at Stafford – and what’s this? Serge Pizzorno actually has Stafford on the phone. “They say they’re going to be well better,” he taunts the Essex mob. Pure japery but he gets his reaction. Kasabian usually do.

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