The organisers of this year’s Truck clearly wanted the Oxfordshire festival to return with a bang. A three-year delay due to COVID meant that expectations were high, not to mention the fact that the festival celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
Certainly the line-up was one of its strongest ever, with indie stalwarts Bombay Bicycle Club, man-of-the-moment Sam Fender and rabble rockers Kasabian on headline duties. Elsewhere, rising acts including Baby Queen and Yard Act planted their flags as future stars gunning for higher placements on the bill. Much like Community Festival the week prior, it was essentially indie heaven for the 25,000 fans gathered at Hill Farm.
Perhaps that’s why Yard Act seem so gutted to play only a 30-minute set on Friday before rushing off to play another festival. “We’d have played for four hours,” frontman James Smith tells the crowd, “and play on the main stage, but that slot was already taken.” He can clearly see fans’ rapture as they mosh to ‘Payday’ and ‘The Overload’, wrapped up in the songs’ jerking, haywire guitars and acerbic chants.
Later, Sigrid delivers a masterclass in polished and emotional pop on the main stage. “I just had a moment…I love my job,” the Norwegian star tells the crowd after a glorious performance of ‘Sucker Punch’. Fittingly, the heavens open for ‘Strangers’ (“Just like in the movies / It starts to rain”). Fans don’t seem to mind the drizzle, with dozens climbing onto others’ shoulders to dance to its snappy synth-pop. It’s a joy to see Sigrid in her element, so impressed by the crowd’s connection. “I’m kinda speechless,” she says before a punchy performance of her breakthrough ‘Don’t Kill My Vibe’.
Friday headliners Bombay Bicycle Club are similarly overjoyed to be playing Truck. Singer and guitarist Jack Steadman says they’re “having the time of our lives” on multiple occasions as the band rattle through songs old and new. Curiously, despite the rather lukewarm reception to their latest album, 2020’s ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’, fans seem as in love with newer material than tracks such as ‘Dust On The Ground’ and ‘Lights Out, Words Gone’. Their latest album’s title track has way more pep live on what otherwise felt like a lacklustre album.
“This is Truck fest, right? I wanna see some mosh pits,” guitarist Jamie MacColl yells ahead of ‘Evening / Morning’. Closer ‘Always Like This’ is brilliant but penultimate song ‘Carry Me’ with its bombastic electro beats and brass fanfare would have been a better closer.
The following day, Baby Queen – real name Bella Latham – runs onto the main stage with boundless energy that never wanes. ‘Nobody Really Cares’ is Latham’s pop-punk ode to not giving a shit and is a surefire crowd-pleaser, with fans uniting to shout the line: “Tell your boyfriend that it’s over / Write a song for Jodie Comer.” Later, Sports Team put on a confident performance: ‘M5’ proves that when they sing in harmony they inject some much-needed refined melody into their boisterous indie rock.
Kelis marks a gear shift at the festival when she treats fans to a medley of her classics as well as a DJ covers mash-up. The contrast in sound from the preceding guitar-driven acts to this big electronic dance party is a welcome one, reflected no less by one of the most animated crowds of the weekend. ‘Millionaire’, ‘Trick Me’ and ‘Milkshake’ sound incredible, with Kelis’ soulful vocals on point. Mash-ups of Crystal Waters’ ‘Gypsy Woman’, Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ and Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ are just some of the gold-star bangers rolled out across the set.
The Kooks bring a nostalgia fest later on the main stage. ‘Shine On’, ‘She Moves In Her Own Way’ and ‘Ooh La’ remind you of how many infectious songs they have. Singer Luke Pritchard is as tuneful and playful with his voice as ever. Judging the mood of the crowd, he says, “Don’t worry, we’ll be playing ‘Naive’ tonight”, later ripping into the ’00s song that started it all the band.
There’s palpable excitement for Sam Fender’s headline set and that isn’t just by looking at the sheer amount of fan T-shirts spotted on site; snippets of overheard conversations reveal how buzzed people are. And so it’s a bit disappointing to watch a set plagued by audience casualties, not only for the obvious worry but to hear Fender say that he’ll need to alter the set to be “more chilled out”. “I don’t want any more people to get annihilated,” Fender says after a five-minute delay following ‘Spice’.
He also seems slightly off tonight – not vocally but energy-wise – and reveals that he’s battling a terribly sore throat. “You’ve revived something though”, he tells the crowd after a huge singalong to ‘Saturday’, confirming that their engagement is enough to bolster him for the rest of the set. A surprise appearance from Shaun Williamson – Barry from Eastenders – to sing ‘Getting Started’ gives this festival appearance, amid a summer of non-stop gigs, its unique edge.
On Sunday Jade Bird, like Yard Act, is ecstatic to be playing and bemoans not being able to perform for longer. The sun beating down suits her Americana-inspired ditties, with ‘I Get No Joy’ and ‘Going Gone’ stirring up mini moshpits. Inhaler impress later on with their pitch-perfect harmonies and catchy rock songs that nuzzle right into your brain including ‘My Honest Face’.
It’s interesting to see whether the crowd at Sam Ryder has just come along to see him perform his Eurovision hit ‘Space Man’, but mid-way through his set it’s clear that there are real fans in the audience reeling off lyrics to his other tunes. Ryder is a natural performer, drawing on Freddie Mercury’s Live Aid “eh-ohs” for buoyant call-and-reponses. His vocals are sublime – regularly integrating “Truck Fest” shout-outs – as is his shredding on guitar.
Easy Life attract one of the biggest crowds of the weekend and want to commit that to memory. Frontman Murray Matravers tells fans as much, encouraging the most “legendarily big” moshpit seen at one of the Leicester band’s gigs to date. Fan duly oblige, and ‘Skeletons’ and ‘Nightmares’ go down a storm as Matravers determines to crowdsurf (and crowdwalk!) while singing them out. A proper party.
Leicester is put more on the map on Sunday with an explosive headline set by natives Kasabian. After the departure of singer Tom Meighan in 2020 it feels like there’s enormous pressure on guitarist/singer Sergio Pizzorno to fill his boots, but he commands the stage with ease, adopting much of the swagger and snarl of his ex bandmate.
Kasabian have since hired additional support musicians and the results are fantastic: stadium rock anthems performed with vim and vigour. ‘You’re In Love With A Psycho’ and the glam-rock stomp of ‘Empire’ are thrilling live, with Pizzorno climbing the stage infrastructure to connect better with fans. “This has been the best fucking gig of the summer… it’s absolutely insane. This is what you join a band for,” he says, before launching into ‘LSF’ and ‘Fire’. A mammoth fireworks display closes out the show in celebration, one that also feels like a nod to the festival’s 25-year milestone.
Truck might be a bare-bones affair but its pure focus on music in a festival market that can feel over-commercialised and gimmicky is refreshing. A more varied line-up genre-wise is encouraged for future editions. For the indie heads, though, it’s a resplendent nirvana.