Monthly Archives: July 2012

By Toutatis Release Mythical New Single

By Toutatis – Hero & Leander/World’s Worst

Leave it to historically-influenced folk-rockers By Toutatis to write a single inspired by a Greek myth, eh? Following up from debut EP Three More Nights Of The Rough Musick (reviewed here) and a subsequent split release with wonderfully lo-fi North-easterners Dressed Like Wolves (find them on Facebook/Bandcamp), the band’s next release will be a double A-side. Hero & Leander/World’s Worst is available now on Bandcamp, and will also be receiving a limited physical release as a CD with a rather nifty-looking cut cover. You can pre-order the CD here, and listen to/download the tracks below:

Before we start though, we should probably get ourselves up to speed with the myth of Hero & Leander – oh, thanks Wikipedia! As you might expect, it’s a tale of doomed love, with Hero guiding her lover Leander across the Hellespont strait by means of a lamp that she would light every night. This all goes swimmingly (sorry) until one stormy night when the wind blows Hero’s light out – Leander subsequently drowns, and Hero chucks herself off a tower to be reunited with him in death. Not the cheeriest tale then, but clearly By Toutatis’ lead songwriter Daniel Cochran decided that if it’s good enough for Shakespeare, Keats and Liszt, then it’s good enough for him too.

‘Hero & Leander’ feels like it was set on the fateful night of the couple’s demise, with thunderous drums and a sweeping violin line whipping up a storm for an intrepid guitar line to forge its way through. “Slip your trunks off/and I will light the lamp,” sings Cochran, before alluding to the tragedy that would occur that fateful night “Straight lines curve in darkness/direction will soon fail you.” But there are hints that this is more than just a straight re-telling of the story – could the line “you forge on/while my interest wanes” frame the myth as a metaphor for a dying relationship? Regardless of how you interpret it, ‘Hero & Leander’ rapidly cranks up the bombast levels in its first 20 seconds and never lets up from that point – it’s a stirring miniature epic that’s certainly worthy of its classical inspiration.

‘World’s Worst’ continues in a similar vein – drums continuing to gallop relentlessly on while the Robbie Major provides another evocative violin performance, eventually conjuring up the kind of frenzy that The Velvet Underground might be proud of. The track is underpinned by a crushing sense of melancholy, describing a person who’s very much at a low point – “I am the world’s worst,” sings Cochran, in the voice of a man clearly resigned to live a hollow shell of his former life. So, to recap, that’s a mythic tragedy and a morose character study, all within the space of 6 minutes – yet more evidence that By Toutatis are far more inventive than your average band.

Hero & Leander/World’s Worst is available to download now, and released on CD on the 13th August.


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Let’s Get Cynical About Latitude Festival 2012, pt IV: Sunday

Sunday at Latitude 2012 will prove to be a day of great musical highs, contrasted with moments of abject failure. The first of these is an organisational cock-up – despite the schedule stating that there’s meant to meant to be an artist playing at 10am, the arena isn’t open until 10:45. This will become relevant both immediately and later on in the day. The immediate effect is that Catherine A.D. ends up playing to a fairly sparse crowd a mere 10 minutes after the arena opens. It’s a shame really, as her melancholic chamber-pop is quite an intriguing proposition – her take on Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone’ is an unexpected highlight.

It’s Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains who get the most unfairly screwed over by the change though – after scrambling to get their significant amount of gear on stage, they end up only being allowed about 20 minutes to play. They’re not going to let that stop them from having a good time though. During opener ‘Les Plus Beaux’, Frànçois addresses the crowd – “Were you dancing last night? Did you dance like this?” he asks, before he and his bandmates seamlessly break out into a synchronised dance routine. It sets the tone for a gloriously fun set of feel-good afro-pop, and the clamour for more after the band are unceremoniously told they have to stop is both loud and absolutely justified. I hope the organisers took note –  Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains absolutely deserve to be invited back next year and given a much better slot.

The reason for the sudden curfew is that classical superstar Lang Lang is playing on the Waterfront stage – although that doesn’t stop loud bass music echoing from somewhere in the main arena for the first few minutes of his performance. After that eventually fades away, the crowd can sit back and enjoy this rather pleasant experience, thanks in no small part to the fact that the rain has disappeared entirely today. Putting his  performance by the lake proves to be an inspired choice – not only does it create a lovely atmosphere, it also affords the Chinese pianist the opportunity to enter and exit the stage by gondola, which is a nice touch. I won’t pretend to know a great deal about classical music, but I will say that Lang Lang does appear to be quite the fan of Franz Liszt – and he also acknowledges his roots by playing a couple of Chinese piano pieces. The only thing that spoils his performance slightly is the small number of people who insist on talking every time there’s the slightest break in the music – their inane nattering inevitably spills over into the next song, which gets frustrating after a while.

Tell me honestly, have you ever seen an Irish, improvisational rapper before? Watching Abandoman in the comedy tent makes me glad that I can now answer that question with a “yes.” Before starting out, he asks the audience to present him with the most random objects they can find in their pockets and bags – then proceeds to improvise a bizarre but highly entertaining flow with this random collection of items as its subject. It sets the tone for a hilarious set that culminates in a rap-battle style number about a game of ‘Connect 4’ he’s playing live with members of the audience – it’s the kind of insane genius that must be seen to believed. Afterwards, Reginald D. Hunter gives us a slower-paced but no less amusing performance, his wry humour attracting a huge crowd – prompting a few shouts of “turn it up!” from those outside the tent, as his voice was often overpowered by Rufus Wainwright bleating away on the main stage.

Indeed, I can’t help but notice that the Obelisk Arena sound levels seem much louder than on Friday, as Alabama Shakes get their set off to an almost deafening start. Though singer Brittany Howard’s voice is an instrument of raw power rather than finesse, their set of jangly blues-rock is nevertheless solid and workmanlike – but for reasons I can’t quite pin down, I find it difficult to get really excited about. I think a lack of engagement with the crowd doesn’t help matters – indeed, I find that the most endearing thing about their set is when Brittany stops to tell us how much they love our beautiful country (and our painted sheep) before the band’s final song.

Afterwards, it’s back into the woods, where Zun Zun Egui are overrunning. Except they’re not – the artist who was supposed to be playing at 10 in the morning has now been shoehorned in at 2pm, throwing the rest of the i Arena’s stage times off. This information doesn’t appear to have been relayed around the site very well, as the only place it seems possible to find out about the changes was on a list pinned to the back of the tent’s sound desk – though I kick myself a little for not thinking to look there earlier. It also has the disappointing effect of forcing me to choose between Daughter and St. Vincent, rather than being able to see both.

I originally intend to revise my plan and listen to a couple of songs from Daughter before heading over to see St. Vincent, but I actually find myself enjoying their set so much that I end up staying for the whole thing. Elena Tonra’s breathy vocals could well be compared to The XX, while the songs themselves are swooning mini-epics – ‘Home’ is all echoing guitars and longing sighs, while ‘Youth’ nurses a quiet bitterness over a sparse acoustic guitar line before a galloping drumbeat up the ante. The band seem genuinely surprised that the tent is full of people singing their words back at them – but on this evidence it’s the least they deserve.

Much to my chagrin, I realise later on that the time I spend waiting around in the woods could have been spent watching either Chilly Gonzales or Rich Hall. It’s not quite a total loss though, as I still manage to catch St. Vincent shimmy and shred her way through a couple of songs, ending with a vicious take on The Pop Group’s ‘She Is Beyond Good And Evil’.

The fail then continues, and unfortunately for Battles, so does their luckless streak at UK festivals this year – after being due to play the second day of the abandoned Bloc Festival in London, they have their set time almost halved by technical difficulties here. The four songs they do play are as incredible as always – particularly the closing pair of ‘Atlas’ and ‘Ice Cream’ – but it’s such a shame that they can’t play for longer. The band are clearly disappointed too, with drummer John Stanier visibly frustrated as the set comes to a premature end.

Meanwhile, Bat For Lashes finds herself in an odd position on the main stage – playing to a sizeable crowd that may not necessarily be here to see her, what with Ben Howard following on later. That doesn’t stop her set from being a perfect reminder of what an enchanting live performer she is, with cherry-picked numbers from her first two records mixed in with some promising new songs from her upcoming third album, The Haunted Man – including just-released piano-ballad bombshell ‘Laura’. Natasha Khan may have to work harder than usual, but nevertheless she does a good job of winning the crowd over – and while playing three new songs in a row might be a bit cheeky, I suppose you might as well if your audience isn’t planning on going anywhere regardless…

While I’m grabbing a bite to eat, I make the most of my proximity to the Word Arena and chill out while listening to a bit of M83 – though there’s a rather noticeable exodus from the tent after ‘Midnight City’. Back at the Obelisk Arena, Ben Howard draws some of the shrillest screams of the weekend as he takes to the stage, and subsequently after every single song he plays. I’ve kinda been kicking myself for missing his performance in the 450-capacity venue where I work – and considering that was a mere 15 months ago, he’s come a hell of a long way in a fairly short time. But if he’s nervous during what he rightly calls “the biggest gig of [his] life,” it doesn’t show when he plays his songs. He may be a little too middle-of-the-road for some, but there’s no denying he’s got a good voice, and with the weekend drawing to a close, his set is a pretty good way to wind down.

I leave Ben Howard early in order to make sure I’m in good time for Perfume Genius – so of course, he’s late on stage (whether as a result of the earlier timing shenanigans or not, I can’t say). He more than justifies the wait, however, reducing the Latitude crowd to absolute silence for the first time all weekend. It’s a performance of engrossing fragility, with Mike Hadreas sounding like he might be about to have a breakdown any second – the likes of ‘Dark Parts’, ‘Hood’ and ‘Mr. Peterson’ are both stark and utterly compelling, and he even throws a curveball by covering Madonna’s ‘Oh Father’ towards the end of the set. It might not be one of the showiest sets of the weekend, but it stands out as one of the most essential.

I really can’t see myself enjoying an hour and a half of Paul Weller, and I imagine the crowd will probably have enough obnoxious twats shouting “play ‘Going Underground’!” without me going out of my way to do so. Fortunately, the organisers have seen fit to have Wild Beasts headline the second stage, which is pretty much perfect for me. Much like The Horrors the night before, there is an air of familiarity about the band’s set – with the exception of ‘The Devil’s Crayon’, it’s a fairly typical mix of songs from Smother and Two Dancers. Thankfully, familiarity has yet to breed contempt, and while the crowd may not be as animated as for other bands this weekend, the response after every song is no less strong. What the audience lack in physical movement, they make up for with exuberant (if off key) attempts to match Hayden Thorpe’s voice – and try as I might to stay in tune, I’m probably guilty of getting carried away too.

Finally, as seems vaguely appropriate for such a festival, we end up back in a Poetry tent that’s once again jammed to capacity, and for good reason – the legendary John Cooper Clarke is here. His set is a mix of humorous observations, jokes that are so bad they’re good, and his trademark rapid-fire punk poems. He does tend to wander off on tangents a fair bit – at one point he even introduces ‘Beasley Street’, then spends a further 10 minutes talking about something completely unrelated before actually reading the poem. It’s endearing rather than frustrating though, and his finale of ‘Evidently Chickentown’ is a fantastic way to round off the weekend.

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Let’s Get Cynical About Latitude Festival 2012, pt III: Saturday

Saturday at Latitude 2012 looks to be the most action packed to me – though to be honest, I could have probably seen even more bands if I hadn’t slept in. Regardless it’s off to the arena, where I plan to spend as much of the day in the music tents as possible to avoid the still-present threat of rain…

As well as being heartily endorsed by The National, Sharon Van Etten has been receiving a lot of positive press for her second album Tramp. Turns out she’s also a captiviting live performer, and her early set in the Word Arena goes down a treat – the biggest highlight is the swirling rush of ‘Serpents’, but her soft, accented vocals also lend a great deal of emotional resonance to the loping expansiveness of ‘Warsaw’ and the stark, moody ‘Give Out’. Saturday’s already off to a good start.

My plan for today basically involves hanging out at the i Arena in the woods for the vast majority of the day, so I figure I may as well start as I mean to go on and head straight over. I catch Sunless ’97 performing their last couple of dreamy electro numbers, the band’s three members crowded around a table full of synths and laptops while simultaneously singing or toting guitars. Up next are Deap Vally, a female blues-rock duo who are essentially a trashier White Stripes . If that sounds like an insult, it’s not all that bad – their rough-and-tumble rock provides a dose of throwaway fun, so my ‘Derp Vally’ joke will have to go sadly unused.

Norwegian six-piece Team Me have become one of my most anticipated bands of the weekend – I’ve very much fallen in love with their debut full-length To The Treetops!, and their live performance doesn’t disappoint. Kicking straight off with ‘Patrick Wolf & Daniel Johns’, the set starts in a high-energy manner and never lets up from that point on. The band are adorably twee, but their songs also pack a surprising punchiness – suitably demonstrated by the thunderous drumming and heart-stopping gang vocals on ‘Weathervanes And Chemicals’, as well as ‘Show Me’s powerful chorus. Even their banter is heart-warming – at one point they comment that taking a boat ride to get their gear to the stage reminded them of their home town of Elverum. The galloping, hopeful ‘With My Hands Covering Both My Eyes I Am Too Scared To Have A Look At You Now’ closes out their set, and features the wide-eyed lyric “I hope we mean something for you my love.” Judging by the incredibly warm reception they’re given here, they definitely do mean something to a lot of people – and certainly to me.

Of Monsters And Men subsequently up the stakes by bringing seven members and even more instruments on to the stage – seriously, whoever thought a 15-minute changeover was going to work here was clearly deluded. Still, during the break there’s another brilliantly middle-class moment as a young chap turns round, spies his friend and shouts “BENEDICT! IT’S FUCKING BENEDICT!” I then get chatting to the group of excitable teens  in question, who are clearly stoked about seeing this band – and they’re not the only ones. From the opening strains of ‘Dirty Paws’, the Icelandic group have the audience in the palm of their hand. It’s one of those instances where the totally overused Arcade Fire comparison actually holds a lot of weight – from the stirring, dense instrumentation to the occasional well-placed “HEY!” Set-closer ‘Six Weeks’ does occasionally threaten to stumble into Mumford & Sons territory, but instead morphs into a glorious epic that wraps up a spellbinding performance.

After the emotional highs of the last two bands, the psychedelic drone of Wooden Shjips seems a fine way to wind down a little. They’re an oddly incongruous-looking bunch of fellows, but that doesn’t stop them effortlessly creating a wall of mesmerising fuzz. It could be argued that they’re too repetitive, but I think that would be missing the point – there music is supposed to be repetitive, the sort of grooves that should get embedded in your brain and induce an almost trance-like state of enjoyment.

I then leave the woods for the first time in hours and head over to the Lake Stage to catch Tall Ships – who shouldn’t be confused with the previous group, as they’re a math-rock band from Brighton. But this isn’t humourless, emotionless math rock, it’s math-rock with a heart – looped guitar riffs, incessant basslines and towering drums are accompanied by stirring vocals, as ably demonstrated by lead track “T=0”. Typically, the rain chooses to make its appearance at one of the few times I’m not in a tent, but it feels oddly appropriate in some ways – particularly during set-closer ‘Vessels’, with its chanted lyrics about sunken ships.

Back in the woods, the shimmering shoegaze-pop of I Break Horses is pleasing enough to the ears, but doesn’t make a particularly lasting impression on me. I don’t wish to be unkind to them though – it’s entirely possible that I might have really fallen for them on a different day, but when the quality of the lineup is so consistently good, it’s inevitable that some bands will get lost in the mix along the way.

Soko wins the dubious honour of being the most talked-over artist I’ve seen so far this weekend – during one particularly quiet, fragile number she becomes barely audible over the constant nattering in the tent. Attempting to engage the crowd, she invites audience members up on the stage to “dance like aliens” during ‘I Thought I Was An Alien’ – and gets more than she bargained for when one particularly amorous woman runs up and gives her a big hug and a kiss. Certainly one the weekend’s odder moments, but there are moments of melancholy beauty here too, particularly the painful honesty of ‘First Love Never Die’.

Back in the Word Arena, I’m intrigued to check out Belgian art-rockers dEUS – a band who are a pretty big deal in Europe but only really have a cult following in the UK. I’m almost completely unfamiliar with their records, but that doesn’t stop me being impressed by their performance. They’re clearly confident enough in their own songcraft that they’ll happily sing a song in French to an English-speaking audience, and the overall impression that I get is of a band who don’t particularly need any fancy gimmicks to win a crowd over – in that way, they’re perhaps comparable to The National, Elbow, maybe even Radiohead. It’s an effortlessly skilful show, and for their UK fans it’s a rare chance to catch their heroes on these shores – for myself, and everyone else, it’s an eye-opening introduction to a very good band who we’ve been completely missing out on.

“It’s so good to be back in England! I just wish I wasn’t so committed to wearing white,” quips Zola Jesus mid way through her headline slot in the woods. Her barefoot, all-white ensemble probably takes the prize for the least sensible outfit I’ll see all weekend, but that doesn’t stop her from leaping down into the muddy pit in front of the barrier at one point. She then returns to the stage brandishing a stray wooden stake that’s about as tall as she is – holding it above her head while continuing to sing, before finally tossing it back into the pit. God knows what the security guards thought. Any antics aside, it’s her voice that steals the show, as you might expect really. As a huge Zola Jesus fanboy, I’m pretty much enraptured throughout – though the throbbing pulse of ‘Hikikomori’, the intimacy of ‘Trust Me’ and the industrial whirr of set-closer ‘Vessel’ are particular highlights. She’s also a highly theatrical performer who holds the audience’s attention with complete ease – which makes it all the more endearing when a flicker of laughter crosses her face as she briefly forgets the words during ‘Night’. Overall, she completely justifies the fact that I’ve been anticipating her performance from the day I bought my festival ticket.

The only downside of watching Zola Jesus is that she clashes with Los Campesinos! – who are another favourite act of mine, as long time readers may well know. Fortunately, I manage to catch the last three songs of their set, and it proves to be one of the most entertaining 15 minutes I’ll see all weekend. I arrive just in time to hear them give ‘You! Me! Dancing!’ a fake intro of the riff from ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, while Gareth references the song’s recent use in an advert by changing a lyric to “every single one of us Budweiser ’til we die.” They follow up with a typically stirring rendition of ‘The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future’, before Gareth says they’ve got one more song to play and thanks the stage manager for their understanding – prematurely, it turns out, as the PA is promptly switched off. Never ones to give up, someone runs on stage to turn their amps up and the band proceed to play ‘Baby I’ve Got The Death Rattle’ in full anyway. Absolutely one of the festival’s most grin-inducing moments.

Tonight feels like a big moment for The Horrors (“We weren’t expecting this to be such a big tent,” admits Faris), and they not only sound amazing, but they look amazing too, bathed in smoke and silhouetted against a wash of colour. Sure, the setlist may contain pretty much the usual mix of songs from Skying and Primary Colours, but from the brooding intensity of ‘Mirror’s Image’ to the extended run through of the already colossal ‘Moving Further Away’, it’s absolutely faultless. ‘Still Life’ predictably gets the most triumphant response from the crowd, but it feels like The Horrors have become one of the UK’s consistently great live bands, and it’s a fine way to round off the evening.

But wait, there’s more! Scroobius Pip is doing a spoken word slot in the poetry tent, and by the time I get there it’s already completely rammed. It’s worth sticking around for as well – his darkly comic and insightful words are utterly compelling. If today has been one giant, delicious musical cake, then that was the cherry on top. I doubt I’m going to pack so many good bands into a single day for quite some time.

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Let’s Get Cynical About Latitude Festival 2012, pt II: Friday

Friday morning sees me awake to more First World Problems™ from a nearby tent (“look at my Converse… they were white!”) and Bon Iver’s soundcheck drifting over from the arena – the first day proper of Latitude 2012 is upon us.

I wouldn’t have expected the snarling, ramshackle punk of Iceage to go down well with the Latitude crowd – but it turns out the kids love a good excuse for a moshpit, and that’s exactly what they get. As the band blast through a series of short, sharp snaps of lo-fi punk from their debut record New Brigade, it doesn’t seem to matter that their vocalist is completely unintelligible – the youthful Danes get by on sheer energy alone. I think that their exuberance would have been lost on one of the larger stages, but the more intimate confines of the i Arena suit them down to the ground.

The first band on the Obelisk Arena (Latitude’s main stage) are Louisiana five-piece Givers, who provide the crowd with another energetic way to start their weekend. Their upbeat indie pop has definite shades of psychedelia about it, and the end result is a set of giddy, sprawling songs that combine with the unexpected sunshine (well, lack of rain at least) to create a cheery atmosphere. Their set culminates with an extended version of ‘Up Up Up’, which is the kind of ludicrously positive song that puts a smile on my often cynical face.

Following that, there’s a bit of a gap before the next band I want to see, so I take the time to catch Tim Key perform to a rammed poetry tent – I wish I’d been taking notes at that point, but you’ll just have to take my word for it that he was completely hilarious throughout. The comedy’s running a little late, which gives me the chance to catch the end of Shappi Khorsandi’s show – her wry ruminations on being a single mother, lesbian encounters, and her new found MILF status are suitably entertaining.

Back on the main stage, First Aid Kit provide the crowd with some of the prettiest songs they’ll hear all weekend. While their set is uniformly gorgeous, the closing three songs really stick out for me. Their cover of Fever Ray’s ‘When I Grow Up’ is magnificent, ‘Emmylou’ is a moment of sheer lip-quivering beauty (I actually have to bite my lip to stop myself from welling up), and ‘The Lion’s Roar’ brings proceedings to a powerful, majestic close.

I then head back into the woods to catch a set from Twin Shadow. Kicking off with the punchy electronic sheen of ‘Five Seconds’, he whips through a selection of tracks from new album Confess that somehow manage to sound both retro and futuristic at the same time – like 80s new-wave updated for the 21st century. It proves to be an enjoyable and well-realised musical vision, and it works well live thanks to the fact that he plays with a full band.

Following on from that, it’s time for a bit of meandering – I catch The War On Drugs playing their last song, head back into the woods for a couple of pleasant but forgettable tracks from Chairlift, before finally settling at the Lake Stage for Poliça. The band’s dual drummers make for a compelling rhythmic and visual spectacle, but the most captivating thing about them is vocalist Channy Leaneagh, whose warped, ethereal vocals and subtly engrossing stage presence make it almost impossible to turn your eyes from the stage. The band are mesmerising throughout, though I’d pick ‘Lay Your Cards Out’ as a particular highlight. Festival organisers take note – their hazy tracks would be perfect in a late-night slot.

I’m feeling a little tired at this point, and with the rain holding off and no band particularly screaming for me to see them, I take the opportunity to chill out for a bit. This does mean I’m not really giving Vadoinmessico my full attention when they appear on the Lake Stage, which is perhaps a little rude in hindsight – though their dreamy songs certainly serve as a pleasant enough soundtrack to relax to.

My opinion of Janelle Monáe flip-flops throughout her set on the Obelisk Arena. I have question her lack of confidence in her own material after she trots out three covers in a row mid-set – but the third of those covers is The Jackson 5’s  ‘I Want You Back’, and I must confess that I start to enjoy myself halfway through. She smartly follows this up with the killer one-two punch of ‘Cold War’ and ‘Tightrope’, and suddenly I find myself thinking she’s brilliant. The problem is she hasn’t really got anywhere to go after that, and her backing band have to cajole the audience into cheering for her planned encore of ‘Come Alive [War Of The Roses]’. I can’t escape the bassline’s nagging similarity to the B52s’ ‘Rock Lobster’, and I decide it’s time to leave when the song ultimately descends into audience participation karaoke.

Whilst waiting for Alt-J to stop fannying around and get on stage, I quickly go check on Lana Del Rey in the Word Arena. In a moment of fortunate timing, the one song I happen to catch is ‘Born To Die’. Whilst it’s basically impossible to get anywhere near the inside of the tent at this point, I can get a decent enough idea of what she sounds like – and who’d have thought it, she can actually sing live! Sorry, haters. I make a mental note that it might actually be worth seeing her perform a proper show at one point.

Curiosity sated, I’m straight back over to the Lake Stage, where Alt-J have finally started their set and are clearly overwhelmed at the size of the crowd they’ve drawn – and they justify the considerable hype surrounding them with an engaging set of their woozy ‘folk-step’ (yes, it’s a daft genre tag, but somehow fitting). Despite the closest thing to a danceable track being ‘Fitzpleasure’s buzzsaw synth bass and 2-step rhythm, those at the front of the crowd give dancing a fair go throughout, with lots of triangle-shape throwing to boot. The truly striking thing about their songs is how effortlessly beautiful they are, from the silky-smooth ‘Tessellate’ to the quietly affecting ‘Matilda’. As they bring their set to a close with a triumphant run through ‘Breezeblocks’, it feels like they’re the first band of the weekend to have had a truly landmark moment at this festival.

Whilst it’s good in some ways that the headliners of the smaller stages don’t clash with the main headliners on the two biggest ones, it does have the unfortunate effect of creating horrible four-band clashes between about 8.00-9.30pm. Today, Metronomy, Yeasayer, tUnE-yArDs and Clock Opera are all vying for my attention – I feel for the poor soul who couldn’t just choose the one band they haven’t seen before and leave it at that.

That process of deduction leaves me with tUnE-yArDs as my act of choice, and as it turns out, it’s a very good decision. My relative unfamiliarity with Merril Garbus’ material makes it no less enjoyable – from the opening bars of ‘Gangsta’, her looped drums and vocal lines mix with infectious hooks from bassist Nate Brenner to create an irresistibly fun package. The effect is only amplified by touring saxophonists Matt Nelson and Noah Bernstein, whose jazzy riffs bolster the party atmosphere. By the time she drops ‘Bizness’ and the tent goes wild, it’s clear that all the critical gushing about tUnE-yArDs’ last record whokill is more than justified – but more importantly, Garbus and her compatriots make it irrelevant by putting on a ridiculously enjoyable show.

I may as well confess right now that I still haven’t listened to either Bon Iver record in full, out of laziness as much as anything. That said, he proves to be an inspired choice of main stage headliner, as he now tours with a 9-piece band, making the whole thing suitably stirring and epic throughout. ‘Holocene’ is stunningly beautiful, while it’s impressive to see the sparse ‘Skinny Love’ transformed into something that completely dominates the stage. Due to my lack of familiarity with his material, I’ll admit that I’d have probably buggered off before the end if it was freezing cold or pissing it down – but I’m glad the weather held out as his performance was absolutely worth seeing, right up to the colossal, heart-bursting rendition of ‘The Wolves (Act I And II)’ that had the crowd in full voice. He probably should have ended his encore with that to be honest – I can’t remember which song he played to close out the set, but it seemed pretty superfluous by comparison. Still, it’s a minor gripe concerning an otherwise excellent performance – and I didn’t even have to sit through a rainstorm to enjoy it.

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Let’s Get Cynical About Latitude Festival 2012, pt I: Thursday

It may have taken me 6 hours to get to Latitude Festival, but the strength of the lineup completely justifies the length of the journey. The characters I encounter on my travels also epitomise the middle-class nature of the festival – the pretty, elegantly hungover blonde, who’d made the last-minute decision to travel down from Manchester after cadging a ticket off her mates in Elbow(!), and the group of schoolgirls sat near me on the bus, nattering away about their First World Problems™.  The rain that’s been forecast all week has yet to set in by the time I reach the site, so it’s off to meet my cousin Hannah, set up my tent, then head into the arena to see what Thursday night has to offer us.

The first thing we see is a bit of poetry – Mark Neil skewers those who adopt a flowery ‘poetry voice’ during their readings, before Rob Auton offers up some surreal verses, including one about going to the supermarket and only buying items that are yellow. Then it’s into the Film & Music Arena for a showing of some 4AD Sessions, featuring the likes of Bon Iver, Efterklang and St. Vincent. This serves as a warmup for our first live act for the weekend, 2forJoy. She freely admits that this is her first gig, but despite that I can’t help but feel that her cabaret performer getup is there to distract us from her fairly limited vocal abilities. Still, her band are solid, if nothing else, and the dreamy ‘Choke’ is a nice change from the strutting, vamp-ish material that makes up most of the set. No idea why she was allotted an hour either – with this being her first gig, she’s understandably done in half the time.

Rather than kicking our heels, we head back over to the Literary Arena and stumble upon a demonstration of Rebetiko – a sort of underground ‘Greek Blues’ from the 1930s. Greek musician Pavlos Melas and his friends give us a few tunes – think along the lines of an instrumental, proto-Gogol Bordello, if you want some sort of idea as to what it sounds like. After that unexpected bout of education, we head back to the Film & Music Arena to watch some more 4AD Sessions – this time also featuring tUnE-yArDs and a great stripped-back version of ‘Velvet’ by The Big Pink.

Then the night’s main event is upon us – a performance of Paul Heaton’s ‘The 8th’. The former Beautiful South/Housemartins frontman has penned what’s being billed as “one of the longest songs ever written” – in reality, it’s more a collection of songs tied together by a spoken-word narrative, loosely taking the form of a musical. The theme is the Seven Deadly Sins, and the emergence of a new, modern sin, the titular ‘8th’ – though if you’re going in blind, you’ll have to be paying more attention than I was to figure out which song corresponds to each sin. Gareth Paisey (better known to all and sundry as Gareth Campesinos!) gives us a typically animated performance that fairly clearly corresponds to ‘Gluttony’, while ex-Beautiful South vocalist Jacqui Abbott puts in a captivating turn when it’s her time to step forward – her song, I’ll discover later, is ‘Envy’.

But while the music is all well and good, it’s Reg E Cathey (of The Wire fame) who steals the show and keeps me from losing interest – his impassioned narration arguably doing more to stir the emotions than any of the songs. Towards the end, with the story tied up, Heaton himself takes to the stage and reveals ‘The 8th’ to be… well, I’ll be honest, I didn’t figure that out at the time either. At one point he sings “The 8th was just the cops,” but it wasn’t until reading other reviews of the show that I discovered that ‘The 8th’ is, in fact ‘Gossip’. In hindsight, ‘The 8th’ strikes me as the kind of show you probably need to go in to with at least a little foreknowledge – as stands, I found it to be an enjoyable but slightly confusing spectacle.

There’s a break in proceedings, then Heaton & Co return to run through a sort of ‘Heaton’s greatest hits karaoke’, which is worth watching purely for Gareth getting to live out his fanboy dream by singing ‘One Last Love Song’. There’s also a soulful version of ‘Dumb’ from Wayne Gidden, and ‘Good As Gold’ gets an airing (I forget who sang it, sorry) – though anyone hoping for ‘Rotterdam’, ‘Don’t Marry Her’ or even ‘Perfect 10’ would have been left as disappointed as the drunk guy who was constantly shouting “HOUSEMARTINS!” I have a feeling the latter song might have been planned as an encore, but I guess we’ll never know as there’s no time for any more – that’s what happens when you road-test new songs instead of giving the people what they want, eh?

After that, there’s just enough time for a couple of bizarre, sexually themed stories before bedtime courtesy of WordTheatre, including actress Lucy Cohu giving a vibrant reading of a story about a sex-crazed librarian whose day takes a turn for the bizarre. I couldn’t make this stuff up, but apparently, there is someone out there who could – and that’s to say nothing of the frankly bonkers tale of Miss Itty-Bit, who eventually brings about world peace via her cavernous vagina.

…Hopefully this is the last time I’ll ever use the phrase ‘cavernous vagina’ on this blog.

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