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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