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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