Oxegen is hardly the perfect festival. It’s kind of like an old friend who you have out grown, gone your differing ways but still feel obligated to keep in touch, well that’s my relationship with Oxegen. This year brought more optimism with the dearth of talent on offer particularly Friday. With bags of optimism (and no wellies) the day started nicely with Dublin band Sweet Jane in 2fm/Hotpress stage. A good way to begin proceedings, they battled with some slight sound issues to belt out some enjoyable sleazy rock n roll, they certainly warrant further investigation.
Up next was a dreaded trip to the Main Stage for The Black Keys, perfect for day time festival consumption giving the punters exactly what they want and to my delight it wasn’t packed,. The set revolved heavily around their latest (and best) album, Brothers, which sees the refinement of their standard fuzzy rock and blues riffs. Much like The White Stripes they make one hell of a racket for a two piece (a mate did help out on bass for a few songs) even so they would be better suited to somewhere more enclosed.
Suitably acclimatised to the Main Stage environment Vampire Weekend were next, on almost everyone’s ‘to do list’ except mine as the albums couldn’t hold my attention, things can change right? The band did their best to lift the crowds spirits who seemed unperturbed by the arrival of the customary downturn in the weather. The cheery, fun and uplifting afro-beat indie might be more suited to sunnier climes but it was just what was needed and totally at home on the big stage the place went nuts for ‘A-Punk’.
Over in the Heineken Green Spheres tent a sizable crowd was gathering for The Coral. This was the first time I’d been able to catch them live and with a plethora of great albums behind them I was expecting a lot. They battled bravely with some serious sound issues belting out favourites ‘Goodbye’, ‘Pass It On’ and ‘Dreaming of You’ in what was a rather unspectacular but fun set leaving you with a feeling of what might have been.
On next to what really is the Jewel in the Crown of Oxegen the indoor (yes dry and warm) Dance Arena for one of tonight’s big hitters, Vitalic. On arriving I was feeling a bit deflated after the pervious let down but was quickly dispelled as the main man stepped on stage. Assisted by some nifty visuals he captivated the entire arena into submission, dropping massive tune ‘Terminator Benelux’ early as a signal of intent. For close to an hour everyone was under his masterful spell, dancing and weaving, it may have been impossible to stand still, perfect sound, venue, crowd and artist.
It was now time to dash through the rain to swap the chaotic scenes of the Dance Arena for the mellower surroundings of the 2fm/Hotpress tent where Villagers were on. They have a well deserved and growing reputation around their native Dublin, having already released one of the best albums of 2010, ‘Becoming a Jackal’, this was one not to be missed. Gladly it lived up to the billing with the band showing no ill effects of being ‘pretty drunk’ as Connor O Brien put it, delivering a super tight performance. It was the highlight of the night without doubt, soaring and emotional vocals adding to what are already great songs, if it wasn’t for the fact of who was up next I could have gladly gone home happy there and then.
No time to be wasted, or so we thought as we hastened the pace so as to get a decent spot for Headliners Arcade Fire at the Main Stage. To my delight there was no rain but was bemused but happy there was no horde of people so straight up the front it was. There has already been lots of discussion on this, that and the other surrounding Arcade Fire’s slot but I for one was delighted there were only people who wanted to be there unlike Blur last year (the crowd were awful). Arcade Fire, though, were not to be put off by this mishap, the band’s chemistry was in full flow from the off which saw instrument changes throughout what was an awesome set. This was another live first for me and I was delighted at the mix of old and new songs, especially the rocky ‘Month Of May’ getting an airing.
I’m sure the debate will rage on about this and other slots at Oxegen but for what its worth they might be best deciding what kind of festival Oxegen is and booking acts accordingly and not squandering vast sums in attempt to be all things to everybody – just a thought.