I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t envious of all the people who made it to Electric Picnic this year, especially after last year’s festival, which was one of my favourite EP’s of all. It’s a small price to pay I guess for a new life over here in Vancouver. In my absence however, the trusty and reliable Johnny Feeney was down in Stradbally for this year’s festival, one of his favourites yet. His knowledge, diverse taste and appetite for music (gigs in particular) is astounding and always provides a refreshing and interesting take on whatever he chooses to write about. I for one really enjoyed his report from the weekend’s antics and hopefully you do too. So without any further hesitation, here are the five acts that impressed him the most at Electric Picnic 2014. Thanks as always to Johnny and I’ll leave you in his very capable hands.
Portishead, Main Stage, Saturday 30st August, 22:35
Trip-hop masters Portishead are not a band renowned for being overly prolific (they’ve released three studio albums in 20 years) or for their zealous touring schedule (they haven’t played in Ireland since 1997) so tonight’s performance on the main stage falls into the once-in-a-blue-moon category which you do not want to miss. The huge crowd at the main stage is recognition of this fact and thankfully they are treated to a very special show. The set opens with ‘Silence’ and its long, clattering intro before lead singer Beth Gibbons comes on stage to a raucous reception.
Gibbons is an enigmatic, mysterious, almost reticent, front woman. Clad in black jeans and black hoody, she delivers her angst-laden, blood-chilling vocals with her head bowed and eyes closed not acknowledging the crowd. As soon as her vocals are finished she turns away from the crowd and the lights, faces the drums and almost cowers in the dark until called upon again. From tonight’s set ‘The Rip’ is especially brilliant early on followed by the gorgeously languid ‘Sour Times’. Other highlights include ‘Wandering Star’, ‘Over’ and ‘Glory Box’. It may be bleak, it may be grim, but this is just magnificent from start to finish.
As the band wave their farewells after the encore there’s more than a hint of a smile from Gibbons. Has the Stradbally crowd won her over or is she just glad it’s all over? We’ll never know. That’s Beth for you, ever the enigma.
St Vincent, Electric Arena, Sunday 31st August, 19:00
On the other hand, Annie Clark, aka St Vincent, has no apparent problems playing to the masses. Drawing in a huge crowd to the early-evening slot on Sunday she delivers a blistering show to an ecstatic crowd. Drawing heavily from her self-titled latest album, Clark opens with ‘Rattlesnake’ before playing recent single ‘Digital Witness’, an infectious, joyous track with blasting horns and an incredibly catchy chorus.
This is an art-rock performance that will love long in the memory. Not only no slouch on the guitar with some crunching, squelching riffs, there are also numerous choreographed dance moves with her keyboard player. Later on, Clark finds herself writhing around on the raised steps at the back of the stage before playing ‘Cheerleader’ standing atop them. A late stage dive into the crowd finds a green mask placed into Clark’s hand. As she’s returned to the stage, she duly puts on the mask and finishes with ‘Her Lips Are Red’. A born entertainer, a wonderful show.
Metronomy, Electric Arena, Saturday, 20:00
People are ready to dance on Saturday night as an expectant crowd awaits Metronomy in the Electric Arena. The band emerge to a hero’s welcome dressed in white suits eerily reminiscent of Liverpool’s ill-fated 1995 FA Cup Final attire and deliver a barnstorming set of highly danceable electronic pop. Their latest record, Love Letters, may not attain the heights of their earlier albums but the title track, in particular, along with the soulful ‘I’m Aquarius’ and the instrumental ‘Boy Racers’ are well received.
The set highlights however come from earlier tracks such as ‘Corinne’, ‘the Look’, ‘the Bay’, ‘Holiday’, ‘Radio Ladio’ and ‘Heartbreaker’. The tent is hopping throughout as punters dance with abandon and the atmosphere is suitably electric. This was an incredible amount of fun and up there as a contender for set of the weekend alongside Chic’s fairly monumental headline show on the main stage later on Saturday evening.
The Altered Hours, Body & Soul Main Stage, Friday 29th August, 20:00
Having never heard of this Cork band before, stumbling across these guys early on Friday evening by blind luck and then being absolutely blown away by them was my very nice surprise of the weekend. Live, they play a really noisey, dirgey brand of rock somewhere between heavier psych-rock and the ear-bleeding shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine.
The mesmerising ‘Sweet Jelly Roll’, from the eponymous EP, has a real Jesus and Mary Chain feel to it. This is hypnotic music that draws you further and further in. Certainly a band worth checking out more of in the future, The Altered Hours play upstairs in Whelan’s on 14th of November. Blind luck can be a beautiful thing.
Benjamin Booker, Cosby Stage, Saturday, 15:45
New-Orleans based Benjamin Booker is only 22-years-old, but you wouldn’t think it from listening to him. Oozing cool on the Cosby Stage on Saturday afternoon and touring in support of his recently released brilliant self-titled debut album, his blues-rock is stomping, soulful and full of energy.
Accompanied by guitar and drums, Booker drums up a whirlwind of rousing rock along the lines of Black Keys or the White Stripes (Jack White was a big influence), but with bags more soul. In fact, the first pause for breath is about two-thirds through the show when Booker disappears off stage, quickly returns with fag in mouth which he proceeds to light up and explodes into song again before jumping off stage and running straight through the entire crowd. Set closer ‘Violent Shiver’ is a beast of a blues-rock track and finishes the show in suitably energetic fashion. Superb.