Reading Festival 2011 (26-28/08/11)

Headlined by My Chemical Romance, Pulp, The Strokes and Muse. I also saw Bring Me the Horizon, Cerebral Ballzy, Deftones, Patrick Wolf, Rise Against, The Offspring, Thirty Seconds to Mars, The National, The Pigeon Detectives, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, Seasick Steve, Jimmy Eat World, Madness, The Joy Formidable, Mariachi El Bronx, We Are the Ocean, Elbow, Frank Turner, Tim Minchin, Interpol, Taking Back Sunday, Warpaint.

This was a very exciting line-up. Somehow, the festival had managed to book four headliners, and a couple of them were an absolute dream. My Chemical Romance were terrific on Friday, and even though I hadn’t really taken them very seriously (was I really allowed to without being laughed at?). I wish I could have got to see them live again before they split not long afterwards. The crowd going wild to ‘Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)’, being joined onstage by Brian May, and the big singalong to ‘Helena’ were the highlights.

However, this degree of audience excitement was nothing compared to what I maintain as of 2019, was the greatest festival performance (or maybe even just greatest in general. Yes. I said that.) I have witnessed – Pulp. Even though I had seen them just two months beforehand, I was blown away. I have watched the recording of this performance countless times and I get goosebumps every time. The atmosphere was just electric during the constant growth of ‘Common People’, and the setlist was masterfully chosen. They had submitted to the fact that they were best remembered for the tracks from their 1995 album Different Class, and almost every track on it. This is noteworthy because by the time that they released We Love Life in 2001, they had stopped performing ‘Disco 2000’ entirely, and even ‘Common People’ was a rarity. Of course, Jarvis Cocker dripped energy and charisma as only he could.

Unfortunately, that left Saturday’s second headliner The Strokes with a lot to live up to, and in my opinion, I don’t think they even came close. There was very little energy, and only fittingly, the best part was when Jarvis returned to the stage to perform a cover of The Cars’ ‘Just What I Needed’, during which he upstaged Julian Casablancas, who didn’t sound like he wanted to be there.

Returning to the subject of playing entire albums, final headliners Muse performed possibly my dream setlist – Origin of Symmetry from start-to-finish, followed by additional hits. The stage was brilliant too – a recreation of the album cover. While I appreciate that I got to witness this, I maintain that this was a very poor idea. Unlike the iconic album from Pulp, Muse’s 2001 album is known by most people only for its singles. In fact, even some of those singles (such as ‘Bliss’ and ‘Hyper Music’) had faded into relative obscurity on setlists. As a result, the audience was very unexcited for most of the setlist, because they didn’t actually know the songs. They even came onto the stage to Tom Waits’ ‘What’s He Building in There?’ with their silhouettes cast onto a big screen as they did in their earlier Hullabaloo days (although it sounded unusual when they launched into ‘New Born’ instead of ‘Dead Star’), which of course got me very excited, but how many other people there got the reference? I know that there were elitist fans in the crowd irritated when everyone eventually sprung into action when they started playing recent single ‘Uprising’.

All ranting aside, I enjoyed the performance itself a lot, and it also made for a perfect line under my Muse fanboy era (RIP 2002-2011), by getting to hear all of the songs from the album where it all began.

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