Friday, August 25, 2006


Clearly, someone has told Zane Lowe he needs to tone down his natural exhuberence, so presenting BBC Three's coverage of Reading-Leeds, he's justtalkingveryfastindeed. Once the network has got its Doctor Who business out the way, there has to be just a pointless scene-setting piece of history (Rory Gallagher! Nirvana! Every year the same basic package - do they kick off the proms with a list of selected first violinists each time) before the music...

...doesn't start. It's over to Edith Bowman, who seems to be wearing a top made out of sliced kelvar or something - is this an anti-terrorist measure? - and interviewing the Kaiser Chiefs. They're promising four new tunes in their set, including one called Everything Is Average Nowadays. You'd be tempted to say "you'd know, lovies" if your breath hadn't been taken away by the obvious theft from Everybody's Happy Nowadays. Let's hope it was all a post-modern joke. Or even an old-fashioned one.

Music at last - Belle & Sebastian on the Reading stage. They've brought a backdrop, which seems a little over-egged for a performance so early in the day that nobody's yet set fire to a single polystyrine carton. During Funny Little Frog they encourage the audience to clap along, which always makes us nervous ever since having been in a crowd split into two for community singing by De La Soul.

A shot across the venue shows just how crammed the place is. Not as in "busy festival", more like cows-going-to-the-continent crammed.

Oh, The Subways have a backdrop, too. Maybe it really is all about branding these days. Charlotte, however, has a lovely spangly top - maybe this Reading is going to be all about the glitter. Billy introduces a song by talking about the children the audience will go on to have - "whether that child be a boy or a girl..." (here, the camera closes in on the face of a frightened-looking 15 year-old who thought she was going to have to face nothing more than a bad chemical toilet and now trying to come to terms with her future fertility) "... you call it Rock and Roll Queen." Billy, that's a stupid name for a child.

Outdoors, even with Charlotte's enthusiasm and spangly top, the Subways tight repetition feels wrong. This isn't music for brightish sunshiney days, and it feels as displaced as a leather catsuit on Southend seafront on a Bank Holiday.

Meanwhile, behind press red, and in Leeds, Dresden Dolls at least have a tent, which works better for them. Not as well as the back room in a mitteleuropa brothel, admittedly, but at least theres the potential for some atmosphere. Potential it remans, though, as the wonderful Dolls are a sharp favour, and sticking them in front of a Leeds crowd is a bit like serving Mexican food in an old folks home - people look encouraging, and try to nibble, but it doesn't sit well. They give it their all, but the strain of trying to wring a reaction from a static crowd shows on their faces.

Until they come to a Black Sabbath cover. Playing War Pigs sparks some life beyond the front two rows and the girl in the PVC angel outfit. Reading-Leeds' rock past is never that far from the surface.

The tent here in Leeds is rammed, too. It's surprising that Clear Channel haven't installed gunwales, the better to pack them unto.

After War Pigs, the audience sinks back into its more sullen quiet. Amanda's joke about singing "an English folk song in the original English" falls flat, which is a pity as it's a lead-in to a cover of her latest flame's I Predict A Riot (pity that the bill has put them on opposite venues, as surely we'd have seen a guest appearance?). Curiously, the Kaiser's song being played by a band with musical dexterity and a love of ornamentation is akin to watching Chipendale being asked to put up an Ikea flat pack.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs take to the Reading stage with a spot of cross-dressing comedy-wigged hilarity - really, every set is haunted by the flatest-falling of all Reading jokes, the Inspiral Carpets' pantomime cow. The introduction for Pins seems to be giving Karen O a sexual high; even more noteworthy is it seems to be entering via the butt.

Watching her being chased around the front-of-stage area by a woman desperately moving the microphone flex (itself already swathed in Health and Safety Executive friendly hiviz tape) makes you wonder: with all the cash they're taking off the kids to stand wedged in a field, don't they make enough to run to a few radio mics?