Saturday, June 28, 2014

Glastonbury 2014: View from the sofa

"We're not going to go on about it" reassure Mark Radcliffe and Jo Whiley, leading off the late night live chunk of Glastonbury coverage on BBC Two.

But they do, of course.

And then when they hand over to Lauren Laverne in another part of the field, she can't help but talk about it, too.

And why wouldn't they? This year, clearly, isn't the Glastonbury of Metallica; it's the Glastonbury where the lights went out.

Trouble is, although Lauren had rather a good anecdote - about being chided for asking the bear-slaughterers if they'd bought the heavy metal thunder with them - the stuff that was most interesting about the power outage wasn't touched on.

(Incidentally, it wouldn't be Metallica's heavy metal thunder; Dolly Parton has brought a rainbow with her, and we all know what you have to endure to get one of those working.)

Normally, the BBC's Glastonbury coverage is padded with films of people who've paid silly money for tickets doing really dull things - giving us a taste of the "festival experience". This year, when it'd actually be really interesting to know what it was like to be in a city of tens of thousands of people when the electricity stopped being in the wires and was just in the sky - nothing.

Apart from Mark Radcliffe saying something about communal singing in a tattoo tent, there was no answer to the question 'what was it like on the site?'

Instead, the crisis was reduced to a short snatch of footage of Rudimental walking off the stage.

The big disappointment this year is the red button coverage - clearly all the love has been poured into the website. Three channels of music, more or less lobbed on screen; with whatever happens to be on TV given (it appears) a free pass.

So, at one point, you could have watched Elbow on BBC Three, or something else on BBC Two. If those options didn't delight you, you could press red to get three more bands - except one was Elbow and one was BBC Two.

What's the point of pushing the stream that's already on TV through the red button service?

And doing it so badly - for a good ten minutes, the "BBC Two" Glastonbury feed was so locked in to simulcasting BBC Two that it pushed out a great chunk of Newsnight. (If Jean-Claude Juncker was actually being inducted in the cabaret tent, my apologies to the red button team.)

I suppose it's fair to say that it's more surprising that there's a red button at all - with SmartTVs and Chromecasts and whatnot, it's easier than ever to get the rather good experience onto your TV.

(Slight grumble here - the Glastonbury content from iPlayer doesn't show up on the iPhone version of iPlayer, which makes it harder to enjoy on a TV. I know this is a bit like complaining that the handle on the cup the ambrosia comes in is a little fiddly to hold, but... worth mentioning.)

So, what of the bands themselves?

Arcade Fire, it's clear, have edged ever closer to vanishing over the Bono Horizon.

I know, I know...

... how can I possibly think that?
You know when the fireworks (literal fireworks) are at the start, not the end, of the set, that you're watching a band who are overdoing the spectacle.

Men made out of mirrors; the bobbleheads; two-faced skeletons (one of whom, distractingly, had a brand name of a morphsuit maker on his ass); a stage full of around thirty people at one; racoon make-up; pyrotechnics... it's just so fucking tiring to watch, and it's dressing up music that doesn't really need all this extra packing. You've written songs that are packed full of strong, striking images - why are you hiding them in the worst circus ever?

Elsewhere, Blondie were a little ragged around the edges - doing the high bit from Rapture would be difficult under normal circumstances, but Harry just-about nailed it on a stage, early in the day, outdoors. And the cover of (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) was a delight - especially watching the ripple of 'oh! this is what this is!' run through the crowd at different speeds.

Sidenote: After last year's fuss about whether jokes about the Rolling Stones being old were okay, it's worth mentioning that Debbie Harry is 69 on Tuesday. But people don't obsess over it because jokes about Blondie being old were never a thing.

Also because she'd kick your butt.

Chvrches were great; and Drenge are still on course to become Mudhoney by the end of next year.