Foo Fighters Inspire Madness At Reading '95

ATN UK correspondent Stuart Green attended this past weekend's Reading

Festival (August 25-27). Here is his report: Not so long ago Festivals meant

only one thing to trend conscious BritYouth: hippies. So they were left well

alone.

Glastonbury and Reading came and went each year like an embarrassing

relative who is best avoided.

Then 1988 happened. The warring tribes of indie, metal and dance came

together under the influence of ecstasy and some irresistible music and

found they just loved gathering in huge numbers in green fields. 60,000

lost souls used to go to

Glastonbury

on average; the official capacity for

next year's festival is being set at a 120,000-plus, to try and account for

all the gatecrashers. Reading has also grown enormously over the course of

the last seven years. In 1987 only 11,000 were there to see Alice Cooper

headline, this year it was a 40,000-plus sell-out.

Glastonbury, which traditionally opens the Festival season in June is now,

undoubtedly, the premier event on the European festival circuit. But with

so many different attractions vying for the attention, from ascorbic comedy

to holistic medicine, the focus is never entirely on music. Indeed, it is

common for people to go ten out-of-it-years and not actually see a single

earnest young pop group plying their wares. Hence the often inconsistent

line-ups.

The Reading Festival takes place every year over the last weekend in August

- followed fortuitously by a bank holiday on the following Monday. In

contrast to the open architecture of the Glastonbury site, where camping is

allowed practically everywhere but directly in front of a stage, Reading

consists of a single, walled arena with the crowd distributed over 24

separate camp sites after the strictly enforced midnight curfew.

Reading is not, therefore, a week long, all-day all-night party like

Glastonbury. It is, quite simply, a mammoth gig. Every effort is put into

producing a killer line-up that demands your attention from midday on

Friday to midnight on Sunday. This year there seemed no choice other than

to wander between the main and second stages thinking about what you were

missing on the third stage where the unsigned but heavily tipped young

bands were playing. As for the comedians - wait until they get a TV series.

FRIDAY ON MY MIND

Due to an administrative cock-up and some dreadful bank holiday traffic I

didn't make it on to the site until four in the afternoon on Friday.

Typically, one of the acts I was determined to see no matter how many free

drinks were placed as obstacles in my path was coming to the end of his set

when I arrived. Beck is a real one-off, without peer in the sad suicide

obsessed American alternative scene. His mix of folk, punk, funk, hardcore

and hip-hop; his openness to influences outside those laid down in the

rules of engagement devised to fight the Punk Wars, sets him apart from all

those who can't remember any further back than Never Mind The

Bollocks.

"Beercan" was the only tune I caught before Beck headed backstage. Sounding

bigger than it does on the brilliant Mellow Gold, its acoustic funk,

half-spoken rap and jazzy organ had the toes tapping and the brain working

to assimilate the diverse range of influences he packs into four sublime

minutes. One to cherish.

Teenage Fanclub played it strictly for laughs when their retro West Coast

sound first brought them to the world's attention. Nowadays they aren't

quite as embarrassed to play their simple, driving tunes but they still

can't quite see themselves as bona fide sausage down the trouser leg rock

stars. Thus every song is introduced with a joke at the Fannies own expense

which endears them to a crowd waiting impatiently for Courtney to make her

expected, calamitous entrance. In the meantime, the Fannies choral guitars

and Byrds-like harmonies transport the crowd to a beat heaven where Jack

and Neil are forever roaming across America. As the Fannies come to the end

of their set, the sun disappears behind

clouds that have been creeping slowly over the site from the east. The

stage is now set for Ms. Courtney Love-Cobain and her band Hole.

For the time being and for obvious reasons, it is almost impossible to

judge Hole purely on their music. It is as equally difficult to honestly

admit to your own motives for wanting to see them. Hole are tight little

band who work powerfully within their limitations. Never over-stretching

themselves, they released one of the best albums of the last year in Live

Through This and, in Courtney, with her stocking-clad leg famously

resting

on a monitor, they have a real star whose skag-wracked voice can be a truly

harrowing instrument. But they aren't the only reasons why we are packed in

front of the main stage tonight, the other acts forgotten. We're here to

see what she does next.

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Last year Hole chose Reading to be the venue for their first gig since

Kurt's suicide and Kristen Pfaff's overdose. It was, by turns, a macabre,

frightening and inspirational set. Overshadowed by tragedy but never

overwhelmed, it was a triumph for the band and personal vindication for

Courtney. Since then they have barely taken a day off, while the on and

off-stage antics of their singer have placed the rest of the band as bit

players in a bizarre soap opera no afternoon hack would dare hand in.

This year Courtney pulled up in a London taxi (the city is only an hour's

drive from Reading). Clearly the worse for wear, she had to be supported by

a minder as she staggered through the crowd of industry professionals

thronging the bar in the Guest Area. The signs were not good, perhaps the

ghouls would get what they wanted - whatever that is.

As Hole take to the stage, the atmosphere crackles with expectation. They

begin strongly in front of an enormous silver lame backdrop, ably

supporting their singer through many of the songs from their two albums.

But in between songs, her smart-assed one liners begin to lengthen into

monologues that range from the funny, to the tragic to the plain tiresome.

On seeing a guy crowd surfing toward the stage she quips: "Make it past

the guy in the blue shirt and I'll give you a blowjob." Later she informs

us that "Francis Bean was three yesterday. She looks just like her Dad."

Then she has the obligatory attempt at currying favour with the crowd by

having a go at the media: "Do you know all those people back there got in

free while you guys had to pay thirty bucks." Well, actually, we had to

make a five pound donation to the promoter's favourite charity.

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Then she goes into an unrehearsed solo version of "Pennyroyal Tea." As her

voice cracks on the high notes, Eric adds some extra unscripted guitar. It

is incredibly sad. When the set comes to a close, Courtney pulls the drum

kit apart and throws a back-line amp into the photographer's pit. The rest

of the band leave her on her own wandering the stage, unsure what to do

next. Technicians swarm, anxious to prepare the stage for the next band.

Unable to ignore her any longer two of them grab a leg each and carry her

off stage. Thank you and goodnight.

Half an hour later I'm watching Menswear on the second stage. In contrast

to Hole and other American acts on display over the weekend the well

dressed boys from Camden Town have no problems with the media. Only two

singles old, with their first album not due for at least another month,

Menswear have assiduously courted the music press from the day they were

little more than a twinkle in the eye of singer Johnny Dean. And it's

worked, they've made the cover of Melody Maker and the NME and

they've

charted with both their first two records. But put yourself up on a

pedestal and there will always be people wanting to knock you off.

Menswear are another band with great affection for the sound of 1978 - the

last single, "Daydreamer," is note for note Chair's Missing period

Wire.

But they are such a young band - less than a year old - that they haven't

quite decided on their own sound. Nor have they worked out the harmonies

which are excruciating and force me to seek shelter in the bar while I wait

for the Smashing Pumpkins. Amerigrunge 1, Britpop 0.

>From Britpop pantomime, to punk pantomime pure and simple. Green Day make

all the right moves, write some great singalong ramalama tunes but they've

got more of The Dickies in them than The Clash unfortunately. Still,

entertaining enough in their own way.

Billy Corgan's team suffer badly from Festival Sound. Wind whips the

guitars back and forth, across and away from the crowd, destroying the

dynamic between the soft bits and the loud bits. Only "Today" lives up to

expectations while the songs from the forthcoming album come over as little

more than muddy thrash. Still, Billy takes time out to thank everyone for

coming despite the treatment of the band by "your shitty media." When will

people realize that music journalists are simply fans who fell in love with

the music at an early age and just want to contribute somehow? People who

have taken on the task of articulating their basically emotional,

instinctive responses? Disappointing. Wind 5, Pumpkins 1.

SATURDAY NIGHT'S ALRIGHT FOR FOO FIGHTING

Mid-afternoon on a big stage in front of a large crowd is not the best time

or place to experience the intimate trip-hop soundscapes of the radically

original Tricky. It is to his credit that his psychedelic soul manages to

concentrate the attention throughout his set.

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Ian McCullough's new band Electrafixion


Electrafixion are the new band formed by former Echo And The Bunnymen,

singer Ian McCullough and guitarist Will Sergeant. The tent housing the

second stage isn't packed to the gills as they make their entrance but

the air is heavy with good natured curiosity. As their second single is

only just getting its first airplay in the days leading up to the Festival,

Electrafixion are playing to a crowd that have heard practically nothing of

them.

With the first song they grab them around the neck and slowly squeeze until

the crowd have completely surrendered. By the end guys are moshing in

approval. It is a solid triumph. Mac's back and I'm completely overwhelmed,

lifted up and out of it, prepared for home not really waiting to see

anything else. It can only be down hill from here.

I'm wrong.

I take the precaution of making my way back to the second stage a full

half-hour before Foo Fighters are due to appear in order to claim a decent

vantage point. As I near the tent it seems like about 20,000 of the great

unwashed have had the same idea - it's Glastonbury and The Battle To See

Portishead all over again (see "Music News Of The World" June 28). Dave

Grohl's new band are clearly one of the most popular draws of the weekend,

way way too popular for a tent that holds maybe 3,000 people.

I make my way to the far side in the hope of sneaking in around the back

but there's thousands ahead of me. We're hundreds and hundreds deep outside

the tent. Whose bright idea was this then? Their album went straight in the

charts at number two, didn't it? What a farce. I'm about 30 yards from the

tent with no chance of even catching sight of Grohl's hair, in close

proximity to someone who's forgotten to bring their deodorant with them. I

am not happy.

I weigh up my chances of climbing up on the roof of the tatty looking coach

which is parked next to an exit gate only 25 yards from the tent. But, no

luck. There are about 50 smug looking people up there buckling the thin

sheet metal until security comes to remove them. Hah! That'll teach 'em.

Young people today.

To make matters even more unbearable, the Foo techies take an age

sound checking. When suddenly a roar goes up and they're on, steaming

straight into "Winnebago." And they're loud, even outside the tent. Inside,

every one of the outer support poles is occupied by shining examples of

headbanging British manhood. Oddly enough, no one has taken the central

support which is conveniently made up of easy-to-climb scaffolding. I'm

thinking this to myself in between doing some vague approximation of

dancing when some nutcase dives into the moshing hordes from about thirty

feet up. Someone's going to get hurt.

But that's the cue for as many people as the central support can hold to

climb up until they are forming a precarious looking human pyramid. Sure

enough, about four songs in, after a crushing version of "This Is The

Call," Grohl stops the gig so some lemming can be dragged out of the crowd

and the squad occupying the central support can be forced down.

The Foos play another bruising, melodic slice of choice hardcore followed

by a request to take a couple of steps back so that those at the front can

escape with their lives. It's crazy, intense, murderous and I love it. I've

had enough of being on the fringes and push my way past those smaller and

frailer than me in order to get me a slice of the action. Inside, the band

are obscured by a cloud of steam that rises from the mosh maniacs who are

having to be hosed down at regular intervals.

The band are mad for it too. In every instrumental break Grohl joins his

nutty on-stage dancer, Tony, in a hair tossing contest that has me looking

for the brain matter that should surely soon start escaping from their

ears. The rest of the band just can't believe what is happening out there.

It's goofy grins all round, even though Grohl betrays his anxiety that

someone might get hurt in between every song. Then with a scream of

powerful hydraulics they shudder to a stop. It's all over. Everyone in the

crowd looks around at each other suddenly hollow, emptied out.

SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY

Well, that was enough for me. I know I should have stayed to see Grandpa

Grunge, but the current credibility of Neil Young is beyond me. I would

love to have told you that Cast are the best new band to come from

Liverpool since, well, the Bunnymen (which they are) but I was exhausted

and needed to go home to nurse the tinitus the Foo Fighters had triggered.