Bonobo and George Ezra set early standard at Longitude

Elliphant, I Am The Cosmos, John Talabot and Parquet Courts among day one performers

George Ezra was among the highlights at the first day of the Longitude Festival in Marlay Park, Dublin. Photograph: Aidan Crawley.

George Ezra was among the highlights at the first day of the Longitude Festival in Marlay Park, Dublin. Photograph: Aidan Crawley.

Sat, Jul 19, 2014, 15:26

Review: Longitude day one

Swedish pop act Elliphant have the unenviable task of an earlyish doors set at Longitude’s Heineken tent. Singer Ellinor Olovsdotter sets about it with energy and swagger, though there’s little doubt this reggae-infused hip hop is more suited to dark clubs than a tent simmering in unexpected afternoon sunshine. When she changes gears to a more honeyed vocal, her pop sensibilities start to shine through. That said, the beats and loops are a little derivative, and there’s not a huge amount to set her apart from the pack; and are there any songs that still need air horn samples in them?

On the main stage, George Ezra is picking up the pieces where Hudson Taylor broke some young hearts. Ezra is a man of contrasts. On the one hand, he’s a rough-edged blues singer, the kind of performer who can command a stage on his own, roll out his voice like the promised thunder, and have men in their late 30s and 40s nodding approvingly. On the other, with a fine band in full sync, he delivers crafted pop with enough calypso jaunt to enthral this large field of teenage girls.

Ezra can write a pop tune or two, as Budapest will attest. But here he seems more seduced by darker materials. When he leaves the summery Jack Jones shores behind, and drifts into Bad Seeds territory, the results are much more interesting, which is well illustrated by set closer Did You Hear the Rain. Ezra has an epic voice; when the band adds muscle and torque to the drive chain, the whole machine hums with bristling potential.

I Am The Cosmos go on the Red Bull stage about 30 minutes later than their advertised set time, and have bolstered their numbers with members of Ships. The tunes from their debut album Monochrome are classy and accomplished, though the slickness feels a little over buffed. The set hums with the energy of people going about their business with efficiency but in a festival setting, hidden in the woods of Marlay Park, you would like to see a band take a few more risks.

While Bombay Bicycle Club are on the main stage pleasing crowds, Krystal Klear is lashing through a DJ set and pumping out the sunny house tunes that keeps the Heineken tent at a healthy boil - who doesn’t dance to Robin S’s Show Me Love?

This dovetails neatly into the latest set from John Talabot. I’ve yet to find the clause in Ireland’s bailout agreement that says Talabot has to play here at least six times a year, but it’s definitely in there. This is no bad thing. Here he delivers a typically accomplished set of electro, building through his tracks with subtlety and guile. It’s crafted and quality, though falls short of electrifying. It’s solid and slick, though not a vintage performance, and there are no epic moments to set this one apart.

Over in the Whelan’s tent, Parquet Courts are putting in a shift of work. Whip tight, smart and edgy, the set never stops jabbing at the crowd, as the Brooklyn band swagger and furiously chug their way through their proto punk tunes in the manner of young men who are in a hurry to get living. There is little ornamentation on this musical muscle car. Occasionally, they slow it down to more bluesy fare, and it’s here that greatness lurks around the edges, and the tracks acquire a shop-soiled refinement like a handsome second-hand Television. A terrific, guitar thirsty break for the musical borders then.

Anyone who made the decision to take a chance on Bonobo over main stage headliner Ben Howard cannot have been disappointed. Simon Green bucks the electro trend by bringing a full band on stage, adding live drum kit, keys, clarinet, saxophone, flute and much, much more to his lean electro setup. The results are astonishing and deeply satisfying.

Green plays through the set with utter confidence, not afraid to slow down the tempo and let vocalist Szjerdene Fox to gloriously take centre stage. Riffs are introduced and worked over, tracks explored, moods evoked. This is as good a set as you can expect to see at Longitude, and by the time Bonobo are closing the euphoric set, they’ve evolved into full R&B mode, with enough groove to rival The Roots. Consider the bar set.

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