Ten must-sees for Electric Picnic 2014
Miss them at your peril, people. Tony Clayton-Lea gives us a 10-act heads-up on next weekend’s Electric Picnic line-up
Pet Shop Boys (Main Stage)
Is it fair to describe Pet Shop Boys as a “heritage” band? It’s true that Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have notched up the years, but they continue to move forward with smart new material that has something valid to say. That said, as with any band whose pop chart presence has waned, it is the hits most people want to hear, and PSB certainly ain’t lacking in that department. From 1980s smashes such as West End Girls, It’s a Sin, and Left to My Own Devices, right up to choice material from recent albums (notably, 2008’s Fundamental, and 2012’s Elysium), PSB hit the target over and over again.
Blondie (Main Stage)
Now this is a heritage band – and we mean that in a good way. What a band, what a heritage. It’s about 40 years since Debbie Harry and Chris Stein and the other original members of Blondie seized the day (and the night) at some of New York City’s less salubrious music venues, but age hasn’t diminished this band’s appeal. That’s due to the number of classic pop songs they released from 1978 to 1981 – 10 singles in the UK Top 10 alone (including Heart of Glass, Dreaming and Call Me). And then they returned in the late 1990s with another UK number one – Maria. Respect for their back catalogue? And for their resilience? Two thumbs up.
Portishead (Main Stage)
So how precisely does a UK trip-hop act with a mere three albums to its name across a 23-year history compete with young tyros and heritage bands? Simple – they weld you to the spot with an extraordinary, dexterous voice (Beth Gibbons), cinematic textures (Adrian Utley), sensibilities that borrow from hip-hop (Geoff Barrow), and a backdrop of footage both freaky and cool. That’s how.
FKA twigs (Little Big Tent)
Known to the UK Passport Office as Tahlia Barnett, and once gainfully employed as a much-admired backing dancer for the likes of Kylie and Jessie J, FKA twigs has been on the tips of our tongues for more than a year, treating us to EPs, intriguing us with artfully erotic/esoteric videos, and keeping us waiting for a more substantial example of her worth. Say a fond hello, then, to her just-released debut album, LP1, which engages with r’n’b traditions while, simultaneously, flirting with cutting-edge glitch-pop. A marvel.
The Blades (Cosby Stage)
This Irish band have been missing in action for many, many years, mainly because of lead singer Paul Cleary’s refusal to play any sort of game whatsoever. Fair enough. And Cleary seems to be sticking to his guns: since the band’s re-appearance last December (with two sold-out shows at Dublin’s Olympia theatre), they haven’t exactly spread themselves about. This is The Blades’ EP debut, then, and while there’s a hint of nostalgia involved (we’d be willing to bet a month’s wages that no new material will be performed) there’s enough going on to give original fans a bagful of 1980s eargasms and at the same time give recent converts a lesson in song craft.
Buffalo Sunn (Little Big Tent)
This Dublin band – featuring four brothers – has gone through some hefty changes over the past two years. Once known as Sweet Jane (you may recall that group’s very sleek’n’sleazy 2010 album, Sugar For My Soul), some members reunited as Buffalo Sunn late last year. The sonic style this time around isn’t so much Sweet Jane’s New York/Velvet Underground disturbances as California dreaming. Certainly, the band’s latest single, By Your Side, reveals a particularly harmonious disposition redolent of Laurel Canyon inhabitants – albeit with occasional slash’n’burn guitars. Waiting in the wings is the band’s debut album, By the Ocean, By the Sea, which is steered by no less a figure than former REM producer, Pat McCarthy.
Beck (Main stage)
Casual observers might erroneously think that Beck is at the softer end of the spectrum, given the nature of his latest album, Morning Phase (and its 2002 companion record, Sea Change). Fear not, party goers (is the word revellers’ now banned for eternity?), for his live shows Beck also brings out the funk, electro and hip-hop as highlighted on such albums as Midnite Vultures (1999), Guero (2005), The Information (2006), and Modern Guilt (2008).
Sinéad O’Connor (Main Stage)
Less than a week ago, Sinéad O’Connor showed how it should be done at one of Ireland’s more salubrious indoor venues (that’s the National Concert Hall to you, bud), but on Electric Picnic’s Main Stage? Jaysus, we reckon she’ll melt the rivets. Certainly, she has no shortage of brilliant material – not only across her two most recent albums (2011’s How About I Be Me and You Be You?, and this year’s I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss) but also reaching down through the years. But there’s something else at play here – O’Connor herself is currently operating at a premium-grade level, clearly fully enjoying being, well, on top and in charge. She’s not bossy, she’s the Boss – let’s not forget that, eh?
St Vincent (Electric Arena)
She’s been described as the “smartest indie rock star of her generation” (thank you, Rolling Stone), and judging by her latest, self-titled album, Annie Clark is set to join the ranks of musicians and performers who intuitively mix energetic, free-associative music with skilful genre-juggling. Clark has been to Electric Picnic before (last year she shared the stage with David Byrne, a water-cooler highlight), so she will likely deliver what’s expected. Which is? A grand shout-out to all the oddballs in the audience, her now trademark rapidly unfurling guitar solos and an art-rock-star persona that’s entirely her own.
Jenny Lewis (Rankin’s Wood Stage)
Just because her music is a melange of chiming power pop, bucolic Americana and bursts of Laurel-Canyon-singer-songwriter sunshine doesn’t mean that Jenny Lewis is a happy bunny. The former Rilo Kiley singer may not have the freaky-deaky kudos of a St Vincent or a tUne-YaRds, but when it comes to detailing character flaws and insecurities, Lewis is up there with the best. Her recently released album, The Voyager, is full of such adult confessions, each one wrapped in West Coast sparkle and alt.country accents. Expect a show littered with Lewis’s finest moments, from The Voyager (one of the best pop albums of the year) to some choice Rilo Kiley tunes. And don’t forget to check out her rainbow-coloured pantsuit. It’s, like, beautiful, man.