Oxegen: The Reviews
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FIGHT LIKE APES
Jumping into the crowd, banging chairs against the barrier, climbing the scaffolding: Fight Like Apes know all the tricks of the festival trade. More importantly, they’ve learned that songs are every jot as important as japes. And they throw these songs out with a casual aplomb that comes from practice. Even when running amok, the beat is steady. This time next year, the main stage will be their playground.
It felt as if all of Punchestown was ole-ole-ole-ing at the stage. Two years ago, The Script wouldn’t have made it onto the New Bands stage. But since then, their polished pop has produced hit after hit. The keeper is We Cry. There were a few likeable RB-like ringers, a few failed attempts at Celtic soul, a few (too many) plays from the Bono handbook, but We Cryhad ’em rocking all the way back to the chip vans. JC
Everyone’s At It – that could well be the signature tune of Oxegen. And if that’s so, Lily Allen could well be the signature act. She’s cheeky, she swears, she writes great pop melodies and she’s a wordsmith. Songs such as
LDN, Smile, 22and her well-known version of Kaiser Chiefs’
Oh My God, got the crowd up and at it and it’s a sure measure of Allen’s popularity that she drew a capacity crowd. Make sure you come back before the end of the year, now, y’hear?
Within a few songs, people are filling the tent for an under-the-radar Irish band – and sticking around. Dublin sisters Louise and Ellie McNamara may have just two voices and one guitar, but they beguile with songs dripping with fantastic folky pop harmonies. It’s the songs that aren’t on last year’s Here, Not Theredebut album that strike you – something that augers well for album number two. JC
It’s a given by this point that Snow Patrol are festival favourites – especially in Ireland – but it’s only when you see them in action that you realise how good they are. Factor in Lightbody’s lightness of touch and you have a very fine, commercially accessible rock act who give the impression that, creatively, there’s more to come. TCL
Their hard rock/blues sound references 1970s bands such as Nazareth, (more obviously) Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, and lead singer Cormac Neeson (below) looks retro enough for Robert Plant fans to give him a rock-on thumbs up, while his voice comes across as a fags-driven blend of Jake Burns and AC/DC’s Brian Johnson. A small enough crowd to cheer them on, but a minor triumph, nonetheless. TCL
Yes, hell, in one of its many formats, has frozen over, and after Damon Albarn’s many musical forays, guitarist Graham Coxon’s solo records and bassist Alex James’ adventures in cheesemaking (what did Dave Rowntree get up to?), the reformation continues. Opening with She’s So High, keeping it flowing with Girls and Boysand maintaining that energy with Beetlebum, Blur played a blinder. Rough around the edges? There’s no other way – and we wouldn’t want one. TCL
Well, not on Friday or Sunday. But such obvious strategic placing is neither here nor there – it wouldn’t matter if The Saturdays played on a wet Wednesday in Nobber – they’d still stuff the place. It could have been the rain that shoved people in, but whatever the reason, the five gals let rip with a choice pop selection. Fluffy? It ain’t Nine Inch Nails. Tough? Nine Inch Manicured Nails, then. TCL
Something of a British heritage act, Squeeze still know how to write a classic pop song. Crackers such as Tempted, Annie Get Your Gunand Up the Junctionare testament to the fact that there aren’t too many bands of their vintage able to hold an audience’s attention during the first of several downpours. One of the few credible festival acts? We think so. TCL
This New York resident, Russian-born singer was surely agog and agape at the reception she received on Saturday. There’s something nice ’n’ smart ’n’ kooky about this lady – a cool mixture of anti-folk and pro-pop, laced with casual references to literary figures such as Ezra Pound, Margaret Atwood and Edith Wharton. All this, and a band that includes a cellist and violinist. A posh gig at Oxegen? Get outta here, Batman! TCL
YEAH YEAH YEAHS
It’s their time. You can sense this in how the Yeah Yeah Yeahs approach this show. It’s pelting down, stagehands stand around with towels and mops and there are worried glances at the speakers. But the Yeah Yeah Yeahs aren’t going to let the weather stop them. You can’t take your eyes off Karen O as she prowls the stage, throwing the kind of shapes usually found in advanced pilates. Throughout this gymnastic largesse, the hits keep coming. The ones from It’s Blitz! glue everyone to the stage – Heads Will Roll, Dull Lifeand Zero. We’re counting the days to their August 26th Belfast gig. JC
It’s getting mucky – very mucky. But before we all sink into the quagmires that are the various entrances to the Heineken Green Spheres tent, here’s Doherty. Despite covering The Stone Roses’ I Wanna Be Adored(and getting the requisite reaction), Doherty seemed to be firing on one cylinder. The crowd, too, seemed to be flagging. Most in view just chatted as ragged tunes floated overhead. Doherty has his diligent worshippers, but the impression that he’s running on empty refuses to budge. TCL
MESSIAH J THE EXPERT
Whatever about rock ’n‘ roll’s questionable suitability for open fields, hip hop was never really intended to live large in the plains of Kildare. No one, though, told Messiah J The Expert, who made all forget about the rain and mud with a blistering set. Those who missed them missed one of the weekend’s finest treats. JC
TV ON THE RADIO
Thanks to last year’s Dear Science, an album that did for NYC art-rock what Ronaldo’s Real Madrid transfer did for his bank account, there’s a genuine interest in TV On The Radio. It’s a sonic assault to savour, and you’re rocked back on your feet at the intensity of it all. Who said there’s nothing on the TV these days? JC
Arriving on the Main Stage in a fanfare of trumpets, green rain macs and a string quartet, Elbow triumphed over the adversities of the weather with quiet yet sturdy reserves of energy and resolve. You would never have thought that the band’s music – intense, profound, without humour yet full of life – would have transferred to such a damp, open-air environment, but as the rain relentlessly pelted, Elbow reigned supreme. TCL
If a member of Friendly Fires stood next to you in a bus queue, chances are you wouldn’t pay any attention. They don’t stand out in the crowd – no hats, interesting tattoos or big hair. But the music? Now, you’re talking. With very little fanfare, they stroll on, strap themselves in and proceed to tear the Heineken Green Spheres tent apart with a set of euphoric indie-electro-disco. Word of mouth about the incredible grooviness of songs like Jump In The Pool and Hospital Beds works in their favour, the band piling on the guitars, brass and percussion with gusto. One of the surprise hits of Oxegen 2009. JC
This was a weekend when Oxegen’s musical axis shifted and the fest went far more pop than in previous years. So it should have been a triumph for Gaga. She’s pop from head to toe and has shifted over 50,000 copies of her album in Ireland. But endless costume changes, a ropey sound and a distinct lack of oomph meant this show didn’t go to plan. Gaga tried every trick in the book, but she might need some more time at festival finishing school before she’s her next close-up. JC
It’s a schtick that never fails to get crowds pumped. Jeremy Hickey is playing drums and singing like a man possessed. Behind him are the outlines of a bass player and guitarist. But look closer – Hickey is controlling everything. It’s a one-man-band trompe d’oeil.But there’s nothing shady about the sound – a robust, beaty and meaty mash-up from the Marble City, one part hardcore-punk to three parts heavyweight funk. Hickey has been playing songs from his breakthrough Organic Sampleralbum so long that he’s beginning to find new routes through the familiar. He’s one Irish musician who won’t settle for leftovers. JC
Here come the sharp-dressed men. If you required any additional proof that we’re reliving the 1980s at the moment, the sight of a reformed Specials near the top of the bill as well as the miserable rain pelting down as they play should do the trick.
This may be a reformation without founder member Jerry Dammers, but it’s one with bite. The band pogo onstage with a bounce that belies their age and happily, the songs too have aged well.
The opening Do the Dogand Too Much Too Youngresound with a potency just as sharp as when this two-tone revolution was first put into effect.
While the Oxegen juniors may look on a little bemused at the spectacle, the older and greyer folks in the crowd (including many daytrippers obviously here solely to see the band) skank away happily in the rain.
Next on the back-to-the-1980s agenda: how about a couple of general elections? JC