[sic] Magazine

Radiohead: Rock Werchter

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Belgium’s Rock Werchter Festival is fast becoming the discerning music fans Glastonbury. Coming just one weekend after Glasters and containing many of the same headliners, Werchter succeeds by being more affordable, more focused and actually a lot better musically than the UKs most famous festival. I heard plenty of English voices (Werchter is a short ride from Brussels. You could practically bus it) and most were unanimous – “It’s just the line-up, the line up!!! It’s so much better.” The ease of it struck my mind more. The camping – just a short walk compared to the sprawling Glastonbury. The layout feels sensible too. The food remains somewhat expensive, but what can you do? It’s a Festival – you go, you eat, you forget about ‘value’ for a couple of days.

My wife and I went on the Friday, predominantly to see mainstays, Radiohead. We hadn’t quite taken in the wealth of other acts available to us. White Lies, for example, we’d seen in Brussels recently and both had great fun. Future Islands had piqued our interest as a live act plus, amazingly Slowdive appear to have been added. I’m sure I would have noticed this before. Slowdive!!! Bloody Hell.

Plenty of other things too. Birdy was there. We never made it into her stage but there you go. And James Blake. What would he be all about I wondered? Well I’ll tell you now as we don’t cover it in the man article – fucking awful, to my ears and taste anyway. Blake came onstage alone and played a lamentable version of ‘Vincent’ on electric piano. I spent the entirety wishing, praying that a band would join him. They did. I then spent the rest of the set wishing they hadn’t. Sorry James (who seems like a really nice guy). Just not my cup of Lapsang Souchong I’m afraid. If someone took a particularly acute migraine and distilled it into musical form it would sound like this.

I hadn’t planned on writing anything. I came to Werchter as a regular, paying Joe and sometimes that’s really nice, actually. Being able to enjoy a set (or four) without the pressure of, basically thinking, analyzing whats before you, is a gift really. However my wife turned the tables on me the following morning. She is an abstract painter and photographer. A prize-winning one, no less. I should say, her name is Carine Hubrechts. She has a blog and I’ll provide the links at the foot of this article.

Carine also likes to click away at gigs and see what comes out. For events like Werchter of course you aren’t allowed to bring your professional camera. Well that’s their and everybody else’s loss quite frankly because look how the photos that she did manage to capture came out. Masterfully. So, she asked me to write a quick something last Sunday, to go with her photo shoots on the blog. You’re about to read that same text, basically. Which I hope you enjoy, by the way. At the same time keep in mind that Carine’s All Around Luna site contains many more photos, arranged in photojournalistic style with numerous ways to view (slideshow, etc) Go there folks. Bookmark her. It’s really good.

Enjoy the article:_

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Slowdive

What are they doing on at 2PM? With their swirling, epic guitar reveries Slowdive would better suit 2AM, the perfect comedown act to follow our Radioheadliners. While Neil Halstead tells the crowd he’s happy to be there, Rachel Goswell looks a just a touch embarrassed in Werchter’s broad afternoon daylight. No need. Slowdive were a late addition to the festival and produced a nice 50 minute set comprising many of their signature songs. In addition to staples such as ‘Catch The Breeze’ and ‘When The Sun Hits’, it’s nice to see an outing for ‘No Longer Making Time’, possibly my favourite cut from the new album. There’s a danger that Slowdive’s shoegaze anthems can fall into the formulaic with the aforementioned songs all complying to their ‘cruise/afterburn’ template. They avoid this by punctuating their set with the likes of ‘Crazy For You’ and ‘Souvlaki Space Station’.

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Slowdive shouldn’t be opening festivals but nobody is complaining.

Future Islands

I wasn’t sure about Future Islands – not 100% sold, let’s say. This is my first time to see the Baltimore act live although I feel like I’m a veteran due to that Letterman performance. My difficulty, shall we say, is squaring the circle of Future Islands’ musical style with Sam Herring‘s vocals. Essentially we have a light (weight?)80’s sounding, new wave/synthpop band with Herring’s impassioned growl bolted onto the front. It’s jarring. He’s jarring. Fans would probably say that’s the whole point but I can never decide whether it works or not. I spent half of their Werchter set trying to decide, but couldn’t. This is probably telling, in itself.

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The gig starts well. “That’s a big-ass fuckin’ crowd”, Herring observes unfazed before launching into ‘Ran’. ‘A Dream Of You And Me’ soon follows and everything seems in place for one of the standout sets of the festival. It is hard to put my finger upon the moment where, exactly, things turned sour. Herring again is at the centre. Fair is to say, he puts his back into his performances, literally. The singer has unfortunately injured himself on more than one occasion whilst attempting various injudicious knee slides. Tonight I witnessed my first, live Sam Herring performance. Whist it began compelling, at some point it became troubling. By the end I felt like a voyeur.

White Lies

“I’m in love with the feeling”

White Lies are the perfect festival band. Each of their albums has a handful of great songs, often singles and they pretty much all get an outing. ‘Take It Out On Me’ (from Friends) is the current set opener replete with the kind of soaring chorus that has become prerequisite for White Lies. I love how White Lies manage to sound old and new at the same time. They may have Joy Division in their ancestry but Harry McVeigh is never without a smile. It shouldn’t work, but by God it does. The whole band play their part but McVeigh provides the x factor here. His voice is Budweiser – beechwood, cool-filtered neutrality, but boy does it hit the spot when you’re thirsty.

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And we’re thirsty. Thirsty for more of White Lies sanitised post-punk. It comes in the form of ‘Hold Back Your Love’ and ‘Morning In LA’ (both also from the latest album) plus a sprinkling of the older material you’d expect to appear. ‘Death’, ‘To Lose My Life’ and crowd favourite ‘Farewell To the Fairground’ are all present and correct. The most notable absentee, for me, was ‘The Power & the Glory’ from Rituals. This would be ideal in a festival setting due to its singalong-ability. (That’s not a word, is it? Oh well, it is now.) That said, everything that they did play resulted in plenty of audience participation, be-it handclaps or the actual words.

They closed with the epic ‘Bigger Than Us’ and you had to remind yourself that this was a festival rather than White Lies’ own headlining event. As the closing words echoed around Werchter’s cavernous field they took on a whole new meaning for the dispersing crowd.

“And I feel like I’m breaking up
But I wanted to stay….”

Radiohead.

Speechless, dumbfounded, awestruck ..

Are Radiohead the biggest alternative rock act in existence? I suspected so before coming to Rock Werchter. Our headliners went ahead and proved it anyway. Everything was there, in its right place, if you will. The musicianship, the lighting and visual effects plus the material of course. I wouldn’t call tonight a perfect set list for me personally, but it was still brilliant. Lesser loved songs were elevated to the extraordinary whilst a disliked few were still rendered highly admirable. Predictably OK Computer sourced the most material this evening. The band are promoting the 20th Anniversary of the record that is held up to be their Dark Side Of The Moon. It is a comparison that has little meaning outside the fact that both albums are the respective bands most listed or famous records. However, for those that believe in coincidences and/or the interconnectedness of everything, it is amusing to note that Radiohead’s set began with a projection of tonight’s Moon, complete with fully shadowed half.

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‘Climbing Up The Walls’ was my own personal standout from the legendary ’97 release. These days, Radiohead tend to draw more from their recent output. In Rainbows appears to have captured the hearts of the more ‘millennial’ fanbase and its representation in this evening’s set almost rivals OK Computer. ‘All I Need’ was a beautiful reminder that not everything in Radiohea’ds world need be complex, intellectual or progressive. Of course, most of the time it is exactly those things and they pull it off in some style. The craft on display by this band beggars belief at times. These are complicated pieces, warped electro landscapes alongside progressive rock sequences. I never heard an out of place note. Plus the cherry on top is of course Thom Yorke, a bona fide musical genius with a falsetto to match his creative talent. True, Thom doesn’t offer a lot by way of crowd interaction. He appeared to have adopted the role of bumbling mad professor today, feigning trips on stage and hurumping indecipherable ‘thank you’s.

“What day is it? Friday? Have a good festival”. Yorke suddenly pronounced in a moment of lucidity . “Don’t get too fucked up, you got to work on Monday” He added. “Unless you don’t give a shit”.

“I did… after Glastonbury.”

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I’d venture to suggest that Yorke stopped short of his Glastonbury levels of ‘partaking’ but not, perhaps, far short. His dancing was great though. Seeing Mr Anxiety let himself go was a joy as awkward frugging gave way to looser, funkier moves. Yorke, himself is the King Of Limbs, clearly. Standout moments for me included ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ and ‘Idioteque’, from the WARP-inspired Kid A. The surprise moment was probably ‘Myxomatosis’, a challenging piece from that ‘mixed bag’ Hail To The Thief album here rendered smart, sexy and super cool.

The visuals consisted of two live video streams of the gig, mixed, crossed and then split between the left Big Screen and the right. This made an arty addition to those of us up close but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for those watching from the back of the festival. The lighting was impeccable and as a spectacle overall I know of nothing comparable, save perhaps U2. That’s their level now. That’s their standing. Attending a Radiohead show now is no longer entertainment in the sense of ‘band playing for audience’s amusement and pleasure’. A Radiohead concert now is an audience with rock royalty as evidenced by the open-mouthed hush that preceded opener ‘Daydreaming’. Two hours and two encores passed in the blink of an eye.

‘For a minute there
I lost myself’

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Setlist

By my reckoning –

Daydreaming
Lucky
Ful Stop
Airbag
15 Step
Myxomatosis
All I Need
Pyramid Song
Everything in Its Right Place
Let Down
Bloom
Identikit
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Idioteque
You and Whose Army?
Bodysnatchers
2 + 2 = 5

Encore:
No Surprises
Nude
Climbing Up the Walls
Paranoid Android
Reckoner

2nd Encore:
My Iron Lung
Karma Police

Article first appeared in All Around Luna.
Words: Brett Spaceman
Photographic art: Carine Hubrechts

For more from Carine please visit All Around Luna site. Link provided.

All Around Luna

Rock Werchter photojournal by Carine Hubrechts

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