Talkin' 'bout the generations: Senior bands and junior Stones prove Isle of Wight still rocks

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The Independent Culture

Into a Newport recreation ground, the Isle Of Wight Festival managed to squeeze three days of drinking, eating, sleeping and other essential human activities with a smoothly produced parade of bands playing music that, for the most part, captured the event's largely laid-back mood.

Into a Newport recreation ground, the Isle Of Wight Festival managed to squeeze three days of drinking, eating, sleeping and other essential human activities with a smoothly produced parade of bands playing music that, for the most part, captured the event's largely laid-back mood.

This last quality is the organisers' touchstone. The event, after all, shares its name with the festivals of the Sixties when legends such as Jefferson Airplane, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Bob Dylan, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix and The Who stalked its stages.

The headliners over the three days included Groove Armada, Stereophonics, Jet, Manic Street Preachers, the Charlatans, David Bowie and The Who. Some sort of circle being closed there, perhaps.

The Friday evening programme had just five acts, with Groove Armada delivering a powerful set. This was, however, eclipsed by 90 minutes of Stereophonics in top form, with the frontman, Kelly Jones, dressed and behatted in white, in tribute to Bob Dylan's garb at the same event way back in 1969.

The band did their hits and encored with "Have A Nice Day", but the emotional core of their set was a moving tribute to Ray Charles, the soul man who died last week, the slow and moody "I'm Asking Why".

Saturday's was a long programme and it straggled from time to time. Some acts were not up to confronting the enormous crowd that had gathered. Indeed, British Sea Power, which delivered a poor if frantic set, were upstaged when they were followed by a screening of Jimi Hendrix playing "Voodoo Child" at the 1970 festival.

The Electric Soft Parade retrieved the situation and brought back the smiles that Steve Harley had evoked earlier with "Come Up And See Me". Continuing the link between past and present festivals, the first female lead performance was from the Leah Wood Group, which won an enthusiastic reception.

Three bands then delivered; the Australian band Jet gave a storming hour of music that had touches of AC/DC, and had the crowd singing "Are You Gonna Be My Girl". Manic Street Preachers, up next, were the first to acknowledge the sea of different national flags that were such a picture feature of this crowd's identity.

Manic Street Preachers played two good new songs, "Empty Souls" and "Solitude", but were not at their best. The Who, were twice as loud as any other band, played 45 minutes of former glories, kicking off with "I Can't Explain", "Substitute", "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere", "Who Are You?", "Impeccable Thrust" and "Attitude".

Which left Sunday. There was a reshuffle in the booked line-up due to the withdrawal of The Libertines. The England and France football teams kindly agreed to fill the vacant slot at short notice. But prior to that a long afternoon of all-male rock acts was put into perspective by only the second female lead of the festival, Suzanne Vega.

She stole the show, giving perfectly judged interpretations of her material, alternately hard-edged, insinuating and sly. "Blood Makes Noise" and "Luka" brought shivers on a hot day, while the closing solo vocal, "At Tom's Diner", had the crowd humming.

The Delays and the Irish band Snow Patrol both delivered sets with charm and style,with Snow Patrol's singer possessing real ease when dealing with the audience. This was more than The Charlatans could muster, even though the crowd enjoyed their long set. Still, this was all just a starter for a main course of David Bowie.

He came on stage just after England had lost in extra time, but proceeded to wipe out such blasted memories with a gripping version of "Rebel, Rebel". Bowie was dressed like a character from a Hoffmann tale, but as he gradually stripped away layers of black clothing he revealed a body as young as Dorian Gray's.

The music was just as evergreen, with telling versions of "China Girl" and "Fame" in between later material. But the one which had the crowd on its knees was a beautiful, slower, floating version of "The Man Who Sold The World". Bowie in total control throughout, had sold us all once more. On a night to count your blessings, one of them is that David Bowie is most definitely English.

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