First Night: Latitude Festival, Southwold, Suffolk

Serene surroundings for an Americana feast
  • @IndyVoices

Bon Iver closed the first night of a Latitude festival, but was far from the best of a bill crammed with alternative American rock's new kings and queens.

The wilderness in which the band's singer-songwriter Justin Vernon famously wrote his breakthrough album For Emma, Forever Ago is a long way from the sedate Suffolk parkland where he finds himself tonight.

With his sideburns, smart lumberjack shirt and sometimes strained falsetto, he aims for Neil Young's sonic heft, with added, warped fanfares of Tex-Mex brass. But it's a song from his self-exile, "Minnesota, WI", which rings truest. The weekend's headliners, Elbow and Paul Weller, will surely hit more populist notes.

Over the river in the festival's woody hinterland, the intimate i Arena tent feels like it's been stuck up at a county fair, as the crowd lean in to listen to Pennsylvania's Kurt Vile. Shaggy hair hides a head bent over an echoing, clanging guitar. "I don't wanna give up but I kind of wanna lie down," he sings in a voice mixing enervated hillbilly yowls and a parodic Dylan drawl.

The song, "Peeping Tomboy", is one of stunned self-absorption, mesmerising in its lazy-paced ennui. But this belies a man and band who rock with life-loving vigour.

"Back there is one of the most serene places I've ever stood," Tune-Yards' Merrill Garbus says of the quiet parkland behind the tent. Looping her happily ferocious growl over staccato Afrobeat rhythms, she's an extraordinary, eccentric vocal gymnast.

In a festival heavy with other arts, the walk back across the bridge takes in a rapid-fire comic poet, on the way to see Yeasayer inspiring girls to dance by channelling 1980s English synth-pop through their Brooklyn art-rock sensibilities.

When Anand Wilder murmurs the last lines of "Madder Red", it's a soulful, poignant sort of disco. The weekend is off to a fine start.