Glastonbury Festival, Worthy Farm, Pilton, Somerset
Beyoncé brings sex, hair and Hollywood to Somerset
Monday 27 June 2011
Beyoncé's Sunday night set to close Glastonbury is a triumph of physicality and showmanship, easily eclipsing U2 and Coldplay earlier in the weekend. Musically, it's another matter.
Only "Crazy In Love" stands out from her catalogue of needy pseudo-feminism ("Why Don't You Love Me?" for instance) and sappy cyber-soul ballads. As when husband Jay-Z headlined in 2008, there's a sense of Hollywood coming to Somerset, not sure exactly where she is or why, but determined to conquer the masses in her path, her violently tossed mane a special effect in itself.
When her voice hangs in the air long after her mouth has closed, she's not trading in Aretha Franklin's real, soulful athleticism. But her physical vigour as she drops to and bounces hard on her knees draws gasped admiration. Oozing lusty sexuality otherwise absent from the bill, she's a benign, if shallow, addition to Glastonbury.
The festival can sometimes seem pointlessly huge and unwieldy. But when Elbow's redemptive "One Day Like This" is sung along to by tens of thousands in front of the Pyramid Stage on Saturday evening, it's a communally elevating and healing moment no other festival offers. It rings tears from my eyes and purges me of worries for its duration: pop at its most graciously potent, and the greatest moment of the weekend. The idea that Glastonbury and pop should be about more than commerce is understood by Elbow's singer Guy Garvey.
During "Lippy Kids", complicated feelings pass across his own face, as he sings of despised teenagers hanging around on corners as he once did himself, and their extravagant potential. "Out on the streets where my father's feet still ring from the walls," he sings in "Weather to Fly", in a poetic meter wholly his own. Egged on by the crowd, this big man downs a pint in one, and hopes the audience have "the time of their lives".
Over at the tiny Park Stage at the same moment, 30,000 are watching Pulp. "Razzmatazz" is a pre-Britpop, sordid, yet sympathetic, melodrama of teenage glamour and disgrace. "You're trying to look like an heiress," Cocker observes of a girl at a pregnancy clinic, "but your face is such a mess." The crowd sing every song from 1995's Different Class, which now sound like Cocker's warmest. This feels the perfect time and place to welcome them back.
Saturday's headliner Coldplay are Elbow's friends, and on songs such as "Politik" sound almost like them, but can't disguise the gaping hole in their hearts. "Fix You", one of Martin's most elegant tunes, is typically let down by his lyrics' woolly palliatives. Coldplay offer a placebo, not a cure, to the pain they mention. The contrast with Elbow is cruel.
"I can't breathe!" a girl gasps as she leaves the tiny Leftfield tent, where Hard-Fi are are making a lean, punky clatter. Janelle Monae also works up a head of steam coming across like a minor heir to Prince or James Brown, and referencing Thirties stars such as Cab Calloway and Fred Astaire too. There's very little substance in her slick R&B, but undeniable style.
Charismatic star of independent Indian music Raghu Dixit surprises Sunday morning's crowds with his vibrant raga-rock, classical Indian violin and rock guitar meshing behind his penetrating voice. At the site's far, dusty edge as sun bakes the earlier mud, The Low Anthem play woozy fairground laments for the counter-culture, raucous bar-room rock and hushed folk. Swapping instruments like a relay team, they give everything they've got, and get a roaring ovation.
Plan B wheels out his Strickland Banks soul-man persona again, his reception somewhat muted by Sunday's exhausting heat. He sings partly from a pulpit, and doesn't disgrace himself in a medley of "My Guy" and other vintage soul touchstones.
But Eels singer Mark Everett and his all-bearded band are playing stranger games with this music nearby. He presents himself as an anti-social, intellectual vagrant bluesman, barking like a loon. Humble, love-battered nobility and survived suicidal impulses are his themes. The crowd get the joke and truth in his performance, a sly feel-good hit in Glastonbury's sudden, lazy summer sun.
Paul Simon gives his 1960s hits such as "Kodachrome" the Afrobeat inflections of 1980s Graceland favourites. Though he goes down well, he's a cool, distant performer, missing the vocal charisma of Garfunkel as badly as Lennon did McCartney.
The day's early highlight is a less prolific songwriter, Don McLean, singing his classic "American Pie". It's exponentially more moving vignettes sometimes silence an attentive crowd, when they're not singing a chorus meant to sum up the 1960s rock generation's dashed hopes. Instead their response shows that, at Worthy Farm, those hopes somehow continue.
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