Green Man festival, Glanusk Park, Brecon Beacons
Walk this way for shining folk
Tuesday 25 August 2009
Isn't it good how there are all these people here unsupervised and nobody... dies?" says Jarvis Cocker, Saturday's headline act. But we're not at Reading festival or Wireless, he's talking to the polite crowds at Green Man, where the stars roam wild among the festival-goers, and you are likely to hear people call out "did you bring the salmon pate", sample healing treatments, and discover more organic food options than you would at a farmer's market. Anti-corporate, ethical in its stance and set in a rolling park with the Brecon Beacons as a backdrop, Green Man is the ultimate boutique festival, despite its capacity growing to 15,000 people in its seventh year.
The bands are of that same vibe – not the big names, but a careful selection of folk, psychedelia and rock. This year the hip line-up is spot on, reflecting a new love for folk with the psych-folk dream trio of Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear and Bon Iver. Animal Collective provided a mix tape of their songs, dipping in and out and somehow removing the groove from such gems as "My Girls" while they were at it. By the end of their underwhelming set, the audience had halved.
But it was Saturday's consecutive sets of Grizzly Bear followed by Bon Iver that were the big draws. You couldn't help feeling for Wales' young hope Bright Light Bright Light, who at the same time played to a handful of people on a smaller stage. Grizzly Bear's perfectly executed set, which replicated their recordings, was the tightest of all. In an awe-inspiring "While You Wait for the Others", Bon Iver's Justin Vernon danced at the side of the stage.
Bon Iver live is all about the ferocious power of the band. Their usual finale, "Wolves", where they invite the crowd to sing along, provided the festival's most memorable moment.
Noah and the Whale were a delightful surprise. The twee, flighty tunes of their Top Five debut album have been replaced with the thoughtful lyrics and swelling melodies of their upcoming follow-up. Apologies for playing new songs were unfounded – "Blue Skies" and the crescendoing strings of "The First Days of Spring" are bewitching.
Also compelling were the anarchic Dirty Three, Warren Ellis making spaghetti of his violin strings in their instrumental post-rock. More masterful performing came from Wilco, who played the best of their vast back catalogue. The guitar interplay between Nels Cline and Jeff Tweedy in "Impossible Germany" proved why they are one of the best live acts around.
It was Jarvis Cocker who was the odd one out in a line up of folk. What a festival crowd want is the hits, but with a ban on Pulp songs, instead, the dynamic shape-throwing star's set was heavy on less impressive numbers from his disappointing new album, Further Complications. Things improved with the rock-stomp of "Black Magic". Still, nobody really panders to the expected at the unique Green Man.
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