Isle of Wight Festival, Seaclose Park, Newport


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The Independent Culture

“Anyway, the weather,” muses Suggs. “What an important part of our culture it is. In Spain they have sun, sand, sex...” And at the Isle of Wight festival, there is early chaos in the partly flooded campsite and car-park, and relentless rain on Saturday night. But by festival standards, the main arena is hardly muddy, and ends in summer perfection, permitting concentration on an unbeatable trio of headlining Americans: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Eddie Vedder sings The Beatles’ “Rain” during Pearl Jam’s majestic set. A little earlier, the hundred or so people watching the enthralling LA punk band X on the small Garden Stage get a surprise dose of close-up Vedder when he duets with them. He leaves looking like a delighted punk fan living out his fantasies

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have a damped down power which draws you in. “Don’t Come Around Here No More” is softly unfurled in slow motion, then Petty and co-guitarist Mike Campbell face each other formally as “It’s Good To Be King”, a barely known song from the 1994 album Wildflowers, builds quietly, with thrashing passages, into a richly shaped epic.

Springsteen is lithe and lively, emboldened by his fine new album Wrecking Ball. Its songs of seething oppression and resistance to the rapacious ruling class in America and here fit perfectly with the baffled 1980s reverie “The River”. As England blow their penalty shoot-out, Springsteen is singing “Glory Days”, and making this one of them.

Madness show how British bands can provide equal, more understated solidarity. Among a great closing salvo of hits, “Our House” is a profound and proud vignette of working-class family life. Elbow’s Guy Garvey is, like Suggs, a conversational and content frontman, articulately bonding with the festival’s huge, peaceful crowd. Tinie Tempah benignly incites them to jump as one during “Miami 2 Ibiza”, while Jessie J scores with her Essex wit and “Price-tag”’s upbeat electro-reggae, and wears the most comprehensively ripped jeans in fashion history, more striking even than smouldering, hotpants-sporting chanteuse Lana Del Ray.

The festival’s most pleasant surprise is a revived Noel Gallagher, mixing intimate Oasis B-sides, new songs which are starting to sound as good, and the glorious “Don’t Look Back In Anger”. Weather aside, this was a tremendous festival.