Reading Festival

The Darkness fail to light up a patchy opening day for headbangers
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The Independent Culture

The Reading Festival has never laid claim to the counter-culture spirit that Glastonbury somehow keeps aflame, year after year. The route from Reading's barren town centre to the festival field is lined with tatty commercial stalls and, inside, the impression is of a temporary holding pen to fleece youth.

The Reading Festival has never laid claim to the counter-culture spirit that Glastonbury somehow keeps aflame, year after year. The route from Reading's barren town centre to the festival field is lined with tatty commercial stalls and, inside, the impression is of a temporary holding pen to fleece youth.

The bands are what Reading stands or falls on, it has nothing else. And this year, despite a mouth-watering line-up ranging from Blur and The Streets to some of the finest new rock bands, the black hole left when The White Stripes cancelled due to injury feels aching and unfillable.

Still, Friday's opening night bill struggled on anyway. Suffering from its own last-minute no-show - the rap star Jay-Z - the main stage is an almost unbroken barrage of Reading's traditional fare, hard rock.

Australia's The Datsuns try a punchier, punkier sound than the grinding US metal bands they are wedged between. But when they try, and fail, to smash their guitars à la Pete Townshend, the impression is of a wry homage, falling short of the fierce real thing.

Small-town, spandex-clad Brit metal band The Darkness follow. Word-of-mouth support for their semi-ironic slant on seventies cock-rock has made them, improbably, among the most anticipated bands. Massed hand claps great their arrival. "I must say, we are tremendously excited,'' their bare-chested singer responds. The single "Get Your Hands Off Of My Woman'' is worth hearing. Unfortunately, you can't, because appalling sound turns their set to sludge.

More adventurous fun is available at the smaller Radio One tent. Scotland's Mull Historical Society offer eccentric, melodic pop. But it's Detroit's Electric Six who provide perhaps the most comically over-subscribed three minutes. The crowd spills far beyond the tent and hundreds press towards a band they can't even see. The moment the recent, ludicrously catchy single "Gay Bar'' has been played, most file away, satisfied.

Eighties-influenced New Yorkers Interpol draw a smaller, if loyal crowd. Joy Division's dark bass lines don't find matching weight in their music but their singer's resemblance to Andy Capp as he lets a cigarette droop from his lip arguably adds to their cool.

It's Mercury nominees Elbow, though, who come closest to musical greatness. They are the one band whose passion isn't forced. The singer Guy Garvey's body seems actually to swell with power as they play. Strings and brass slice in to a series of building anthems, with a sense of expansive adventure that saves the whole day.

The Texan massed rock choir Polyphonic Spree close proceedings.

Blur, Beck and dozens more are ready for Saturday - the best is certainly yet to come.



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