Reading Festival

Reading rocks... and believes in a thing called mud
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As the wettest August on record showed no signs of abating yesterday morning, the crowds trudging to this year's Reading Festival looked as though they were wondering what they had let themselves in for.

As the wettest August on record showed no signs of abating yesterday morning, the crowds trudging to this year's Reading Festival looked as though they were wondering what they had let themselves in for.

Most resembled souls in purgatory rather than partygoers. The rain was still falling steadily as Welsh rap entertainers Goldie Lookin' Chain took to the stage, but around 1pm it began to ease off. The honour of welcoming the first ray of sunshine fell to the fifth band on the Main Stage, Jurassic 5. And though mud does not exactly make for an ideal dance floor, the veteran hip-hoppers struck up the weekend's first real groove.

Mindful that Reading traditionally attracts more Indie kids than hip-hop heads, they were careful to introduce their celebrated "Quality Control" - "for those of you not familiar with hip hop, we made this record in 2000".

The laid-back J5 were followed by the intense Distillers. At first, it sounded like a bit of a racket. But the muscular voice coming from Brody Dalle's slender frame is beguiling, although her Gothic look seems affected - especially when she follows a song about rising from the dead with an all-American: "I hope we brought the sunshine with us!" The Distillers have essentially picked up where Hole left off and, Gothic pretensions aside, their sound is every bit as mighty as their predecessors.

Mightiness is not something The Hives aspire to. In fact, it's hard to gauge just what they do aspire to. With his band of pranksters dressed in white jackets and black shirts, Howlin' Pelle Almquist walks the stage like a child pretending to be a rock star. Almquist's exhortations to "clap and scream" are actually more entertaining than the music.

By the end of The Hives' set, the sky was really beginning to clear, and Ash got to play to a truly splendid sunset. And duly play what can only be described as a truly splendid concept. They play "Girl From Mars" second, and it only gets better from then on. Ash haven't changed much in the decade or so they've been together and new single "Renegade Cavalcade" sits comfortably alongside the old hits.

Even the corny "Starcrossed" sounded moving as Ash successfully instilled a Festival spirit into proceedings.

Offspring stood little chance of perpetuating such smiling goodwill. They haven't changed either - but the kind of monotonous holler favoured by Dexter Holland suits adulthood rather less well. The Shins, in the Carling Tent were more interesting with some tight, danceable Indie pop.

Headliners The Darkness were left to restore the party vibe on the Main Stage. Bands who haven't been up to much in the past few months seem to be a theme of this year's Reading and the odds are stacked against Justin Hawkins' crew ever repeating the success of last year's Permission To Land. After all, they are just a comedy act ... aren't they?

Still we have The Darkness to thank for making it OK to like AC/DC again, and they delivered a respectable and good-humoured imitation of their hair-metal heroes. The sound was a little tinny but the lights were good. And no further rain is predicted for Saturday and Sunday.

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