Review: Bon Jovi and The Killers rock a (mercifully) dry Isle of Wight Festival


Seaclose Park, Newport

“This sure does remind me of the New Jersey shoreline,” Jon Bon Jovi remarks, peering surely myopically at the thousands watching him close the Isle of Wight festival last night in the island's very much inland capital. With his Captain America jacket, gleaming white teeth and folksy chat, the singer resembles an unreal rock superhero. His band's general anthemic thrust papers over the cracks between big hits such as “You Give Love A Bad Name”, in a near-three hour show which neither touches deep emotions, nor ever ceases to rock. 

Americana at its most bombastic headlined the previous night, too, which The Killers spent fusing the 1980s' most overwrought elements: Springsteen, power ballads and synth-pop. Singer Brandon Flowers is the alchemical element who makes it work, a half-bad poster boy with a cheeky grin who pats his black leather-jacketed heart with half-meant earnestness during a cover of Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now". The Killers' strength, though, is to be big, shallow, entertaining and danceable: just right for a Saturday night.

"You haven't been able to dance for years, have you?" Ian Brown sympathises on Friday, as if the crowd have been frozen in mourning since The Stone Roses split in 1996. "Fool's Gold", its title a premonition of their messy fate before last year's reunion, is played with whipping blues guitar from John Squire. He and Brown, mortal enemies when they split, leave arm in arm, clearly thinking they have more to offer than tonight's proud nostalgia.

Brown's abrasive personality is out of sync with today's eager stars, such as the sunnily positive Emeli Sande. Her strong voice is at least purposeful, with gospel roots clearer than her supermarket soul peers'. Laura Mvula is closely following Sande's path to stardom, and her ambitious time-signatures and arrangements suggest an ambitious soul-jazz talent rare in the charts. The Brits' big winner Ben Howard, meanwhile, seems as stunned as anyone by his traceless rise, flinching at the sight of a huge afternoon crowd. A new song even sounds like the folk he supposedly plays.

Often guilty of a soft underbelly beneath its budget-hoovering headliners, the festival's makeweights this year include Newton Faulkner. The weekend works anyway because it draws on this island's spirit: conservative, with an independent and bohemian edge. Paul Weller fits right in. He plays recent songs with justified enthusiasm, and even grins with delight at the manly roar of recognition from the crowd at "A Town Called Malice". Sober for the last couple of years, he and his music jump with renewed, fiery health.

Ian Hunter is similarly vigorous at 74. His old band Mott the Hoople's "Saturday Gigs" and "All the Young Dudes" carry the story and spirit of early 1970s British rock, conjuring this festival in its first years. Bob Geldof, back with the Boomtown Rats on Sunday after 27 years, offers ragged Dublin R'n'B from later that decade. The cheers he milks during "I Don't Like Mondays" echo the old days.

Without the bad weather which made last year a trial, the festival's most interesting corners are reachable on its far fields. The Charlatans' Tim Burgess has taken over a tent where he and unannounced performers including Suzanne Vega relax in an impromptu, creative atmosphere. In the Kashmir Tent, local band The Golden Strands sing of small-town dreams Woking's Weller would recognise. This is an at times bland festival's beating heart.  

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