Sundae On The Common, Clapham Common, London
Tuesday 29 July 2008
They were once hailed as pop's unluckiest band, but here are The Charlatans headlining a festival. It may not be Reading 1999, but they show their worth alongside more lacklustre fare – for Sundae's opening Saturday shows that, four years in, this corporate ice-cream tie-in struggles to mix on-trend ingredients with tried and tested tastes.
With so much space devoted to doling out scoops and good intentions, one music stage gives Sundae little room to manoeuvre: all acts are guitar-based and rarely scare the petting-farm occupants.
Florence & The Machine buck the trend, led by the eponymous Ms Welch, who, in shimmering dress and metallic face-paint, artfully moves like a hyperactive Kate Bush. None of this upstages her stunning voice that combines Siouxsie Sioux grandeur with Karen O's throaty snarl. She comfortably upstages Charlotte Hatherley, the guitarist who fled Ash to pursue a considered, XTC-inspired sound. New material suggests a leaner, more sinuous direction, especially the predatory "Alexander", but is somewhat undermined by her bemused stance amid such cheery surroundings.
The fist-pumping defiance of Greg and Aaron Gilbert may be lost on a sun-soaked crowd, yet Delays have been enjoying such diminishing returns from three albums that moving from Rough Trade to major imprint Fiction looks like hubris. Certainly, the turgid songs from current effort Everything's the Rush fail to match their anthemic strains. The Guillemots provide just as much vim and bluster, though their scattergun aesthetic too often misses its target.
It's an easy gig, then, for The Charlatans to dominate serenely. The band are back on form, after an erratic period that saw Tim Burgess aping either Curtis Mayfield or Bob Dylan, and he and the band largely stick to their strengths. Even the more plodding numbers from their new album You Cross My Path glide by on organ-led grooves, although only the rush of "The Misbegotten" makes any impact. They are saved by the hits: "How High" is all Stones swagger, while "You're So Pretty, We're So Pretty" fizzes with electropop flourishes.
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