V Festival

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Of all the UK's music festivals, V seems to come in for the most stick. It's considered too brand-name heavy, in contrast with Glastonbury, while Reading - now known as the Carling Weekend, so hardly brand-free itself - is thought to have the edge in terms of rock'n'roll thrills. All this is understandable, to a point. Despite being eight years old, V has struggled to create an identity of its own, and its rebranding this year as the "V Festival" (rather than V2001, V2002 and so on) won't change that. In terms of that elusive ingredient "atmosphere", people tend not to come over all misty-eyed about "great V moments" in the way they do about "Glasto".

Of all the UK's music festivals, V seems to come in for the most stick. It's considered too brand-name heavy, in contrast with Glastonbury, while Reading - now known as the Carling Weekend, so hardly brand-free itself - is thought to have the edge in terms of rock'n'roll thrills. All this is understandable, to a point. Despite being eight years old, V has struggled to create an identity of its own, and its rebranding this year as the "V Festival" (rather than V2001, V2002 and so on) won't change that. In terms of that elusive ingredient "atmosphere", people tend not to come over all misty-eyed about "great V moments" in the way they do about "Glasto".

But it's in good health this year, and selling out so quickly that, as with Glastonbury, its organisers have been posting "don't come without a ticket" adverts. As for the bill, the mix is decent enough, despite low levels of the up-and-coming buzz bands you find at Reading, and too many bands who played here two years ago. Regular V-goers must have had a sense déjà vu at the sight of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, David Gray, Foo Fighters and Coldplay.

Saturday's biggest crowd converged before the main stage for the latter band, who are now bewilderingly huge and are certainly not about to scupper that by discovering their inner Primal Scream and giving the event a good shaking. Still, no matter: while they waded through their interminable plod-rock, the pastoral folk-tronica duo Lemon Jelly held twinkling court in the JJB arena, offering levels of warmth, wit, colour and imagination that came as much-needed relief from Coldplay's lighters-aloft anthemics.

Elsewhere, solace from the main stage's duller offerings wasn't hard to come by. While Ash trotted out their hits, the JJB arena busied itself by bouncing along to a fine set from the DJ David Holmes's rock, soul and beats revue outfit, The Free Association; meanwhile, over on the NME stage, the Super Furry Animals took to their slot with plenty of warmth, grace and fuzzy wit.

And it's not as if the main stage was all bad, either. A rock spirit seemed to have possessed the bill, suggesting that the V organisers had caught a whiff of the music-press wind. Along with that of the Foo Fighters, Saturday's bolshiest set came from those crazy Swedes The Hives, whose pantomimic punk raised silliness to the level of an art. Throwaway? Undoubtedly, but fun for 50 minutes or so.

Sunday upped the ante, with PJ Harvey and her recent collaborators, those desert-rock reliables Queens of the Stone Age, transforming the line-up from decent to near unmissable. In the event, no onstage collaboration occurred, and Harvey only aired one new song, a spike-heeled howler of indeterminate title. But she also gave good and grimy swamp dirge, enough to have the hamper-wielding hordes choking on their picnics, even if her set impressed in a faintly detached fashion.

Not so the Queens, who were so tight and hard that the V's image of civility fairly crumbled before them. The bone-crunching "Hanging Tree" proved what superb musicians they are, too: their drummer, Joey Castillo, played like an animal, and the squinty-eyed, sand-blasted presence of blues growler Mark Lanegan on five songs elevated their frontline to iconic status.

You had to pity David Gray, whose greeting to the crowd of "Chelmsford! Home of the mighty oak tree!" sounded hilarious after Lanegan had sung like a man whose voice alone could break trees. The only option was to leave Gray to it, and catch scally psychedelicists The Coral slouching their way to the big league on the NME stage, followed by a cleansing dose of techno from Underworld. The latter didn't draw half the audience that the Chili Peppers did on the main stage, but with their spring-loaded charisma bomb of a frontman, Karl Hyde, leading the way, I'll wager they were 10 times the fun. Away from the hoary returnees, this V stretched its remit nicely.

Comments