V Festival, Hylands Park, Chelmsford

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The Independent Culture

The V Festival has reached its 13th anniversary by continuing to confound. Detractors point to its role as giant brand management machine, a suspicion helped by Wag-obsessed coverage beforehand. Here, wellies are a fashion statement, even in sunny weather, and if you are not boozing or listening to music, you are watching dancers cavort in underwear on the Sloggi stage.

Still, there is an eccentric charm in how one stage hosts both The Pogues – Shane MacGowan with arm in sling – and Sugababes, who pay lip service to dance routines, though rely mainly on rocking versions of their many hits. V is so unpretentious in its music policy, you find a rich seam of pop talent for people to gawp at as much as digest. This year, a new location allows for a larger audience, so now it is the sort of space for career-defining sets. Not this year, mind, for the festival relies on those who have proved themselves elsewhere.

Muse are at the end of a long journey that began at Reading/Leeds last year, though they raise their game with six radio dishes borrowed from the Seti programme that fire lasers and reflect projections. Such showmanship – and prog noodling – fails to detract from their whole-hearted passion. Richard Ashcroft also has this in spades, and The Verve are one of the warmest received bands of the weekend, despite rumours of another split in the offing. "The Rolling People" is a triumph for Nick McCabe's guitar work, while Ashcroft takes over for a moving "The Drugs Don't Work". Material from new album Forth occupies a barren hinterland in between.

The Prodigy augment their accelerated samples with industrial guitars to compelling effect, while Kaiser Chiefs present pummelling, unheard songs with their own verve, betraying a robust cynicism.

Maxïmo Park's Paul Smith handles the main stage with cheery ease, as does Amy Winehouse, only 10 minutes late and in commanding form, as she veers between the playful "Rehab" and wracked "Waking Up Alone". There is hardly room for unfamiliar names, though Jamie T finds a voice that is Kingston-upon-Thames rather than Jamaica's capital in a thrilling set that combines rockabilly, punk and ska. Noah and the Whale's folk pop is a slight curveball in such environs, though their good looks are perfectly in keeping here where how you look can be as important as how you sound.