London enjoyed its own summer-solstice celebration on the year's longest day. The New York quintet The Strokes were the headline act on the first of the impressive line-ups that constituted the re-energised Wireless Festival.
Last June, this inner-city event was a consolation prize for missing out on Somerset's weekend water-world. With no Glastonbury this year, however, Wireless had secured a hefty roster, and its opening day was dedicated to louche bearers of the rock'n'roll flame.
Early on, Dirty Pretty Things showed they were coalescing as a live force. The former Libertine Carl Barât's band began the year at a nervy, over-eager pace, and there were signs of that during the opening numbers. His latest gang, though, showed admirable focus and even a little panache as the bassist Didz Hammond played the trumpet opening to their hit single "Bang Bang You're Dead". Highlights from their debut album, Waterloo to Anywhere, were allowed to shine, notably the measured "Blood Thirsty Bastards", with its contrasting languid verse and rousing chorus. You could also make out Barât's snide put-down on "The Enemy": "Wash your face/ It looks like a burnt-out fireplace."
Jack White was on impressive form with The Raconteurs. The band are merely a side-project for the White Stripes front man, and accordingly he dressed down in a scruffy T-shirt. Still, he applied himself with elan. On their record, Broken Boy Soldiers, the group maintain a balanced division of labours between White and the power-pop doyen Brendan Benson, an old friend of his, but on stage it was White's solos that seared the hotter. His vocals out-muscled those of the tremulous Benson, too, in a dizzying spin through country ballads, dirty blues jams and proggish displays that bewildered the ever-growing audience.
Belle and Sebastian were in danger of being blown away by the gusty breeze. A shame, as this was perfect timing for a band who have cemented their place as pop saviours in the manner of Pulp with their current album, The Life Pursuit. Yet their front man, Stuart Murdoch, was in diffident mood and led his group through an uneven set that mixed surefire hits with more obscure material.
"White Collar Boy" came with a surprising amount of swagger for the fey Glaswegians, and there was an impressive burst of Isley Brothers-style squalling guitar on "We are the Sleepyheads". But their electro interlude should have been saved for a more intimate, sweaty occasion. Where was the band's 1998 epic "The Boy with the Arab Strap" when you needed it?
Earlier, an unlikely candidate had dominated the Xfm tent. From behind a keyboard, the besuited Fyfe Dangerfield led his oddball troupe The Guillemots through a joyous hybrid of Supertramp and The Flaming Lips. Elsewhere, White Rose Movement's effective punk-disco grooves had as much substance as style.
Ultimately, the day's success hinged on The Strokes' finale. The mixed-bag nature of their latest album, First Impressions of Earth, was reflected in a set that veered between intensely driven numbers and aimless fretboard trickery. Known for celebrity couplings as much as songcraft, the band were keen to show they could play their instruments properly. On the plus side, that meant we were treated to the stomping "Red Light" and the compelling "Juicebox"; but for every success, there was a lame "Electricityscape".
The ever-cool singer, Julian Casablancas, needed a punchy melody to bolster his slurred vocals, yet when it mattered, the New Yorkers delivered. First, the drummer, Fabrizio Moretti, showed he knew "Last Nite" was a success by standing up to do a little jig on the backline. Then, Casablancas uncoupled himself from the mic-stand for a meet-and-greet with the front rows. After a soothing cover of "Walk on the Wild Side", Moretti upstaged him again with a stage dive. Lou Reed might not have approved, but at least the band showed appreciation for their generous British support.Reuse content