Rock; Glastonbury: how to be cool when it's hot

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
TIME to admit defeat. If you watched Channel 4's televising of the Glastonbury Festival on Friday night, you'll know as much about Oasis's performance as I did. And if there weren't tens of thousands of people in front of you, half of whom were in felt top-hats or jester's caps, you'll know a lot more.

All I can offer, then, is a few impressions of what was generally held to be an excellent set. Liam came dangerously close to dancing at one point, before realising what he was doing and returning to his usual just- been-punched-in-the-stomach-posture.

The forthcoming single "Roll With It" makes it harder than ever to argue with those who compare the band to Status Quo. The new drummer can pull off fancier fills than his predecessor, although I rather miss the bludgeoning strength of old. Half of the songs were post-Definitely Maybe material. And "Cigarettes and Alcohol" was dismissed as "an old one".

However big the crowd, it seems Oasis's cocksure arrogance is bigger. Eighteen months after being St Etienne's support band, they can glance disdainfully at a field of people packed so tight that you couldn't fit a Greenpeace leaflet between them, and casually career through their show with a confidence that suggests they are perhaps a little disappointed by the turnout.

Blur must have been cursing the cloudless sky. At their own stadium show in London last week, their archetypal English pop had to compete with archetypal English weather, whereas when Sinead O'Connor played Glastonbury on Friday afternoon she had to wear shades. Mind you, she probably would have done anyway. Since she last toured in 1990 she has been reborn as a leather-trousered rock babe - and she looks good on it too, despite the best efforts of a Channel 4 camerman to block my view.

Her music has become equally rough and tough. Her set, mostly taken from last year's superb Universal Mother album, was a gloriously diverse selection, with some a cappella choral harmonising and spellbinding ballads. Mostly, though, she played punchy Celtic funk-rock, pinned down by the stylish precision of the bassist she recruited from Shakespear's Sister. Her voice, as wonderful as ever, trilled like birds in trees are supposed to but never do, and switched with unsettling speed from terrified to terrifying. However sunburnt we were, "Red Football" sent chills up our spines.

After a vegetarian hotdog which would have turned Linda McCartney into a carnivore, it was time to call in on the acoustic tent, where the mystical Mike Scott (formerly of the Waterboys) was strumming r'n'b and Dylan-esque folk songs. Scott, more than anyone, embodies the suspension of disbelief that is the spirit of Glastonbury. He can sing about ghosts, karma and the great god Pan with such conviction - and with a heart as big as his floppy red cap - that he doesn't just manage to get himself through it without chortling, he gets the audience through it too.

Earlier on (and also appearing on Saturday and Sunday), were San Francisco's Spearhead, whom I saw on Wednesday at the Subterrania, a west-London club so named because a motorway flyover rests on its roof.

This slinky funk band are led by Michael Franti, the Gil Scot Heron of his generation and a man of many contradictions. For starters, he is a gentle giant - a man so tall that when he jumps up and down to the group's loping, Isaac-Hazy beat, he almost puts his head through the ceiling and into the path of oncoming traffic.

Another contradiction is that he can rap and be sensitive at the same time. In "Hole in the Bucket" he vacillates over whether to give a beggar his spare change: "What's gonna happen if I give the man a dime? I don't want to pay for another brother's wine." Doubt and confusion are words that have been torn out of the dictionaries of most Californian rappers. On "Positive" he anxiously awaits the results of an Aids test: "Was it really that magic, the times I didn't use a prophylactic?"

Add lyrics like this to the pantomime sing-a-longs, the Monkee business ("and people say we're funking around") and his sidekick's George Clinton- style coat of many colours, and you've got another contradiction for Franti's endless legs to stride over: just because he's being serious doesn't mean he can't be funny.

Comments