Glastonbury 2014: First night review as 'bubblegum' Lily Allen and 'elder statesmen' Elbow perform

Arcade Fire are headlining to close Friday night's Pyramid Stage line-up

Jamie Merrill
Saturday 28 June 2014 13:21
Arcade Fire did just enough to put fire in the bellies of an eager festival crowd
Arcade Fire did just enough to put fire in the bellies of an eager festival crowd

The forecast wasn’t good, Metallica’s booking for Saturday night hadn’t met with universal approval and there were the traditional complaints that Glastonbury had fallen to the middle classes – but the festival that always confounds expectations got off to a fabulous start.

You just have to overlook the fact that, foul weather and an early evening lightning storm forced organisers to pull the plug on all the outside stages for an hour and set back the evening’s running order. Despite this, the music itself remained a delight, if an admittedly damp one.

Earlier in the day, the rain, which has lashed down on Worthy Farm from Thursday morning, stopped just in time for the Kaiser Chiefs to open the festival with a fist-pumping surprise gig on the Other Stage. They offered anthemic rock with an unstoppable energy and the early morning audience loved every second.

The Kaiser Chiefs perform on the Other Stage, on the first official date of the Glastonbury Festival of Music and Performing Arts on Worthy Farm in Somerset

In fact, mud-splattered (but happy) festivalgoers had packed out the site by 10.30am in a bid to escape their damp camp grounds and find refuge in music. They found it in Kaiser Chiefs’ rampant riffs but also Blondie’s much-anticipated tour through her hit-laden back catalogue. Sadly, more discerning listening will have noted her voice wasn’t quite what it once was.

At lunchtime there was an interlude from festival organiser Michael Eavis, who paid tribute to Tony Benn at the Left Field Tower, which has been renamed the Tony Benn Tower in honour of the late Labour radical and long-time lover of the festival.

Friday also saw the sad news that a 26-year-old festivalgoer had died in hospital after taking ketamine on the site on Wednesday. Police on site said it is not thought that the batch of the Class B drug the man took was contaminated, but rather the man had an adverse reaction to it.

By lunchtime, the smaller mud puddles had started to dry and the sun started to blaze down on the wet Somerset farm. Waterproofs were stripped off and sweltering wellies cursed, while at the overflowing John Peel Tent the much-hyped indie band Jungle kicked the festival into second gear with a frantic set of explosive beats, which sent vibes like an electric current through the 1,200-acre site.

Refreshed from warm cans of lager, suspiciously herbal roll-ups and with flowers in their hair, the crowds at both main stages grew for the glamorous sister act Haim and Rudimental in the early evening.

Both displayed a positively British attitude to the weather; Haim claiming to have brought the Californian sunshine with them to the Other Stage, while Brit band Rudimental pointed out the ominous storm clouds now framing the Pyramid Stage.

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And then it happened. For the first time since to the so-called “year of thunder” in 2005 festival organisers were forced to pull the plug on all of the outside stages, as the weather turned, with dazzling sheet lightning and bass-drowning thunder coming before a Biblical deluge.

Lily Allen performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury

It was more than an hour before the music started again when Lily Allen appeared on stage for a “shorten set”. She was joined by four backing dancers wearing dog mask and gyrate (in a tiny pink mini-skirt) in front of a selection of giant baby bottles, to calls of “she’s twerking” from the crowd.

It was an odd time for such a bubblegum act, but she just about managed to keep the crowd with her, and her dedication of “F**k You” to Fifa President Sepp Blatter got the biggest cheer of the day so far, along with some remarks that would make even a relaxed libel lawyer wince.

Elbow then brought back order to the main stage, setting up for the headliner Arcade Fire, who were set to take the stage late into the evening. And as the sun slid down in (relatively) clear skies, the elder statesmen of indie put weather aside, brought the crowd with them and set the mood for Arcade Fire to launch an electro rock assault on Worthy Farm. Flares burned bright in the sky, flags flew and with fan favourites “Power Out” and “Rebellion (Lies)” the Montreal group signalled their intent to reach festival delirium.

Front man Win Butler even took a smartphone from a man in the audience, snapping away before returning it. The work ethic here was not in doubt, with the band rattling through their set and handling an early technical glitch (a pre-recorded intro track stalled and stuttered) without fuss or ceremony.

The second half of the set slowed down the pace a little, sending a fair sized chunk of the crowd off to search for excitement elsewhere.

But the majority who lingered to the end were treated to a return to form with a delightfully expanded version of “Wake Up”, which left a rock, indie, disco-funk brew ringing in their ears.

Glastonbury, especially this year, isn't just about the headliners, but on Friday Arcade Fire, did just enough to put fire in the bellies of an eager festival crowd. Now, bring on Saturday.

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