It’s in the wake of the interminable trickle to swamp the remainder of Thursday that Friday arises, tepidly at first, as Glastonbury 2013 at long last begins in earnest and strikes full swing. Gusts of substantial rumour swirl violently, as Twitter is frantically ravaged by those desperate not to miss out on this or that. (If there is to be one defining differentiation between this and previous editions of Britain’s greatest field-based jamboree, then it’s that EE have endowed the site with the finest mobile reception I’ve yet experienced at any which festival – not least for one with an overall capacity approaching 200,000.) And it’s a tweet scribed by none other than Nile Rodgers – replete with Get Lucky parody – that really licks the flames of hearsay: ‘Today’s is going to be the longest day of my life. Must pace myself’ he scribbled, stoking already resonant noises of an unannounced Daft Punk showing somewhere or other. It’s a rumour which, one more time, alas proves to be totally unfounded – and that despite number 13 of the programme’s ’43 Things To Do At Glastonbury’ teasingly reading: ‘Don’t Be Unlucky.’ Droves thus joined the dots and anticipated quite literally staying “up all night to get lucky” to the Parisian duo playing at Michael Eavis’ house, Michael Eavis’ house only to then have to despondently disconnect the things and make do with lesser revelations.
It’s thus set against a backdrop of unabating murmur and the general ambivalence to have greeted news of Beady Eye’s glorified morning appearance that Rachel Zeffira opens our ears to an unassuming, if innately endearing classically-bleached orchestral niceness. Her hexing, spectral aesthetic may not exactly befit the later morning and with the streets now paved with a pretty impermeable gloop, it’s a right old schlep to get over to The Park already. Nevertheless, the impromptu workout is quite emphatically rewarded by the sometime Cat’s Eye as if never exactly an ocular spectacular, Zeffira sporadically proves an aural sensation.
And that exact same eulogy can be directly applied to everywhere-via-Bristol-born; Bella Union-bred oddballs Zun Zun Egui, who spatter West Holts with an appositely quixotic blend of inexplicably lustrous estival fare – not least for a band spawned of the infamously sodden West Country. Though their musical blueprint spans such a vast gamut of the indefatigably undefinable that their appeal becomes wholly universal and would surely span tectonic plates and continents alike were it ever rendered fully physical.
It’s an indeed corporeal, and thereby physical mania the band provoke anyhow, as they flit whimsically between heady progressive and highly nuanced psychedelia. Fandango Fresh epitomises this succinctly, its sonic polychromy a totally euphoric revelation which sounds refreshing as it did when first heard some years ago but the troop have since assumed a new recruit, and even his integration seems instantly seamless. Smeared with vibrant tie-dye, his impressionistic instrumental cuts and thrusts allow for Kushal Gaya to really loosen up and lose it as only he can. There is as such a true intensity to it, their mean rhythmic backdrop splattered with variegated glimmers of trebly guitar to combine in the kind of luminously prismatic brilliance which can only show up the likes of Tame Impala for the one-dimensional charlatans they truly are.
Cowboy finds new idiosyncratic dimensions trampled into its syncopated thwump, Gaya here really nailing on the Anand Wilder warble before the five-piece up the exhilaration with a previously unreleased number, during which their possessed, and so too prepossessing ringleader wails of taking you “high, and then much more.” It’s only now that they appear to have maximised their indisputable potential, Yeasayer-inspired polyharmonies stitched together with the undiluted volatilities of The Mars Volta. Theirs is therefore a pure eccentricity, which is enticingly hemmed with an almost unfeasibly accessible pop fringe – all of which embellishes one of the weekend’s most immediately becoming sonic canvases.
Reclusive Swedish oddities Goat, by contrast, tap into grooves commensurately mantric to those to so ceaselessly plague the nearby Hare Krishna haunt and West Holts then swells as expeditiously as said tent once the freebie slop has been served up on poppadoms for a belated luncheon. There’s a bottomlessly beguiling allure to all the inscrutable Norse gurus do and live, the mystique so patently extends beyond the aural and out on into the visual realm: decorated with flaxen Venetian masks, densely tasselled trim, swirling visuals courtesy of Bristolian visualist Johnny O and a brewery’s worth of Red Stripe, they certainly look the part of nomadic Scandinavians but do they still sound it? Well, with a record entitled World Music released last year which was met with profuse acclaim, that they should play the somehow still verdant idyll of what was once the Jazz World Stage makes them a neat fit on paper. Although in terms of performance and general ambience, they fail to click as they quite indubitably should.
It’s arguably a better fit than the Electric Ballroom would’ve likely been last night, the vagabonding bass lines of Golden Dawn stomping over a threadbare amalgam of the blues of the ‘Stones and the disco glimmer intrinsic to Chic, although all those darker elements of the LP are evidently completely lost come half two in the afternoon. If this is henceforth to be considered their somewhat more celestial showing, then their more Stygian work may have been conscientiously saved for their second appearance in the infernal Hell of Shangri-La later this very evening.
But even this afternoon, nothing can dampen their flow once they’ve steamed on into a truly rambunctious Run To Your Mama: befuddlingly compelling in the word’s every last respect, it would be utterly hypnotic even without the superfluous lava lamp squelching to span the screen beyond, and is only enhanced by the complete contempt for premeditated choreography of their two duelling vocalists. They enact fudged scuffles and fling themselves about like Florence on amphetamines, quite gleefully caterwauling Goatman as they heedlessly direct with plastic parakeets in each hand. Indeed, such is their unerring centrality to it all that the ensemble come to resemble a far more richly contextualised Prince Rama in kind, the pair buffeted about by an overwhelming psych maelstrom which only grows increasingly potent as it builds to a striking climax comprised of an unanticipatedly beatific Goatlord, and a gloriously deranged Det som aldrig förändras powered by muscular dual wah-wah workouts. They were never hellish to begin with, though slowly approach the epiphanic as they voyage on to enlighten come pouring rain or, mercifully in this case, blazing sunshine and for a live act primarily relying on intrigue as opposed to past impression, that they hold such a strong throng throughout is nothing if not thoroughly impressive – irrespective of the spurious backstories.
Peace then kick out the decidedly fuddled jams over at the John Peel Stage – akin to a showering of the acrid contents of The Old Blue Last shook loose and spilled over an inexplicably enormous congregation – before we enter into the crestfallen lair of bewhiskered Americana practitioners, Local Natives. It’s been a little while since I’ve last seen them out and about in the wilds of reality, and it’s a lyric lifted from a this afternoon sublime You & I which really sticks. “When did your love, when did your love grow cold?/ The closer I get, the farther I have to go” Taylor Rice and Kelcey Ayer chime in chorus and although their lyrical content may only grow increasingly despondent with age, the Californian’s central pairing have never seemed quite so well attuned to one another.
Consequently, they’ve never before so keenly corroborated the ol’ ‘transatlantic Wild Beasts’ comparison, and Matt Frazier’s increased dexterity on the drums contributes forcefully to said impression. But at that same time, they’ve yet to sound better: Breakers, with its heartbroken quips of “see through skin” and emotive transparencies, charts them at an introspectively exoteric peak of combined power and proves a truly breathtaking standout, whilst Wide Eyes is prickly and spine-tingling as a ton of Pyramid headliners combined. And it’s the smoothness of transition from material lifted from Gorilla Manor and that aired from Hummingbird which again intensifies the merit now intrinsically linked with their craft. Indeed, the foundations upon which the former was first built appear to be that bit more robust than may well have been first thought with Airplanes, dotted with impeccably placed lulls perfectly conducive to effusive festival whooping, flying high on the back of the inert Ceilings.
It’s as such that they whip up a fantastic atmosphere for a Friday afternoon down “Glastonberry” for if lyrically fraught, then the Los Angelinos’ musical fare is fairly relaxing by contrast. Although contrast is arguably that which they most apparently lack and for a band of such a localised moniker, the downside of both old and new gliding into the one smooth whole is that it’s maybe all too sonically homogeneous. In fact aside from Heavy Feet, it can all sound a little toothless but musically and so too emotively, their one performance can momentarily approach flawlessness. So to revert to thoughts once thunk, it’s this developing chemistry in which Rice and Ayer partake that has now begun to really set them apart: they share in surreptitious little handshakes; proffer congratulatory pats on the back to mimic the reassurances offered to friends fresh out of newly deliquesced relationships. Thus for songs written of distance – of Skype calls; unrequited college lust; years spent pining for another teaching “abroad in Japan” – there is now a rare closeness to all they touch which has been carefully, and maybe even concertedly cultivated to such engrossing extent that even the impulsive Springsteen posturing to fuel a closing Sun Hands – the one and only time they really cut loose – fails to dampen the above panegyric.
Though loose is precisely the default vibe in which Chazmeister General Toro Y Moi reclines, Anything In Return winner Rose Quartz coaxing heat out from beneath a cottony cloud cover. A slightly pedestrian hour of muffled disco amalgam ensues, the flatulent Talamak never even so much as brought to simmer; let alone boil. Both musically and so too meteorologically lukewarm therefore, if So Many Details brings with it intricacy to up the ante once again, then the most pertinent positive to be taken from Bundick’s latest outing stems from the revelation that his latest recording may well be his most accomplished to date.
Loathe as I am to utter such unadulterated snobbery, I struggle to comprehend how souf London outfit Palma Violets are afforded even a tiptoe about the puddles Dinosaur Jr. spill from their highly bespoke rider. That a deluge of sunburnt revellers should pour from The Park between the two therefore approaches the outright depressing and, what’s more, J Mascis et al. are in absolutely inspired form this evening, dousing themselves in a glory lamentably absent from the last couple live shows I’ve seen of them this year. The aroma of illegality perfuming the air, they emerge before walls paved with Marshall amplifiers to hack and slash through an internal organ-puncturing rendition of The Lung, before swerving maniacally into the dreamy blur of Watch The Corners. Unrelenting as the abundance of automobile this year smeared across the weekend, there’s an arresting dichotomy between distorted in-song frivolity and exhausted between-song lethargy to suggest the perennial slackers couldn’t give two cursory tokes as to the exquisite histories of Glastonbury, although this one’s only about them and as Mascis recurrently pledges to feeling “the pain of everyone/ And then I feel nothing” on the ’94 Without a Sound single, his philanthropy-cum-egotism proves erratic as the song itself as the trio thrash through another of its formative choruses. It’s as much a scrawled signature as his inimitable drawl itself, if one to accentuate the lack if not of American influence, then presence punctuating the weekend.
With three British headliners, the Yanks’ impact upon the weekend is an almost passing one and contradictory though it may sound, the quintessential British festival experience ultimately suffers for it. But so too is Dinosaur Jr. a beast of contradiction, as for all of Mascis’ onstage inaction Lou Barlow is a figure of insatiable vigour and it’s the undying vivacity that he brings with him that really jumpstarts both The Wagon, and so too Start Choppin’. Though for all the wilfully slack stuff they’re still peddling (and with only Watch The Corners and Barlow’s abrasive Rude lifted from I Bet On Sky, this one’s quite incontrovertibly an exercise in electric nostalgia), they’re a surprisingly tight outfit to this day and it’s inevitably Freak Scene which slaps back with spandex flashback ability. You can quite easily forget how unnaturally incredible The Park Stage’s natural amphitheatre formation is and once the sludge sets in, it only gets better but that Django Django and The Horrors are to later tread in Dinosaur Jr.’s footprints is the sort of grave injustice around which a thesis on the decline of music and indeed the decay of its indie landscape could feasibly be built.
And just as Faris & co. co-headlined this same stage now some four perturbingly formative years ago, there comes a definitive point at which déjà vu truly overwhelms. Buried a further year back in time reside faded recollections of Foals delighting a mid-afternoon Other Stage with their remedially abstruse Antidotes. Their shift to a more readily accessible aesthetic in the meantime has seen them promoted to the vertiginous position of headliners elsewhere, and there’s nothing to negate that ascent as they tonight figuratively alight the evening. From an incendiary Prelude right through to a romanticised return to a breakneck Two Steps Twice, they’re in a highly flammable kind of form as flares spark up left, right and sodding centre. They fail to ignite Total Life Forever, whilst those more slushy numbers from Holy Fire – namely damp squibs Bad Habit and Late Night – serve only to exacerbate the total contradictions to one of Britain’s better new(er) bands on display. For they’re the MiC-dating, ATP-playing; walking, talking paradoxes of the line up in that for every point at which you half expect the screens to smoothly cut to some SW-situated postcode, there are another couple that see Yannis Philippakis nonchalantly fling himself into the seething throng. And never is this chasmic polarity better exhibited than during Spanish Sahara – the one to really unite your archetypal festival fuckhead trussed up in a fluffy chicken hat with your more discerning, chin-stroking vegan. The profoundly groovy My Number perhaps computes better with the former; a reckless Inhaler with the latter, its Rage Against The Machine-aping vagaries aloud and amplified. Though whatever they may or may not be, they’ve in the interim gone on to become if not a “proper”, then a peppier band and they’re all the more fiery for it.
The same can of course be said of Alex Turner’s Arctic Monkeys, who reportedly chill the Pyramid Stage with the kind of highly accomplished showing which can only mortifyingly belie their years. (Turner is still only twenty-seven, lest we forget, and has already headlined here twice.) But given the rarity of any which Portishead appearance, and the geographical reality that this one’s as close to some kind of homecoming as the inspired pioneers have come for quite some time, their headlining of the stage newly singed by Yannis et al. is an absolute essential. And from the very second that Geoff Barrow begins to scratch agitated unintelligibility into opener Mysterons – the nigh on only time turntablism couldn’t sound contrived – the selection appears to have been resoundingly warranted.
Thunderous snares combine with Adrian Utley’s unashamedly Morricone-esque guitars to create an imperious empire of sound destined to crumble all too soon, and the set itself disintegrates similarly. For the Portishead show is almost as though a subliminally synchronised, extraterrestrially-acclimatised out-of-body experience that seems to resonate along all the same wavelengths to the deepest thoughts and darkest fears locked away somewhere within the inner sanctum of your being. And for all of Barrow and Utley’s proficient expertise, she with the key is the skeletal Beth Gibbons: her vocal impassioned as it is infantile, she imbues an immaculately vulnerable rendition of The Rip with a childlike guile; an extraordinarily rakish Sour Times with the smoky artifice of an invincible siren; the supremely cinematic Magic Doors with the sagacious exhalations of a pythoness approaching mortal demise. It’s these instances at which she’s at her omnipotent best – the inadvertent epicentre of a seismic force of sheer beauty and beastly genius.
But for all the drama of an exceptional Roads, or the static-addled humming of a pared back and astronomically silken Wandering Star, it’s when her role is of a more egalitarian persuasion that Portishead are at their most commanding and it’s in this regard that the reprehensibly unheralded Third tonight really comes into its own. Its material dangling precariously between introspective schizophrenia and exoteric widescreen sonics, it’s a work of sublime contrast that’s as compelling as it is positively challenging: the eerie twitching of Silence encapsulates all this and more, with Gibbons so ideally apathetic and Utley’s devastating squalls increasingly ubiquitous, whilst Threads unravels like a lurching brute awakening from aeons of unsettled slumber. “I’m always so unsure” Gibbons bemoans, her voice oxymoronically impeccable as ever as she’s assimilated to a sort of seraphic figure lofty and lifted away from the grime now drying underfoot, but it’s their penchant for synergic juxtaposition which really elevates the trio up a couple levels. To contrast Wandering Star – a song so exposed to the elements that it only just about manages to hold its own against the importunate clamour coming from the nearby Silver Hayes – with an eviscerating Machine Gun, or to follow up the swoony inclusion of Glory Box with the motorik compulsions of Chase The Tear is just as ingenious as it is audacious. This is a band that bloody well matter – no question – and yet there’s a deplorable lack of corporeal matter splayed out before them. The way in which they smash aural silver through the proverbial screen is utterly unparalleled, and whether or not even they will ever be able to replicate the wonders of their legacy remains to be seen as they début not one new number. But neglecting the future is essentially unnecessary when the now can, and indeed does, sound quite so essential.