Originally published: Clash
From Axl to Asshole…
The August bank holiday has become quite the right of passage for many an emancipated teen over the years. They arrive fresh-faced and full of zeal having qualified from state education, emulating their favoured musical luminaries and genres in the latest Topshop/Topman trend to match; the extent to which they unknowingly parody the event and each other will often raise a wry smile upon the faces of those who have run the three-day gauntlet before them – we’ve all arrived children of the revolution at some point, but we all return edified by our experiences there. Well, all except the Guns N’ Rose fans that scatter the site, returning eight years on in the hope that Axl Rose finally rears his receding-hairline on the main stage. And if he doesn’t? Well, shit is bound to kick off in a milieu of denim, sewn on patches and unconditioned straw-like hair.
Arizona’s Harlem kick-start what is to be a lively festival on the Festival Republic stage. Combing the romantic sentiment of Pulp, and the rambunctious garage rock antics of the Pixies, there is a laddish fight about their performance. From the opening dirges of ‘I’m on Drugs’, to their indie-disco illumination La Roux’s ‘In for the Kill’, they are eager and easy to please.
Summer Camp sound every bit as crisp and dreamy as they do on record. Elizabeth Sankey, clad in a sequined onesy, coruscates on stage; but it’s Jeremy Warmsley who really steals all the praise, twisting their starry-eyed sound into a tapestry of soothing tones.
Robbie Furze of The Big Pink has stopped taking himself so seriously to the point of actually cracking a smile as they cover Otis Redding’s ‘These Arms of Mine’. Maybe it was just all one big joke, like the hyperbolic furore that pushed their career to this point in time and a midday set on the NME Radio 1 stage, but we’re the only ones laughing now.
Youthful upstarts Avi Buffalo provide a set that is never short of a dull moment. ‘What’s in it for?’ sounds like Brendan Benson wigging out with the Yardbirds, as the rest of their show renders their countrified pop elegance with psychedelic interludes.
With all the brooding and building elements of the Cure kicking around within their musical attire, Warpaint provide the best set of the day. Tight, constructive and harmonic in their dynamic, they beguile a modest crowd with tracks from their Exquisite Corpse EP and forthcoming album The Fool.
With Dean Fertita back from duties with The Dead Weather, Queens of the Stone Age pave a wall of sound around the main stage with a best of set. ‘Little Sister’, ‘3s & 7s’, ‘Go with the Flow’ and ‘No One Knows’ add a lysergic sheen to the already crepuscular sky that sets around them.
In 2002, Guns N’ Roses failed to turn up for their headline set at Reading. As a result, shit hit the fan: campsites were set alight, gas canisters were thrown into the flames, and some poor soul lost genitals. And after waiting 58-minutes for the Axl Rose et al. to arrive this year, if anyone was going to lose a testicle or two, the aging rocker was bound to be top of the list and hung from the rafters.
And he was: arriving on stage to little applause, mass boos and the resonating chant of ‘What a twat’, they opened with ‘Chinese Democracy’ and no form apology to the waiting crowd. In fact, there were no surprises in the set, just bemusement: costume changes, pyrotechnics being launched at any epic point during the set, piano-led solos by Axl himself (covering David Bowie’s ‘Changes’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’), even a Slash look-alike on lead guitar. In truth, Guns N’ Roses have just become a parody of their former selves.
‘Live and Let Die’, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ and ‘November Rain’ strike a chord, albeit a din one, with faithful fans; however, casual onlookers were left pondering the though of whether Axl had been locked away in a penthouse suite in LA since the release of Appetite for Destruction, cracking off in front of a mirror at his own deluded self-importance whilst wailing.
When they return for their ‘encore’, imagine our glee as it becomes apparent that the sound has been cut. Guitars and mic stands exit the stage at the same speed as the fans from the arena, but those of us who were resilient and, let’s face it, up for a laugh, hung around. Even Axl, who had been embowered by abuse from the start, returned with a loud speaker and an acoustic guitar to play ‘Paradise City’, which went down as well as fart in an enclosed space.