Adrian Cooper has been unwell

Old reviews that are no longer available online, or from sites that no longer exist. The pen is dead, long live the camera.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Essential Festival, 2002
Rock Day

There’s supposed to be two sides to every story, but it’s not often that those two stories are so blatantly contradictory as those flying round at Ashton Court this weekend are. The promoters have cited safety issues as the reason that they’ve had to close two stages and pull about 14 bands from the bill. A fair enough suggestion at first until it becomes clears that those safety reasons are due to the waterlogged conditions. While that might still sound vaguely reasonable (I was at Glastonbury one of those years that saw in excess of 80,000 swimming through pig shit for three days and there’s no way I’d go through that again), it does seem that little bit strange that not only have they pulled a couple of the headline acts from the bill, but that the ground has miraculously been deemed dry enough for the other two other days of the festival

The other story in circulation is, say we say, just that little bit more interesting. This second account says that advance ticket sales have been so poor that the promoters couldn’t afford to pay the advance fees, leading to a number of bands being pulled off the bill by the bands’ agents. I would use the word allegedly at this point, if it were not for the fact that the promoters have finally admitted that they fucked up big time.

So anyway, this pantomime of farce and rumour means that no one actually knows which bands are supposed to be here anymore, and there’s a lot of lost and confused kids wondering around not knowing where, or if, there favourite band is playing. But hey, it could be worse. There is some good news: Reef aren’t playing anymore, but there is also some bad news – the Levellers have pulled out, and just to rub it in even more, now they’re even headlining a one of the fucking stages. Seems that there’s nothing quite like the prospect of a shit-stained mudslide of a festival to draw the Levellers’ hell-spawn gout-ridden crusty fucks of a fan-base crawling out into the daylight. Today’s other major surprise is the absence of co-headliners Therapy?, though I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

Of course, you’re faced with the problem that the bands have now been scattered across the four remaining stages, and the chances are that the bands you wanted to see now all clash with each other. Still, we’re here, so let’s just make the best of it.

Over on what may still called the third stage, Kids Near Water take a break from their chubby emo-kid angst to announce that their t-shirts won’t available on the merchandise stall as they didn’t want to their fans to get ripped off by the extortionate prices being charged. Now, at this point we could be cruel and say that in that case their fans would have been better off waiting for the Get Up Kids to tour, but it’s sunny, I’m really appreciating being back at an outdoor festival after the sweat-pit hell of All Tomorrow’s Parties, and while they may not be breaking any new ground, these Kids are alright so I’ll leave the cutting wit for someone more deserving of my rancour.

Such as your new new favourite band. The Bellrays have been grabbing press like a Manchester United metatarsal bone, but you wonder if anyone would have noticed them if it wasn’t for Lisa Kekaula impression of an afro-sporting Divine after successful hormone treatment. Given that half the bands appearing today seem to play some form of down and dirty garage rock, we may as well just listen to ‘Respect’ ‘Gimme Shelter’ and ‘Kick Out The Jams’ on our own time. Sahara Hotnights also fall foul of this trap, a setback further exacerbated by the fact that Essential is the only place in Britain today to feature more Swedes than the Everton midfield.

Down towards the spongier end of the field, Jello Biafra is proving that occasionally angry young men do indeed grow up to be angry old men. Thankfully Jello has spent his later years of life reading up on world evil so instead of spouting random bullshit, this man most definitely knows what he’s talking about. As the lecture starts you have to wonder if anyone is paying him any attention, but he can at least claim full marks for effort. As much as I want to hear what he’s got to say, to make sure that my rage towards consumerist-culture doesn’t prevent my from enjoying a day I spent a fair amount of my hard-earned wages on, it’s time for me to run away to the less contentious climes of a Cave In gig.

Having done so, I find myself surrounded by children. I don’t know what it is about Cave In’s prog-tinged post-hardcore, but not only do the majority of people around me look too young to get served alcohol, if the badly scrawled band names on the bag of the girl in front of me are anything to by, some of them are too young to have been taught how to spell. Time to seek adult company, time to go listen to some more of Mr Biafra.

I arrive back just in time for his tirade about the inadequacies of US airlines, and how while America may look own on the Arab states at least they go to the effort of protecting their planes with reinforced hulls and by placing an under-cover anti-terrorist commando on every flight, while America claims to rule the world, but is content that airport security has one of the highest job turnover levels in the country. He’s like Bill Hicks without the jokes, and with so many impressionable young kids wondering around that’s just what we need right now. Jello says ‘question authority, fight the fucking power, just don’t listen to the Dead Kennedys while you’re doing it cos they’re not the band they purport to be anymore’. Ohhh, tetchy.

But hey, we’ve been educated, now it’s time for some rock’n’roll, and the Dirtbombs are happy to oblige. But they’re struggling with bad sound. For a band that’s always fairly stripped-down, this is disastrous. Thankfully though, they gradually they start to claw it back. Mick Collins throws a few high-kicks, and their fiery soul-punk begins to win though.

Following closely behind the ‘Bombs, the (International) Noise Conspiracy should be in a position to win over the crowd, as their choreographed communist chic explodes onto the stage. Unfortunately, no matter how much I want to love this band (of course I want to love them, they’ve spent three years trying to be the Make Up), I have a problem with it all. It all seems so fake and forced. They’ve spent so long perfecting their moves that they can’t connect with the crowd at all. It doesn’t matter where they are, or to whom they’re playing, nothing ever changes. It’s the same moves, the same ad-libs. The first time you see them it’s a revelation, the second it’s just frustrating. On record they’re an overtly political band, but that doesn’t come across live. If it weren’t for the fact that singer Dennis Lyxzen used to be in Refused, you wouldn’t even know that the Noise Conspiracy had a socio-political agenda.

Thankfully Rocket From The Crypt have what it takes to save me from my despondency. On a day where confusion reigns, it’s good to know that Speedo and the boys can be relied upon to pull out the stops. Forget the White Stripes, the Rocket boys have been doing that matching outfit thing for years, and even though last year’s ‘Group Sounds’ album didn’t exactly propel them back into the charts, there’s still no one that can touch the magnificence of their rock’n’roll revue. As they crash into their tried and tested closing triumvirate of ‘Middle’, ‘Born In ‘69’ and ‘On A Rope’ it becomes all too clear that the majority of bands that played today will never be this good. Speedo is a god, and everyone that is stumbling around crying about the non-appearance of Reef has got a hell of a lot of worshipping to catch up with. Time to get down on your knees, non-believer.