The middle of the afternoon to early evening is always the worst time for any festival in terms of clashes. Earlier in the day, there’s generally less ‘names’ and high-profile acts and more upcoming bands, or in Australia’s case the same bands at every festival, which make managing the day and deciding who to see easier. Later in the day, the acts play for longer so often there’s the possibility to see sizeable portions of a couple of acts who may be overlapping. Middle of the afternoon, often when the more interesting bands, the more ‘cultish’/underground bands or acts that have recently broken through play is difficult as they don’t play for long enough and there’s not enough time to get between stages to see much of anyone else playing at a similar time.
Mercury Rev are a band from way-back-when for me. I think I first saw them when they supported Spiritualized at Newcastle University when Spiritualized were touring Laser Guided Melodies, their first album. I’m guessing that it must have been 1991 or early 1992. At the time didn’t really think much of them and it wasn’t until a few years later and ‘Deserter’s Songs’ came out that I started listening to them properly. When the Harvest line-up was announced they were one of the bands that I was most looking forward to seeing, having not seen them for a long time. However, also really wanting to photograph TV On The Radio, a band I’ve wanted to photograph for a long time meant that I could only stay for a handful of songs if I wanted to get my three songs in the photo pit with TVOTR. The band sounded good and luckily with such a short afternoon set, include a couple of Deserter’s Songs in the four songs I see – Holes and Endlessly. Photographing them was a nightmare thanks to all the dry ice being pumped out across the screen. The humble smoke machine is the bane of the music photographer at the best of times but, from memory, this is the first time I can can recall ever seeing one used outside in the afternoon sun. The impact is even worse than having a smoke machine inside for a night time gig, possible because of the rate that the machine has to work to have any effect outside; it just creates an unpenetrable wall of bright white that plays havoc with focusing and exposure settings in the camera. At the time I’m really frustrated and annoyed, but looking through the photos afterwards I’m a bit surprised that I manage to come away with anything usable.
After all the self-imposed anticipation, photographing TV On The Radio is a huge disappointment. Although most of reports of the festival have them as a highlight of the day, it just felt very flat from where I was. The photo pit is very full for them and moving around is awkward, with photographing the band made difficult with the amount of gear on stage and the limited angles from where photos could be taken. As is often the case, being right at the front is one of the worst places to be for sound as you get the mess of the onstage sound rather than the properly mixed sound coming out of the massive speakers at the side of the stage. From the photo pit, the sound is very sludgy and it’s not until halfway back up the hill that it begins to sound anything like it should. [As a quick aside "TV On The Radio" always reminds me of Tommy Vance, as it was his jingle/catchphrase on Radio 1's Friday night rock show, and in being reminded of him I'm also always reminded that he just doesn't get the kudos he deserved. He's easily up there with John Peel in influencing and guiding a whole generation's music tastes, it's just that rock/metal is looked down on my the majority of the mainstream music media outlets].
After another walk up the hill and a quick sit down in the shade of the Boudoir tent for Our Lady J’s solo piano cabaret versions of indie hits, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah show themselves to be the worst band of the day. They were just boring to listen to and boring to photograph but after three songs it’s straight over to the Big Red Tractor stage for Death In Vegas so I don’t get a chance to see if it gets any better. Death In Vegas might be playing the festival’s smallest stage but there’s a large crowd there to see them play, one that fills up the space between the alcove of trees surrounding the stage and stretches around the corner to where there isn’t much view of the stage at all. It’s one of the few times of the day where it’s struggle to move between the crowd to get into and out of the photo pit. But as with much of the day I only get to see four songs (and the fourth one is more to do with the time it takes to navigate through the crowd) – Your Loft My Acid, Girls, Dirge and Coum. Again it’s a shame as they sound fantastic even if they are a bit on the boring-side to photograph.
Bright Eyes are ok but it’s the middle of day stage when everything is becoming a bit of a blur. At least they are a whole lot better than the last time I saw them, when they played the John Peel tent at Glastonbury in 2005: an unforgettable set for all the wrong reasons, although amazingly Glastonbury invited them back a few years later.