Harvest @ The Riverstage, 19.11.2011 – Part 3

Having only seen the first three songs when Mogwai played Splendour back in July, needing to rush off for one final walk to the Amphitheatre stage for Kanye West’s headline slot on the first night of the festival, I’m in exactly the same situation at Harvest. Someone really needs to bring them out for another tour, where they can play proper sets as opposed to the 45 minutes/one hour festival sets we’ve been getting to see.

The National are a band I’ve tried really hard to like over the last few years, with little success. Based on the rave reviews and because I’d heard and liked Fake Empire, I went out and bought Boxer when it came out but never really go into it. Too serious, too worthy, too plodding, too dull. They didn’t do themselves any favours when our paths last crossed, when they played at The Zoo at the start of 2008. Having been approved to photograph them by the promoter, I turned up at the venue to find that because their tour manager hadn’t approved any photographers, no one would be allowed to photograph the gig. I guess that’s a good allegory for the band in general. Although not allowed to photograph the band, as I was on the guest list they let me in, so I go to see them in a small venue but found them to be the same playing live as on record. Every time they release a new album or tour I’m always surprised by how much love they get given; there’s just so many more exciting bands that could and should be given the attention. I’m always happy to give bands more than once chance though, usually it’s far too many chances than I should. Singer Matt Berninger sums it all up well as he clasps his mic stands, with his hands in front of his face and his eyes tightly shut. Maybe this is a passionate performance but it gives the impression of someone who’s struggling to stay awake and holding on tightly to a mic stand to avoid falling over. Just about the most exciting thing about watching the band is that the drummer looks like Luke Wilson in The Royal Tenenbaums and bassist is the spitting image of Mike from Spaced.

If there’s a band that you want to be in the photo pit for, it’s The Flaming Lips.  When it comes to having the best seat in the house they’re just about the ultimate band.  And yet despite it being the second time I’ve gotten to photograph them, I still don’t think I’ve done them justice.  It’s a complete sensory overload, there’s so much going on that you don’t know where to point the camera and it’s hard not to just put the camera down and revel in the moment.  If there is a downside to it, it’s that it’s the same show as when they played Splendour in 2009 and, from what I read, the same show they’ve been doing for years.  The trouble is that when you have a show like the Flaming Lips do, where do you go next? There’s so much anticipation that they can never go back to just playing on a empty stage, everyone is here to see and experience Wayne Coyne’s walk across the crowd in his giant bubble and all the giant balloons, glitter, streamers and confetti.  It’s still a marvelous sight, even if it’s not quite as thrilling the second time around.  The Splendour show left me wondering whether I’d ever experience anything quite like that ever again from the photo pit and whether everything would be downhill afterwards but there is life after photographing your first Flaming Lips.  I get to see about three-quarters of the set, with most of that spent photographing in the photo pit. The first song proper after Coyne gets back to the stage from his walk over the crowd is She Don’t Use Jelly, followed up by an extended version of The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song that you just don’t want to end, and a new song which Setlist.fm tells me is tastefully called Is David Bowie Dying? After we’re kicked out of the photo pit I stick around and watch Yoshimi Part 1, which is a bit anti-climatic after the first three but have to start making my way down to the Riverstage during The W.A.N.D., missing out on the last few songs, including the finale of Do You Realise?, which I hear later was an amazing set-closer with even more confetti.

There’s one more walk down to the Riverstage to go, the ninth time of the day that I’ve made the journey between the festivals main and other stages.  It’s been a long day.

Portishead’s Dummy is another one of those albums I can pinpoint when and where I first heard it.  Strangely enough it was while cat-sitting for a friend’s aunt in West Byfleet.  I’d not been long back from 4 months in the USA and some London-based friends came over to experience  the delights of an autumnal Saturday afternoon in a reasonably well-to-do London suburb with more than its fair share of golf courses, bringing with them a whole bunch of music I had missed out on while I was away.  As well as Dummy, it was also the first time I got to hear Supergrass’s Caught By The Fuzz.  I may struggle to remember what I was doing a few days ago when it’s time to fill in my timesheet at the end of the week but it’s fascinating how I can remember useless bits of information like that.

The following Glastonbury, 1995’s edition, I skipped Pulp’s now legendary main stage appearance (filling in for The Stones Roses as John Squire had broken his collar bone falling off a bike) and headed to the acoustic tent to catch Portishead instead.  In the eight or nine months since I’d first heard Dummy, the band had exploded. Similar to the Foo Fighters debut show at Reading a few months later, it felt like the majority of the festival had gone to see them. You just couldn’t get anywhere near the  getting inside the tent and you could barely get close enough to hear anything.  Having been disappointed that Evan Dando had been a no-show earlier in the day, it was a pleasant surprise that they found a time to give him a quick run out before Portishead started.  However, it turns out I was the only person in the crowd who thought this, with everyone else booing him off before he’d barely started.  Portishead fans are a right nasty bunch… Years later, via a major record label publicist, I found out what’s allegedly the true story about Evan Dando’s no show earlier in the day; it’s an interesting tale and a warning not be be lead astray by one of Britpop’s most celebrated singers.

And so another 16 years later Portishead headline the inaugural Harvest festival and are magnificent. The photographing bit is nothing special; three songs as per usual but we have to all keep to the very side and there’s a burly security guard making sure we don’t encroach beyond the area we’re all crammed into.  Portishead aren’t the most active of onstage bands so even after a song I feel I have enough and as much as I’m going to get so start making my way slowly out of the bit, hanging on at the edge just in case they increase a lighting a bit or something spectacular happens.   It doesn’t but then it was fairly unlikely that it would.  The real spectacle of the show doesn’t really present itself until you start making your way up the hill and away from the stage and you start to notice the band as small silhouettes in front of the video screen backdrops.  it’s often the case that you can’t take in the scale when you’re in the photo pit and concentrating on the job in hand.  Visually it reminds me a lot of the Massive Attack show at the same venue back towards the start of 2010.  It’s a perfect mix of sound and vision, each complementing the other.  We sit and watch the rest of the show from towards the very back and even at that distance from the stage it’s still superb, the sound as stunning as you’re going to ever get at an outside gig.

The first Harvest is a roaring success, only dampened by AJ tweeting straight afterwards that he’d been told by the Council that this was the first and last time Harvest would be at the Riverstage, although the tweet was quickly deleted.  Hopefully it will return.  As pointed out in the first of these three Harvest-related posts, the main drawback to such a good line-up is missing out on so much I wanted to see as I kept having to head off to my next photographic engagement.  It goes with the territory but is still a source of great annoyance.

Even though Portishead finish at the 10pm curfew, the night is still young and there is still a trip to 4ZZZ for their Wayne Coyne-endorsed Zaireeka iPhone experiment to add onto the end of an already long day.  But that’s a (disaster) story for another day.

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