Old heads and fresh faces treat Glastonbury 2014 exactly the same - like it’s the biggest moment of their lives, a celebration that might never be matched. Whether it’s Dolly Parton, who quite literally waited a “lifetime” to play the festival, or Jungle, making their debut and giving everything to the occasion, almost every moment feels special for everyone involved. In the end it never matters that the giant names rumoured to headline (and subsequently play a secret set) fail to turn up - those that do give a diverse and exciting bill justice.
Every headliner performs with the awareness that this isn’t just any other set. Arcade Fire - whose papier mache'd post-‘Reflektor’ gusto can sometimes come across forced - give the most genuine, hair-raising show of their lives. Win Butler has the impression of someone trying helplessly to control a storm, while brother Will doesn’t stop jumping and howling under a disco ball for two hours straight. Metallica arrive with tongues placed firmly in cheeks, bringing shameless fun to a crowd that wholeheartedly welcomes their disputed arrival. They prove that any band belongs on Worthy Farm if they treat the occasion with the required mentality. Festival-closers Kasabian welcome in the most flare-friendly, up for it crowd, with the masses wearing merchandise that has the wrong date printed on its front - in the end, they couldn’t care less, as Leicester’s rowdiest embrace their big moment.
Some arrive with a bull in a china shop mentality, roaring on stage and barely looking back. Jack White looks like a man on a mission as he blitzes through solo numbers and White Stripes classics, collapsing onto stage gear in the process and only becoming more enamouring in doing so. On the festival’s biggest stages, countless acts are making their debut - St. Vincent pulls out every trick in the book; rolling down stairs, stealing punters’ hats, so caught up in the magic of her first appearance that she looks capable of anything. Wolf Alice admit their nerves from the beginning, but as soon as they start playing these anxieties fly straight out of the John Peel Stage, giving further momentum to their relentless charge.
There’s a clear difference in how debutants dealt with their big shot. Dolly Parton showcases her own new mud-centric song, with the biggest crowd of the festival warming to a country star in a surreal, often hilarious anecdotal and musical extravaganza. Her set follows The 1975, who stand out as the newest band to grace the Pyramid on the Sunday. The excitement and gung-ho mentality they arrive with only intensified throughout, but it’s a set that best summed up in Matt Healy’s closing speech. He remarks on Glastonbury’s love, freedom and sense of acceptance, sentimentality epitomised, before concluding with the sensitive line: “This next song’s about shagging.” It’s a performance that trips up on its own enthusiasm. At points it sounds like they’re playing to two backing tracks at once, with drums mistimed and guitar solos barely breaking out of first gear. Dolly’s follow-up set might be cheesy to the extreme, but its professionalism makes the tattoo’ed, wine guzzling antics of those preceding look like complete pretenders. Any band incapable of playing to a rhythm shouldn’t be let out of the rehearsal room, let alone given free roam of the Pyramid Stage.
Lana Del Rey’s had years plagued with accusations of being shoddy live, but they don’t show up here. A dazzling display gives ‘Ultraviolence’ an unlikely home, with cigarette smoke seeping out from the stage into a sun-drenched crowd that, as soon as she departed, welcomed in an appropriately-timed storm. Parquet Courts shouldn’t be able to pull it off either - their set’s delayed by storms and by the time they hit the drenched Park Stage, the setting couldn’t be further away from the sweaty, dimly lit basement venues they excel in. Somehow it doesn’t matter - their scuzzy Brooklyn-bred punk is vital here, bouncing into life from the off, new album ‘Sunbathing Animal’ being showcased almost in its entirety.
Most bands depart the festival almost as soon as they arrive, but a handful of names can be seen wandering around Worthy Farm days before their set. James Blake essentially makes the Park Stage a second home, head-bopping for a Four Tet DJ set, looking remarkably clean and zen while a sea of ponchos wastes away mere hours into a mud-addled day one. He ends up closing the festival, in turn being handed the longest round of applause across the entire weekend. He looks overwhelmed, remarking on the “special” experience he’s had prior to playing. Musically it’s a slick masterclass, the Mercury Prize winner using live percussion and a dazzling light show to bring ‘Overgrown’ to life.
Courtney Barnett and George Ezra are similarly ever-present. Secret sets are their lifeblood as far as this festival goes, and they stand out as the most talked-about new names when everything eventually dies down. Jungle make a similarly huge impression - don’t bet against ‘Busy Earnin’’ becoming a genuine anthem as festival season progresses. Percussive, frenzied, funk-laced to the extreme, they dress their early afternoon slot in late night club attire.
Apart from the half hour delay and ever-present threat of a sludge armageddon to wipe out everyone on site, Glastonbury fights off hitches with complete triumph. Headliners were baited with criticism before this festival, but they use sniping attacks to their own advantage. New names battle nerves and conquer on almost every occasion, and even legendary acts played like their lives depended on it. It’s difficult to imagine this ever changing. Glastonbury remains the place to prove a point, and this year it was the festival itself that had the biggest say. Nothing can dampen the spirit of what goes on over these four days of music . Fears of rain, bad bookings, unfortunate clashes - it means nothing when this event eventually comes to life.
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