Live Review

Ben & Jerry’s Sundae On The Common 2010

People do not come here to listen to music.

Every summer, the company Ben and Jerry’s holds an open-air buffet of all the different flavours of its ice cream, for a whole weekend, on Clapham Common, which becomes furnished with many other minor attractions. Apparently, the formal name for this event is a ‘festival’, because, apparently, live music is played there. The quality of this entertainment has tended to vary in an almost notoriously erratic sense, some years thoroughly substantial, and some falling foul of its potential as a unique, albeit incredibly unhealthy, spectacle of music. This year’s sixth edition of the festival is, regrettably, a perfect profile of the latter. Amongst all the baby buggies, discarded burgers and circles of teenagers taking pictures of themselves and making ironic comments, we discern a generally muffled view of the one, modest stage on offer, in turn leading to a collective bankruptcy of enthusiasm from both the crowd and the majority of the acts performing throughout the weekend. The result is an event that regards itself with an unmistakeably self-aware, almost bitter sense of tedium, one that inhibits its complete enjoyment.

In terms of standards, this year’s Ben and Jerry’s Sundae Festival rather consciously split itself down the middle. Pearl and the Puppets, for instance, were one of many bands on Saturday discernibly imbued with the “family feeling”- a testament to a tame, rather than talentless, sensibility – creating music that would sit comfortably in an advert for pickled ketchup or a very particular segment of a Hugh Grant film. Oriental, cavernous percussion and Katie Sutherland’s faint, velvet vocal styling are apt to guide the band at a steady pace at this earlier stage in the day, breaking free of the sedation to delegate to furtive keys and overbearing synth, particularly on new single ‘Because I Do’. Nonetheless, while fine musicians, a hesitant, ruminating stage prescence does not suffice to attract any more than a handful of curious visitors, huddled sheepishly around the stage.

As expected, Slow Club are the frugal, very suitably calm interlude in a sea of bands trying to be exciting beyond their will, means and inherent instincts. We are treated to a slow, lustful murmur which is careful not to cut or perturb in the slightest the sleepy resonance maintained today, created by lethargic, serenading guitar and the female narrative. Still, the duo appeared to apply more gravitas to conversation made between songs to the music itself, and the rousing of the tempo with an immaculate showcase of their “new direction” in pondering bluegrass comes all too late. It’s at this stage, furthermore, that we notice something rather unfortunate, particularly in light of the festival’s larger emphasis on folk, or simply quieter, acts: the acoustics of the stage are suited only to bigger sounds and a higher pitch.

Thankfully, the shortfall is inconsequential to seasoned veterans Idlewild, who have clearly been observing the utter complacence with which most others have been regarded today, and refuse to stand for it. Immediately, they kick the yawning crowd over with new single ‘Readers and Writers’, a charged of restless riffs and almost military precision. This is hastily found to be the centrepiece to a mercilessly short set of old and new material, in which rolling drums and progressive, fibrous bass compliment a consistently energetic stage presence, indicative of a band boasting fifteen years of experience in entertaining even the most comatose of audiences. For the first time today, we see variations in a band’s set, invoking several sounds and styles, with frontman Roddy Woomble’s embattled yet graceful vocals domineering throughout. In a set spanning the Britpop offensive of ‘Captain’ to the more informed delineations of life in ‘Post Electric Blues’, Idlewild are impeccable, tighter than any other act performing earlier, and apt to end the day. We continue to refuse to recognise that Scouting for Girls exist.

Sunday is unquestionably the more creditable in terms of musical talent. It comes, however, not without the somewhat expected balancing act of separating good bands from filler and, again, the galling indifference of the visitors for the most part. Nonetheless, today’s higher quality is forecasted by Goldheart Assembly, an early fixture, playing folk with a palpably sedative persuasion, buffered by solid, altruistic percussion. Though their image on stage is expectedly muted, the band refuse to consign themselves to one unwavering vein of pitch. Instead, the palette, in this sense, is very much alive, aligned with , and driven by, the feelings and sensations behind the songs.

The surprise triumph of the weekend, however, is perpetrated by Cherry Ghost. Though largely eluding many forms of public spotlight, the Ivor Novello award-winning five-piece deliver a stellar, undoubtedly engrossing set, despite themes that subvert the entire festival’s somewhat twee motivation. With an emphasis on remorseful brass instruments on first album ‘Thirst for Romance’, the band present a quick and flash tale of regret, told by methodical drums and Simon Aldred’s gruff, seasoned voice. A recently released second album, ‘Beneath the Burning Shoreline’, proves itself equally fond of considered, mature musicianship, as we see on ‘A Month of Mornings’, a meticulous ode to the power and machinations of nature, with its carefully creeping keys, and brass, once again, guiding the way through an austere path. By the conclusion of classic single ‘People Help the People’, translated immaculately into the live set, the acoustics of the solitary stage finally working as an ally, the inattentiveness of the crowd we found so sickening yesterday is, to a degree, visibly lifted.

The audience’s interest is only improved by the appearance of Frightened Rabbit, perhaps the only act that is aware of the intrinsic nature of the festival , where music plays only second fiddle to food, and is willing all the same to thunder through with no less energy, tact and humility than they would otherwise. Scott Hutchinson’s distinctly Scottish vocals suit an unorthodox rhythm and lyrics for young upstarts, while the bigger sound made is apt for the modestly-sized stage and acoustic credit, one that has dwarfed many other bands here. ‘Swim Until You Can’t See land’ is given a unique, tempered live rendition, offering an alternative take on the tale of freedom and escape, complemented by jagged, rolling acoustic guitar. The band’s visible eagerness to entertain, furthermore, with full enthusiasm and constant humour, not simply shoehorned in to shroud some musical ineptitude, help to elicit the most animated response from the crowd seen all weekend. Gradually, people begin to rise from their sullen picnic mats. The curiosity erupts with ‘The Twist’, a slow-burning showcase of awesome funk and indelible hi-hat action. With the drawn out, crashing conclusion to the orchestral hum of ‘Keep Yourself Warm’, Frightened rabbit are clearly received as stalwarts in a haystack of smiling, shameless mediocrity.

This year’s Ben and Jerry’s festival has prompted us to accept a slightly uncomfortable truth, one that last year’s almost flawless line-up swept under the rug with ease. People do not come here to listen to music. People come here to eat ice cream and slide down the helter skelter and potentially develop diabetes. As such, the majority of the bands playing will inevitably lack passion, or simply labour under the impression that they’re too cool to be there, and the visitors to Clapham Common, in return, will keep away from the stage. A larger focus, therefore, on the musical element, perhaps manifested in a second stage, would assist a problem which, at the moment, is being fed only with ice cream.

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