Live Review

Green Man 2011

The most fantastic festival experience.

The Green Man festival is set in the picturesque countryside of Glanusk Estate near Abergavenny, Wales complete with its very own river and mountains. It feels a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of cities, and that’s what makes it so perfect; you’re even welcomed each morning with a beautiful view of the Black Mountains from your tent, rather than the standard muddy field and beer cans that most are used to.

What sets Green Man apart from many other festivals is that its claim of being unique and family friendly actually stands up to scrutiny; it’s jam packed full of activities that could quite easily occupy your weekend and make you forget that you were at a music festival.

Friday

Kicking things off on Friday is comedy/folk upstart John Mouse giving a performance with such joy and excitability that could raise even the dead into a mild upbeat anticipation of the day to come. Next up, Other Lives, the band that answered folk’s cry for its own Interpol, with a grand gloom and a fantastic EP. Title track ‘Tamer Animals’ already seems a firm festival standard and the confidence and craft of the entire set points to massive things for the Oklahoma natives. They’re a hard act to follow and The Ramshackle Union Band and Treefight For Sunlight don’t leave lasting impressions, save for the latter’s remarkable Kate Bush cover.

Lia Ices’ beautiful ethereal sound fills the Far Out tent, her powerful voice carrying above the beautifully crafted arrangement of instruments. Ices’ songs seem far more complex performed live than on record, with driving drums and a magical atmosphere. A highlight from her set is the gorgeously lush and incredibly hypnotic ‘Little Marriage’.

The evening promises much and the so-talented-it-makes-you-want-to-disappear-into-the-mountains Villagers brings his own touch of precision and intensity to the proceedings. Winning an Ivor Novello for best song musically and lyrically (‘Becoming A Jackal’) with a song that isn’t even the best on the album is the sort of thing Villagers’ Conor O’ Brien does in his sleep. A sleep his haunting lyrics could easily deny anyone - “And we will be thankful, and we will be fed. You take the torso, and I’ll take the head”, from set highlight ‘I Saw The Dead’.

Despite its folky inclination, Green Man does attempt to cater for other tastes, and in booking two truly excellent Canadian electro acts, those leaning towards the noisier and more danceable have their appetites sated. The first of these is Holy Fuck, who captivate the Big Top tent with an onslaught of genre-slashing tracks, performing seemingly the tasks of twenty men on a stage that had become a jungle of wires and methods of and machines for making loud, loud sounds. The day is brought to a close by Explosions In The Sky, who don’t quite manage the post-rock power of Mogwai or the pure, entrancing discomfort of Godspeed, but still draw in the stars with some majesty and emotion.

Saturday

Friday had always looked like the best day on the bill, as always seems to be the case; most festivals can be forgiven for letting the middle day flag a little, but while not upping the ante, Green Man keeps things at a reasonable pace.

After the wonderful Welsh charm of 9bach, She Keeps Bees bring their guitar driven bluesy rock to the Main Stage. Front woman Jessica Larrabee’s vocals are assured and despite a pretty same-y sounding set, they deliver a brilliant, electrifying performance - although the breaks seem a little awkward with Larrabee’s patter swinging from amusing to clueless, as she proclaims: “I have no idea what to say now.”

The day drags slightly with an average performance from The Leisure Society, though still managing to make next act Noah & The Whale look somewhat inferior. Fleet Foxes close off the main stage with their whimsical, harmony laden folk. Their music wonderfully complementing the beautiful surroundings, they deliver a flawless, spell binding set.

Following that comes the surprise act of the festival, DJ JFB, British Turntable Champion (to YouTube you go). DJ JFB is also quite possibly a cyborg from the future sent to destroy not us but our conceptions of what a DJ can actually do.

Sunday

By Sunday the amount of acts to watch has dwindled further, withering in the sweltering heat. The day kicks off on the sun-baked Main Stage with the rich, rousing tones of Matthew & The Atlas. Next, on this sunny afternoon, with his dripping sounds, bubbling bass and liquid soulful vocals, the whole James Blake hype clicks into place: an accomplished set with a truly ground-shaking level of bass.

Afterwards Laura Marling takes up the main stage, but sadly lacks recognisable songs, heavily previewing her new album. While it’s nice to hear what the record will sound like, it seems an odd choice for a festival set. Despite this, there’s still no doubting that Marling is talented beyond her years, showcasing a mature sound, channelling Joni Mitchell.

Up next is the second of those aforementioned Canadian bands, Montreal’s Suuns. Four intense looking band members appear in the Big Top, and with the squall of guitars and possibly the most exquisite bass synth line in existence they spark into life for opener ‘Armed For Peace’. The next 35 minutes contain one of the most visceral sets going, consistently engaging with its cocktails of brooding basslines, pulsating synths, angular guitars and surreal whispering/cooing vocals. Nearing the end of the set, the until-then-silent Suuns excitedly thank the fans and praise the festival, before ploughing back into the swaggering aural assault.

Sporting a rather nice shirt and jacket, Sam Beam - aka Iron & Wine - plays mostly from his most recent album, displaying so much stage presence and charisma it’s impossible to dislike anything he does. After his encore, the audience cheer for him to come back so loudly and enthusiastically that he graciously comes back and plays, charmingly managing to find hilarity in the stage lights and the audience swaying.

While at points the line-up was a little thin, Green Man 2011 offered the most fantastic festival experience; the peaks so far outweighing the troughs that you could almost be grateful for a break from potentially classic acts. The audience was consistently lovely, and the attractions away from the music varied and intriguing. If you love music open-mindedly, you simply must go to Green Man.

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