Live Review

Latitude Festival 2009, Henham Park, Suffolk

Once again, Latitude exceedes all expectations.

Latitude Festival

has been labeled a ‘middle-class’ festival by many, with its unrivaled line-up of top quality music, comedy, theatre, film and dance being performed amidst the stunning scenery of the Suffolk countryside. It is not unusual to wander down to the lakes and see a ballet being performed or perhaps an orchestra tuning up on the Waterfront Stage whilst hearing the undertones overtones of a loud guitar band rocking out on one of the larger stages. Latitude Festival 2009 is the fourth edition of the festival, and in the 4 years since its establishment, has quickly built a solid reputation as one of the hottest and most diverse tickets around.

Friday 17th July – Day One

Many of the festival’s campers awake in wet tents following the torrential downpour that batters the festival during the early hours of the morning (nothing to rival the storms that closed down Spain’s Benicassim Festival), though this does nothing to dampen spirits, with brightly coloured wellies and waterproofs adorning the crowds of people milling around the main festival site.

The first visit of the day is to the Sunrise Arena, tucked neatly away in the heart of the woods, to see ex-Ash guitarist Charlotte Hatherley playing her brand of new-wave pop. Impressively, she sets up her own gear and tunes her own guitars, all whilst wearing an eye-wateringly short dress. The set is hit by a few false starts but is quickly rescued by her bassist who launches into a rousing version of ‘La Bamba’, with which the crowd eagerly joins in. Her set is packed with a showcase of new material from her forthcoming release ‘Cinnibar City’, with only a couple of visits to her back catalogue. The fans are receptive to the new material, however their frustrations at the lack of old material are visible as the tent empties once the show reaches its climax.

The sun makes a welcome appearance by the time Of Montreal step onto the stage at the Obelisk Arena, which by the way, is not an arena at all, much more a sprawling main stage filler. Their set of jaunty exuberant indie-pop is a complimentary soundtrack to the blazing sunshine, with many spectators choosing to try to top up their tans whilst they have the opportunity. Ladyhawke follows suit with her catchy synth-heavy, electronic anthems, though her presence as frontwoman leaves much to be desired. She’s good at pouting, but not much else, it seems.

Noah and The Whale debut their new project in the Film and Music Arena; a film entitled ‘The First Days of Spring’, which is accompanied by a soundtrack that takes the form of the follow-up album to the critically acclaimed ‘Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down’. The tent is packed to the rafters with excited Whale fans, and frontman-cum-director Charlie Fink is on hand to introduce the work to the delight of the audience. The film is packed with lush, yet dark slightly obtuse cinematography, and a beautifully orchestrated soundtrack that encapsulates the core essence of Noah and The Whale, whilst adding an emotional depth and instrumental range that didn’t exist previously. It seems that there is no limitations to Charlie Fink’s talent.

The heavens open at the Obelisk Arena stage prompting a wave of opening umbrellas as Regina Spektor takes to her support slot. She is charmingly sweet throughout her 45 minute set, playing a mixture of songs that have spanned her career so far, taking cuts from ‘Begin To Hope,’ ‘Soviet Kitsch’ and her most recent release, ‘Far’. Highlights included ‘Blue Lips’, ‘Us’ and ‘Hotel Song’. She apologises repeatedly to any parents with children in the audience before donning a guitar and launching into expletive-filled ‘That Time’.

Other highlights of the day included a quaint late evening set at Film and Music from Jeremy Warmsley, who plays Tom Waits and Daniel Johnston covers, New Wave heroes Squeeze, who have the entire Uncut Arena on their feet and dancing to ‘Cool for Cats’. This paves the way for Mercury Prize nominated Bat for Lashes, whose enigmatic and darkly beguiling alt. pop dreamscapes bring the Uncut Stage to a close with drama and genuine atmosphere. Main headliners Pet Shop Boys with their infectious electro-pop anthems play a mix of old and new hits to an eager audience, retaining their position as one of pop’s biggest and best-loved acts. More intriguing though are their backing dancers who bounce about with brightly coloured boxes on their heads.

The day is rounded off with a final visit to the Film and Music tent for an exclusive Late Night Tales session featuring acoustic-rock darlings Turin Brakes, who takes to the stage 30 minutes late at 12.45am but launches into an acoustic performance which proves that they are certainly worth the wait, playing rousing renditions of their most well-known material, including ‘Painkiller’, ‘Dark on Fire’, ‘Futureboy’ and ‘Underdog (Save Me)’. There was a disappointing omission of ‘Emergency 72’, which may have been a result of the duo overrunning their allotted slot, however the fans who pack the tent to the rafters compensate by launching into their own chorus-heavy rendition as they exit the tent, back into the pouring rain.

Saturday 18th July – Day Two

Campers are again awoken by wind and rain, however by the time the Arena plays host to the opening bands of the day, the rain has cleared, leaving a blanket of cloud and the occasional ray of sunshine.

Broken Records, hailing from Scotland, ease festival goers into their day with a performance of Arcade Fire-esque alternative-folk. A wide array of instrumentalists were scattered across the stage, all contributing to the breathtaking soundscape that rings out over the woodland.

The Airborne Toxic Event, all mono colour coded in fetching black and white outfits, follow Broken Records onto the Obelisk Arena stage, to a backdrop bearing their logo. Frontman Mikel Jollett, complete with Bruce Springsteen-styled bandanna pogoes around the stage excitedly, switching between keyboards and guitar as required systematically, whilst extending his gratitude towards the audience for coming out to see them. Guitarist Steven Chen wins the prize for biggest poser of the festival, in fact, he poses more than he plays his guitar, but it’s entertaining to watch. The only downfall of the performance is the setlist order, with the set beginning with upbeat, folky material and climaxing with more melancholy tracks, which is not the way to go when you have extrovert Patrick Wolf following you!

Dressed like pantomime villain Patrick Wolf commands the Obelisk Arena stage, parading around as if he owns it. And boy, does he own it. It’s a big feat for Patrick, who is still gaining commercial acclaim and has only recently made it onto mainstream radio rotation, but his set, a heady mix of gypsy violins, glam rock theatrics and anthemic indie songwriting, is definitely a reflection of his growing status as an artist, and he isn’t afraid. In fact, he embraces the hugeness of the situation with open arms.

Elsewhere at the festival, Camera Obscura overcome technical difficulties (broken microphones) to deliver a stunning 40-minute set. The band prove that is possible to put on a top-notch live show without having to prance about posing every five seconds, and they look every inch the part in their suits and formal ballgowns. White Lies play a storming anthemic set at the Obelisk Arena, yet the notable absence of the orchestration and the synths that dominates much of their debut ‘To Lose My Life’ does somewhat weaken their performance. Bombay Bicycle Club deliver a typically frantic set, complete with yelps, handclaps and percussion hanging from the lighting rig. The band are just as ready to get in the party spirit as their cheering spectators, with their bassist scaling a speaker stack some ten-feet in the air to the delight of the audience, before making a daring leap back down to the stage.

Spiritualized wowed the Uncut Arena with their collective of blues infused soul-pop anthems. They remain characteristically silent throughout the performance, and are shrouded in a cloud of smoke for the duration, creating an air of wondrous mystique. They open their set with the breath-taking ‘Amazing Grace’ and follow it with tracks taken from ‘Songs In A&E,’ ‘Ladies and Gentleman, We Are Floating in Space’ and ‘Lazer Guided Melodies’. The audience sing along raucously throughout, many with their arms raised, creating a scene more common in an evangelical church. Spiritualized bring their set to a big climax with a 10-minute freak out, which becomes almost urgently unbearable by the second, ensuring that there will be ringing ears all around for the very near future.

Saturday is capped off by The Asteroids Galaxy Tour who bring their quirky funk-pop to the Film and Music Arena courtesy of Mark Lamarr, as part of his Gods Jukebox feature. Despite being little-known, the Danish duo pack out the small tent to play out catchy tracks from their debut offering ‘Fruit’, and bring the house down with ‘Around The Bend’ which featured last year in an Apple iPod Touch advert.

Sunday 19th July – Day Three

There’s an excitable buzz humming throughout the festival site as huge crowds drawn to the Obelisk Arena for a very special occasion – a rare solo outing from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. Diehard fans had gathered at the Obelisk from very early on in the morning; many with breakfast rolls in tow, and as a result, the arena is rammed. Disappointingly, Thom requests that the large video screens either side of the stage be switched off, citing ‘shyness’, leaving much of the audience to crane their necks to get a glimpse of the man himself. He banters throughout his set, with fans in front of the stage, whilst occasionally stopping to mock himself, immediately melting the frosty exterior he is well-known for: ‘This is a new song, go for a piss or something…’ The set is mesmerizing, with Thom’s haunting falsetto leaving the audience awestruck, and as a first for the weekend, you could have heard a pin-drop.

Leed’s post-rockers iLiKETRAiNS bring their brooding widescreen soundscapes to the Uncut Arena, continuing the chilled-out vibe that Thom Yorke had set the benchmark for earlier on. Their set is frustratingly short, considering the length and grandeur of their songs, however it gathers pace and intensity as time goes on, filling the arena confidently.

Lisa Hannigan appears to have brought the wonderful Irish weather with her, as the sky unleashes a torrential rain downpour within the first ten minutes of her set, sending hundreds of audience members heading for shelter. Some fans brave the soaking though, many jigging along to Lisa’s traditional folky offerings. The combined rain and dissipation of the audience does nothing to dampen her spirits though, and she remains smiling and gracious through to the very end of her set. She ploughs through picks from her debut album ‘Sea Sew’, fully justifying her place as a Mercury Music Prize nominee, and her warmth and strength as a performer briefly enables the audience to forget their wet clothes for a time.

Manchester Orchestra take to the Uncut Arena stage looking like a group of moody students, and after launching into their heavy guitar, screamy-vocalled opener, it transpires that they may just be another of those run-of-the-mill indie-rock bands. However, two songs later, and gone are the shouty vocals, replaced with melodic, interweaving textures, impressive dynamics and a raw, heartfelt vocal performance from singer Andy Hull that makes the audience (oddly comprised of mainly families and young children) sit up in their seats and pay attention.

Saint Etienne reaffirm their place as indie-dance darlings with a solid rendition of the biggest hits of their twenty-year career. Sarah Cracknell is her wonderfully immaculate self, dancing around the stage soulfully and providing a spot-on vocal delivery whilst Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs stand obediently in the background, creating the trademark sound that pogoed Saint Etienne into the nineties dance mainstream. A few ‘Foxbase Alpha’ signs are dotted amongst the audience, which comprises fans of all ages, proving that Saint Etienne have almost definitely still got ‘it.’

Other Sunday highlights included trip-hop star Tricky who delivers a captivating, genre-hopping performance before crowd-surfing out of the Uncut Arena, Red Light Company tearing up the stage with a storming set of their inoffensive brand of catchy alternative-rock, and a frenetic set in the Sunrise Arena from punk youngsters Sky Larkin.

Editors chose their headline support slot at Latitude to showcase new material from their forthcoming third album ‘In This Light and On This Evening’ which reveals itself to be a complete change in direction for the band; very synthesizer heavy, relying on electronic beats and sparkling synth sounds as opposed to the traditional Editors setup of guitar, bass, piano and drums. The band don’t just play new material though, throwing in their best-known material for good measure in the form of ‘Munich,’ ‘Bullets’, ’Racing Rats’, ‘Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors’ and ‘And End Has A Start.’ Editors are powerfully dark and ferocious, living up to their live expectation, with singer Tom Smith giving a wonderful vocal performance that few could challenge, cementing his status as one of the most distinctive vocalists to grace the charts in recent years

Headliners and festival closers Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are old hands at this sort of thing; Nick Cave in particular paces across the stage like a natural raconteur. The set is varied and engaging, showcasing many of the songs that have given this most unique band their reputation as one of rock’s most distinctive institutions. ‘Tupelo’ is a strong opener while ‘The Ship Song’ undeniably shows the Seeds’ sensitive side. ‘We Call Upon The Author’ is played with real gusto but a special mention must go to Violinist/Miniature Guitarist Warren Ellis’ gloriously incongruous glitch solos teased from his pedal board. Closing early due to curfew with the raucous and somewhat X-rated ‘Stagger Lee,’ The Seeds bring the festival to a crashing and joyful finale.

Once again, Latitude exceedes all expectations and delivers a top-notch festival atmosphere with a lineup of the best artists, musicians and comedians around. It is almost certainly a festival that will continue to grow and grow, year upon year, delivering on every level each and every time.

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