Live Review

Queens of the Stone Age bring Glastonbury 2023 to a mighty close

25th June 2023

CMAT, Nova Twins and Lil Nas X also provided show-stopping turns on the festival’s final day.

‘Glastonbury Moments’ come in many different forms, and a truly special one arrives as CMAT kicks off the festival’s final day in the Woodsies tent. It may only be 12.30pm on a Sunday but the crowd is heaving, and as the endlessly charismatic Irish singer breaks out a set that’s simultaneously hilarious, emotional, ridiculous and vocally brilliant, you can feel the entire tent get behind her more and more by the minute. Wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘CMAT is a silly bitch!’, Ciara Mary Alice Thompson clearly loves a bit of camp showmanship; whether slowly sinking down into the splits mid-song, spending a solid third of the set writhing around the floor, or indulging in some kitsch choreography with her band mate for a duet of ‘Where Are Your Kids Tonight?’, hers is a brand of entertainment with a capital E. But as she introduces a final ‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy’ with the admission that it was written at her loneliest ebb, before the entire crowd sing it back to her as she - very justifiably - breaks down into tears, there’s also huge amounts of heart here. Glastonbury, you sense, might be the moment that CMAT became a true star.

With the sun blazing once more – and Japanese Breakfast’s travel woes leaving their set cancelled - it’s up to Nova Twins to force Sunday into life. Last year, the pair made a handful of appearances on small stages, away from the television cameras’ gaze: a Mercury Prize shortlisting later, they’re with the big guns, and their clash of electronic sounds and heavy-hitting riffs is delivered with compelling stage presence.

There’s a trio of treats to be found up on the Park Stage as the afternoon swings into action, beginning with Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul. Collaborative album ‘Topical Dancer’ was one of last year’s most critically-beloved offerings and live, the pair bring its tongue-in-cheek social observations to the dancefloor. With Adigéry the silver space-boot clad magnetic main presence and Pupal her foil, the mix of joyful electropop and lyrical sarcasm that they combine on record translates into a set that’s unlike any other here this weekend - extremely fun but with an underlying note of exhaustion at the world.

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Weyes Blood in the Sunday afternoon sun was always a booking that was going to make sense. With a sunset backdrop hung behind her and a sweeping white cape dress that twirls extravagantly, adding to the general sense of swoon, from the opening of ‘It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody’, her rich vocal tone and lushly arranged compositions are like a warm, nurturing hug (albeit one with some notably bleak lyrics). Natalie Mering is still up for some fun, however, and as she christens Glastonbury “the most pagan festival I’ve ever been to” before telling people that now is the time to take their remaining drugs - should they have them - the sense of humour that populates her apocalyptic balladry is evident.

“This is your last chance to have fun at the festival unless seeing Elton John choke on a prawn is your idea of fun,” declares Viagra Boys’ Sebastian Murphy in surreal style before caveating: “I’m gonna be watching him but still…” Even the Swedish miscreants clearly have a soft spot for the Rocket Man, but the crowd are evidently up for the challenge, moshing their way through ‘Ain’t Nice’ and ‘Punk Rock Loser’ before Murphy declares ‘Troglodyte’ to “the right wing who’ve ruined everything” - a sentiment that Glastonbury will always get behind.

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Though Yusef/ Cat Stevens is technically the occupier of this year’s Legends Slot, it’s Blondie who follow him and take the people’s crown. Now aged 77, Debbie Harry still sounds incredible, her voice going from delicate and soaring to punk and snarling with ease. Bringing out hit after hit, from ‘One Way or Another’ to ‘Atomic’ to ‘The Tide Is High’ and more (interspersed, unexpectedly, with a song written by Dev Hynes), it’s a treat just to be in Harry’s presence and she’s clearly having a blast - donning a sequinned mirrorball cape and Terminator-style visor at one point, and setting the bar for how to grow old in the coolest fashion imaginable.

Having popped up alongside Miley Cyrus during her 2019 Pyramid Stage set, Lil Nas X’s return to the festival is exactly the sort of huge spectacle that you’d hope from one of music’s most culturally game-changing stars. From the angle of pure, stadium-sized entertainment, he’s decided to bring a zoo’s worth of enormous Lion King-style silver animals with him; throughout the set, we get introduced to a snake, an emu, a massive horse for ‘Old Town Road’ and, most bizarrely, a man in a minotaur outfit that quietly follows him around the stage. More than that, however, his is a proudly queer show that takes hold of its enormous platform and uses it to the full, with Nas and one of his all-male backing dancers sharing an on-stage kiss, alongside a set of choreography that brings in Vogueing and generally wears its sexual freedom loud and proud.

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As Elton John takes to the Pyramid to bid farewell with one of the most anticipated sets in Glastonbury history, you wouldn’t envy the task of going up against him. But Queens of the Stone Age’s hedonistic prowls of debauchery are powerfully up for the challenge. As Josh Homme peppers a mighty, meaty set with commands to get fucked up and dance these last festival moments to their fullest, there’s no ringleader who could better harness the final embers of the weekend and ignite them into one last party. As they begin closer ‘A Song For The Dead’, there’s so much energy in the crowd that Homme even has to tell the circle pit to wait - “I run this fucking place - you don’t go ‘til I say go”; inevitably, when the order is issued, it’s one of the most feral ends to the weekend Glastonbury has seen.

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