Yes, being the hopelessly Anglophilic rock fan that I am, this summer I made a pilgrimage across the pond to attend U.K. rock festivals. I'd barely landed at Heathrow when I hopped a train to Chelmsford for the V Festival, which by British rockfest standards was pretty tame--this year's bill was heavy with VH1-friendly acts like Snow Patrol, KT Tunstall, and Corinne Bailey Rae, and the grounds were impeccably maintained (nope, no Glastonbury-style mudbaths here). It seemed like a good way to ease into my Lyndsey Parker 2007 U.K. Tour, before I attended the bigger, bolder Reading Festival the following weekend.
Anyway, those of you out there who are interested in main attraction Amy Winehouse's V Festival appearance can stop reading after this paragraph, as--shocker!--she dropped off the bill. Congratulations to anyone collecting from their bookies as a result of this no-show. Sadly, the infamously rehab-resistant diva's cancellation caused the fragmentation of what would have been a splendidly time-warped, melon-twisting quadruple bill on the JJB/Puma Stage, consisting of Ocean Colour Scene, former Pulp front-fop Jarvis Cocker, Primal Scream, and Happy Mondays (see, the Mondays moved over to Amy's vacated lot on the Channel 4 Stage). But thankfully, many other nostalgia acts appeared at V on Saturday to compensate for this loss, starting with chanty crowd-pleasers the Proclaimers (covering Wreckless Eric's "Whole Wide World," yet) and velvet-vocal-chorded Squeeze man Glenn Tilbrook.
Of course, all this flashback fun was enough to make me forget that this was V 2007, so it was soon time for a little fresh blood. Enter my new favorite band, Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong--a babyfaced gang of nattily suited, shag-haircutted, Pipettes-associated mod boys who wisely limited their sharp, spiky pop tunes to a positively Buzzcockian two minutes or less, thus cramming as many finger-snapping, toe-tapping numbers as possible into their all-too-brief 25-minute sidestage set. One of my U.K. friends (probably disparagingly) dubbed JL&TJJJ "the new Duran Duran," but since I was (and am) a big fan of the old Duran Duran, I took this as a compliment. Apparently these guys have led quite charmed lives: Joe Lean is a former teen actor, the band's already getting tons of NME press and label interest after something like eight gigs, and they're all as pinup-pretty as can be. But don't hate them 'cause they're beautiful, my fellow Yanks. Or because they have a dumb name--since, come to think of it, "Duran Duran" is a sorta-stupid band name too. Seriously, JL&TJJJ are worth the hype.
Back on the Channel 4 Stage, the Thrills (also impressively attired, in matchy-matchy, black-and-tan, Spandau Ballet-esque ensembles) warbled their sunshiny, California-fixated hits "Big Sur" and "Santa Cruz," which might've alleviated any homesickness I was suffering from. However, they ironically sang these songs just as the clouds rolled in and the skies turned a very un-Californian shade of gray. But the robed gospel chorus they enlisted for new tune "Midnight Choir" must have appeased the rain gods somehow--because soon the sun, most Thrillingly, returned.
Over on the main stage, following a surprisingly fiery set by easy-on-the-eyes blues-folkie Paolo Nutini (seriously, he even came close to rocking out a couple of times), came Kanye West--sprinting out in a technicolor fluoro wardrobe that looked like it'd been stolen from the Klaxons' closet and leading an all-female, Adam Ant-facepainted string quartet through a dazzling greatest-hits revue. In fact, his set contained not only his hits, but a puzzling assortment of DJ-spun canned cuts like the Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony," the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams," and, to placate all the dejected Amy Winehouse fans in attendance, "Rehab." Some concertgoers seemed a tad annoyed by such digressions, but when Mr. West charged into his gob-smackingly great, Daft Punk-sampling masterpiece "Stronger," all was forgiven and he instantly had the crowd right in the palm of his blinged-out hand. Kanye turned out to be one of the best things I saw during the entire V weekend, and considering that I've traveled 5,000 miles to see a bunch of Brit buzz bands and was instead most impressed by an American rapper, that's really saying something.
Amy Winehouse's male counterpart, Pete Doherty, and his shambolic Babyshambles were next on the Channel 4 Stage. I made sure to catch his set, knowing that his chances of ever securing an American tour visa were about as good as him ever successfully completing rehab. (Though I wish him luck, of course.) Anyway, those who'd wagered that--like Amy--Pete would also fail to show up at V must have been dismayed, not to mention just a bit more broke, when he not only made it to V but started his set precisely on time. His band was unexpectedly tight, though unfortunately it seemed many punters were watching solely for the former Mr. Moss's trainwreck appeal: Despite solid renditions of "Pipedown" and "The Blinding," Pete notably received his most enthusiastic ovations when he a) chugged a pint and b) huffily hurled his malfunctioning guitar smack into the audience. Oh well.
Saturday evening ended most nostalgically in the JJB/Puma tent, with the aforementioned Ocean Colour Scene (actually getting booed for having the gall to play two new songs in a row), Jarvis Cocker, and Primal Scream. And while the Primals--onetime winners of NME's Godlike Genius Award--were indeed godlike and genius (it doesn't get much more I-heart-the-'90s than back-to-back Screamadelica classics "Loaded" and "Movin' On Up"), Jarvis was the truly fantastic main attraction: Really, his set could've consisted solely of oddball stage banter and awkward rockstar poses and it still would've been more enjoyable than most other V performance combined.
Yes, perching atop a speaker a la Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid, dangling a microphone between his lanky legs like a limp phallus, brandishing a black cape like a sideshow magician, wandering into the crowd as far as his mic cable would allow, modeling his stylish new "Wank For Peace" bracelet, covering Black Sabbath's "Paranoid"...there was simply nothing ol' Jarv wouldn't do to entertain the muddy masses. Really, Amy who?
Moving on the day number two...Saturday's most impactful V artist may have been Miss Winehouse--who made the biggest impression simply by failing to turn up at all--but on Sunday, numerous stadium superstars staged massive megashows that effectively obliterated the previous day's Amy-administered disappointment.
The day started cheerfully enough on the Channel 4 Stage with breezy, boy-girl powerpoppers Captain, who carried on their festival tradition of recruiting a concertgoer in costume for a bit of onstage dancing. The fan they selected, "Nick," wasn't actually in costume (unless you count his cowboy hat, which I don't), and he didn't dance so much as clap arhythmically and point repeatedly and awkwardly at singer Rik Flynn. But he seemed so damn happy to be on that stage, it was nonetheless a charming festival moment.
Meanwhile, on the JJB/Puma Stage, slick disco-pop starlet Sophie Ellis-Bextor flaunted some far superior dance moves and looked far too glamorous for 2:30 in the afternoon, shimmying about in sequined strapless beauty-pageant frock. Now that was a costume to be proud of!
Back on the Channel 4 Stage, Cribs frontman Ryan Jarman criticized anyone at V who'd opted to watch James Morrison's conflicting set on the main stage instead (and rightfully so--those people were fools!), and then--in a stunt that would've made fellow Sunday V artist Iggy Pop proud--stripped to the waist and flung himself chest-first into the crowd. Bet James Morrison didn't do that.
Next up was covers king Mark Ronson, proving he's more than just a superstar DJ by playing guitar, keys, and, um, a triangle. He was also joined by plenty of famous (or semi-famous) friends, like blue-eyed soulman/uncanny Rick Astley lookalike Daniel Merriweather (on versions of Britney Spears's "Toxic" and the Smiths' "Stop Me"), Phantom Planet's Alex Greenwald (crooning Radiohead's "Just" and his own band's O.C. theme "California"), retro ingenue/Zutons sibling Candi Payne (performing her own Ronson-produced single "One More Chance"), and pint-size R&B superstar-in-training Taniah (ably filling in for the unsurprisingly absent Amy Winehouse on the Zutons cover "Valerie," and completely stealing the show). Yep, Mark harnessed enough star power on the Channel 4 Stage to launch his own spinoff festival. RonsonFest, anyone?
Later on the Channel 4 Stage came Mika, channeling more than just a little Freddie with his high-camp, high-octave performances of "Big Girl" (flanked by a giant inflatable model of a large-and-in-charge lady in XXL lingerie) and "Grace Kelly." The latter song channeled a bit of the Flaming Lips too, with a very Lips-y onstage parade of animal-costumed revelers and even guest backup singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor (this time dressed as a Lollipop girl in a blonde wig and pretty-in-pink party dress).
This party vibe continued on the V Stage with '90s Britpoppers James, with a nearly unrecognizable Tim Booth (sporting a Right Said Fred-esque shaved head, Anton LaVey facial hair, and long black skirt) surrounded onstage by dancing fans in full-body balloon suits. Interesting. That's all I can say about that.
Madchester-esque madmen Kasabian then stormed the V Stage, and though frontman Tom Meighan didn't like look like his usual groupie-shagging glam-god self in his nerdy Jarvis Cocker specs, his jagged, Jagger-ish renditions of "Shoot The Runner" and "Reason Is Treason" were among the ballsiest, most full-on rawk 'n' roll moments of the entire V weekend. At that moment, V truly was Kasabian's empire.
Next I made sure to catch the Manic Street Preachers, since they're also unlikely to be granted a U.S. visa any time soon (playing concerts in Cuba and getting photographed arm-in-arm with their buddy Fidel Castro probably has something to do with that). Besides, only the Manics (whose new album Send Away The Tigers, it must be noted, is the best thing they've put out since the V Festival began in 1996) could out-rock and out-glam Kasabian.
And that they did, despite the fact that Manics bassist Nicky Wire wasn't wearing his trademark dress (perhaps it was on loan to Tim Booth?). Appearing on the Channel 4 Stage before a soaked-to-bone, muddy-Wellied audience of Welsh-flag-brandishing Manics maniacs and full-grown football-hooligan types weeping openly to "Motorcycle Emptiness" and "Design For Life," the Preachers preached on--and not even the relentless rain (which naturally only worsened during "You Stole The Sun From My Heart") could dampen fans' spirits.
The evening ended with the hammiest, glammiest of them all, the Killers, appearing amid copious strings of Christmas lights, piles of antlers, bouquet upon bouquet of roses, a metallic gold church organ, and a giant neon "Welcome" sign, all of which transformed the V Stage into something out of one of those chintzy all-night wedding chapels in the Killers' native Las Vegas. Singer Brandon Flowers himself looked like a sleazy Sin City lounge lizard with his retina-scorchingly shiny silver lamé dress shirt, rhinestoned belt buckle and tie, meticulously cultivated facial hair, and exaggerated ringleader hand gestures. And while there was somewhat vaguely unlikable about Brandon(maybe it was his unmodulated seal-bark of a voice or his cold, crazy eyes...or maybe it was that meticulously cultivated facial hair he grew months ago to promote the Killers' difficult, "ambitious," beardy second album), there was still no denying his superstar status. All in all, it was a killer finale to a killer weekend, indeed.