Here it is! After seeing some great live acts (and a couple of not so great ones) in such a short weekend, it was difficult to pin down exactly who was my favourite. However, Alexa and I have somehow managed to decide who our top 3 live performances were, and here are mine…
NUMBER 3: MELLAH
After listening to his EPs Liminality and Middle England prior to setting off for Bestival, I knew Mellah, aka Liam Ramsden and his crew, was one I would have to check out live. He and his pals did not disappoint. Unfortunately, their set could have done with being longer as you spend the first half trying to figure out who they remind you of. Critics have compared his voice and music to the likes of The The, Springsteen and Neil Young but I would suggest throwing into the mix Gary Newman, Talking Heads, Ian McCulloch from Echo and the Bunnymen and a heavy dose of Joy Division’s claustrophobic instrumentation as well. And then, turn all that into something perfect for the 21st century. Pretty tall order but Mellah manages to make it work.
Once you’ve given up trying to pin down exactly who his music reminds you of, you are free to really enjoy the live performance. And bloody hell were they tasty. Each member had their own slightly awkward individual groove and yet were totally in sync. The result: an intense, trance-like groove where your eyes and ears feast on a whole range of performances that somehow weirdly make one irresistible spectacle. The toddler in the fairy dress running circles around everyone after handing her water bottle to me enhanced the slightly surreal atmosphere of it all. By the end of the set, despite having listened to his EPs, I was left a bit confused as to what I had just listened to and witnessed, but ooohhh boy do I want to see them again to try and figure it out a bit more.
Layla’s top picks: ‘Cigarette Lighter’ and ‘Subsission’ from Middle England and ‘Nada’ and ‘Greeney Blue’ from Liminality.
Where you can next see him: September 29th at The Wardrobe in Leeds.
NUMBER 2: LADY BIRD
My number 2 are the lads from your new favourite band, Lady Bird. Even if you’re not feeling the punk resurgence we’ve been experiencing in the past few years, you’ll still love them. Bloody hell, I couldn’t have looked less ‘punk’ if I had tried, wearing my favourite vintage Hawaiian shirt with 3-day festival hair. I still fell in love, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t from your cosy armchair at home. Like most bands of this ilk currently floating around, they have firm roots in traditional punk. However, what sets Lady Bird apart is the truly gritty, brutally honest and often funny social realism that provides the foundation of their lyrics (or even spoken-word poetry, you could argue). It’s the stuff of arguments around the kitchen table as well as what you might try on with the fit lad/lass at your local dive-bar back in your hometown (hardly surprising their track ‘Spoons’ was written at a Wetherspoons). Everyone gets what they’re on about, regardless of gender or background, and this makes for a unifying live experience.
We’ve all seen great live bands, I hope, but this kind of pure, animalistic energy and dedication to making a great time is rare, even in punk. No wonder two of them had to take their shirts off early on in the set; I would have been bloody knackered too. House of Vans, despite not being full to the brim thanks to the clash with Chaka Khan and Craig Charles, became a little sweat-box of love and fun. Don’t shoot me here but honestly people who toddled off to the packed mainstage for Chaka Khan proper missed out. Whilst Chaka Khan is an absolute QUEEN, Lady Bird created such an aggressively friendly atmosphere and displayed such magnificent punk poses that I almost want to ditch the Hawaiian shirt and join a punk band.
On top of this, the lads themselves are incredibly charming, well-mannered and have an intelligent self-reflectiveness that is rare nowadays. But more on that later, stay tuned…
Layla’s top picks: Their whole EP, Social Potions. My personal favourite is the aforementioned ‘Spoons’.
Where you can next see them: Reading and Leeds Festival, Neighbourhood Festival, supporting Slaves on their Autumn tour.
NUMBER 1: THUNDERCAT
And for my first place it is… drum roll please…
I know, I’m a bit surprised too. As people who know me are aware, I spend most of my time at festivals at the smaller stages. This is partly because I like to think I’m a unique little hipster, and partly because I love digging up new musical treasures. However, no way was I going to let my normal festival habits get in the way of seeing Thundercat. I didn’t quite realise just how sick he would be though. Unlike Mellah and Lady Bird, I don’t need to draw any musical comparisons or try and describe his music since he’s so well known. If you don’t know Thundercat, go check him out; know he is mates with the likes of Kamasi Washington and that whole West Coast crew, and collaborates with Kendrick Lamar and Wiz Khalifa on his recent album, Drunk. Says it all.
My Besti buddy Alexa and I toddled down to the mainstage after a few bevs, rocking up about 10 minutes before he was due to be on. Somehow, we ended up in the second row, centre of the stage. Prime position to absorb some of his coolness. Because oh my he just oozes it. He and his band strolled on nonchalantly, completely aware of how much they were going to blow our tiny minds. It’s difficult to pick out any highlights because it was more like a traditional jazz gig than a selection of tracks. Thundercat and his band’s improvisations and groove seshes were TOO MUCH TO HANDLE. While he sounds amazing on albums, and there are fabulous improvisational sections on the more definitive jazz tracks, I don’t quite think his talent and musical ability really comes across on record. He is just totally in the zone, enormous smile on his face, leading the groove one minute, supporting a band member the next. There were no big fancy stage effects, no massive spectacle, nothing like that, just the king himself jamming with his mates. Moreover, unlike a lot of mainstage acts at festivals nowadays, he actually seemed to be loving it. He hadn’t just turned up for work, he was genuinely creating a great time for people.
And bloody hell were people having a great time. This is what made it the #1 set for me. Bestival promotes love and peace and happiness and all that hippie goodness, and his set was the one that, for want of a less cheesy phrase, embodied all of these qualities. It started from the man himself, then the two teenage lads in front of us who kept looking to each other and having a bro-moment when he started playing their favourite tracks, then the group of American lads behind us who got too excited when he started ‘Friend Zone’ (not quite sure what was going on there), then the couple next to us who we later bonded with over the experience in the queue for the loo, then to the rest of the crowd who we unfortunately didn’t get chance to gel with. My point is, big man Thundercat was conducting one of the biggest love-fests I’ve ever been in at a festival, and one that should be treasured in the minds of the people who were there, given the sometimes grim state of the world outside.
Layla’s top picks: ‘Tokyo’, ‘Friend Zone’ and ‘Them Changes’ from Drunk and ‘Without You’ and ‘Lotus and the Jondy’ from Apocalypse.
Where you can next see him: December 15th at O2 Academy Brixton with Flying Lotus.