Haldern 2009 Day 3

Haldern Day 3

Damian: Day three started with a splash. No, not rain, but me diving into the lake. It was a hot one, and it was only 10am. Now, we’ve gone on about the pre-planning of our campers before, but I tell you, you know you need to work harder when you see four men carrying what looked like a viking long boat and oars up the road. Not to mention the kids carrying a proper dinghy, complete with outboard motor. Still, the swim was nice and I enjoyed my time floating on the water, listening to the sounds of the main stage passing overhead.


Richard: Yes, those of us who don’t like to get our feet wet were watching Belfast’s The Vals, whose perky, sparkly pop was a great beginning for the day, despite the sound being a bit damp at times. Lots of people apparently hear Beatles influences, but for the life of me I didn’t hear any of that. Rather, (and rather predictably) the buzzing vibe of the Undertones or, at times, the cockiness of the early Small Faces.


Following that a sight to behold. iLiKETRAiNS in the blistering sun. Would they shrivel up? Dressed as undertakers, the band, whose name has been made on the art-club circuit (films, concepts, noise, songs about explorers, that sort of thing), proceeded to blow an increasingly hypnotised crowd away with what can only be described as a full-on rock gig. Yes, the slightly post-rock concepts were in out force, as ever. But the band, especially when they played the forthcoming new single, (sorry, no name, no pack-drill) had a space and venom about them that we’ve never witnessed at one of their shows before. Maybe they were pissed off or nervous, but they could really use that edge to good effect. We suddenly felt as if we were watching a band, not an idea. And despite the heat, and the light they emerged as men, Sir, as men…


Damian: Indeed, it was good to have a bit of darkness and spite gatecrash this happy little field.  They even made one guy in the audience hop around like a rabbit for a while, which was interesting. Job very well done.


Richard: Dear Reader could be described as the complete opposite of the Trains. Bitter-sweet, beguiling, ever so slightly florid girl pop, heavy on harmonies and empathic, reflective lyrical twists, it’s not music that immediately grabs the listener as anything out of the ordinary these days. But, (as John Shuttleworth says), don’t be fooled. After what seemed like an age filled with technical difficulties, the band laid down an increasingly impressive set. The (mostly mid-tempo, chanteuse-style) songs are bloody strong and don’t really seem to rely on anything but themselves to get by.  Near the end the harmonies that were inherent in each composition really started to kick in; Cherilyn McNeil’s voice has something very warm and special about it, something that gets you listening, almost against your will. Pleasantly surprised, have to say.


Now, what about some eccentric pop with The Maccabees? Why not? We liked their last LP, despite ourselves… However… even in a live setting, their music still seems a bit academic (I personally still can’t stand boys playing guitars around their chest area), and a bit too “whacky” for comfort, but they have a lot of energy and their tunes are undeniably catchy. Fair to say, a pleasantly sunny divertissement.


Damian: I enjoyed them. They did exactly what you want a good thrashy indie band to do. They played at a high tempo, they ran backwards and forwards because they still haven’t figured out what else to do. They pulled Joe Strummer shapes and the singer was almost unintelligible. Great stuff.

Richard: It was hot beyond belief waiting for Grizzly Bear… The crowd either cheerfully basked, lizard-like in the sun, or traipsed limpidly off to find cover. Those lucky enough to be under the trees lounged around like aristocrats.


Damian: Particularly us.


Richard:The band came on almost apologetically, wearing shorts and looking for all the world like a bunch of academics dressed up as beach bums for a tropical fancy dress party. Then stunned silence as the soft onslaught began; the quiet dénouement, the moment the festival found its metaphor.


Grizzly Bear brought Haldern to its knees with their pristine, winsome and strange pop. This was music from the top drawer, blessed with character, feeling and wit. Their trick, it seems, is to confound expectations by eschewing any normal way of starting a song. Tracks that seem to be (say) a repetition of a bridge (blessed with the best vocal arrangements outside of Pet Sounds) suddenly blossomed out into widescreen laments, or mini sound-storms (don’t underestimate this band’s muscle). And like all great bands, their control of light and shade and texture was magnificent. Their sound fizzed and swooped round the field, dallying with the crowd, only to disappear, and then reappear in a different, equally haunting guise.


Up to this point in the proceedings, we’d seen some pretty impressive performances. Final Fantasy, Broken Records, Gravenhurst, iLiKETRAiNS, Patrick Watson, Dear Reader…  But these faded into the background with the gig from Grizzly Bear. See them while they are in this form. As if being temporarily transported back to 1966 wasn’t enough, Bon Iver followed with a set that delivered the knock out blow to all and sundry. If Grizzly Bear played around with the Wilson/Van Dyck Parks vibe, Bon Iver looked towards Crosby and Young, even going a far as to look like sedated, acidhead backwoodsmen of yore. The guitar freak outs were definitely nodding towards Neil Y, but the love songs were so ethereal, so pretty, that the crowd, wooed by Grizzly Bear, were emotionally felled by Bon Iver.


Damian: I can’t add much more other than this was simply the best back to back line up I’ve ever seen here. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the blistering sunshine, but two acts could not have been more perfectly shceduled for this Saturday afternoon. At one point I just looked up, watched the trees blowing in the wind and wished I could have still been floating out in the lake and then continued doing that for about an hour. It was an almost spiritual moment for me. Truly wonderful.


It was at this point though, that the perfect line up was rudely interrupted as the Mirror Tent programme ran behind and The Thermals gatecrashed the main stage.


Richard: They certainly shattered any notions of starting up a mini California in a German field with a raucous set. The young (dare I say fresh-faced?) trio played a thumping set of dumbass, no frills garage rock, albeit poppy. Less Bob Pollard, more Jam. After about five or so numbers, their muse ran a bit out of steam, though the shenanigans onstage certainly lifted the crowd out of its dreamy daze.


Andrew Bird followed this blast of euphoria. Certainly we were thinking how’s he going to manage to bring the audience round… at the time it felt like one of Haldern’s legendary billing contrasts.  However, the man is a true talent; his thoughtful, elegant music has a touch of the John Cales about it, in the sense that however pretty he gets, there’s always something less wholesome fidgeting to get attention. (Maybe it’s that whistling he does). Still, his live act is now nearing its peak, balanced on great songs, a greater assurance (it was the least gawky I’d seen him), and an understanding on how he can manipulate his sound.


Sadly we missed Mumford & Sons and Blitzen Trapper, as, almost sated into torpor by the run of laid back and highly emotional gigs, we’d slumped in an Arcadian corner, sipping beer, watching the Naiads and Dryads that populate Haldern at festival time gander about - leaving sparkle-dust in their wakes. In addition, the news that Haldern next year was to have a dedicated pub had psychically floored a number of the team. Haldern with its own boozer? Could this goodness and beauty last?

Damian: We did, however, watch The Soundtrack Of Our Lives, who were bloody fantastic. Honestly, it wasn’t just the fact that the sun had mercifully gone beyond the horizon and that the temperature had dropped considerably, but these guys were a real breath of fresh air. Actually, they were more like a Tornado of noise. Loud, immense, powerful and grin inducingly daft at times TSOOL were marvellous. Big Time still sounds as if it’s about to fly off the rails at the moment, but their cover of Nick Drake’s Fly just has to be heard and was a real highlight. They’re a wonderful live band, they look like they’ve been dropped in from 1973 but they play with such passion, such energy and such fucking joy that it’s impossible not to smile when watching them. Then, of course, they’ve got what looks like a hairy vicar bounding around at the front of the stage screaming at you. What more can you ask for? This is what all headline performances should be like.


Richard: After that we stumbled, almost punch-drunk and very probably actually drunk to the Spiegel Tent, where we managed to catch a little bit of Little Boots, whose mix of analog synths and pop sass had the Spiegel Tent bouncing like loons. There’s something incredibly moving about seeing the simple power of pop music in action. Little Boots mixes Human League-isms (must be all those Korg synths) with a dreamy, girly bedsit vibe to great effect. Tracks like Remedy and New in Town are classic, durable songs, strong on chorus, easily repeatable, and eminently danceable. What gives her the edge is the wistfulness, the character, the feeling that they are written by someone who actually exists. Stuck on Repeat was a great ending too; with Miss Boots and crowd joined together in a “wave your hands in the air” type moment…


Following up was something completely different. Incendiary has long been a fan of BLK JKS’s EP, and we were salivating at the prospect of seeing the live. The jazzy, AR Kane-isms were well to the fore, the incredibly laid back attitude was tempered by some magnificently spaced-out rock and moments that bordered on Sun Ra. Somehow they ticked on like a clock, forever informing the mood of the tent, without ever needing to be in anyone’s way. Magnificent.


Damian: Well said. I thought they were awesome.


Richard: And then… Health. I admit, not the easiest proposition for those not used to it, but in retrospect, what a magnificent way to end a festival. Their abrasive cut-ups, ridiculously over the top use of smoke and slabs of white noise predictably split the audience down the middle. They flounced dramatically on stage, almost invisible to the crowd, at one point seemingly re-enacting some Isadora Duncan piece.  After this, the band was lost in a thick pall of smoke, partially silhouetted by the fierce lighting. As for the music, well, if I am to be prosaic and give you a reference or two, imagine the Faust Tapes played at 45 with the thumping opening beat of Frankie’s Relax popping up now and then. There were no breaks. This could have been down to a couple of things, fear of irate Germans, a genuine spur of the moment decision to play for 30 minutes non-stop, or a simple desire to get off and crash. Whatever the reason, and whatever the audience thought, it was an event.

Damian: It was a bloody headache if you ask me.


The night ended with the Incendiary team staggering back across a darkened field, watching kids try to kill themselves with fireworks and after the rest of the team were tucked up in bed at about 5am, I leant against the car, drinking a beer and watched a German girl beat the shit out of a Casio keyboard. I couldn’t imagine a better way to finish this most wonderful of weekends and so I reitred, to my bed, safe, warm and immensely satisfied.


Until next year.


Words: Damian Leslie and Richard Foster

For Part one, click here.

For part two, click here.