"There were some fabulous moments from a cast of off-stage mates who came and dicked about half way through the gig, (oh and someone wearing some appallingly skimpy purple shorts fell off a push bike)."
Haldern Pop Festival 2008, Part 3
RF: Sunny weather at last. We might not have mentioned it too much, but it didn’t half piss it down at times on the Friday. That’s weather for you in Germany’s NiederRhein valley. Weather wasn’t going to stop us catching Jumbo Jet. Jumbo Jet has Daniel Benjamin on drums. And Daniel Benjamin is a very talented lad who blew us away at the Spiegel tent a couple of years back with his solo show. This year he politely asked us to check out his girlfriend’s band, the aforementioned Jumbo Jet. Now, maybe it was the Haldern vibe kicking in, but nothing prepared us for the all-out assault of Jumbo Jet. Some of our team were reminded of Babes in Toyland’s unearthly howl, others Lydia Lunch. Whatever the provenance, the set consisted of a string of snotty, brattish, Detroit-style glam thrash-abouts with the girl singer creating the most Utopian vibe we’ve seen in a while. They really meant it. No backing off, no gaucheness, no timidity, but most importantly no second hand posturing. There were some fabulous moments from a cast of off-stage mates who came and dicked about half way through the gig, (oh and someone wearing some appallingly skimpy purple shorts fell off a push bike). Two little girls scooted about on trikes and the whole thing was truly beautiful. Not cute or knowingly ironic, no. Beautiful in Nara way.
Unfortunately Mintzkov couldn’t. Why do bands from Belgium make music that sounds as if it was such a bloody effort to create? After two tracks of their worthy but one-paced rock, we repaired to the press tent to wait on the Dodos. The Dodos came on and our collective hearts sank; “oh god they’ve got a trombone, not another music school band?” But we were wrong, gloriously wrong. The Dodos started to lay down just the kind of vibe that this warm day demanded. Loose, Akron / Family style folk rock; with spacey sounding guitar runs fighting a busy percussion section that wasn’t a million miles away from Phallus Dei-era Amon Düül 2, slowly sucked the audience in. Things were cool and grooving in the early afternoon sun. What’s more, the trombone was used to dramatically good effect, putting this instrument’s unrighteous noise through a delay pedal meant that an unearthly sound was created, a sound that the band subsequently built upon to great effect. It was magnificent stuff, and based on that performance, we recommend them heartily to you.
DL: I couldn’t agree with you more. The Dodos were one of the great surprises of the festival. You could call them blues rock but that would be doing them a disservice because they are – now here’s a shock – doing something DIFFERENT than the bog standard 12 bar blues stuff that seventeen squillion other bands you really couldn’t care less about try to sell to you every year. They may have a shit name, but The Dodos are bloody ace. They treated us to a set of real tub thumping, heart pounding, tribal rhythms, expert picking and bottleneck guitar playing, some rather childish trombone playing and some slightly bonkers percussion. In fact, I think the percussionist spent half the gig asleep beneath his xylophone, so bonus points for that too.
RF: Now, we wouldn’t say The Heavy was the greatest band in the world, but we’ll say this for them. They can get a crowd going. The vibe continued in a late 60s vein; this time centred on the Detroit clang of Funkadelic, MC5 and the Stooges. You don’t often hear people digging this seam nowadays, so in some ways it was a lot of fun; especially watching the singer work the crowd so effectively. The audience certainly thought as much; this was good time music in the sun, snarling riffs and straight leg jeans with a funk sensibility that sometimes crossed into Curtis Mayfield territory. Our only reservation? Well, we felt that The Heavy really need to work out exactly where they want to take their influences and how they want to mould them into something that is their own. They can play, they have charm and presence; maybe it’s time to set the goals higher still.
Off to the tent for a change of scene; a solo gig from Gravenhurst’s leading light, Nick Talbot. From the ‘5’s revolution to Nick Drake/Bert Jansch ambulance chasers? Yup. There’s a mighty pastoral vibe emanating from this gauche, slightly grumpy kid. But never let it be said that Gravenhurst has nothing remarkable to offer. A finely textured web of guitar and effects meant that we sat entranced for the gig; Talbot’s renditions of Bluebeard and Nicole could have made you believe that the world had stopped.
DL: I thought this was wonderful. Ok, it wasn’t the most polished set and there were a few too many technical problems and grumpy mutterings to make things run smoothly, but every time he started to play and opened his mouth to sing, I was reminded how utterly wonderful life can be when you’re sitting in a tent listening to somebody play music.
RF: Coming out of the tent with rainbows in our eyes, we found ourselves not quite believing that Okkervil River were murdering Sloop John B so effectively. We put it down to tiredness (a 15 hour drive from Sweden apparently). That aside, the band played a storming set, they sounded so much better live, punchier, less worthy, harder. They had sass and charm and if they could only capture this sound on record they’d be up there in the big league.
DL: I have to disagree with you a little there as I found this to be quite the opposite of Kate Nash’s set the night before. They started wonderfully, then went rapidly downhill, crashing into a brick wall at full speed with that Beach Boys cover. An accident they never really recovered from, unfortunately.
RF: Fink we must apologise to. Interviews meant we missed his set, but if it’s any consolation Fink, we heard you were great.
DL: Although we also heard you were terrible so I think we just need to give you another chance some day. At which point we promise to turn up and give you our full attention.
RF: On the main stage, Jamie Lidell began to lay down his white soul boy set. There’s an uneasy balance between Stevie Winwood and Jamiroquai inherent in his music; personally we’d push him towards Winwood’s beautiful vision than the silly-hatted one. And (yet more disconcertingly) Lidell’s striped pants didn’t half make him look like Hank Marvin dressed as a chef. Half way through, the soul boy stuff abruptly stopped and the deejaying part of his set started. Knobs were twiddled, the bass sound threatened to pulverise the sandy ground and Lidell started to show off his versatility. Or something. Personally we thought he’d wrecked his own vibe, which was floating around effectively enough, but he came back strongly by the end. It’s pop innit?
DL: Yes I do believe it is and I’ve decided that it’s just not my thing. A friend of mine described him as Britain’s answer to MIKA, but I’m not sure if all the fun and games on stage actually translate into the music. So what if you have a man with a beard, wearing a dressing gown, playing two saxophones at once while you prance around on a yellow chair built for a three year old whilst your Evil Kneivel jumpsuit wearing bass player moves his head from side to side like he’s in some bizarre shampoo advert? All that is well and good if it’s married to music you can actually sink your teeth into, but this was all style over substance for me. Honestly, I had my reservations beforehand and I still have them now. I know this time, however, that it really is just me because the crowd went bloody mental! I must be getting old.
RF: Alamo Race Track ran through their Beatles thing in a perfunctory manner. We’re sorry but we’ve always felt there’s something lacking with this lot, it’s all very well thought out and pleasant but we just didn’t feel moved by it… Ah, choices, choices! DJ St Paul or Iron & Wine? No contest. Sporting a beard that would have seen him anointed as an Assyrian king, Sam Beam laid down the most perfect set of the day (well, since Jumbo Jet of course). Beam’s thing is melodious country pop, tinged with the wide eyed vibe that makes Simon & Garfunkel records so bloody (if in my case mysteriously) enjoyable. At this point the team split up, some watched the band, spellbound, whilst others wandered through the grooving crowds who by this stage were lolling around in the grass, or picnicking in their own private Narnias amongst the trees. Iron and Wine’s music was truly the perfect soundtrack to this scene of Faerie.
DL: Spellbound is right. I may not be a very religious man but there were times during this set that I was simply in rapture. I had the sun beating down on me and yet I was covered in goose bumps. I’ve seen Iron and Wine before and I’d consider myself a big fan, but this was something else. There wasn’t much banter going on and the band looked like they were possibly going through the motions. A workman like performance, shall we say, but honestly, the music that came out of those speakers was heavenly. This seven piece band create magic together, they’re so tight and yet loose in their playing – although the magic part may well have come from the hairy shaman on percussion, it’s hard to tell. What I found wonderful about this set was how every single song was reworked. Some were melded together under a different tune, other tunes were deconstructed and put back together with expanded arrangements and there were even a few calypso rhythms hiding in the background as well. It was truly, truly wonderful. Another spectacular Haldern
“I’m the beard and this is the rest of the beard.”
RF: After this, The National brought their odd, navel-gazing style along to the party. The singer is such a strange feller, I really can’t decide whether I like this lot or not. I thought Boxer was a fine collection of committed torch songs and at times the gig came close to devotional but for some reason -maybe the strangely muted sound- the vibe of Iron and Wine is hard to shift.
DL: I can’t say they did that much for me. Basically they reminded me of Interpol without the uniforms. They weren’t bad, but I couldn’t say they were great.
RF: Tent time! The Gutter Twins are in the Spiegel Tent and this is not to be missed. Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan do one thing very, very well, namely grizzled Goth rock with a bucolic edge. We liked the “Satanic Everly Brothers” tag too. It fitted their muse perfectly. Lanegan (standing with one hand on the mike, Ian McCulloch style) spent the entire show trying to stare people out (including our photographer) whilst Dulli conducted proceedings with vim, vigour and no little liquid. Once all the bewildered kids had gone to watch Maximo Park, the tent (despite the tales of doom and woe emanating from the stage) turned into a very cool hang out indeed. Oh and it has to be said; The Gutter Twins make a fine double act. In contrast to Greg Dulli’s enthusiastic beseeching, Lanegan spoke once; and the words he spoke were “Greg Dulli”. Somehow it seemed enough. And another thing before we sign off, there were NO sound issues, the band was crystal clear. Wonder if the sound guys were as weirded out by the staring Mr L as we were?
DL: Another one of those Haldern performances that I was just glad I was there to witness. One thing you can say about these guys is they know how to make good rock music. Real, honest rock music. The indie scene has being doing well lately – although some would say it’s already ran out of steam – but the rock scene has been in a sorry state for some time now. What was the last really good rock album you heard? Mine was probably the last one from the Twilight Singers who…hang on a minute…that’s Dulli and Lanegan too. Anyway, they know that there’s beauty in dark places – they’ve lived in most of them, after all – and they really do create beautiful rock music. Hard and powerful, yes, but uplifting and life affirming at the same time. They turned the Spiegel tent into a cauldron of noise. Dark, brooding, oppressive and completely hypnotic. Quite simply, they were a class act.
RF: Over on the main stage, light relief was given by a surprisingly fabulous Maximo Park who thrashed out for all they were worth.
DL: Many thought that they wouldn’t be ready for headline status yet and, judging by the comments on stage, they probably didn’t think they were either but they really stepped up to the plate here. Energetic isn’t quite the right word. Fabulous might be. They gave a blistering performance, culminating in a superb Apply Some Pressure, which received the loudest, longest cheer of the entire weekend and they even read from a little red book of German phrases from time to time. You know, because they wanted to impress. And impress they did. Maximo Park had the bar raised for them here and they cleared it easily. Job well and truly done. We expect great things from now on.
RF: They are a great pop band, and tonight was made for their breezy raucousness. Certain reticent members of our team even shuffled through a few dance steps. Say no more!
Back over at the tent, Scott Matthew thanked us all profusely for playing Haldern and proceeded to lay down a very mellow set. It’s nice stuff, his music. A shame the audience didn’t really want to get too far into his vibe. Haldern was nearly over and there was a desire to cut loose to some rock and roll. Still, he was good and those that came to listen enjoyed the set thoroughly. Last up was Olafur Arnalds, quietly tapping his way through the 2am slot with his dreamy take on teenage melancholy. At one point the sound had to be turned up, such was the quiet vibe (and drunken audience). No matter. Haldern’s mystical vibe was intact. The magic portal was about to close for another year and people began to party like Mayflies in the deep, dark hours of the morning.
Interlude 4 “I can walk like Groucho Marx too, can you?... look, see, Groucho. I also like Marc Almond very much…You don’t take drugs? Tea and beer? This is not normal, this is not healthy. Mind you, I don’t like being hugged, no physical contact till we know each other better, please… I heard a door in the toilet open, the most almighty clang and a scream and a lot of rumbling, and you know? I swear there’s someone who fell into the chemical toilet. We’d better get them out. Or maybe someone’s in there naked but with a luminous condom. I don’t know. I don’t want to go in there yet….. Asking geese what they think of Editors is very unprofessional…. It’s not an illegal alien, it’s a squirrel…
DL: Haldern, you’ve spoilt us once again. Is it strange that one of my favourite places in the world is a field in Germany? When you think about it, not really. This really is a special festival and a special, wonderful place. To everyone who was involved in making this weekend as memorable as it was, we thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. We shall miss you all. Until next time.
RF: Durch Elend zu den Sternen: (Per ardua ad astra), and till 2009.
Words: Richard Foster, Damian Leslie, Mariska van den Hoven.
Pics: Chris Mcdonnell, Damian Leslie