For the fifteenth year running, we made our way to Richfield Avenue to enjoy Reading Festival. An annual tradition, it’s a festival where plenty of teenagers go through a rite of passage although this year there seemed to be a more varied age in the audience. This year’s main stage line-up wasn’t really geared towards us, but there’s always something to watch at Reading. Some of the best festival sets we’ve seen have taken place on the smaller stages – who could forget Tall Ships BBC Introducing headline set in 2012? Or going further back, Hope of the States following up a sensational Har Mar Superstar show (complete with Y-fronts and a paddling pool) back in 2003 which showed just how special that band were? British Sea Power would always pull out all the stops – and bears – for their Reading shows too.
Friday 22 August
Only a few years after headlining the festival with My Chemical Romance, Gerard Way was offered a hero’s welcome as he opened the festival with a global debut performance of his solo material on the NME/BBC Radio 1 Stage. With striking red hair and a deep blue suit, he certainly looked the part and his dedicated fanbase lapped up his new material which seems far more in the ‘indie’ vein than his previous band. A few songs seemed in thrall to the Cure and perhaps New Order, while the strongest songs were the ones that could easily fit onto a Brendan Benson solo album. Visibly quite nervous but growing in confidence throughout his short and sweet set, there’s enough here to satisfy MCR fans and the more developed sound should confound a few of the more vocal critics.
After Gerard, it was over to what was to become our most regular haunt of the weekend – the Lock Up stage. Misty Miller is a real talent, just waiting to be discovered by the masses. She has one of those voices that can just carry forever and really did fill the tent, while her band added a more Ida Maria-style rock edge to those songs we’d heard before. Michigan post-hardcore rockers La Dispute were next on in the Radio 1 tent and delivered a potent set full of intense complexity, huge emotion and no little blood. Singer Jordan Dreyer cut his lip on the microphone early on in the set but was not phased as in amongst the huge wall of sound created by his bandmates, he went on to deliver a simply captivating performance – both vocally and in the way he seemed to be channelling the spirit of the greatest frontmen. Imagine a more psychotic version of James from the Twilight Sad and you’re halfway there. Meanwhile, the band’s sound is just glorious and impossible to ignore. Having to sacrifice the last song and a half was one of our hardest decisions of the weekend, but we could not miss Blood Red Shoes on the Main Stage.
Steven Ansell and Laura Mary Carter have so many festival anthems now and are a band you can always rely on to give all they have every single gig. Encouraging an early afternoon Main Stage crowd to get involved can sometimes be an unforgiving experience but the shout-along choruses, pulsating guitar work and pounding drums quickly got everyone onside. Mixing it up with tracks from all four albums, it’s just a shame they weren’t playing higher up on the bill. Touché Amoré had played the Scala the night before in a support slot to La Dispute and the Burbank band specialise in the same brand of exhilarating post-rock. Simply stunning from start to finish, there was a real communal atmosphere as the band and their fans connected instantly. The roof of the tent was almost ripped off by the sheer enthusiasm when La Dispute’s Jeff joined them…
Ahead of his long-awaited new album, Jamie T was a secret special guest in the Festival Republic Stage. As the news spread around the arena, the crowd just grew and grew – culminating in the largest audience we saw there all weekend. As we all packed in to watch him debut new tracks like ‘Zombie’ and ‘Don’t You Find’, there was a growing feeling that these could be songs to rival ‘Sheila’ and ‘Sticks and Stones’ as sure-fire festival sing-alongs for the next few years. It’s great to have him back. Paramore’s co-headline set was besieged by sound problems throughout but Hayley Williams and co rode it out in style. Rather than storming offstage (like certain other headline-sized bands would/have done…), they made a joke with Hayley’s faux-strop being one of the defining images of the weekend. Bringing out an acoustic guitar and a wireless mic for an unplugged rendition of ‘The Only Exception’ stopped everyone in their tracks and made a few jaws drop… You could only hear people singing along even towards the back of the field. Once they were amped up again, the band seemed to be in the mood to make up for lost time and were so full of energy – the closing rendition of ‘Ain’t It Fun’ being a particular highlight.