Spectral Nights: Top Glastonbury Festival Sets

As we’ve now reached 1,000 posts* (as our friends at For the Rabbits said when they reached this landmark, that’s a lot of words to basically say ‘I like this song/band/album etc’) we thought we’d look back over the Glastonbury Festivals we’ve attended and choose a set that lit up Worthy Farm from each year.

*Thank you to all the bands, guest writers, PRs and anyone who’s ever found themselves on this little blog, it really does mean the world.

2003Doves, Other Stage

Our first Glastonbury was everything we expected and more. R.E.M. and Radiohead headlined the Pyramid Stage, Idlewild and The Coral inspired sing-alongs on the Other Stage and we saw Hope of the States and Mew in the New Bands tent. It was Doves finishing the weekend on the Other Stage that stands out most – they played everything you’d want from the first two albums, dedicated a song to the late footballer Marc-Vivien Foe (there was a thunderstorm shortly after) and closed with their old band Sub Sub’s ‘Space Face’.

2004Paul McCartney, Pyramid Stage

A Beatle playing the Pyramid Stage? It had to be seen at least once and let’s hope ‘we can work it out’ so that it happens again next year. Macca opened with ‘Jet’, the fireworks came out for ‘Live and Let Die’, he went well over the encore and the ‘na, na, na”s for ‘Hey Jude’ reverberated around the campsite long into the night.

2005Rilo Kiley, John Peel Stage

This is the year of that flood – three or four months’ worth of rain in six hours and many, many texts asking if we were OK – and as tempted as we were to include Bright Eyes’ contentious and divisive headline set (you couldn’t keep your eyes off Conor Oberst in that state) in this tent, we thought we’d herald one of the great lost sets: Rilo Kiley playing a ‘More Adventurous’-heavy set of pure indie pop bangers.

2007Arcade Fire, Other Stage

Another very wet Glastonbury and mud-covered Other Stage crowd had our spirits lifted by Montreal’s finest delivering a set split between ‘Funeral’ and ‘Neon Bible’ that helped establish their reputation as one of the must-see festival acts.

2008Crowded House, Pyramid Stage

The sun – and a huge crowd – came out as Crowded House played an hour of hits on the Pyramid Stage. Neil Finn also spent time chatting with the crowd, begging the security to turn around and get involved with a downhill Mexican Wave… Could this be where the annual security flash dance at Worthy Farm originated?

2009Blur, Pyramid Stage

The best festival set ever. Just watch the video.

2010Julian Casablancas, John Peel Stage

The year we should have watched Grizzly Bear over England going out of the World Cup in abject circumstances… Anyway, this was a hot weekend and it was a close-run thing between Julian’s set and Broken Social Scene who played just before him. Julian brought out cuts from his debut solo album, a few Strokes hits (why have they never performed at Glastonbury?) and even played ‘I Wish It Was Christmas Today’ – at the end of June.

2011Pulp, The Park Stage

Possibly one of the most open secrets in the festival’s history, previous Pyramid Stage (one of the sets everyone talks about) headliners Pulp played the Park Stage to a hugely enthusiastic crowd in the early evening sunshine. Opening with ‘Do You Remember the First Time?’, they delighted us all with renditions of ‘Mis-shapes’, ‘Something Changed’ and, of course, the set closer ‘Common People’.

2013Frightened Rabbit, John Peel Stage

The Rolling Stones played to a record crowd (at the time) on the Pyramid Stage but we’re going to highlight Frightened Rabbit’s set in the John Peel Stage. By this time, the band were used to playing to big crowds at the festivals and could whip up any crowd with that closing ‘The Loneliness and the Scream’.

2014Wolf Alice, John Peel Stage

A year before the release of the debut album, Wolf Alice took a mid-afternoon slot on the John Peel Stage and you could see just how much this opportunity meant to them. Ellie Rowsell wasn’t the only one in tears of happiness during this set.

2015Everything Everything, Williams Green

Williams Green is a smaller tent near the Meeting Point that has hosted a fair few big bands over the years and this year saw Everything Everything promoting their ‘Get to Heaven’ album in awesome stage outfits. They’d played The Other Stage the day before but the crowd reaction to album centrepiece (in the video above, check that smile at 1.52)  in this tent left Jonathan Higgs in a wonderfully positive emotional state.

2017Phoenix, John Peel Stage

Up against Foo Fighters, Phoenix perhaps didn’t get the crowd they deserved but everyone dancing away for an hour in that tent was having the best time. The band were late, their equipment and video screens were breaking (they still looked spectacular!) but it didn’t matter – the songs shone through. We would love to see some videos of this set put up online.

2019Idles, The Park/Sharon Van Etten, John Peel Stage

We genuinely couldn’t split these two performances. Jeff Goldblum’s appearance on the West Holts Stage was also a strong contender, as were The Killers as they showed how to perform a headline set complete with hits, fireworks and guest appearances from Pet Shop Boys and Johnny Marr.

Joe Talbot spent most of the set in tears (there’s a running theme here) and professing his love for the festival, the NHS and the spirit of inclusivity and looking around at the crowd that filled every inch of The Park, you could tell they were all like-minded.

As part of her ‘Remind Me Tomorrow’ tour, Sharon Van Etten strode on to the John Peel Stage meaning business, playing the majority of the record including ‘Comeback Kid’, ‘You Shadow’ and ‘Seventeen’. Her band were tight, the sound more expansive and the cover of Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Black Boys on Mopeds’ poignantly perfect. She finished the set shredding away to ‘Serpents’ before making a guest appearance with Mr. Goldblum during his set the following day.

We read the Glastonbury 50 book over lockdown and it made us pine to be in that special place. Although it’s the right decision to cancel this year’s festival, we can’t wait to celebrate the belated 50th anniversary on that famous farm next summer.

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