Day One of Oxegen 2009
Review Snapshot: There must have been something in the air in Punchestown as at least 3 bands invited members of the crowd on stage during the first day of Oxegen 2009. There might have been an overwhelming feeling that there were less people here than in previous years but that didn’t stop the bands from putting in some great performances.
The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10
When you wake up on the first morning of a festival and hear nothing on the radio but people forecasting 6 day traffic jams and rain, the likes of which hasn't been seen since Noah worked for Harland and Wolff, you have to wonder if it is worth making the effort at all. However, the first piece of good news was that the traffic was almost non-existent, perhaps helped by the fact that, being relatively local, I know some alternative routes into Punchestown. Also, the rain, which began as I parked the car, was gone in little over an hour. Maybe this would be a good weekend after all.
Jape (Red Bull Music Academy)
I’ve been very lucky with Oxegen as this is the second year in a row that the first band I’ve seen has put in a brilliant performance. Choice Music Prize winner and possibly the busiest man in Irish music, Richie Egan, operating as Jape this weekend, wowed a very mixed crowd with an energetic set showcasing his critically acclaimed Ritual. During Streetwise, Egan became the first act of the weekend to invite a member of the audience on stage to sing the chorus. It didn’t work very well at first and the girl was booed off before being replaced by a much more competent audience member. Egan finished his set with a rousing rendition of I Was A Man.
Fight like Apes (Heineken Green Spheres)
Despite their much hyped debut album and recent Glastonbury performance, when Fight Like Apes launched into Something Global, the tent can’t have been more than one third full. Despite this (and, in fairness, the place did fill as the gig went on) Fight like Apes tried very hard to impress their audience. When they concentrated on making music the band were a joy to behold, Two news songs they played sounded excellent, as did a brilliant version of Jake Summers. However, a Fight like Apes gig is never just about the music. Try as they might to be 'random', you can't help but feel that their gimmicks are a bit, well, gimmicky. Climbing speaker towers and beating chairs against railings (professional wrestling style) felt more petulant and childish than daring an edgy. A great band when they remember that they are supposed to be making music.
Duke Special (The O2 Stage)
Having to walk from one side of the Oxegen campus to the other meant that I missed the start of Duke Special's performance. When I arrived there again seemed to be far less people than I would expect for an artist of Peter Wilson's calibre. Initially, The Duke's set seemed disjointed and meandering, not helped by the fact that Wilson and band took up less than 10% of The O2 Stage. However, things soon picked up and Wilson ended on a high with Our Love Goes Deeper Than This, Last Night I Nearly Died (But I Woke Up Just In Time) and the gorgeous Freewheel. It's a pity more people weren't there to see/hear it. It was beauty personified.
Iain Archer (Red Bull Music Academy)
At this stage I was starting to wonder if there was actually anyone at Oxegen. This was Iain Archer, the bloke that used to be in Snow Patrol and, with Flood The Tanks, responsible for one of Northern Irish music's true masterpieces, and yet, here he was playing to a tent that was no more than 20% full. Not everyone could have been watching The Script could they? Archer seemed unperturbed by the small audience and produced a lively set consisting mostly of tracks from his new record, To The Pine Roots. While I was disappointed not to hear Mirrorball Moon, my favourite Archer song, highlights of the set included Canal Song, Streamer On A Kite and Archer finishing his set with his parents on backing vocals.
Heathers (IMRO New Sound Stage)
I only managed to catch 5 songs as the IMRO Stage seemed to be running off schedule (same problem as last year) but I'm still not convinced by these two. Sure they are young and can still go some way to prove me wrong, but I can't help but think that they could do with listening to a few more records before writing their own songs. Having influences is fine, so is wearing them on your sleeve, but having such a small range of influences just makes you sound like a tribute band.
Republic of Loose (Heineken Green Spheres)
After a wasted trip over to the Red Bull Music Academy to see Ladyhawke (still no explanation for her non appearance at time of going to print) I found myself worshiping at the alter of Republic of Loose. I wasn’t the only one either as the Green Spheres tent was packed. As I posted on Twitter, there was lots of dancing here, the likes of which was never seen in Billy Brennan’s barn. Shame, Comeback Girl, The Steady Song and a brilliant rendition of Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ were the standout tracks in a set full of energy and audience interaction. There are few bands who entertain more than Republic of Loose.
Blur (Main Stage)
Initially, I was very excited about seeing Blur live for the first time. However, after the exuberance of Republic of Loose, this performance felt flat. Opening with the slow burning She’s so High was never going to be the best way to get the crowd enthused. Girls and Boys, the second song, would have been enough to spark the set into life had it not been so tuneless and followed by the awful Tracy Jacks. There’s no doubting that Damon Albarn is a consummate showman, but he’s not the world’s best singer. Dedicating The Universal to the late Joe Dolan was a nice touch but, despite my initial excitement, I left Day One of Oxegen 2009 feeling quite cynical as to the reasons for Blur’s comeback and wishing I’d gone to see 2 Many DJ’s instead.