Witnness Festival 2003
Sunday, July 13th, 2003 (Day 2)
was the party minus the groom. Or minus the groom minus the finger. When news
broke on Thursday that White Stripe Jack had injured himself in a car accident
after celebrating his 27th birthday it all seemed just a little worrying. The
sweet bride Witnness was left on the altar, or so it sounded.
It would be unfair to the other acts that lined out in Punchestown to focus overtly on the absence of Jack and Meg - but it was unavoidable. Even a typically bombastic performance from the Flaming Lips, called off the subs bench that is the Rising Stage (after 20 years, still rising?), couldn't draw attention away from the gaping exit hole in the schedule left by the Detroit pair.
Other artists referred to them, rued their absence, sent them love, sang them happy birthday (you guessed it - Flaming Wayne). It was clear that the success or otherwise of Sunday, and perhaps of the entire weekend, would be measured not against a particular performance, but against the absence of one.
So much for that then, so what was on?
A fantastic array of music - which ran the gamut from folk to mariachis to dub to trip-hop to blip-hop to everything in between. Every speaker urgently pumped out something - these are the days of tight rosters, and when 'you're off' you're truly off - and that something changed twice every 90 minutes on each of the five stages.
The inevitable clashes occurred. Your correspondent chose widely, 10 minutes here, half an hour there. What I can recall, apart from feeling like I'd been dragged headlong through an anorak's record collection for eight hours, is thus".
Bell X1 on the Upstage. Borrowing a time-honoured American tradition of staging gigs in Walmart car-parks, the organisers stuck some of the most interesting bands of the day on a stage that lay about a mile from anywhere, surrounded by so many food joints and playground rides it seemed that the music was the secondary attraction - something you overheard as you steadied yourself in the portaloo.
To return to Mr Noonan and co., cruelly forced onstage at the lamentably early hour of 14.30 (apologies Colm Quearney, Arveene, Zongamin and the rest of the noon crew - music, like many of the finer things, should never be attempted directly before lunch), they opened the afternoon well, displaying the ideal festival aplomb in dedicating a song to the "camped-last-night-but-were-too-sunburnt-to-get-it-on." A class act, and they can't help to have benefited by the airing of their new single on the Main Stage TV screens throughout the day. All together, once again: Bell X1 are the next big thing?
From there, to the Rising Stage, to catch Scottish act The Basement, who attempt to pull off the aura of the Band in their Dylan days - all sloppy harmonica, brown suede and telecasters - and?don't quite succeed.
The stakes are upped with the appearance of the Jimmy Cake - an act for whom no venue seems inappropriate. Soaring clarinets, blazing electric guitars, some wonderfully restrained percussion - a full afternoon tent and a large ovation were wages aplently for a band who are often too eager to embrace dissonance.
Briefly nip out to the Main Stage (throughout these paragraphs water is being constantly replenished, mind) to grab some of Nina Persson (easy, gents) and the Cardigans, who showcase most of their new (and fine) 'Long Gone Before Daylight' album. For the sake of balanced reporting it must be mentioned that they also have a new (female) member. Can she sing, play? Let's just say it's double the value?
Any prizes for guessing what they slipped away on? 'My Favourite Game' did serve one purpose - it briefly rallied the legions of the horizontally drunk, sunburnt and lazy. For the rest, it was probably still too warm, too early. But a suitably languid show from the Swedes, nonetheless.
Then the performance of the day. I never could have foreseen hordes of clubbers forsaking the dance tent for the Tex-Mex collective Calexico, but Joey Burns and his band plaid some of the most melodic, and uptempo mariarchi-acoustic-dancing tunes since Los Lobos first pounded out 'La Bamba'. Plenty of superfluous 'holay!'s and pounding foot-stamping filled the Rising Tent, to be laced with the occasional slow number (breath being necessary). Calexico also provided the cover of the day - bringing all that Big Sur (the road, need I remind younger readers) sound to Love's classic 'Alone Again Or'. The full Mexican, indeed.
Then to the hottest property of the moment, Har Mar Superstar. A cross between Ron Jeremy, Stevie Wonder and a Saturday night coke-freak, he has supported the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs and has a Manumission residency. What does he do? Sing the most lascivious lyric to the most pilfered funk lick, while sweatily stripping. Does it work? Hell, yeah. "I AM FUCKING AWESOME!" as he repeatedly reminded us.
Getting towards evening, and time for the home-side to line out. Now Witnness staples, the Frames took to the Main Stage guns ablazing. All the usual tracks, some rocking, some lost in the dusty air, and closing on a Pixies' cover. Having witnnessed this before, Mr Hansard has got to stop playing this cover stuff - does the world need another live rendition of 'Debaser'? Because finishing the set with 'Star Star', spliced with 'HeyDay' seemed perfect...
A pint and a breather and a glimpse at Beth Orton, alas singing so out of tune back in that inhospitable car-park, downwind of chemically unbalanced portaloos, that a couple of songs are all one can endure, without cringing.
Cue the main, and for this correspondent, final acts. The Flaming Lips showcased most of the material off 'Yoshimi Battles The Pink Roberts', accompanied by their many furry friends, huge hand props, and soulful paeans to the weird and wonderful.
Lead Lip Wayne Coyne readily adapts his material, the highlight of which had to be 'Thank You Jack White For That Fibre-optic Jesus That You Gave Me', and well as leading the assembled 20,000 in a rendition of 'Happy Birthday, Dear Jack'. For this listener, the hours of hearing, and hearing about, the Flaming Lips, while never quite buying the T-shirt, faded. This was a wonderful, theatrical, anthemic performance by an act at the top of their game.
"We'll come back if you invite us," Wayne exclaims. If we value our festivals, we better.
Night, and rain, started to fall. Spirits sagged, two days began to take their toll. Enter the Polyphonic Spree (or the Polyphonic Experience - as they branded themselves) - the new buzz band of the day. They realised the hype, the 21 members on stage, all dressed in Klan-robe white, coming across as a mix between Monty Python, the Beach Boys and a revivalist meeting. All lead by the irrepressible messianic Tim DeLaughter - replete with shamrocked robe, leading the (finally) packed Upstage carpark in a stirring rendition of 'You've gotta be good, you gotta be IRISH, you..etc' They whipped us up, and brought us down, gently, gently.
To the end. Although hardier souls remained until Monday lunchtime, the sight of David Gray taking to yet another festival stage, and belting out yet another rendition of 'Please Forgive Me' was just too much. At the end it was all very equitable. Those who wanted to rock had the Manics, those who wanted to smoke had Kittser, and those who liked to tap had Gray" all's well that ends well.
And that was Witnness 2003. Like all festivals, the usually unmissable was missed. Super Furry Animals - caught half a tune, watched their animations. David Kitt - heard he tore the Rising Stage apart with 'I Wanna Be Sedated', Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man - heard it was just too packed" all omissions to be regretted later.
The memories of this year: the grass, damp or smoked; the overpriced food - "7 for fried veg noodles and a sprite (business, as usual); the vomit-covered toilets; the WMD-strength hayfever; the dry fine dust that seasoned us, and the dry hot sun that baked us raw (and produced the only white stripes of the weekend - geddit?).
The shift to Punchestown was a success, as was Witnness itself, even if it lacked its bride and groom.
So all together: "we've been here once before / but it bears repeating now", da-na-na-na-naaa-naaa?
out the CLUAS coverage of Day 1 of Witnness
All photos - 2003 Barbara Lindberg
Speaking of photos, be sure to check out CLUAS.com's exclusive (and quite excellent!)Witnness 2003 photo Gallery