REVIEW: 6 Music Festival Day One @ O2 Academy, Newcastle (20.2.15) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Trees on stage and lanterns hanging from the ceiling. It’s quite a different set-up to what the four rock bands lined up for the first night of the BBC 6 Music Festival are probably used to. All four of the bands’ equipment is packed on to the stage, in an oddly impressive display. The sheer amount of guitars, basses and drums on stage made it clear that this wasn’t going to be a night of quiet reflection, but rather a completely bombastic blast through various incarnations of rock through four sets and five hours of music.

As they made their way to the front of the stage, it dawned on me that a half hour set wasn’t enough to really do The War On Drugs a great deal of justice. In those thirty minutes they played four songs, all from their breakthrough album Lost In The Dream. In some ways it was a run of mini-hits, starting with Under the Pressure, running into the blistering Red Eyes, before rounding off with Eyes to the Wind and the titular Lost in the Dream. Despite being a whistle-stop tour of what was the most critically acclaimed album of 2014, which completely ignored the grandeur of the equally impressive Slave Ambient, it’s not difficult to see why Adam Granduciel and his band of merry men are currently hailed as one of the best bands on the planet.

Combining the grand narratives of Bruce Springsteen with the lengthy, technically accomplished wig-outs of psych, they’re a band at the top of their game. The moment where Granduciel bursts into a power guitar solo on Red Eyes is magical; the soaring riff that sweeps over the melancholic synths providing the song’s memorable hook is undoubtedly the highlight of their set, even if it only lasted a minute. I couldn’t help but start wondering what a full set from them would be like. Luckily, I have only a week to wait until they return to the O2 for their own headline gig.

Equally blistering, though for entirely different reasons, were recently reformed cult riot grrl trio Sleater Kinney, playing their first UK gig in ten years. Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss are clearly beloved by a legion of dedicated fans but, admittedly, I completely missed the boat with the Olympian threesome and only had a passing knowledge of their material. This, it turns out, has been a complete oversight on my part. As a hardcore fan of punk and post-punk legends Siouxsie Sioux and X-Ray Specs (particularly the iconic Poly Styrene), it almost pained me to watch Sleater-Kinney and realise that I’d been missing out for years.

Weiss’ drumming in particular was a powerhouse of epic proportions, providing an incredibly weighty foundation for Brownstein and Tucker to shred away and scream their left-wing, feminist anthems with fervour. Indeed, it’s a bit difficult to believe that the women of Sleater Kinney are any older than they were in the nineties; Tucker’s vocals are crisp and pack a great deal of punch, while Brownstein slides around the stage high-kicking and throwing herself around like it’s nobody’s business. Songs from their comeback album No Cities To Love, including the roaring A New Wave, sat next to their older material like they’d never been away at all. By the time they played closer Entertain, it was clear that we needed more of the band’s back-to-basics howl and fervour.

Though theirs was not nearly as long as Sleater Kinney’s, New York doom rockers Interpol had also recently returned from something of a hiatus by releasing their acclaimed LP El Pintor last year. I remembered first seeing the quintet in their video for Obstacle 1 more than ten years ago. As Paul Banks, Daniel Kessler et al stepped out on stage, it was like being in a time warp; the band have barely aged and are still as sharp-suited as when I first clapped eyes on them. The same goes for their monolithic gloom indie, which has stood the test of time thanks to Banks’ unique vocal delivery, the often crushing riffs courtesy of Kessler and a host of intelligently warped lyrics.

El Pintor was undoubtedly a cornerstone for most of their fifty minute set, with single All The Rage Back Home being a highlight of the newer material. The most spectacular moments came from airings of their older material; Pioneer to the Falls still stands as one of their most beautifully crafted and tear-jerking songs, while The New, now thirteen years old, remains thoroughly gripping. Of course, they couldn’t go without nodding as ever to their most successful album, 2004’s Antics, and two of their best-loved and most beguiling songs. Evil (admittedly my personal favourite) begins with its now almost-iconic bassline and Banks’ vocals drifting sweetly across the crowd – he extends the bridge more melancholically than on record, turning the already twisted love song into a beautifully emotional drift. Slow Hands inevitably finished their set, its crashing drums and Kessler’s immediate, stabbing riffs combining to create the most anthemic moment of the night.

Interpol aren’t known for being upbeat but their set provided moments of levity that had the crowd pulsing. After this, there was a distinctive and slightly uncomfortable change of atmosphere when Mogwai were introduced to the stage. The Glaswegian band are celebrating twenty years of being together and, while they are undoubtedly experts in what they do, there was a distinctive sense that the night had taken a bit of a downward turn when they emerged, at least from where I was sitting. Some of the crowd appeared to be in hushed reverence, but many others decided to talk or ponder out loud about Stuart Braithwaite and co as they worked their way through an already heavily-delayed set.

At the risk of being lynched, Mogwai don’t float my boat. However, I do appreciate that they are masters of grungy noise music; many of their songs literally shuddered through the room and Braithwaite can produce an altogether crushing riff that most bands would envy. For me, though, it’s their more melodic moments that are the most interesting and, about halfway through the set, they decided to give some of these lighter, more ambient songs a bit of a run out. During this all-too-brief ten minutes, Mogwai’s skill at crafting an intelligent and beguiling song comes to the fore.

Perhaps it’s because noise music isn’t my forte, or my cup of tea, but when they descended into a ten-minute long cascade of reverb and feedback at the end of the set, I was halfway to feeling rather bored. It hit me, as I made my way home, that this wasn’t because Mogwai are a bad band by any sense of the phrase, but because their billing seemed a little bit misguided. Yes, Interpol produce monolithic rock but not in the same way, or on the same scale, as Mogwai. After the pure euphoria of The War on Drugs, the unbridled energy of Sleater Kinney and the wondrous urgency of Interpol, it seemed curious to follow it up with a band who not only need more than fifty minutes to get into their stride but are also so different to everyone else on the bill. Eclecticism can be great if done well, but this occasion didn’t seem to go down well with those around me, some of whom had already left or were hurriedly putting their jackets on at the set went through its final motions.

Despite this, the first night of the BBC 6 Music festival was a blistering five hours that encapsulated the sheer variety and power of modern rock music. For anyone who thought the genre was dead, the night provided ample evidence to the contrary.

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