Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Chic, Billy Brag, and Electric Picnic 2009

Last Friday was the first one in a while with no Friday tune – the reason being that I was out of town, visiting Electric Picnic in County Laois. If there was a weblink for County Laois, I'd link it - but Laois isn't that sort of place.

I haven’t been to a festival for years – in fact I haven’t stayed as a punter overnight at a festival ever (only when I’ve been working) so it was interesting to see it from the other side.

The EP forums show a mixture of reviews, from great reviews of bands to dodgy reviews of the sound on some stages, and some concerns that there were less random art happenings going on than recent years, prices of food were high, the bad weather was dealt with too little and too late, and security was arbitrary and didn’t seem knowledgeable. Some of these things, EP may have to look at for next year – particularly some unsavoury crowd elements who people seemed to think were a bit more in evidence this year than last year. The beauty of the festival is that it’s not like rival festy Oxygen - it's more chilled, more arty, appears less commercially inclined, and has a friendlier crowd - they need to work hard to keep it that way. Reducing the capacity slightly, and turning the lineup slightly more non-mainstream might be a couple of subtle ways they can influence the crowd that are attracted.

That said, I had a great time. Great music, good sound if you stood in half-sensible places, lots of different stuff going on (like the tent with the Hookah on the right - I didn't get a Hookah, but we did grab some Brandy Chais later on Sunday when the relentlessness started to tell), and what I thought was reasonably priced food etc. I would also say that the €3 deposit on the plastic beer glasses was a brilliant judgment – I didn’t see one left around all weekend, so loud applause on that front.

Another great thing is being with an Irish crowd, particularly at a 'boutique' festival like this - it's very, very friendly even when it's massive. Generally, it's just lots of people having a great time.

To the music, and first up was Lykke Li. I’d never seen her before, and she was wearing some weird black thingy that didn’t really stick out in a dark tent with a dark background, but… she was really good live. Fascinating tunes (she’s a bit nuts), loads of energy, and really interesting. She’s got a mad haunting voice. I’d go see her again in a second.

Then we caught a bit of Seasick Steve on the main stage. The main stage didn’t work quite as well as the tents – the atmosphere wasn’t contained and amplified in the same way, which may have been something to do with the weather not being amazing, but he’s got mad energy and is a lot of fun.

Next up were Rodrigo y Gabriela, a duo from Mexico City with amazing acoustic guitar skills. They had the tent up and rocking, although for some reason I couldn’t quite put my finger on, it didn’t feel quite right. I think it’s that they would have been much better in a smaller venue – there was a weird mismatch between the music and the size of the tent, and it didn’t ever sit quite right, despite the fact that they were great.

Last act I grabbed on Friday night was Orbital, who somehow I’ve managed to avoid seeing live for the last 10-15 years. A properly seminal duo from the fledgling UK house scene of the late 80s and early 90s, they backdropped broken jackhammer machine beats with surprisingly melodic weaving synthlines, and it was this accessible sound that helped them to propel house and techno into the consciousness of the public at large. They were good, very slick, and played all the big tunes. My only problem with them now is that they are living off a back catalogue from a decade ago. It’s already a bit nostalgic for a music act - they need to write some new tunes, or they will turn into a touring glass museum case. And they should write some new tunes, because they do the live electronics thing more engagingly than nearly anyone else when they are on it. Here’s vintage Orbital – booked as the first ‘dance’ act ever to headline at Glastonbury in 1994, they shredded the place. Amazing times - this is "Chime"...

Apart from that, I saw a tiny bit of Madness on the main stage, who were doing the Madness thing – you’d probably have to be down the front for it really to work. Or perhaps better weather would have yielded a more Madness-friendly atmosphere...

Practically my only must-see of the weekend was Billy Brag, and I managed to see his entire set. He was as usual, direct (just him and a guitar), soulful, and of course had a little bit of politics sprinkled about, including a couple of digs at the second Irish vote on the European Lisbon treaty that’s upcoming, a vote of confidence on Obama’s ability to deliver universal health care, and loads of other stuff. And as usual, he was absolutely brilliant – I just never get tired of seeing him and listening to him.

Here’s Billy playing at SXSW, with a nearly completely rewritten version of “Great Leap Forwards” for the US audience. He lasts on the original for about one verse, and then suddenly he’s off into military spending, universal healthcare, double standards in democratic participation and media complicity. Mostly without missing a beat on the guitar either.

Billy Brag is a legend, and he's a knowledgeable and an active one at that. An inspiration.

Saving the best till last – playing inside a huge tent on Saturday evening, were Chic.

There’s not much I can find to say about this – they were one of the most amazing bands I’ve ever seen. Masses of people on stage, phenomenal singers, great drums and bass, horns, seriously funky guitar, and I’ve nearly never heard a band sounding so tight and rehearsed – they had it nailed.

And the back catalogue – to die for. Chic were famous for their hits “Le Freak” and my personal favourite “Good Times”, (which in it’s later sampled format helped the Sugarhill Gang drag hip-hop off the block and launch it kicking and screaming into the stratosphere with the outrageous sampling lift that was “Rappers Delight”). But aside from music that Chic actually recorded, they also produced the Sister Sledge album “We are family”, Diana Ross’ “Diana” (featuring the stunning ‘Upside Down’), David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” (could they write basslines or what?!), Duran Duran, Madonna. On and on it goes.

And they played half of these in the tent. We are family, Upside Down, Let’s Dance, Le Freak, Good Times, just insane. They were instrumental in disco, one of their tracks helped put hip-hop where it is, and together with Bootsy, Kraftwerk, Roland and Yamaha, they are partially responsible for birthing house and techno. It’s long past time for Chic to get some serious recognition.

So seeing as a nice person already has it up on youtube, here (while it lasts) is a recording from inside the tent. The camera mic clearly isn’t up to the bass, but you get the picture.

And dance we did. We all did. Come back Chic…


John Braine said...

Gutted I didn't go see some Chic now. I had to drag myself out of the tent to go see Madness. Was absolutely exhausted but went back out.

I walked by Chic (I know!) on the way to Madness and it looked amazing. I could have went in for 1/2 hour and still caught all the Madness hits. Knitch!

Caught a bit of Seastick Steve too. Great fun. Could've sworn he was in a tent though?

Good to see you again. Pity we didn't get a chance to have a drink or something.

(Nitch is the word verification I've been given to submit this comment, seemed to fit though!)

Martin said...

Great write up Dave - and awesome clip of Chic! I'd love to see them while they've still got it (and I have...)

divot said...

The more I think about that Chic gig, I feel practically guilty for being there. I'm trying not to talk about it to anyone who wasn't inside... walking past it for Madness? Knitch is right!!

Seasick Steve - you are probably right, I had thought main stage, but it probably was one of the bigger tents. Details are slightly fuzzy :)

Humbert, thanks - yeah - if you get the chance, don't miss out for sure. Didn't realise you were on blogger, your RSS now locked and loaded...