There's a strange vibe when it comes to entering Hyde Park for the first of this year's British Sumer Time events. Perhaps that it's a Thursday evening and people are still stuck in their work offices is an issue, but the fact is that today's show came nowhere close to selling out, leading to a batch of tickets being given away cheaply for a small charity donation. Sure, nobody's going to criticise donations towards vital cancer charities such as the Teenage Cancer Trust, but the organisers need to realise that for two year running, for some people to pay in excess of £60 and others less than £5 isn't right.
However, regardless of issues when it comes to getting people into these shows, there's music to be seen and the park is more than busy for the long-awaited return of Beck, who pulls off what will undoubtedly go down as one of the great festival shows this Summer. Cramming a greatest hits set that spans some 20 years into a one hour show is no mean feat, but the musical chameleon does it with such each and finesse that he has the crowd, mostly here for The Strokes, eating out of the palm of his hand.
Pacing the stage like some sort of hyperactive cowboy, his set is a lesson in musical showmanship, from the brutal riffage of stunning opener 'Devil's Haircut' to the glorious hip-hop and summery beats of Beck proves there's nothing he can't pull off, and pull off brilliantly. Whilst this is a high-octane set showcasing the more lively parts of his repertoire, even an acoustic interlude of 'Blue Moon' and 'Lost Cause' goes down a storm, proving to be a perfect moment of relaxation in the blazing Summer sun.
Closing his set with a thunderous 'E-Pro', his band collapse to the stage in a mock fight as he covers the stage in police barricade tape – a suitably bizarre climax to a thrilling set, before returning to close off the hour with an astonishing version of 'Where It's At', segued with the country ho-down of 'One Foot In The Grave'.
In an hour that flys by, Beck demonstrates everything a festival show should be – joyous, relentless fun (although admittedly it helps with a back catalogue as strong as his). The Strokes, on the other hand, prove to be an altogether different and slightly more depressing affair. Yes, they go down well – pretty much everybody here in the crowd is here to see them and would have loved the show regardless. That doesn't mean this is a great show by any stretch of the imagination.
There were moments throughout the band's 90-minunte set where they excel – the likes of opener 'Is This It' and 'Heart In A Cage' prove exactly what a great band The Strokes can be, but highlights are all to rare. Of course, material from their first two albums are the most well received of the evening and a beautiful reminder of what an important band they were when they emerged in 2001. The devoted amongst the fans throw themselves around the crowd in nostalgic triumph to classics such as 'Last Nite' as if the last 14 years never happened.
However, those 14 years have been and gone, and The Strokes now sound tired and jaded. Songs from the last two albums, of which compromise roughly a third of the set are all a damp squib, greeted with very little reaction even from the hardcore amongst the audience. In particular, 'One Way Trigger' is a 3-minute nightmare, with Julian Casablancas' frankly awful falsetto setting teeth on edge.
But that's not to say this is a bad show by The Strokes, it was simply ok. However, for a band that once heralded a new age and such excitement, mediocrity is not enough. It seems to be they're at a stage now when perhaps all they can do is look to the past. The songs showcased from their first three albums tonight proved they were once a great band, so maybe their future is simply in the nostalgia circuit of playing their old records? On this form, they have very little else to offer anymore. 'Is This It, indeed.
latest on this festival
with Nile Rodgers & CHIC, and Grace Jones, on Sunday 11th July 2021
line-ups & rumours
with Pixies (Friday), and IDLES (Saturday)
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