David Byrne & St Vincent bring boundless joy to the close of Electric Picnic

Electric Picnic 2013 review

By Elizabeth McGeown | Published: Wed 4th Sep 2013

Electric Picnic 2013 - David Byrne & St Vincent
Photo credit: Liam Carroll

Electric Picnic 2013

Friday 30th August to Sunday 1st September 2013
Stradbally Hall Estate,, Stradbally, Co. Laois, Ireland
189.50 euros - SOLD OUT
Daily capacity: 32,500

On the final day you'd think that there'd be nothing left to surprise you but the Picnic still has one or two surprises up its bulging sleeve. The only thing to cure the last day blues is getting served breakfast by sequinned burlesque dancers in cafe-theatre The Hurly-Burly, a well-known picnic staple with a firm yearly residency for late-night cabaret and early morning fried vegetarian breakfasts, complete with divine leeky scrambled eggs. A slight timing mishap (or simply savouring breakfast) leads to us only hearing the last Little Bear song, far outstripping their recorded material, powerful voices in harmony which seems to be the theme of the weekend.

"Sunday is the new fun day!" is exactly the sort of sickeningly faux-cheerful statement we don't want to hear so soon after waking up but Sunday morning Electric Picnic stalwarts the Dublin Gospel Choir are old hands at this sort of thing and have the voices to back it up, full on American gospel with 'Oh Happy Day' lifting our spirits even if their banter makes us cringe slightly. It's an up and down set, soloists of varying ability taking their moment to shine but their power truly is in unison. An electric version of Sia's 'Titanium' and Queen's 'Somebody To Love' finally get a hungover crowd to their feet, this thinking outside the gospel box a moment to savour, the two final female soloists in these songs a case of saving the best for last.

Fully awakened and energised, it's time to catch Silhouette in the Little Big Tent, a band from Northern Ireland who are just starting to make a splash South of the border. Yes, their recent material like 'Toss It Up' is undoubtedly catchy but maybe missing the introspective depth of earlier piano ballads, eschewing autobiographical musings for power statements repeated in a chorus but you can't deny the energy, humble frontwoman Shauna extremely likeable. 

Lady Lamb The Beekeeper is a bit of an unknown quantity, undoubtedly winning some audience members because of that festival staple; interesting band name lotto. At first glance she's terrifyingly like Lucy Spraggan, all woolly hat and guitar, a lone figure up on stage. It's much more thoughtfully melodic though, stopping just the right side of a dirge while the New York based artist huskily tells of woe in a Drag City fashion, impassioned lined becoming strident with a knowing American drawl. Aly Spaltro has the octave spanning gritty lilt of Neko Case, uncomfortably confronting the audience with death. It's so-wise-so-sad in a Laura Marling fashion, some moments incredibly raw. A mostly seated audience give her a well-deserved standing ovation as she leaves. 

"Packed to the rafters" is an overused phrase, especially in gig vernacular but this time it is no exaggeration. People are arriving in droves to see Chvrches and leaving reluctantly when they realise all they can do is crane their necks to see from outside. Their star-spangled sound has much to do with it; as musically clinical as M83 with added emotions, Lauren Mayberry's childlike, breathy vocals have a crystal honesty and there's head-nodding that turns to dancing and fist pumping, the audience feeling superior to those who couldn't make it in to the tent. Sneering hipsterdom is fun when you're in on it. 

It's left to one of the oldest performers here to completely steal the show. Most famous as the frontman of Talking Heads, you can always count on David Byrne to do something interesting, "interesting" being an understatement when describing his latest musical partnership with St. Vincent's Annie Clark. These two spectacular weirdos clearly revel in each others company, a boundless joy that reaches the audience via an all-singing, all-dancing brass band as the pair perform a selection of tracks from their 2012 collaboration Love This Giant. The loudest cheers are reserved for songs we never thought he would play, 2002's 'Lazy' rearing its head and an encore of 'Road To Nowhere' brings tears to a few eyes, it's so long-awaited. Don't dismiss St. Vincent though, her quirkiness and self-possession shining through. It's not all Byrne's show and he's happy to take a back seat during 'Cheerleader' but the truly electric moments are the ones when the two are in kinetic harmony, duelling guitars and theremin.

Nothing is perfect of course, and if a festival reaches ten years it will of course have seen a few changes, for good and for bad. A younger, livelier crowd were always going to start attending when they got old enough and with Oxegen basically wiping itself off the map as a music-lovers festival. Sold-out weekends will have queues and security checks, but all of this was dealt with efficiently, Friday's bottleneck not repeated again during the weekend. Yes, they could have kept a closer eye on the crowd, especially with enforcing the no smoking law inside tents but on the whole, the Picnic's birthday party was a success.

It's only as we're packing up to leave that we reflect on all the things we didn't have time to do. No time to hire a wedding dress and get "married" in the inflatable church. No time to watch a Pagan handfasting in the Greencrafts area.

No time to find out if we would have escaped from the washing machine maze, washing machines piled three and four high in a claustrophobic mental challenge that some people had to climb out of. Certainly nowhere near enough time to try all the foodstuffs available, everything from falafel, pizza, pasta, Indian and American corndogs on offer here.

No time for Fossett's circus, talks by actor/director Aiden Gillen, sing in the open mic or take part in the listening party for Janelle Monae's brand new album. Perhaps most tragically of all, no time for the wine-tasting speed-dating event in the Theatre of Food tent in Mindfield, the area devoted to literary arts and educational pursuits. We'll have to leave finding the love of our life until next year!

review by: Elizabeth McGeown

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