It’s mid-afternoon on Sunday and the temperature has just reached 28 degrees. While some ply themselves in sun lotion and revel in the heat, others cower in the little shade to be found in Bellahouston Park. The once green expanse of parkland, mostly turned to mud by 70,000 pairs of feet the previous weekend, now exhibits a distinctly agricultural look. The organisers have done a great job laying tons of straw to cover and soak up waterlogged and muddy areas made worse by further midweek rain, but there’s no denying the very rural aroma that’s wafting through the air, emitted by fermenting earth and mud as it bakes in the sun.
At just after three No Rome saunters onto the stage, a diminutive figure with a shock of blue/green hair. He’s a London based Filipino who’s somehow acquired an American accent. Although not an artist I’m familiar with, he clearly means something to the clutch of adolescent girls gathered front of stage who sing along to most of the songs in his short set. The sound is thoroughly modern, slinky beats with a laid back, mellow vibe. You can actually hear echoes of The 1975 in some of the material and he probably wouldn’t appreciate this but the sound makes perfect muzak on a hot afternoon.
Ten Tonnes is Ethan Barnett, he’s George Ezra’s little brother and both brothers are purveyors of well-crafted but insipid melodic pop music. Personally, it doesn’t appeal but there’s no doubt that it has an audience. Ten Tonnes have developed an improved and more muscular sound since I saw them last but in truth they make little impression on the crowd; who all seem to be passing time, enjoying a beer in the sun while waiting for more interesting things to come.
Something more interesting turns out to be Pale Waves. They’re the first act to bring the crowd to life and it’s a well-deserved response. They’re a band with a sound of their own, exhibiting clear references to 1980’s synth pop abetted by tasteful guitar but topped by Heather Baron Gracie’s distinctive almost hypnotic voice and goth-like image. It’s probably down to the proximity of seeing The Cure a week earlier but for the first time I could see elements of the latter not just visually but sonically too. It’s noticeable too that they look comfortable on a big stage; no doubt helped by their experience supporting The 1975. While Heather Baron Gracie remains the focal point, others (particularly bassist Charlie Wood) now have a more pronounced visual presence. It’s late afternoon, still baking hot but the stage has fallen into shadow and Pale Waves are managing to using lighting to enhance their performance. It’s simple; just red and white but pulsating in unison with the music and it works. Slow burning “My obsession,” midway through the set seems to kick start things and by the time they bring their set to a close with, “One more time” and, “She’s a honey” the area front of stage has become a mass of singing and dancing.
You Me at Six have been around for over a decade. I’ve seen them several times but still don’t “get” them. Were they “emo,” are they still emo? Are they a rock band, or a pop band? To me they’re a mash-up of all these and more with an irritatingly arrogant and insincere front man. Surely no-one believed his protestations about being the “best crowd” and “nearly” moving to Glasgow! Fortunately for them I’m clearly in a minority among the Glasgow crowd. They give us a rabble rousing set as vocalist Josh Franceschi prowls the stage with seemingly boundless energy urging the crowd to clap, sing and jump, and it works. By the time their 50 or so minutes is up they’ve raised the energy level in Bellahouston Park considerably, undoubtedly gained plenty of new younger fans and left your reviewer feeling bemused once again.
Fortunately there’s no conflict of opinion between audience and reviewer where Twin Atlantic are concerned. This is just a great live rock band who combine powerful heavy riffs with big choruses. In Sam McTrusty they have a front man with real presence who knows how to walk the line between arrogance and self-confidence; throwing in a playful degree of self-depreciation. As he put it mid-set, you’ve got to expect some kind of response when you walk out on stage wearing a gold suit in front of a Glasgow audience. By the time they’d bulldozed the crowd with the powerful opening salvo of “No Sleep” and “The Chaser,” this had all the hallmarks of a hometown triumph and so it proved. There was even time to slow the pace acoustically and then to air new song, “Volcano.” Closing with the euphoric, Heart and Soul, it took little persuasion for huge numbers to boisterously sing along.
The previous weekend Bellahouston Park had seen huge audiences in attendance. The 1975 drew a decent crowd but one that was well below capacity. It was also predictably much younger although more mixed than I’d thought it would be. The band’s management would have us believe that they’re one of the biggest and important bands around and elements of the media have bought into that. Unfortunately, only half filling the venue doesn’t particularly lie well with some of those claims. That isn’t to say that The 1975 weren’t good on Sunday night; at times they were exhilaratingly good but there were also cringeworthy moments, both musically and in some of Matt Healy’s between song banter. Still, important bands don’t stand still, they push boundaries and need to be applauded for that.
The 1975 and hype go hand in hand. They call themselves, “a post genre band” which is frankly bollocks. In reality they’re musical magpies but there’s nothing wrong with that: David Bowie made a hugely influential career combining a sprinkling of musical magic with exactly that.
They begin with new song, “People.” Visceral rock ‘n roll that actually reminded me of watching Bowie cover “White light, white heat” in the mid 1990’s. It was a stunning opening that was followed by the equally impressive, “Give yourself a try” with its hypnotic guitar line and chorus that brought spontaneous singing from many in the audience. And so it went on; “Tootime” moved us into synth pop territory and then it was on to the electro funk of “She’s American” which saw the first introduction of sax to the line-up. I don’t know who the player was but each appearance during the following hour or so oozed quality. The genre hopping continued, mostly successful apart from mid-set where the pace dropped for a couple of slow cheesy ballads which for me really didn’t work. Overall, listening to them felt like travelling through a mostly 1980’s soundscape filtered through a C21 perspective. Towards the end they treat us to early hits, “Chocolate” and “Sex” bursting with energy but also reminders of how much the band have changed over five or six years.
Yet the band isn’t just about their music; it’s also about the image they present, what they have to say and the ego and fragility of front man Matt Healy. The stage is an ocean of space, devoid of the usual clutter of amps and other gear. We’re left to focus on the performers and the visual experience provided by lighting and constantly changing, mood influencing backdrops. Then there are Mr Healy’s inter song meanderings. There’s no direct mention of his recent kissing incident in Dubai but when he asks us, “It isn’t wrong to kiss a boy, is it?” we all know what he’s talking about. Elsewhere his ego gets the better of him but the point is that he and the band have opinions and they’re using the stage as a platform to share and spread those views. Perhaps the most profound moments come not from the band but a recorded essay by Greta Thunberg. It really shouldn’t work in the context of a gig but it does; profoundly.
So did The 1975 scale the heights reached by The Cure and Foo Fighers the previous weekend? Well probably not, but there were moments that were special which will stay in the memory long after other performances have faded. Whether we should believe the hyperbole telling us that they are the most important band of their generation is open to question but they are creating some impressive music and they do have something to say when so much current music is corporate and predictable.
latest on this festival
line-ups & rumours
plus Michael Kiwanuka, & McFly