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My top 10 festival performances

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Dog Burger


People often ask who my favourite band are, or what the best album or best song ever made is, and my mind always goes blank, or I can't come up with a convincing argument for a single candidate. So I started thinking about what the best festival performance I've ever seen is. Now, firstly, I can't remember half of them, so this was from the beginning a fairly futile task, but everyone loves a good list, so this is what I came up with. Let me know what yours are, if you can remember.

10: The Stooges - Glastonbury 2007

Finally got to see one of my favourite bands, just before Iggy Pop decided car insurance adverts would be a good idea. Ended in the only full-scale stage invasion I've ever seen at a festival, with at least 200 people joining The Stooges on the Other Stage. Topless, and fast disappearing in a thickening crowd in the middle of the stage, Iggy's voice could be heard, hopefully declaring "We're clearing the stage now, we're moving out now" as more and more people flooded on. As loud, spontaneous and fun as it gets at a major festival these days.

9: Buck 65 - Truck 2007

The second of two years in which I saw Buck 65 at Truck - seemingly a perfect match of independent wandering hobo artist and small festival built on foundations of similar integrity. His set on the 'main' stage was full of invention, humour and touching moments. He preceded it with a spoken word performance, in which he appeard to hypnotise at least half of the people in the small tent and had the other half sat in silent wonder listening to his fascinating traveller's tales. His low, gravelly tones somehow succeed in making you want to immediately go and give him a hug and the keys to your house. The previous year, I had been sat in the same spoken word tent awaiting Buck's arrival. He was late, but eventually turned up with a rucksack on his back and went straight on stage, having just travelled from Heathrow by a mix of public transport and hitchhiking. If all artists had Buck's humility, pride in their work and encyclopedic musical knowledge, festivals would be a far more enjoyable experience. My friends and I spent the rest of the 2007 Truck festival walking round with an old video camera and a wizard's hat, pretending to be a film crew representing a fictional website called Wizardweb.com, and gaining interviews with a number of bemused bands and artists. Strange times.

8: U2 - Glastonbury 2012

This has been much maligned, with even Bono himself expressing disappointment at how it went in an interview with Q, and saying the band were "freaked out". However, I thought it was fantastic and the sort of spectacle that the Pyramid Stage headline slot is made for. The perpetual rain and low-key ending aside, it was assured, emotive and absolutely full of fine songs. U2 didn't attempt to hide behind pyrotechnics or expensive gimmicks. It was just the biggest band in the world going toe to toe with the biggest festival in the world for 12 rounds, in a torrential downpour. Also, how often do you get to leave a 'secret' Radiohead gig because you've 'got to go and watch U2'. An unforgetable night.

7: The Strokes - Reading 2001

The Strokes were the coolest band on the planet in August 2001. The NME had hyped them all the way to the other side of Saturn and back, and they didn't give a fuck. I was 21, had driven down to Reading in a shagged out black Renault 9 that I'd bought for £35. My friends and I had got hold of a promo copy of Is This Is It on cassette a month before it had been released and blasted it out of the car and a ghetto blaster all weekend. Every one of us wanted to be in The Strokes. The band's myth grew by the day, until just an hour before they were due to go on, early evening in the pretty pokey Radio One Tent, Reading's organisers realised the folly and potential danger of this move and announced that The Strokes would be switched to the Main Stage. It was like watching a band become massive before your eyes. Naturally, they breezed through the performance with nonchalance and returned the following year to headline. On that occasion, an extremely intoxicated Welshman tried to give me and my military-jacketed, floppy-fringed friends his credit card, demanding in return that we play a gig for him there and then, certain in his mind that we were in fact The Strokes. Shine on you crazy diamond.

6: Gomez - Glastonbury 1999

Glastonbury has the ability to make a band seemingly overnight. And watching Gomez as a 19-year-old on my second time at Worthy Farm felt like seeing a band go from a cherished cult act to something much bigger. Asked to headline the Other Stage, they'd asked instead to go on second from the top of the bill so they could watch REM headline the Pyramid after their set. The 'sunset slot' suited Gomez much better and they absolutely smashed it, Ben Ottwell's voice cutting through the warm summer air and Tom asking the crowd to turn their backs on the show for a second to "look at that beautiful sunset" before seizing the moment and cheekily demanding "now get back over here". Then we went to watch REM. Nice. 11 years later, I saw Gomez again at Worthy Farm, headlining the Avalon Stage, and regret to this day leaving half way through to leg it to an apparent Chemical Brothers secret gig in the Stonebridge Bar, which of course never materialised.

5: Idlewild - Truck 2007

Back when we were young, Truck seemed brilliant and its main stage really was the back of a truck, Idlewild's headline show was a comprehensive greatest hits set, covering fizzing pop punk, delicate folk and anthemic Americana with a Scottish accent. Watching a band that have been around for years and played the big gigs on the big stages turn up at such a small and humble venue as Oxfordshire's pretty little village fete of a festival can result in a bout of 'going through the motions' - see Supergrass' morbidly flat performance at this venue in 2009. However, Idlewild tore through their extensive back catalogue in front of a couple of thousand people as if they were headlining the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury. And what a back catalogue they have, too.

4: The National - Glastonbury 2010

The only guitar band I've cared about in about the last five years, at the only festival I care about, with a cloudless sky and temperatures approaching 30c. A no-lose situation, but the National smashed expectations out of the ball park. Unhinged singer Matt Berninger led the security a merry dance, climbing into the crowd during Mr November and taking a walk all the way to The Other Stage's sound desk during Squalor Victoria, without ever slipping out of his effortless aura of cool. A performance of majestic assurance, with all of the rough edges left on, leant majesty by flourishes of brass and strings. The National remain a cult but they're the natural successors to REM's crown as the thinking fan's mega-band, and should one day ascend to the role of headliners if there's any justice in the world.

3: Pulp - Glastonbury 1998

17 years old. At my first Glastonbury. Under-prepared. Border-line hypothermia and trenchfoot. Penniless. Sleep deprived. Weak with hunger. Fed up and convinced I was never coming to this watery death pit again. Then I went to watch Pulp headline the Pyramid Stage and have been every year since. Jarvis in his white trenchcoat - entertaining and charming - had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Even the dark, brooding moments from the terribly underrated This Is Hardcore were epic and celebratory from the first seconds of howling feedback at the start of set opener The Fear. Despite the hellish conditions, this was a life-altering 90 minutes for me at the end of my A-levels, about to leave the friends I was shoulder to shoulder with in the mud, and fly the nest to university. It ended with a massive Common People and the PA playing Ben E King's Stand By Me as we all waded away through the water holding hands. Aww.

2: Coldplay - Glastonbury 2005

It's cool to hate on Coldplay, but hey I'm not cool and I'm proud to declare this was one of the finest headline shows I've ever seen, eclipsed only by REM and Radiohead in 2003. I was taken ill during the early part of the show, deliriously convinced I had been standing on a Cotswold Stone bridge yards from the stage and being carried unconscious out of the crowd by my friends. I came to, delighted to find I hadn't died or been trampled into the Worthy Farm mud, and the rest of the set was a masterclass in performing to a large crowd on a stage where many more experienced bands have fallen short. The fireworks erupting from the top of the Pyramid as Fix You kicked in is an image that will forever stick in my mind, while my best mate, who watched the second half of the set convinced he was in the long, white inner corridors of a large spaceship with Coldplay playing at the other end, will probably have enjoyed them rather less.

1: REM & Radiohead - Glastonbury 2003

Two incredible nights back to back at what remains one of the finest festivals I've been to. Glastonbury 2003 seemed to be the year that the current trajectory of expansion, invention and growth began after the disappointment of a slightly underwhelming 2002, and having two of the biggest bands in the world on the Pyramid certainly helped. I watched REM on the Friday night alone, stood on a bench high up the right-hand side of the field. The bench gave me an extra two foot and an unobstructed view over 70,000 heads to the stage. Michael Stipe's vocal performance was the most complete and affecting I've witnessed at a gig of such scale, and REM were simply immaculate as 20-odd years of brilliant material rolled by. They looked thrilled to be there, too. Radiohead watched from the side of the stage and gave an equally captivating show the next night, finishing with Karma Police and an aboslutely huge crowd singalong of "FOR A MINUTE THERE, I LOST MYSELF". The bootleg of Radiohead live at Glastonbury 2003 is still one of my all-time favourite albums.

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