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Pop / Rock 28/08/2003

Reading Festival 2003 (Part 2)

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Gillingham, Kent, UK (By Mikey) - One of the smallest tents of the festival, one of the most unremarkable stage set-ups, but by far and away one of the loudest noises you're likely to encounter all weekend. We are, of course, talking about The Black Keys - just how do two unassuming young men make such a bloody racket?!

A two-piece from Akron, Ohio, The Black Keys sound like they've lived at least twice their twenty-odd years and picked up numerous tales of heartache along the way. As indicated on their recent LP, 'Thickfreakness', singer Dan Auerbach has the sort of full-throated vocals that suggest years of hard drinking, whilst drummer Patrick Carney is simply a power machine of beats and rhythms with the unrelenting focus of a seasoned pro.

Many comparisons have been drawn between this bluesy duo and that other chart-straddling two-piece from Detroit, but though their instrumental arrangement may be similar, there are no fashion gimmicks and - one assumes - no divorce papers in the world of The Black Keys. And you can't see either of them becoming media personalities either. In this band, the music always leaps right to the centre of the stage.

Auerbach and Carney appear to be totally obsessed with their instruments, to the point where sometimes, it seems they've forgotten the crowd exists. During 'Breaks', Auberach becomes so intertwined with his guitar it looks as though he's trying to wrestle it to the floor and with upcoming single, 'Have Love Will Travel' the fans become almost as immersed in the music as the band themselves - it's like rock hypnotherapy. Ones to watch.

Placebo have arguably been handed the worst slot of the day. Lumbered with the unenviable task of following The Darkness and burdened with preceding the US duo Blink and Link', Brian Molko's men make the most of a bad lot. They know what it feels like to be the most talked about new band around but the memory must have faded over the seven intervening years.

Today, Molko's nasal whine and the band's synthetic tone grate ever so slightly under the scorching late afternoon sun. Even his newfound love of dropping dance loops and samples into the mix cannot masquerade the fact that times have changed and Placebo simply haven't. Still they toll away and promise to eclipse their esteemed company when they rip through the instrumental opener 'Bulletproof Cupid' but they can't sustain the impetus even if 'The Bitter End', 'English Summer Rain' and 'Black-Eyed' strive to. A tough slot but someone had to fill it.

As the sun drops gradually out of the early evening sky, shooting blinding last-stand rays plumb into your eyes, the darkness has already fully descended inside the Radio 1 tent. Clearly, Justin Hawkins is nowhere to be seen. Instead, four sartorial Americans stride onstage, to inject their brand of gothic, dramatic, taut sedatives. Around 12 months after they started to attract the kind of attention a globe-straddling killer might inspire in their covert investigative namesake, this is the perfect setting for Interpol.

Pink, purple and blue colours blitz the faces of the band, as they draw the mangled, skyscraping collapse of 'Untitled'. Frontman Paul Banks, frozen in an ice block of his own cool, offers the opening statement of intent - "I will surprise you some time, I'll come around" - menace dominating his deep timbre, and we're immediately locked into a rapidly shrinking room.

The band, now surely due some time to consider their next move and the chance to sculpt more of these angular, intense, driven anthems, are, nevertheless, the polar opposite of listless. Sharp, constrained amphetamine pogoing accompanies the epileptic, allergic reaction of 'Obstacle 1', whilst a magnificent, draining 'NYC' pins you dead to the spot. At the close, as guitarist Daniel Kessler detunes his guitar, droning black, diving Tornado notes in a turbulent 'The New', it's clear we are now ready for the next chapter.

Meanwhile, even Radio 1 Stage invitees Elbow have sound trouble. Nods are exchanged and fingers pointed skyward anxiously during the opener, the gloriously unrelenting 'Fallen Angel'. Halfway into 'Ribcage' the sound engineers prove that, with a little effort, it can all come good, And, when Elbow's intricate, borderline 'prog' music sounds good there are few more entrancing propositions amongst the bands on offer this weekend.

Glimpses of the band that were here in 2001 emerge as Richard Jupp thrashes around his drum kit for 'Red' and 'Bitten by the Tailfly'. It was this whirling matrix of rhythm that kicked the music around and kept it from slipping into a Blue Nile/Talk Talk-induced slumber. But new album, 'Cast Of Thousands', opts for the guitar grind over dancing percussion, only painting the full majesty of Jupp's colours all over the hymn-like 'Grace Under Pressure'. The song easily eclipses usual highlight 'Newborn'.

Hollowed into a well-worn groove in the Brit music tradition, Elbow may not offer the full Shock Of The New that The Dutsuns and their ilk so studiously avoid. But, when the tenuous balance between Guy Garvey's soft incantations and their ethereal instrumentation skips on those tightly strung Jaki Liebezeit grooves, they provide some kind of blissful escape from Blink 182. Everyone likes a laugh and there is a (small) place for comedy in rock music but Blink 182 are plain laughable. Not because they're funny. Quite the reverse, they clearly aren't and never were or will be. No, these dumb-asses (their words, not dotmusic's) are so hilarious because they've been getting away with it for so long. If tonight is anything to go by, neither goofball Tom Delonge or Mark Hoppus can actually play their instruments or even sing. If either had an ounce of the talent that their walking tattoo gallery of a drummer Travis Barker has, then they'd be the best band in the world. He's wasted on them.

Instead the '182 fumble around like puerile 30-something teenagers grasping with their adolescent humour - shagging dogs, sh*t gags and parental references (use your imagination, they don't) - while frankly making tits of themselves. Delonge confesses to being out of shape - it's painfully obvious - while it's more fun guessing who's going to be more out of tune when they swap vocal duties than it is to listen to their inane, and clearly over rehearsed, banter.
If only they spent more time practising and writing tracks as good as the pure unadulterated romps of 'What's My Age Again', 'Rock Show' and 'All The Small Things'. Not even fireworks and a flaming backdrop can disguise the fact that Blink turn-in a shoddy set. Punk rock lives on but not through these jokers.

The prospect of Linkin Park concluding day one can't prevent some heading for an early train but, its not the exodus the cynical amongst you would have imagined. "So how many of you out there are hardcore Linkin Park fans?" asks Mike Shinoda seemingly irony-free. A half-hearted response doesn't dim the band's enthusiasm but these same indecisive masses are seconds later bouncing around to LP's next serving of bit-size pop metal. You just can't help yourself.

After the preceding shambles of Blink 182, Linkin Park's professionalism is, for once, welcome. The post-illness Chester Bennington looks even more brittle than usual while, perversely, his bandmates seem to have been enjoying the culinary perks of life on millionaires row. Bennington is still not 100% though as he refers to Placebo as the "best f*cking band in the world" and says he's so happy he could s*it himself. They are the thoughts of one sick man. Get well soon Chester.

With only two albums worth of tunes to draw, it's amazing how much of a greatest hits feel their set possesses. 'Faint', 'With You' and 'Somewhere I Belong' are rattled off and anthemic choruses are piled high, which is probably just as well. The key to LP's success tonight is they leave you little time to stop and think. In the cold light of day, they deal in nothing more taxing than shouty generic nu metal.
Somehow, it's enough.

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