There are many reasons for the mess at Glastonbury, but it seems to be a real three-pipe problem. How this year’s festival got itself into a pickle by hosting ancient hard rockers Guns N’ Roses as its Saturday main act, while one of today’s biggest pop stars, Lana Del Rey, performed a set has been controversially shortened, as he performed in the same. time at low level?
To a mystic-minded onlooker mindful of the ley lines that supposedly underlie the Worth Farm site of the festival, this strange confluence of events was the result of bad magical energy. Or, to put it more pragmatically, the fracas at the top of the bill marked the fatal culmination of a disappointingly conservative set of choices for this year’s headlining acts.
The opening night saw Arctic Monkeys take over the main Pyramid Stage, the third time an indie rock band had done so. Meanwhile, Elton John is due to kick off the closing ceremony on Sunday with his last show in the UK. This momentous event, which will be reviewed tomorrow, would be even more significant if Elton were not saying goodbye to the world since the start of his grand farewell tour in 2018.
On Saturday, it was the turn of dinosaurian Guns N’ Roses to make their Glastonbury debut. The best that can be said about this selection is that it would have been a coup in 1991. Lana Del Rey, appearing on the second biggest other stage that same night, clearly didn’t seem impressed about playing second fiddle to a legacy act. She reached her place 30 minutes late and the power was switched off in the middle of the set amid the din. More about this later.
Compensating for this questionable line-up was the most important headliner of all, which could be obtained for neither love nor money. Warm summer sunshine shone throughout the festival, giving the 210,000 people present on the sprawling 900-acre arena good vibes and bad sunburns. Vibes won over Sunburn. Even the most swarthy of persons showed glimpses of satisfaction at their painful condition. It’s better than trench foot.
On Friday the West Holts stage was inaugurated by Star Feminine Band of Benin. “We are the same,” said the all-female troupe, dressed in identical African patterns, in unison. Mostly teenagers, they are a rarity in their homeland where music is dominated by men. His songs were a mix of catchy melody and defiant message. When one of them announced, “Ladies, stand up!” So there was a wave of happiness. — an unexpectedly smart sentiment for Glastonbury in 2023, with its all-male headliners.
Another African act opened the Pyramid Stage on the same day. The master musicians of Jouzouka are a traditional Moroccan troupe, whose pipes and percussion wall-of-sound drown out the electronic wump-whmp-whmp of the surrounding sound systems. To ears untrained in the nuances of Sufi trance music, they resembled a Scottish bagpipe group playing free jazz, a formidable sonic proposition.
Amid an abundance of uninspired rock productions, American rappers were in short supply. Earl Sweatshirt turned out to be one of my favorite performances of the first two days, an excellent exercise in freewheeling stoner rap, but it was hidden away on a tiny stage. In contrast, UK rappers were better represented, making a welcome disruption to legacy acts and comfortable fetishism.
Stormzy’s triumphant headline run in 2019 has made Glastonbury the perfect destination for UK rappers, a green and pleasant area that hasn’t always suited their style. Digga D’s show at the Woodsyz tent started off slow – “I gotta conserve my energy,” raps the Drill MC over a lazy beat – but built up to the raw, thrashing feel of an old-school rap gig picked up speed
Central C brought pyrotechnics and urban regional slang about “ops” and “ends” to their sunset appearance on the Other Stage. The screams from the front attest to his popularity, the first UK rapper to achieve 1 billion Spotify streams in a single year. But the relatively low turnout across grounds demonstrated Glastonbury’s ongoing challenge to forge a contemporary musical identity for itself.
A huge crowd waited on the Pyramid Stage for Friday’s “mystery” act called The Churnups. The misplaced secrets were the Foo Fighters, with new drummer Josh Freese replacing Taylor Hawkins, who died in 2022. Their leader, Dave Grohl, threw himself into their set with lots of shouting and frantic beats on his guitar. The flares were lit as if it were a midnight headlining set, although the bright sunlight rendered them redundant. The sound was similarly destroyed by the gust of wind.
The songs had some unexpected classic-rock breakdowns. But the spirit of sameness remained, an enactment of tired rock festival rituals. “You know what we’re going to sing!” Grohl roared before launching into the signature hit “My Hero”. Predictability reigned supreme with this particular wonder band.
Arctic monkeys’ foray into the limelight is shrouded in mystery: Will they be able to do it? The previous show was canceled when singer Alex Turner was diagnosed with laryngitis, leading festival-goers to do extensive Google searches to check how long the symptoms lasted. But by Friday evening, Turner’s voice had returned. His dramatic rock-crown echoed across the vast night field, which was dramatically lit by the waning flames of daylight. A good mix of solo anthems and more sophisticated new material shaped up to be a difficult task for the festival headliners. Give them what they want, but make them want more.
The highlight of the first two days of my festival was the Sudan Archives. American singer aka Brittney Denise Parks wore a red belted outfit that gave her the look of a Marvel superhero. A bow for his violin was carried in a quiver on his back. Their music was a unique but cohesive blend of surreal pieces of R&B, electronic music, hip-hop and Irish fiddle-playing, presented with bravura stage presence. “I want the best,” she sang at one point, her voice akin to shouting: the best is what she has achieved.
Guns N’ Roses emerged on the Pyramid Stage to a smaller audience than the Foo Fighters or the Arctic Monkeys. Axl Rose ran across the stage like someone eager to prove he could still run. Top-hatted Slash played long solos with his eyes closed like a sleeping man. I made my excuses and headed out to catch Lana Del Rey’s set.
While we waited for his arrival, a rumor spread among the audience that he was not even in the UK. But then she hit it off with the fabulous “A&W,” a trip-hoppy torch song from her latest album. Del Rey sang well in a low voice that carried itself high with a deceptive impression of carelessness. The staging was a distinctly mystical affair with vigorous backing dancers enhancing the singer’s graceful calmness.
Their songs were quiet and composed, yet they managed to create an electrifying atmosphere. However, when she sang “White Mustang” the sense of occasion — and the feeling of seeing the true headliner of the evening — suddenly subsided. curfew was violated and the plug was pulled, leaving a good portion of its setlist unplayed.
Del Rey, a suddenly diminutive figure in white, reappeared on stage like a ghost, trying ineffectually to communicate. Whatever the reasons for her delay — she was getting a haircut, she had previously claimed — and no matter how understandable the licensing argument for forcibly ending her show, it was a disastrous conclusion to that night. The lack of excitement in Glastonbury’s headliners backfired.