Latitude Festival: Sunday - Henham Park, Southwold
An overcast morning on the final day of Latitude Festival begins with a question: have they really put Future Islands on one of the smallest stages? Surely that’s an error?
Firstly though, a massive crowd awaits the midday arrival (delayed by some 17 hours) of Manchester’s finest, James. Despite all the rain and thunder of the night before the BBC 6 Music Stage is a sweltering sweat box of bodies, a feeling usually reserved for later on in the day. Tim Booth, typically enigmatic and energetic, is in fine voice, sounding better than has at times in the past. Despite talk of putting the set list together on the fly it feels top heavy with new stuff - only ‘Come Home’ makes it from the big tunes - not necessarily the festival set you'd expect. Typically truculent. Conversely, Valerie June isn't someone you'd expect a mainstream crowd to get: she's kooky, verging on the strange. But the crowd at the BBC 6 Music Stage seem to get her. The fact she's got some great tunes helps. ‘Workin’ Woman Blues’ is a fantastic song, and for all her crazy auntie talk of "baby" (her tiny ukulele) she's a skilled performer.
He might not look like your typical pop star, more like some guy working in Tesco, but George Ezra is a perfect booking for Latitude. A Radio 1 mainstay he does it for the younger festival goers, but his voice and stories of finding himself on his travels are timeless, appealing to everyone over 20. He doesn’t do anything exciting but he has a definite way with a melody and a hook. 'Cassy-O' is only the second song in but gets the tent singing. And that voice - he's a man born in the wrong century.
The rest of the afternoon brings a taste of a variety of acts: the melodic Americana of The Jayhawks, the shouty but popular lo-fi punk-pop of New York’s Parquet Courts, and some reasonably unmemorable chilled out pop from hotly tipped Woman’s Hour. All are topped by the surprising entertainment of The Voice vocal coach Juliet Russell teaching how to sing Christina Aguilera’s ‘Beautiful’, a surprisingly technical song.
Late afternoon brings another set of New Yorkers in Augustines, their anthemic and uplifting rock is a welcome fillip late in the festival weekend. Sadly, that’s not sustained by Haim who are playing the last gig of their tour in the Obelisk Arena. They’re simply trying too hard. Este’s now famous “bass face” is almost self parody, and the reality is they don’t have the quality of song to sustain an hour set. Maybe touring fatigue has taken its toll but they're mightily underwhelming. With that it’s time to see how many people are crammed into the woods, and the iArena, for Future Islands, an almost literal demonstration of an overnight success. 'A lot' as it turns out, but there’s still some room. Whether you buy into frontman Samuel T Herring's performance or not you can't deny the commitment he gives every song. Rarely has a man sweated so much for his art. Combine Herring with the songs and you have the performance of the weekend. ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ almost brings the tent down, and 'A Song For Our Grandfathers' is touching, sentimental, and the only time the frontman stops moving. Herring's dance moves are infectious, the throng in front of the stage grooving incessantly. He growls, stares, dances, sweats, and pleads his way through their half hour. Thrilling, showstopping stuff.
Back on the BBC Six Music Stage The War On Drugs are proving any remaining doubters wrong. What can seem overlong on their recent records sound vibrant in the flesh. ‘Under The Pressure’ is thrilling and works excellently with the improvisation and space that the live setting gives it. Tame Impala, on the Obelisk Arena, are a good lead in to Sunday nights headliners as they do the retro-shoegaze-flowerpower rock thing well.
When headliners The Black Keys arrive it’s for a set that runs low on talking, high on guitar and drum rock blues, and satisfies more than it might on paper. They’re now honed to within an inch of perfection, but that leads to almost carbon copies of album tracks. Although they’re not hugely original they take the format to a new scale. When tunes like ‘Gold On The Ceiling’ and ‘Howlin’ For You’ come and go you can understand why. The real highlight is their regular closer ‘Little Black Submarines’, a slow burning explosion of a song. Another headliner triumph for Latitude, the “more than a music festival” that gets its music right.
Photograph by Jen O'Neill.