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READING 2011 Review

Reading, along with Bestival, is the last big party of the summer and formerly the rockiest. Download may have stolen its metal crown but the fun has by no means disappeared with the leather.

One of the best things about the festival is that the stages are so close to each other.

So if on the Friday you fancied catching both Miles Kane and the Minutes - who performed in different tents at the same time - you could; as long as you didn't mind getting a soaking, that is.

Happily, Jared Leto's Thirty Seconds to Mars brought the sunshine with them from LA later in the day and proved to be one of the more credible acts fronted by an actor turned musician, thanks to their uncompromising grunge.

Liam Gallagher's Beady Eye also had some top tunes - all of which sounded exactly like Oasis.

Better by far were the exuberant Mariachi El Bronx (singer Matt Caughthran, above) who, along with the seemingly ageless Madness, were among Saturday's highlights.

There may be a bit more branding, and a lot more neon face paint, on show, but this Reading festival of 2011 is not so far removed from that of 1992. Not if you're watching Yuck, anyway: young Brits well-versed in the spirit of grunge - although their take on slacker rock is more Sebadoh mope than Nirvana rage, introspective verses building to choruses dotted with crayon-scrawl guitar solos.

In fact the group's stoner vibes suit today's weather perfectly. Apart from a short but torrential shower early morning, the sun has finally decided to show its face today, making Saturday an ideal time to roam the site checking out its myriad distractions: patches of chocolatey mud, roaming groups of young men dressed as monkeys or tigers, a sound not unlike heavy artillery as you walk past the Lock Up tent.

Many, though, are over at the main stage, watching Seasick Steve. It's quite impressive, how Steven Wold has managed to craft his unprepossessing backstory (he slept rough for a bit in the 1970s) into a festival-friendly persona: the loveable hobo. He is, undeniably, an entertainer: see as he pulls a young woman from the crowd for an earthy serenade, or unveils a musical instrument made from a Morris Minor hubcap stuck to a broomstick. Even when it's just him and his band playing, though, his chunky blues churns along like a combine harvester.

Following is a bit of a mid-afternoon lull. Madness play to a crowd eager for the hits, who nutty-dance and join conga lines to One Step Beyond and Baggy Trousers.

The Kills' skeletal blues-rock still sounds a little studied and insincere.

Everything Everything marry plaintive indie songs to sparkly 80s synths and tricksy dynamics.

But the next truly great set is from New York's the National. In black-clad frontman Matt Berninger, they have a singer with a glorious, lugubrious voice, and in the band, a force sharp and sensitive enough to pull back and let him do his thing without interruption. For all their anthemic builds, songs like Bloodbuzz, Ohio and Mistaken for Strangers are laced with messages of isolation and anxiety, which seems a weird fit for something as communal as a festival - but if the National prove anything, it's that a lot of people feel lonely, even in a crowd.

Julian Casablancas lacked the energy of Berninger or Suggs and co. The much-anticipated set by his group, the Strokes, was jam-packed with hits but their studied ennui has grown a bit, well, boring.



All of which meant it was left to Pulp to steal the show, their flamboyant, hip-shaking pop as potent as it was 15 years ago.

"Do you remember the first time?" asks the big screen on the main stage, just before Pulp arrive.

Many up the front were but a twinkle when Sheffield's finest debuted Common People here, back on this day in 1994 - "Who was here?" questions Jarvis. "Who was born?"

Not that it appears to dampen anyone's ardour - and who can blame them, because this is an imperious set, ranging from a perfect F.E.E.L.I.N.G C.A.L.L.E.D L.O.V.E to a glorious Misshapes, its line about "The future that they've got mapped out/ Is nothing left to shout about" sounding more contemporary than ever.

Jarvis jumps from towering speaker cabinets, lies horizontal for some athletic hip-thrusting during a torrid This Is Hardcore, and dedicates Joyriders to "the rioters", quipping "they weren't rioting, they were just playing Grand Theft Auto outdoors".

Honestly, it's hard to imagine how their reformation could have been handled any better.

Best performance Pulp.


Best discovery Josh Widdicombe - funnyman.


Overheard "I hope the person who felt my cock was a woman" - Tyler of OFWGKTA gets a crowd-surfing surprise.