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2000trees - Upcote Farm, Withington - July 11-13 2013 (Live Review)

Thursday, 18 July 2013 Written by Ben Bland

Another year, another weekend of getting soaked to the skin while watching a selection of the finest British bands around. Wait a second, what’s this? Arriving on site for the early entry Thursday night line-up, the sun is out, with barely a cloud in the sky, and the temperature is rocketing. This is pretty much a 2000trees first, and a welcome relief after the mudbath that was last year’s event.

Still, with cooling cider helping to soothe some sweaty brows, it’s up to britrock supergroup Freeze The Atlantic to kick off 2000trees. Sadly, their ability to pen hooks isn’t really backed up by much else. Max Raptor have a bit more oomph to them but are made to sound rather tame by the bizarre off-tempo ramblings of the JCQ, whose newer material is something akin to what Refused would sound like if they took equal influence from samba and jazz. 

The Xcerts are altogether more straightforward, and the crowd greets them like old friends, but there’s no hiding that a new album is needed soon after a wait of nearly three years.

A solo set from Frank Turner seems, unsurprisingly, to be the main attraction for those who have made it down for the Thursday, but obviously Future Of The Left provide the best set of the evening. It’s just what they do.

On Friday, the Main Stage kicks off with an impressive set from the Retrospective Soundtrack Players, whose two albums to date are based on Cool Hand Luke and The Catcher in the Rye respectively.

Knowledge of either isn’t necessary to enjoy their songs, which tread the line between alt-country and spiky indie rock. If only the Crimea had some of the same zip about them. Sadly their dour Bad Seeds-aping sound falls flat as a pancake in the bright sun. Mental mathsters Axes and art poppers Emperor Yes impress far more on the Cave and the Leaf Lounge respectively, injecting energy into their tunes with gleeful abandon.

The afternoon proceeds with a similar success: failure ratio. Hold Your Horse Is, Black Moth, Gunning For Tamar and BATS are all brilliant, especially the latter, but Nine Black Alps sound like they should have stayed in 2005 where they belong, and Empress seem to struggle both with their sound and with the heat. Meanwhile, local heroes Jim Lockey & The Solemn Sun own the Main Stage, as if any other result was possible, but the ultimate success story of the day is Ben Marwood, who draws a huge crowd to the Greenhouse for his early evening set. Surely it’s his turn to get a snatch of the Turner/Lockey limelight now?

After underwhelming sets from a severely out of sorts Funeral For A Friend and the horribly floppy King Charles, the Main Stage waits expectantly for Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls and their headline set. Since he last topped the bill here Turner has played Brixton Academy, Wembley Arena and the Olympic Stadium so a small field near Cheltenham proves little challenge. It all feels a little too predictable now though, especially in comparison to the brilliantly barmy Adebisi Shank, who headline the Cave at the same time.

Saturday in the Cave is brusquely shunted into existence by Grappler, whose set of savage emotional hardcore is one of the highlights of the weekend. Cauls are more esoteric and, dare one say it, “progressive”, but are equally enthralling, while Woahnows are wonderfully infectious. Bovine bring the riffs and Crash Of Rhinos bring the offbeat Braid/Unwound-influenced sound of the 90s. By this point, the Main Stage has already witnessed strong showings from Andy Oliveri and Stagecoach, but also disappointment in the shape of the terminally dull TTNG.

It’s up to Fighting With Wire to get things going again, and they make a good fist of it on the occasion of their last ever show on English soil. We Are The Ocean also put in a good shift, although it’s fairly Marmitey stuff, but then so are both Dry The River and Stornoway, who follow them to gently accepting, if not exactly joyous, receptions.

One band that does get a seriously rapturous welcome is the Physics House Band, who pack the Leaf Lounge out for their instrumental Mars Volta-influenced mindfuckery. It’s great stuff but lacks the subtlety of Her Name Is Calla, who arguably provide the set of the weekend with their draining, achingly beautiful post-rock. Their bassist, John Helps, soon pops up again on the Cave with Maybeshewill, who get such an immense reception that all five members look overwhelmed with gratitude. It’s a fine moment for one of the hardest working bands in the country.

It’s left to Mystery Jets to close the Main Stage for another year, but surprisingly they draw a fairly average crowd and while they are far from offensive, they also feel like a bit of an anti-climax. In contrast, despite not being at quite their very best, And So I Watch You From Afar decimate the Cave. Onlookers spill out of the tent as the Northern Irish quartet reconquer the same land they won so decisively back in 2011.  

It’s a weekend of successes, that much is for sure, and pleasingly many of the highlights come from bands new to the festival. There’s still a great deal of pleasure to be gained from watching old Trees favourites like Marwood and Maybeshewill come back and impress, but this is a festival about far more than the predictable names. Impeccably organised as ever, with great food and drink, and even with great weather, 2000trees 2013 is another triumph for this most passionately organised of all UK festivals.

Click here to see more pictures from Matt Williamson's superb 2000trees gallery.

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