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Bestival - Robin Hill Country Park, Isle Of Wight - September 5-8 2013 (Live Review)

Monday, 16 September 2013 Written by Ryan Crittenden

The last hurrah of the summer? The most underrated festival in the UK? Whatever you want to label Bestival as, you can be sure that you’ll have one hell of a time exploring the concoction of spectacular visuals and great artists assembled by festival curators Josie and Rob Da Bank.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, this year’s theme was HMS Bestival and in now traditional fashion festival-goers and organisers went all out to ensure that everyone was going to be nice and nautical. Be it the 40 foot rusty anchor that hung from the main stage or the tremendous new addition, The Port, a yacht complete with gyrating sailors and fire breathers, HMS Bestival’s maiden voyage was a roaring success.

M.I.A. attracted a massive crowd for Thursday’s opening festivities and while the star ran through a selection of well-received hits, the amount of people and some issues with sound left many disappointed.

As the sun rose on the Friday, Wu Tang Clan tees were rife around the site and despite news filtering through that key members of the troupe were not going to be making an appearance, a big audience still gathered at the main stage. Doubts about the performance were confirmed as the show felt flat and lacklustre, and not even Gravel Pit could rescue the set from the stupor.

Having been away for some time, Bombay Bicycle Club were greeted with a tremendous ovation at the main stage. Their performance was refreshing, harnessing the energy and appeal that initially drew fans in with new tracks sitting nicely alongside the familiar numbers. A closing duo of Always Like This and What If reminded everyone that Bombay are still up there with the best of the current crop of indie bands.

The draw of thumping bass lines and smoke signalled the arrival David Rodigan. He did what only he can and his set was treated with reverence, while Flaming Lips brought the crazy as the rain really began to fall. In the Replay Tent, Peace seemed like the right move for many. Their set was as impressive as ever, with their revamped dance number 1998 and a cover of Disclosure’s White Noise getting the tent moving.

The highlight of the day undoubtedly proved to be London Grammar. The three-piece, led by singer Hannah Reid, released their debut to critical acclaim last week, and despite tonsillitis her stunningly dreamy vocals were backed brilliantly with minimal accompaniment. Wasting My Young Years and a cover of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game sent shivers down the spine.

At The Port, Richie Hawtin and Seth Troxler lit the place up. Throbbing bass, dizzying lights, dancing sailors, fire breathers, and breathtaking acrobatics all provided a spectacle good enough to match the music and mood.   

Saturday, though, is the day Bestival comes alive. Various sea creatures, sailors, pirates, monsters, boats, swimmers and Spongebobs roamed around, stopping for pictures and joining in the truly marvellous fancy dress parade. The Roots got the party started as the parade passed the main stage, with an energetic set full of familiar songs. As a group of David Seamans set up a penalty shootout in the middle of crowd, the unparalleled atmosphere continued to surprise by the time Rudimental arrived. The vast crowd reflected their recent chart success and the liveliness of the band spread like wildfire to provide one of the moments of the festival. Feel The Love got the main stage going and the band can look forward to plenty of crowds like this in future.

As the fancy dress outfits became weathered and the night drew in, it was over to old favourites Franz Ferdinand to warm the crowd up for the headline act. Dressed in suitably nautical striped matching tops, the Scottish quartet delivered a hit-filled set that provoked mass singalongs. Their self-titled debut album is nearly 10 years old but it was hits like This Fire and Matinee that not only sounded fresh but left the crowd not caring about the heavy rain. Franz’s most recent LP ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’ is their best in some time and new tracks Evil Eye and recent single Right Action sounded great. The obvious highlight for all in attendance was a frantic rendition of Take Me Out, but dropping a segment of Donna Summer's I Feel Love into Can't Stop Feeling was the icing on the cake.

Snoop Dogg/Lion was a lot more Dogg than Lion as he danced around with a cartoon dog and got a lap dance from scantily clad women. Serving up a number of classic hits like Gin n Juice and Drop It Like It’s Hot and not showcasing his new ‘reggae’ alter-ego much was a good decision. The set was dominated by cover songs from the likes of Calvin Harris (Feel So Close) and House of Pain (Jump Around) as Snoop was aided by an autocue screen at the front of stage. It was nothing spectacular but closing song Young, Wild and Free was appropriate and well-received.

Post- Snoop,  with love in the air, the ’Big Love Inflatable Church’ offered the chance to get “married”, but for others Hot Natured at the Big Top was arguably the best place to be, and Jamie Jones and Lee Foss were on top form. House favourite Benediction was the highlight, as members of the audience were held aloft around the tent to enjoy the moment.

With smudged body paint and bedraggled outfits still knocking about, the final day of the festival came around all too quickly. There was only one name on everybody’s lips - Elton John. There was plenty to enjoy in the build up, though, with Dub Pistols doing their very best to shake away any blues.

Chic feat Nile Rodgers rolled out their parade of hits and had every single member of the audience shaking what they had left in the tank. Rodgers pulled out all the stops with disco anthem after disco anthem as he reliably informed the crowd that every single hit Chic would be playing on Sunday night was written by him. Some have called it arrogant, but if you are responsible for writing songs like Madonna’s Like A Virgin and David Bowie’s Let’s Dance you have every right to brag. Kimberly Davis’s lead vocals and Rodgers’s funk guitar sent the Bestival crowd into a frenzy with a mass Le Freak blowout to end proceedings.

Elton John hadn’t headlined a UK festival since 1969 but apparently agreed to play Bestival because he was told “it’s a fantastic show to play.” Sporting a marvellous blue jacket covered in sequins and emblazoned with the title of his 1971 LP ‘Madman Across The Water’, the 66-year-old gave it everything and then some more. His two hour set was a real crowd pleaser that included hits from his five-decade career. Tiny Dancer paved the way for a barrage of hits. Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time) was met with an enormous ovation, matched only by the out of tune, passionate singing that the unforgettable chorus wrought from the 50,000 strong audience.

Throwing some new songs in the mix, Elton had Bestival eating out the palm of his hand. Many voices were lost during hits like Crocodile Rock, I’m Still Standing and Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me. Lighters were aloft for Candle in the Wind  and Your Song was a perfect ending to a near perfect set in which the showman brought out all his tricks.

After a wonderful firework display closed the main stage, it was left to James Blake to bring everything back down to earth with an incredibly deep show at the Big Top. Tracks from both his most recent album and his stunning debut were well received as revellers succumbed to a trance like state, with Blake closing his set beautifully with his take on Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You.

Early bird tickets for Bestival 2014 are on sale now.


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