Latitude 2008’s final day begins for many in the company of Joanna Newsom, scheduled to play at Somerset House in the evening but appearing as a special guest at midday on the Obelisk Arena. Though she is without her regular touring band and orchestra she delivers more than an hour of sensational, sprawling and delicate harp-led alt-folk, perfect pixie princess that she is. Time stands still along with the gawping, spellbound audience during the fifteen minutes of Ys standout ‘Emily’, and Newsom takes advantage of her captivated audience by road-testing three new songs – interestingly all of them piano-based. Then a bizarre episode occurs – she completely dries up midway through ‘Sawdust & Diamonds’, repeatedly forgetting whole sections of the (admittedly complex and abundant) lyrics. It is – she says, a little distraught – the first time this has ever happened, and despite audience prompting she appears absolutely incapable of finishing the song. The applause she receives is nonetheless rapturous – and what’s more, it is totally deserved, she is wonderful whatever.
For the rest of the day those who saw her revel in eulogising in front of those that didn’t. With the unenviable task of trying to follow that – the solid but unfortunately un-pixie-like indie rockers The Twilight Sad and Fields. The former manage to win a few friends who never knew they existed, whist the latter group precipitate a move towards the food stalls with a whole ream of new songs. When they finally play one we know – ‘Song for the Fields’’ – the backing track breaks down, which is why you probably shouldn’t play to a backing track.
The Great British Public generally get a bad rap – particularly when it comes to musical taste – but they don’t do themselves any favours at all. Those Dancing Days are charming and beautiful in the Uncut Tent, effortlessly delivering a string of brilliant pop numbers – why are the Swedes so good at it? – and are met with a mostly mute crowd, who prefer instead to knock a big balloon around for the entirety. Noah and the Whale follow, their cowboy-folk seeming contrived and unnatural in comparison – and frankly I find them a pretty irritating bunch to watch – yet they enjoy slightly maniacal ovations. That is the power of Radio One airplay, then, and how it utterly dictates audience response. The balloon pops – serves them right.
Meanwhile back on the Obelisk the rumoured Arctic Monkeys surprise set never materialises, but Foals – fresh from a fist fight with Johnny Rotten “and his meathead friends” – provoke one of the biggest reactions of the weekend (certainly the most crowd surfers), huddling tiredly together in the middle of the stage then throwing themselves around to the sound of their own melodic, electronic indie. Each song stands alone – unlike the slightly monotonous feel of their record – all of them inventive and excellent. Seeing them live makes you realise the depressing, often self-imposed, limitations of most current young British bands.
Unfortunately sound problems occur throughout Okkervil River, and a lot of the audience are simply holding down a spot for the following Blondie appearance. Try as he might, frontman Will Sheff can’t quite get wheels moving, with a stop-start rhythm to the whole set. They are a tremendous band though, and they show more than glimpses – but it leaves me fairly unsatisfied, with a desire to see them again.
I suppose you can’t really expect much more from a side project, and the fact that they are penultimate act of the Obelisk is testament to Nick Cave’s bursting musical brain, but Grinderman really do define Hit and Miss. At least they end on a good one (as it starts to rain hard) – ‘No Pussy Blues’ evoking a unique audience reaction of laughter and head-banging. And then the rain continues all through Interpol, the closing act of the festival. The sound is suitably epic and crisp, but I am just not sure that they have the catalogue of tunes or enough presence to fill this slot. I certainly enjoy it, but it is noticeable that they lose the attention of pretty much every floating voter at the back, and their light show is embarrassingly poor in comparison to Sigur Ros’ the previous night. I tell you what though – ‘Evil’ sounds bloody brilliant.
Incidentally I am writing this outside of the confines of Suffolk’s Henham Park, the festival is – as I write – well and truly over. I’ve not unpacked yet though, and nor have I showered. Just so you know…