In a week where I’ve seen a British Sea Power at the Roundhouse, I also got to see one of their contemporaries, a band they supported in their early days, The Strokes.
It’s the summer, so it’s time for Hyde Park to fill with the beautiful people of London who are looking for an easy festival to get drunk at with their friends. I’m all for easy festivals, more please, but these Hyde Park gigs do attract a ‘certain type of indie kid’.
It’s a few years since I’ve been to a Hyde Park gig. Organisation was much better than previous years and the festival site is rammed with places to eat and drink. It’s also much more commercialised, with Barclaycard and Playstation stages. But more stages, more music.
Arriving just after 4, I found Public Access TV playing a fairly empty Barclaycard stage. This is the stage nearest the entrance and it’s empty. I felt sorry for them. It’s not great playing the first set of the day. But they put in a decent set and it was appreciated by the small crowd.
Heading off to the main stage, it there were already a few thousand listening to Syd Arthur. I’ve seen him before. The music’s okay but I didn’t feel it transfers to a big festival stage.
Next up, a favourite of mine, The Wytches. The Barclaycard stage doesn’t appear to have been given much space, but sadly, every time I visited it through the day, it didn’t need much. Another small audience watched the Wytches play a mixture of old songs with one or two interesting sounding new songs. Kudos to the kids who’d bothered to head to this stage with their impromptu and good natured moshing. There was even some crowd surfing. A good effort at 5pm. Though I think they might need work on how to not drop their friends head first over barriers!
Back to the main stage and Future Islands. They’re not a band I listen to, I’m not particularly sold on their synth pop sound. But they more than held my interest. This was mainly down to their singer. Who works hard to make their material dynamic. I think I now understand their appeal. It’s Jack Black dad dancing and fronting a synth band – and I mean that as a good thing.
Public Service Broadcasting, are one of my current favourites at the moment. Some say they’re a band for geeks because they write songs to accompany historical clips. But I enjoy the nostalgia. Their current album about the space race has really grown on me. Today’s set lacked the normal visuals. I thought might lessen the experience, but it didn’t. The band were in ‘good humour’ (they speak to the crowd through canned samples) and the crowd around me appreciative, with Spitfire going down well.
Probably like most my age. Beck’s Odelay is both a classic, and the the last album of his we own. Beck clearly knows this, starting off with classics to win the audience over before playing newer material. I wasn’t sure what to expect from him. But I was pretty impressed. He tackled the set in the right manner. Give us what we want. Obvious highlight was ‘Loser’ but even the material I’m not familiar with kept me interested.
With a decision between seeing the Temples and Hinds, I opted for Hinds at the small bandstand stage. I’d seen the girls earlier in the year and they were infectiously fun. So I figured this would be the better option on a summer’s evening. I’m glad I did. Even the sound issues they took in good humour. But a black mark against security. Hinds were the last band on stage and invited the audience onto stage and specifically asked Security to allow everyone up. However, Security instead of opening the barrier, stopped everyone, forcing people to go over the fence. Lighten up guys. The band’s okay with it. In the end about 20 made it past the barriers and Security and joined Hinds customary last song party.
So finally on to the main event. The Strokes.
Ah, the Strokes. They’ve never appealed to me. I’ve assumed I must be doing something wrong. Whereas the majority of indie kids in the early ‘00s were into bands like the Libertines and the Strokes, they passed me by. I was more interested in quirkiness of British Sea Power and I think that’s where my problem lies. Whereas BSP have a wide catalogue with different musical influences, from intimate songs, to arena songs, bands like the Strokes are creatively broken. They wanted to be a big rock band, worked hard and became one. But once there, didn’t know where to go and churned out albums devoid of originality. (Luckily BSP lacked the work ethic to become big!). Once you are a stadium rock band, you have to write anthemic songs to keep the bums on seats. Doing a ‘Led Zeppelin 3’, isn’t something most bands are going to risk and they most certainly didn’t.
Some bands are lucky to have created a distinctive sound that allows them to churn out new albums that sound similar. For all their faults, bands like U2 and Muse, have a distinctive sound. The Strokes? What’s their sound, other than a pastiche of what became before them with a ‘garage’ ethos. How do you keep a ‘garage’ ethos when you’re one of the biggest bands on the planet?
For me, it’s clear they now keep the band going to make money. After yesterday’s performance, I’m more than ever convinced I made the right choice in the early ‘00s. Most of the audience were not interested in music. They don’t want bands to challenge them. They’re not interested in new music. They just want to go to a field every so often, drink, eat and sing to anthemic rock. I’m not having a go at these people. I’m glad they were enjoying themselves. But they missed some great bands on the other stages. If they’re happy with blandness. Good for them. I’m not.