Aretha Franklin Dies
Glastonbury 2015: The Who Rocks the Crowd, Kanye West Goes Solo, and More Highlights From This Year's Festival
Less a festival, more a pop-up city set over 900 acres, in a time when hundreds of British festivals are competing with one another, Glastonbury remains king. The site is so vast and potentially disorientating that guided tours are now offered for overwhelmed newcomers -- a far cry from the days, particularly in the early '90s, when a sense of chaos and lawlessness was evident, leading to a disturbing gang-related shooting incident in 1994. Those days are long forgotten and since the "super fence" was erected in 2002 to keep out the criminal element, Glastonbury has maintained the laidback atmosphere it was founded upon back in 1971.
The weather here is notorious though. In rain-lashed years the onsite conditions can be hellishly muddy, while never entirely dampening the spirits of the revelers. This year, the forecast was mixed and, as if on cue, come Friday and Alabama Shakes' mid-afternoon set on the iconic Pyramid Stage, the skies opened, forcing a frantic donning of plastic ponchos in the crowd. "Sorry for the rain, hope you don't mind," apologized Brittany Howard as the band turned in a powerful performance in spite of the downpour. Two hours later, on The Other Stage, West London funkers Jungle channeled Sly & the Family Stone, as the sun began to break through the clouds, the bad weather forgotten once again.
The same stage saw Mark Ronson later turn in a thrilling appearance, bringing Boy George on for an enthusiastically-received "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me," before an all-star cast of Grandmaster Flash, George Clinton and Mary J. Blige arrived for a climactic "Uptown Funk." Over on the Pyramid, Florence + The Machine stepped up as headliners to replace Foo Fighters, due to Dave Grohl's leg-breaking calamity. Florence knows Glastonbury well. "The first time I came here I didn't even have a tent," she announced to massed whoops after performing a brass-driven acoustic tribute cover of the Foos' "Times Like These. It was a triumphant performance by Welch, who was clearly energized by the experience and went on to spin Prince, Kate Bush and Ike & Tina during an after hours DJ set backstage at The Park area.
Saturday afternoon found Leon Bridges offer up his southern soul in the intimate tented stage of William's Green, the audience response so great that there's little doubt he'll be back to play one of the main stages next year. After a patchy set by Pharrell Williams on the Pyramid ended with the massed crowd dancing of "Get Lucky" and "Happy," the assembled were primed for the main attraction.
The most controversial Glastonbury headline booking since Jay Z in 2008 (for a festival which doesn't traditionally favor hip hop), Kanye West took to the Pyramid Stage on Saturday night with the knowledge that over 130,000 people had signed a petition protesting his presence (organizer Emily Eavis claiming she'd even received death threats in the wake of his announcement). One British newspaper speculated that he would be showered with bottles of urine.
It was important for him, then, to make a hell of an entrance. Both Jay Z and, in 2011, Beyonce decided to go immediately in with the big guns, opening with their best known tunes. Wisely, Kanye did the same, with a double whammy of "Stronger" and "Power" which, with the sky lit by flares and a chaotic atmosphere in the crowd, gave the opening a sense of dangerous occasion.
Four songs in, with "Black Skinhead," there were gasps and some confusion when a stage invader crashed the proceedings, running towards West in a T-shirt emblazoned with "Lee-Zus". Instantly grabbed by a security guard, it quickly became clear that he meant the rapper no harm, being UK comedian Simon Brodkin in his guise as character Lee Nelson. Later he claimed he had planned to interrupt the gig as a protest against Kanye's treatment of Taylor Swift at the MTV VMAs in 2009. Still, forced to restart "Black Skinhead," it temporarily put West off his stride.
There were two ways this set could have gone -- hits-heavy crowd pleaser, or avant garde hip hop sonic terrorism, cut up with lengthy rants. In the end, it was a bit of both, though minus the rants. Pacing backwards and forwards under a lowered lighting platform which added intimacy to what was essentially a one man show, the mid set sludged, into deep cuts, often beatless, losing the momentum.
Just as this most party-friendly crowd began drifting out of the field, a second run at "Touch The Sky" after a long pause due to a technical hitch kicked everything up a level for a triumphant last run of "All Of The Lights" and "Gold Digger." But Kanye remained a man alone, under a bank of bright light. A brave way to take on Glastonbury but not an entirely successful one.
Sunday morning and the rain was back. But only temporarily, holding off for a stirring early afternoon set by Patti Smith, battling through with a sore throat. To some astonishment, she brought the Dalai Lama to the stage, asking the crowd to sing "Happy Birthday" to him for his 80th. He cut a cake and gave a moving speech about living every day with a positive attitude. It was this year's Glastonbury Moment.
Or maybe that belonged to Lionel Richie, in the traditional late afternoon "legends" slot previously occupied by Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash. He has the hits to keep the enormous crowd he attracted very, very happy: "Three Times A Lady," "Brick House," "Dancing On The Ceiling" all followed, every one a winner. He left the stage appearing taken aback by the audience's astounding reaction.
But Sunday -- and possibly Glastonbury 2015 itself -- was ultimately won by The Who. "We've got a job to do tonight which is to send you home happy," declared Pete Townshend. "And maybe a bit deaf." They did just that, in spectacular style. Backdropped by film montages of their younger selves, which added a sense of history (and poignancy) to the proceedings, over two hours they thundered through "Who Are You," "The Seeker" and "The Kids Are Alright" before ending with a furious "Won't Get Fooled Again."
Referring to Kanye West's boast the previous night that he was "the greatest living rock star on the planet", Townshend grinned, surveyed the ecstatic crowd, and wondered aloud, "Who's the biggest rock star in the world?", to a roaring response. Recently, he confirmed that 2015 will mark the end of the band, after 50 years. This may not be their last ever gig, but in the story of The Who, there's every chance it'll be remembered as one of their finest moments.