It is a truth universally acknowledged that more draught lager is consumed when the sun shines. That wouldn’t normally be relevant to the Green Man festival in Wales, because it always rains. But this year is different. No rain! Lots of lager. Some of the bars even run dry of draught liquid gold by Sunday. But there’s canned lager, and plenty of cider and other ales available — this is also a beer and cider festival, after all.
Queues for food and drink are rarely too long at Green Man, as attendance is limited to about 20,000 — a fifth of Reading’s capacity, with its hoards of post-GCSE teenagers. The campsites are pleasant and trouble free, as genteel groups of all ages make their way in and out of the festival site with minimum fuss and maximum politeness. Litter is collected almost as fast as it hits the bins and rarely stays on the ground for too long in the rare cases that the tiny minority of recalcitrant festival goers leave it there.
Plenty of lager is still flowing from every bar at Friday lunchtime, giving an appropriately amber tint to the proceedings as Amber Arcades step onto the Mountain Stage. Annelotte de Graaf’s band perform mostly new material from forthcoming album ‘European Heartache’, blending Europop and Americana with touches of harder transgressive rock. Like many of the weekend’s performers, she is a returnee, having played two years ago before her sound and outlook had reached maturity.
The night’s headliners — King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard — are similarly welcomed back by Green Man regulars, many of whom were won over by the Australians’ take on psych-metal in the Far Out tent a couple of years ago. They play faultless heavy rock riffs and solos, crossing off the genre’s usual list of lyrical references — snakes, castles and the like. They’re so close to parody that you expect a miniature stonehenge and a troop of tiny dancing people to appear at any moment, but it’s all done with a sense of irony and fun. A big crowd headbangs happily as King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s smart juxtapositioning of serious musicianship and wicked humour fills the natural bowl in front of the Mountain stage.
Earlier, Joan as Police Woman delivers a soulful set, infused with everything from reggae and latin rhythms to funky and jazzy keys and bass. Falsetto backing vocals from her band sometimes verge on Bee Gees disco-pop, but she also shows a less mainstream and more discordant edge. Her cover of Prince’s ‘Kiss’ to end the set is a triumph, lapped up by an appreciative crowd.
Green Man goers are almost as welcoming of debut performances as they are of returning favourites. The Lemon Twigs joke that they aim to do increasingly less successful new tunes, so that the next time they play the festival it will be across the fields “by the pizza stalls”. Their high energy show puts 60s pop through a musical-theatre prism, giving a stagey feel to the earnest, passionate, big and blowsy tunes. It’s like watching a young Simon and Garfunkel attempting to perform songs from a rock musical. They belt out their numbers; they jump, riff and rock.
Many of the festival’s debutants are over on the small Rising stage, tucked away behind the ponds of Fortune Falls. Squid mash up punk jazz in the spirit of Rip Rig + Panic, throwing together trumpet, cowbells, broken guitar strings and organ, while also recalling Talking Heads. Most of the vocals are taken on by the drummer, aided by the guitarists, veering from throaty screaming to sinister chanting and speak-singing. As the set ends on an almost psychedelic ’60s note with ‘Terrestrial’, you can be sure they’ve listened to Captain Beefheart.
Rising on the first night is closed by Black Midi, who impress a packed crowd with their tight swerves from repetitive, edgy math punk rock into intermittent bursts of intense and energetic thrashing. Vocals are deadpan, spoken, melodic or babbled by turn. Rhythms are twisted and distorted. The drummer smashes it, while even the bassist’s emergency dash off stage to get a working instrument doesn’t put them off their angular stride. An abiding memory is of a mobile phone being used like a bow by one guitarist, the pick-up apparently amplifying the device’s ghostly voices.
Even more challenging than Black Midi are Gentle Stranger, who come onto the Rising stage earlier, provoking a rush to the front by an expectant crowd of art students. Trombone, alto sax and accordion give way to declaimed Dadaist poetry, guitars, drums and flute. At times, the noise is almost entirely generated from riser boards, members of the band crouching on the stage twirling knobs. The skirted accordion player wanders topless through the crowd; unrhythmical chanting accompanies loud drums, clapping and electronic noise. It feels like an art school graduation project that’s about to fall apart under its absurdist premise, but in reality this set’s been honed and rehearsed into a tight and perversely entertaining no-wave performance.
The unique Gentle Stranger take their name from an HMLTD lyric. Talking of which, HMLTD storm the Late Night slot at the Walled Garden, finishing after 2am. They decorate the stage with white artificial flowers and super-sized black paper bottles that double as dancers’ hats. Such is their enthusiasm that guitarist Duke slips over onto his back during opener ‘Proxy Love’ and, later, charismatic singer Henry Spychalksi hops onto monitors that wobble precariously and totters atop the small crowd barrier during ‘Kinkaku-Ji’, after saying: “I know it’s a little late, but let’s step it up”.
He’s taken his coat off and will soon be reduced to little but silky boxing shorts (boxing not boxer). Drummer Achilleas and bassist Nico deliver a big deep beat to guitarist James’ great riff in new song ‘Loaded’. ‘Death Drive’ is typically dark and cinematic in the style of David Lynch. ‘Music’ and ‘Is This What You Wanted’ (“this is a dancing song,” Spychalksi says) are tight, controlled dance music.
Spychalksi has total power over the crowd as they mosh delightedly during ‘To The Door’ and rapturously as he belts out the words to the dark trap-beat dance finale of ‘Stained’. Masked dancing extras throw the giant paper bottles into the crowd, while an asteroid-like globe squirts gunge, leaving just a dancing Duke and thrashing, exultant Spychalski on stage. HMLTD produce an exuberant and exhausting end to Friday at Green Man.