Green Man’s eclecticism and its aspirations to host a gender-balanced lineup are summed up by its sequencing of the Americana and sweetly sombre melodies of singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers straight after the insouciant and spiky Goat Girl.
The Walled Garden is entranced by Bridgers’ gently stern set, her suited band quietly reinforcing her powerful presence. Emily Retsas on bass matches Bridgers’ platinum blond hair but takes on the role of groom to the white-clad singer’s bride. The elaborate lace bodice of Bridgers’ dress contrasts with the daring and stark simplicity of its sheer skirt.
Saturday ends with two powerful and popular American performances on the Mountain stage, and a total techno triumph in the Far Out tent from Simian Mobile Disco and the Deep Throat Choir. John Grant charms the masses gathered under the Black Mountain, playing in between LA-based Welsh guitar queen Cate Le Bon and headliners Fleet Foxes. “Isn’t Cate Le Bon great. I think she’s one of our greatest singers. And I know I’m right,” Grant intones. His confessional electro takes him from a central pair of keyboards to a synth then another electric piano, as he delivers ‘Marz’ and ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’, in which the legendary Budgie takes his first heroic drum break of the night.
Grant explains that he has a new album coming out, so he’s singing the old songs, before his deep, huge voice fills the perfect, rounded ‘It’s Easier’. People sing along to ‘GMF’ but, after struggling with the pitch, Grant confesses, “I can’t make it to the end of that song anymore.” He battles through epic new song ‘Love Is Magic’ before Budgie takes another turn on huge mallets, standing at his drum kit, during the epic ‘Pale Green Ghosts’. Grant’s voice is powerfully soft and unforced during ‘Glacier’ — when he’s hitting all the notes, his singing is remarkable and moving. Baroque theatricality adorns ‘Queen of Denmark’, Grant’s piano playing to end ‘Caramel’ silences the vast crowd, and he treats them when there’s still time left for ‘TC & Honeybear’.
The biggest crowd of the weekend is drawn to Green Man favourites Fleet Foxes. Front man Robin Pecknold reminds the audience that they’ve chosen this festival for their only UK appearance this year, at the end of an 18-month tour. The crowd really get going when debut single ‘White Winter Hymnal’ skips into its multi-part harmonies like a traditional round. The mellow, folky Fleet Foxes are a typically oddball choice of festival headliner, but Green Man gets away with it.
People sing along with Pecknold and the Seattle group’s setlist manages to double Seamus Fogarty’s earlier stage-appropriate reference to the mountain (‘God Damn You Mountain’), with ‘Blue Ridge Mountains’ and ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’, while ‘Ragged Wood’ and ‘Drops in the River’ also seem geographically pertinent as the rain hovering above the Black Mountains backdrop holds back from the festival site.
Simian Mobile Disco and the Deep Throat Choir at Far Out overlap with Fleet Foxes, but there’s nothing mellow about their techno dance-trance. The electro duo of Jas Shaw and James Ford use the all-female choir like another bank of modular synths but, because their singing includes comprehensible phrases, they give a humanity to the cold machine-made washes and beats, elevating the dance music into a hypnotic force of nature.
All in white, standing on tiers either side of Simian Mobile Disco’s decks of analogue sequencers and computers, Deep Throat Choir’s vigour and passion help get the Far Out tent dancing for over an hour until past 1am. The set is based on this year’s collaborative album ‘Murmurations’ and the screen at the back of the stage shows transforming organic forms that pulse with the music. The mesmeric rave ends with an encore of ‘Sleep Deprivation’ that sounds in part like a brilliant Simian sampling and reworking of A Forest by The Cure — an all-time dance classic.
The Far Out breakthrough act of the day are Bo Ningen. Usually a refuge from the rain, the Far Out tent (up the hill from the Mountain stage) this year is hot and sweaty. Dark and intense, it’s the perfect setting for Bo Ningen and their unique blast of hard edged and wild space rock. They hammer together motorik Krautrock, psych, metal-punk and drone. For good measure, the London-based quartet throw in Japanese rap, trap and disjointed no-wave.
Never content to stand still, Bo Ningen relentlessly experiment with noise, playing new tracks and confounding expectations. A slow industrial tune with heavy bass segues into a single guitar motif with a distinctly melodic twist, but this slow dance vibe suddenly turns heavy and accelerates, all the while continuing with the initial theme as vocals echo spatially. That tune slows to a groove, ending, until a roar of feedback heralds the next. Cymbals crash, huge Goth chords resonate, a speedy bass riff alternates, and guitars sound like rocket ships.
If Motörhead had ever crossed genes with Joy Division, the result might have come close to this thrilling neo-alien creation. The Far Out tent loves every second of their closing 13-minute number, especially the three-minute finale, when bassist/singer Taigen Kawabe plays at the crowd barrier, bass held vertically, while a guitars is thrown wildly around on stage. A riff repeats relentlessly as the band leap and dance wildly, hair flying. It’s an outstanding set drawing a huge response.
Another band to win new followers at Green Man are Goat Girl. Over in the Walled Garden, they say this is their “favourite festival” and they seem to have more fun on stage than usual, breaking into big grins as they “embrace the imperfections” in their performance of ‘Throw me a Bone’ (“a sea shanty”, says lead singer Clottie Cream (aka Lottie Pendlebury) and when they cock up the breakdown of the swaying, sinuous ‘Scream’. The scuzzy majesty of Goat Girl is developing before our very eyes, as they mature from students of DIY into a mighty band of influencers.
For such short songs — the get through 17 in about 40 minutes — Goat Girl compositions are remarkable for their cinematic scope. They generate awesome power, especially when the front three harmonise over a wall of noise. ‘The Man’ is combustible and elastic. ‘Crow cries; is short and sinister. The drumming by Rosy ‘Bones’ Jones on several tracks, such as their cover of ‘Tomorrow’ from ‘Bugsy Malone’, is monstrous. ‘Mighty despair’ grows in intensity through machine gun drumming, violin, and guitar interplay by Lottie and LED (aka Ellie Davies). Sadly, Green Man is one of the last Goat Girl gigs to feature Naima ‘Jelly’ Zeit, as the enigmatic bassist has decided to move on to break new moulds.