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A review of...
Various Artists live at Split Festival, Sunderland (Sunday)
Some sort of hurricane remnants blight the Sunday of Split festival. It rained a lot, but luckily for me, most of the best bands are in tents, so I win. First up are Young Liar playing their first gig in nine months, not that it was noticeable, they are as devastatingly powerful as ever, with an excellent drummer, a tent shaking bassist and three guitarists, all adding their (required) layer of melodic noise. If Young Liar were from Glasgow they'd have been signed up by Rock Action by now, no question. After a performance like this it seems pretty pointless watching anyone else, but I persevered and was rewarded with a few other notable performances.
Many of the bands who played in tents today probably had their audiences doubled due to the weather and Iceni duly reward the casual shelterers along with their many local fans. They're a three piece that play powerful pop music (let's call it Power Pop), and the uplifting girl/boy harmonies really set them apart from the crowd. They also throw in the occasional disco tune and end with a rip roaring cover of "Gloria" from Flashdance.
Another packed out tent awaits Futureheads front-man Barry Hyde who is here to try out some tracks from his long awaited first solo record. It's probably a surprise to many, but pretty much all of these new songs sound like show tunes. Watched on by his fellow Futureheads, it's just Barry and his piano today (and quite the virtuoso he is! Who knew?) but you can definitely picture these songs blasting out in their camp glory in some West End theatre. A Tom Waits and a Prince cover seem to fit this style remarkably well, in what is certainly one of the most unexpected creative departures I've seen for a long long time.
Another local side-project, School Of Language, play a similarly well received set at Stage 2 (I'm still inside at this point). Their live line-up is essentially Field Music re-organised and today they sound extra funky. Songs from the recent Old Fears album find a new life on the live stage and David Brewis seems to be thoroughly enjoying what is sadly a rare live outing for this project.
Outside, Frankie & The Heartstrings, yet another product of Sunderland (this festival really brings home how many bands Sunderland, and the local vicinity, has produced over the past 10 years), are in full swing playing their modern indie anthems to the masses who've braved the rain. Sporting some fitting red and white leggings, Frankie Francis is a natural on the big stage and the atmosphere at Split is buzzing.
The Twilight Sad are not from Sunderland, there's no mistaking singer James Graham's broad Glasweigan accent, which dominates both the vocals and the mid song chatter. Opening with a spine tingling "Cold Days from the Birdhouse", the tent is throbbing with swirling noise and feedback. They are here to play 2007's classic Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters album in full so there's no surprises tonight, just a solid 45 minute run through. It does seem a bit early for a band as good as this to be looking to the past, but for those of us who missed it first time round it's a welcome diversion. This is the last time they'll perform it so there's a feeling of privilege and also hope that they'll be back in the studio soon to bring us something new.
For some reason there seems to be a slight air of "meh" in the crowd at the start of The Cribs' set, which even the Jarmans' ever enjoyable banter could not quite overcome. I suppose they do play quite a few non-hits for a crowd that had been weather beaten by a hurricane but it's easy to get people back on side when you've got "Hey Scenesters", "I'm A Realist" and "Men's Needs" up your sleeve.
I'm a long time Gruff Rhys fan, right back from seeing Super Furry Animals in Fuzzy Logic mode circa '96, so the chance to see him in the cosy Stage 2 tent was a real buzz for me. He plays some choice selections from his excellent American Interior concept album (plus an extra bonus of "Sensations In The Dark" from Hotel Shampoo), which are accompanied by an illustrative and consistently hilarious slide show. It amazes me that after all these years he's still finding creative ways to perform his music, in whichever project he's currently perusing. This American Interior phase will surely go down as a vintage period in his career so catch it if you can.
Maximo Park finish things off with a routinely energetic show. Based in Newcastle (via Billingham) they keep the North East flag flying and ensure that the crowd go home full of indie ear worms. Paul Smith only occasionally stops bopping around the stage to regale the crowd with local anecdotes (a bit of a Maximo Park history lesson), and they end with a final duo of "Apply Some Pressure" and "Girls Who Play Guitar".
Split is a festival that punched above its weight and ended up victorious.