Rock Werchter, Werchter, Belguim, July 2008
A last festival hurrah for us, as we were leaving the UK at the end of the year and returning to NZ. Criteria: as many bands as we could see in one go, but ultimately chosen because Radiohead were one of the headline acts. Werchter has been going for years and years, it takes over an entire village near Leuven (home of Stella Artois), and though it may lack the hippie vibe of Glastonbury, these big European festivals are amazingly well run and have great facilities. Your festival ticket entitled you to free second class public transport to and from the site. Collect 10 empty cups, take them to the bar, get a free beer. And, you could take booze in as long as it was not in glass vessels. Result - boozed Belgians, sometimes weeing right next to you in the crowd. Splish, splosh, splash. This time we went in a group of about 30-40, largely Kiwis, but with many reps from other nations. A brilliant time had by all, as we all camped around our central marquee/gazebo. Bands? Well, this is who I definitely remember we saw: The Chemical Brothers, R.E.M., Lenny Kravitz, The National, Vampire Weekend, Neil Young, Jay-Z, Slayer, Radiohead, Sigur Rós, Kings of Leon, Editors, The Hives, Gossip, MGMT, Deus, Beck, Kaiser Chiefs, The Raconteurs, Underworld, Grinderman, Mark Ronson, Hercules and Love Affair. It caters for a lot of tastes, and it made for a good atmosphere - even the locals just came along not knowing who bands even were. Some asked us who The Kaiser Chiefs were, then said they’d been coming for 20 years. Standouts were many and varied amongst all of the above. Slayer were feckin’ awesome, a real surprise for me. The fun fare had a Guitar Hero stand set up you could play, but it was monopolised by Slayer fans playing very fast - I thought I was out of my depth. This was the year Jay-Z was doing Glastonbury, and a lot of douches were saying “hip hop can’t do festivals”, but he was pretty impressive… huge live band, horn section, and totally got the crowd moving. The National were amazing live. Bloody amazing drummer, all those instruments making the different textures, what a band! First time I had ever seen Beck, and he has a wicked back catalogue of tunes to work in with his Modern Guilt album. Grinderman were hilarious and intense, dirty rock n roll by your dads… a return to Birthday Party style chaos for Cave. Neil Young’s was a long & relaxing late afternoon set. I was stoked to see him live, and here all those tunes from his immense songbook played loud. He is a grumpy old git, maybe that is why I love him. Underworld and The Chemical Brothers were both their usual excellent selves. Sigur Rós blew us away. What a mad stage show: harps, angels, string sections and a choir-sized vocal backing. Absolutely stunning… couldn’t understand a word of it, “plinky, dinky, plinky”. Radiohead deserve a massive nod as well… and the set, dominated by songs from In Rainbows, was a lesson in live shows: band tight as a duck’s proverbial, the mix was perfect, and a lighting show that was confoundingly epic. Honestly, despite all their studio trickery and electronics, I still find them the most rewarding band to see live – it all works perfectly live. Distil all this to one song? That maybe the hardest choice yet in this little project, what with all those bands as listed above… but I think I will choose Sigur Rós and ‘Hoppípolla’ because it was unbelievably beautiful live, and because 18 months later (like heaps of people surely, it’s such a emotional piece of music) we used it as the entrance music to our wedding. Rock Werchter: best time ever. In Belguim. Didn’t see that one coming.