Festival Review: Oxegen @ Punchestown, July 8th – 10th 2011

Posted: 19/07/2011 in Uncategorized
FRIDAY
Clare Maguire – 2FM Hotpress Academy Stage

A thumping intro to ‘Ain’t Nobody’ announces Clare Maguire’s arrival onstage, and even before she sings her first note hopes are high that this could be a top performance. But hype can often work against an artist – a scenario that’s becoming all too familiar when it comes to Clare Maguire. Debut album Light After Dark was good, but not great – and the same can be said of Maguire’s set tonight. Her voice is undeniably impressive – but it’s almost as if she doesn’t know its own strength, losing control of it at the most inopportune moments. However, also much like the album, there are very distinct highlights – singles ‘The Last Dance’ and ‘The Shield’ and ‘The Sword’ are thoroughly enjoyable, Maguire feeding off the energy of the crowd’s reaction and taking her performance to another level. In contrast – the less said about that Kanye West ‘Love Lockdown’ cover, the better.

Tinie Tempah – Vodafone Stage

The mass appeal of Tinie Tempah is truly admirable. Debut album Disc-Overy has brought him chart success, critical acclaim, and fans from all different spectrums – and it’s all for very good reason. Arriving onto the Vodafone Stage to a hero’s welcome, he wastes no time getting the crowd to go absolutely nuts, and it’s a standard that remains for the duration of his set. He’s quite the entertainer – Tinie says “jump”, and the crowd don’t even have to ask how high – they just do it. ‘Written in the Stars’ is a highlight, a word-for-word sing-along, given a new and almost epic lease of life when performed by a full live band. It’s a case of ‘dance or be danced on’ as the opening beats of Sweedish House Mafia collaboration ‘Miami 2 Ibiza’ kick in, and before we know it, it’s time – ‘Pass Out’ is unleashed, and all-out madness ensues. WHAT a way to close a show. Tinie Tempah gave the Oxegen crowd a set which was nothing short of brilliant – long may he reign supreme.

The Naked & Famous – 2FM Hotpress Academy Stage

As the masses stampede towards the main stage to nab a good spot for The Script, little do they know they are by-passing the beginnings of what turns out to be one of Friday’s highlights. The Naked & Famous arrive onstage amidst a haze of smoke and blinding lights – and from the word go they completely own that stage, bringing the tracks of debut album Passive Me, Aggressive You to life with an impressive flair. Furious guitars, poppy synths and thumping drum beats blend seamlessly, and the dual vocals of Thom Powers and Alisa Xayalith barely falter throughout the set. The best is saved for last – the gradual build of ‘Girls Like You’ from subtle intro into all-out chant-along is thrilling, followed by the song that kicked things off for these Kiwis – the brilliant ‘Young Blood’ – ensuring a frenzied finish.

The Black Eyed Peas – Main Stage

The air of anticipation amongst the gigantic crowd awaiting the arrival of main stage headliners The Black Eyed Peas is infectious – it’s hard to resist being sucked in by it all. The group certainly know how to make an entrance – it’s pure spectacle from the offset as they begin to churn out their arsenal of chart hits; and, helped by the fact that that they sound a lot more in tune than usual, it’s all actually rather enjoyable. That is, until halfway through when Will.I.Am takes it upon himself to spoil the party by indulging in a completely unnecessary (and sub-standard) DJ set. The crowd react accordingly, dispersing in every direction to seek out alternative entertainment. Yet it just keeps going… and going. When it’s FINALLY over, a visually stunning performance of ‘Boom Boom Pow’ serves as a reminder as to just why these guys are one of the biggest pop acts on the planet, and the closing duo of ‘The Time (Dirty Bit)’ and ‘I Gotta Feelin’ get the kids dancing again – but really, the Black Eyed Peas never regained the momentum they built up during the first half of the set. There’s a lesson to be learned here – do NOT ask Will.I.Am to DJ your next function.

SATURDAY
Little Green Cars – Heineken Green Spheres Stage

Little Green Cars were named as one of State’s ‘Faces of 2011’, and for very good reason. The young six-piece kick of Saturday’s proceedings on the Heineken Green Spheres Stage with an impressively polished performance. Little Green Cars have the kind of raw talent that is genuinely exciting – their musicianship is top notch, their vocals – in particular, those brilliant harmonies – are incredibly tight, and their songs are festival anthems in the making. The band’s debut single on UK label Young and Lost Club, ‘The John Wayne’, is due out on July 25th – here’s hoping it’s the beginning of something truly special.

Just press ‘play’ and check out your new favourite up & coming Irish band in action:

The Minutes – Vodafone Stage

The duty of restoring order to the Vodafone Stage following the abomination that was Amanda Brunker’s ‘performance’ falls to The Minutes – and there are no better men for the job at hand. Opening with a thundering rendition of the brilliant ‘Black Keys’ , it’s clear from the get-go that The Minutes are here on a mission to rock Punchestown to its core. The songs of debut album Marcata are delivered with such incredible confidence and flair that a stage of this magnitude quickly seems like their natural habitat. They certainly make a lot of noise for a three-piece – it’s a ferociously rocking sound. ‘Fleetwood’ plays the role of natural crowd-pleaser well, but ‘Believer’ and ‘Gold’ manage to trump it; and a manic rendition of ‘I.M.T.O.D’ proves the defining moment of a set which saw The Minutes take on the might of the big outdoor stage and come out victorious.

Post-gig RTÉ Ten interview with The Minutes…

Hurts – Vodafone Stage

Just as serious fear-of-missing-out is setting is due to a flurry of tweets describing how Two Door Cinema Club are playing an absolute stormer on the Main Stage, Manchester synth-pop duo Hurts take to the Vodafone Stage and almost instantly dispel any desire to be elsewhere. 2010 debut Happiness is the kind of album which gradually got better with every listen – but experiencing the songs performed live just makes a whole lot more sense of what Hurts are all about. They are very aesthetically pleasing as a unit – singer Theo Hutchcraft’s style of performance is captivating, the backing band are all clad in black and white and looking rather dapper, and there’s even an opera singer decked out in a full-blown tuxedo. But it’s not all about the style – there’s a whole lotta substance on offer, too. The anthemic ‘Wonderful Life’ is an early winner, with the crowd giving back just as much as they’re getting. A cover of Kylie Minogue’s ‘Confide In Me’ is just weird enough to work – if one didn’t know better, it could easily pass for an epic James Bond movie theme. ‘Better Than Love’ and ‘Illuminated’ are nothing short of brilliant, and an emphatic performance of ‘Stay’ firmly establishes Hurts as one of the highlights of Oxegen Saturday.

Plan B – Main Stage

Benjamin Paul Ballance-Drew – better known as Plan B to the main stage masses – is somewhat of an enigma. You just don’t expect that kind of powerful voice to come out of him – and when it does so at full throttle, it’s genuinely impressive. Concept soul album The Defamation of Strickland Banks proved a huge success as Plan B carved a whole new niche for himself on the chart scene, and it’s easy to see why. He is a very unique performer – and backed by a fantastic team of musicians, he puts on one hell of a live show. Unfortunately, it begins to wane halfway – foiled by a stage slot that was unnecessarily long, resulting in the churning out of pointless covers (Kanye’s ‘Runaway’, Seal’s ‘Kiss From a Rose’, and ‘Ben E. King’s ‘Stand By Me’ to name a few). Thankfully, thrilling performances of smash-hit singles ‘She Said’ and ‘Stayed Too Long’ are saved for last to reel it all back in and end the show in style.

Paolo Nutini – Vodafone Stage

If there’s one sound that can successfully drown out the impressive racket that Arctic Monkeys are making on the Main Stage, it’s the ear-piercing screams that welcome Paolo Nutini to the Vodafone Stage. Paolo-mania has set in – and amidst a sea of revellers clambering up onto each other’s shoulders in a bid to either be noticed or simply get a better look, it’s impossible not to be sucked in by the whole experience. Launching into the rather catchy ‘Jenny Don’t Be Hasty’, Nutini has the crowd hanging off his every note – they know the words just as well, and perhaps better, than he does himself. When the Scotsman croons, the ladies swoon – but disappointingly the performance of ‘Last Request’, Nutini’s standout ballad (and an all too frequent casualty of X Factor auditionees), is completely underwhelming – played acoustically, it loses its all of its original charm. A far superior slow-set comes in the form of the sweet and soulful ‘No Other Way’, backed up with some brilliant work from the brass section. Nutini’s lively numbers are what really shine tonight however – and ‘New Shoes’ is the standout of the set which, it must be said, created an atmosphere that was nothing short of electric.

SUNDAY

The Rubberbandits, Main Stage

What’s a Sunday morning without a good strong dose o’ mass? As the campers crawl out from under their hangovers to face day three of the gauntlet and mingle with the very fresh-looking day trippers arriving in their droves off the buses, The Rubberbandits are in their element on the Main Stage providing revellers with their own unique brand of religious experience. Backed by a team of gyrating altar-boys and a supporting cast including Judas Iscariot and God himself, Blindboy Boat Club & Mr. Chrome put on an extremely well worked out show which proves the perfect way to start the day. Please repeat the responsorial psalm – “I’ve a horse outside”.

HILARIOUS:

The Saturdays, Heineken Green Spheres Stage

By day three if anyone is still struggling with the notion that pop reigns supreme at Oxegen, a quick trip to the Heineken Green Spheres Stage would’ve proved a point – mainly because they wouldn’t have gotten in. The Saturdays quite literally packed the place out – it’s all sexy outfits and synchronised struts but these girls can sing, and the reaction to chart hits such as ‘Ego’, ‘Higher’, and the super-fun take on ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ cover is rapturous. It’s a hero’s welcome home for our very own Una Healy, and she responds accordingly by encouraging deafening chants of ‘Olé Olé Olé’. Sure it’s cheesy, but also rather endearing. The Saturdays are no Girls Aloud and probably never will be – but they certainly ain’t no Wonderland, either.

Fight Like Apes, Vodafone Stage

Success inevitably brings promotion up the bill at festivals – and Oxegen 2011 sees Fight Like Apes set free from the confines of a tent and into the great wide open. It’s no small challenge considering they’re up against the might of major pop draws The Saturdays and Ke$ha, but fresh from a series of UK festival slots including an acclaimed performance on the prestigious John Peel Stage at Glastonbury, the Apes more than rise to the occasion. It’s a colourful affair – the boys clad in neon morph suits which leave little to the imagination, and painted mannequins dotted around the band’s stage setup. Fight Like Apes’ festival set-list is spot on – the only brief respite from the hyperactivity is ‘Thirsty’, which goes down a treat. ‘Digifucker’ proves the highlight, heralded by MayKay and Jamie scaling the side of the stage to bash their beloved scaffolding poles together (with their new mannequin friends very soon afterwards feel the wrath of said scaffolding poles). If there’s one downside to Fight Like Apes in the great outdoors, it’s the limitations on the traditional venture into the crowd for ‘Jake Summers’ – restricted by the lack of cordless mic and a rather large gap between the stage and the front row of the crowd, stage diving antics just ain’t feasible. But where there’s a will there’s a way – and kudos to Security Guy #2011 who seemed completely unfazed as the leading lady clambered atop his shoulders and hitched a ride to greet her adoring fans in the front row. A wholly entertaining performance from Fight Like Apes. The main stage beckons.

Dan Hegarty chats to the Apes before their Oxegen set…

Friendly Fires, Vodafone Stage

It is beyond clichéd to talk about the weather in relation to Oxegen – but really, it does make the difference. As Friendly Fires treat the Vodafone Stage crowd to their impossibly catchy brand of dance-punk, the sun comes out to play and you can almost physically feel the mood lift. Friendly Fires are in full-on party mode, and the set is a dance-along affair from up in the pit right back to the groups chilling out on the grass and soaking it all up from a distance. Working their way through the best of both 2009’s self-titled debut and recently released follow-up Pala, it’s an impressive set and certainly not short on energy. And, should Ed Macfarlane ever see fit to take some time out from music and give dance classes, we’ll be first in line.

Jimmy Eat World, Vodafone Stage

There’s only one authentic way to experience a Jimmy Eat World gig, and that’s to be right up the front in the mosh-pit with all the faithful fans embracing their buried teenage angst. Jimmy Eat World have an impressive discography to their credit, but it’s the songs from Clarity, Bleed America and Futures that consistently garner the most raucous of receptions. Kicking things off with ‘Salt Sweat Sugar’ ensures that it’s a high-octane affair from the offset. The band slow things down ever so briefly for ‘23’, which turns out to be the defining moment of the set – the word-for-word singalong is powerful. Jimmy Eat World have no shortage of fan-favourites, but it’s ‘Pain’ and ‘The Middle’ that cause the mass hysteria this evening – it’s a case of jump-or-be-jumped upon for the latter. There’s no ‘Hear You Me’ but it’s probably for the best – we are at a festival after all, best to keep the urge to go home and have a cry to a minimum.

Beyoncé, Main Stage

Having purposely abstained from reading the setlist or watching any footage of Beyoncé’s much discussed Glastonbury set a fortnight ago, the prospect of tonight’s performance is both unknown and particularly exciting. The draw of the world’s biggest pop superstar proved crippling for The National’s simultaneous set on the Vodafone Stage as a gargantuan crowd flocked to the Main Stage – stretching back as far as the food stalls on all sides. The sense of anticipation is palpable and, when she does arrive on stage, rising into the view, the place goes predictably nuts. It’s testament to her stature within Planet Pop that she can confidently kick things off with her two biggest hits to date, ‘Crazy in Love’ and ‘Single Ladies’ – both inspiring full and eager participation from the masses. With a back-catalogue at her disposal that most pop stars can only dream of, the set flows seamlessly. Her all-female band are on top form, and the technical choreography is mesmerising. And then there’s that ever-distinctive voice – her rendition of ‘1 + 1’, sung atop the grand piano, is quite simply stunning. The singles of most recent release 4 go down an absolute treat – most notably ‘Run the World (Girls)’, which induces near-hysteria. But despite her phenomenal solo success, Beyoncé certainly hasn’t forgotten her roots, either – a medley of Destiny’s Child hits is a delight for long-time fans. What is most admirable about Beyoncé is the fact that she doesn’t need to rely on smutty over-share lyrics, controversial outfits and raunchy dance routines in the same way that her fellow female superstar counterparts so often do. Fittingly, ‘Halo’ brings the spectacle to a close, with Ms. Knowles taking off down to the front row to share the moment with her adoring public (kudos to the lad who gave it his all in spite of being tone-deaf when she offered him the microphone to sing a line). She came, she saw, she conquered with an iconic performance that may come to define this year’s, pop orientated, festival. All hail Queen B.

‘Irreplaceable’ performed live at Glastonbury – brilliant.

Coldplay, Main Stage

It’s no easy job to follow the Queen of Pop, but a personal endorsement from Beyoncé herself and the sense of excitement around Punchestown suggests that Chris Martin & Co. are more than able for the challenge. Coldplay are one of those spilt down the middle love-’em-or-hate-’em kind of acts – their die-hard fans obsessive, their opposers outright dismissive. I have always been the latter – but have been told that to see them live is to love them. And they certainly do put on one hell of a show. They are a captivating band to watch, and anthem after anthem the audience participation which they inspire is goosebump-inducing. Their lighting and visuals setup adds an awful lot to the whole experience, too. The standard of the performance is so high that it’s hard to single out highlights – but ‘The Scientist’, ‘Clocks’, and ‘Every Teardrop is a Waterfall’ are fantastic, ‘Viva La Vida’ causes all out madness, and ‘Fix You’ is incredibly poignant, the sound of thousands singing its refrains as fireworks explode above a truly special moment. Martin most definitely did his homework before making the trip to Punchestown, engaging in some banter as Gaeilge, and – in a move which nobody predicted – inviting local hero Christy Moore onstage to perform a duet of what he claims is one of his favourite songs, ‘Ride On’. An epic set and a fitting way to close Oxegen 2011. With the chant from ‘Viva La Vida’ reprised consistently by the crowds on the walk back to the campsites and buses, Coldplay have managed what seemed almost impossible – bringing a genuine sense of community to a festival that has had its ups and downs over the weekend. Consider me converted.

‘Fix You’ live at Glastonbury – a powerful moment of live music:

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