Live Review: Electric Picnic 2012 – Friday 31st August

Posted: 05/09/2012 in Uncategorized

As published on in the aftermath of the weekend…

Cold Specks – Crawdaddy Stage

Electric Picnic marks only the second occasion Al Spx and her band of merry men, a.k.a Cold Specks, have made the trip to Ireland. Having dazzled at last year’s Other Voices festival in Dingle, hopes are high to see how her self-professed brand of ‘doom-soul’ translate into a festival environment. It’s an unfortunate time-slot, with majority of revellers still grappling with their ground-sheets and tent-poles in the campsites, but for those who made it into the Main Arena nice and early to catch this set a real treat lay in store. Working through the tracks of stunning debut album I Predict A Graceful Expulsion, Cold Specks craft a beautiful barrage of melody – her live ensemble is hugely impressive, with an array of percussion, guitars, brass and strings. At the centre of it all are the visceral tones of her incredibly powerful voice – Spx has the ability to stir the soul with her raw yet velvety vocal magnetism, delivering strife-laden lyrics that are evocative to the core. Debut single ‘Holland’ and ‘When The City Lights Go Dim’ stand out, but it’s the beautiful rendition of ‘Winter Solstice’ that steals the show. She lifts her dark spirit momentarily with a completely random acapella rendition of the theme to ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ – but overall, it’s more than a delight to revel in her misery, and we look forward to seeing it all unfold again in the more intimate confines of The Sugar Club come October.

Alabama Shakes – Main Stage

“We’re so glad to be back in Ireland… and I think I even saw the sun earlier!”says a shocked Brittany Howard to a rather sizeable crowd at the Main Stage who are only too glad to be in her company as well. All the way from Alabama, this four piece make their return to Ireland thankfully liberated from the cavernous Academy 2 where they made their Irish debut back in spring and out into the great wide open. Their eponymous EP brought them attention, and debut album Boys & Girls brought them to the masses – and today they treat the Stradbally crowd to the spoils of both, with their influences proudly on show creating a laid-back classic rock n’ roll feel-good vibe. All-conquering debut single ‘Hold On’ is unleashed surprisingly early in the set, the song that has become overplayed on the airwaves to the point of being an annoyance suddenly regains all of its original charm as the refrains spill out over a sun-kissed audience, who are all too happy to lend their vocal skills. Hearing Bethany Howard speak between songs is almost as much of a treat as hearing the melodic might of her in full song – that southern drawl is so charming, and her anecdotal nature makes her all the more endearing, particularly in the case of the back-story for the album’s title track. If there’s a complaint it’s that an hour is too long of a set – a nip-n-tuck down to 45 minutes might’ve served them better – but Alabama Shakes are undeniably an impressive live outfit, and we look forward to seeing what they’ll have in store for album #2.

The Jezabels – Crawdaddy Stage

The Jezabels have been gradually climbing the ladder of musical fame in their native Australia for a few years now, and last year’s Electric Picnic saw them make their much-revered Irish live debut as a hotly-tipped yet relative unknown entity. One wildly successful debut album in the form of Prisoner later, and having sold out the Button Factory back in May, they’re a band in demand this Friday evening. All menacingly clad in black, they waste no time in revealing their epic sound, walking a fine line between slow-burning gothic emo-rock and floor-stomping indie. Throughout it all, the common thread is Hayley Mary’s fantastic vocal performance – ‘City Girl’ is an early highlight for that very reason, she is completely enthralling to watch in action, traversing every inch of the stage with her commanding presence. The song that introduced many to The Jezabels in the first instance, ‘Endless Summer’ unsurprisingly proves the highlight – all the more apt when played on the eve of the calendar turning over to September. We were unconvinced by their display as a headline act in a smaller venue, but tonight The Jezabels prove their worth as a festival band emphatically, an epic force of visceral indie-rock.

The xx – Main Stage

It’s hard to believe that it’s been three whole years since The xx treated us to that incredible debut album. The weight of anticipation can be sometimes too much for some acts to bear – but as the time approaches to chalk xx up as a classic and move onto the next chapter, The xx seem to be revelling in it. They’ve played the build-up to the release of their second album Coexist expertly – giving very little away in advance, but prioritising quality over quantity. ‘Angels’ led the charge, and tonight its slow-burning electronica-laden refrains serve as the show opener when Romy Madley, Oliver Sim and Jamie xx take to the stage where a gargantuan perspex ‘X’ marks the spot. Tasters as to the flavour of the new album impress hugely – in particular the amped-up beats and bass-lines of ‘Reunion’. The unmistakable production style of Jamie xx is in full flight, his domain behind his band-mates a percussive playground for the maestro at work, whilst the contrasting vocal styles of Madley and Sim continue to excel. The xx have also made a conscious effort to diversify the tracks which brought them to this level – case-in-point ‘Crystalised’, reformatted to a sprawling atmospheric delight. ‘Night Time’ steals the show, with the help of a dazzling light display, and the mass-singalong to ‘VCR’ even manages to bring a smile – albeit very brief – to the over-serious face of Oliver Sim. Overall it was a perfect mix of appreciation for the hits and simmering anticipation for what’s to come.

Christy Moore – Crawdaddy Stage

As she-who-shall-not-be-mentioned is recuperating from exhaustion, breaking many an Electric Picnic reveller’s heart in the process with her impromptu cancellation of her set, there’s a gap in the schedule for the Friday night headline slot – Sigur Rós and Ed Sheeran aren’t your thing, so where do you go? To the Crawdaddy Stage – where one of Ireland’s most prolific and enduring songwriters is gearing up to put on a greatest hits performance of epic proportions. Walking into the tent, one could be forgiven for thinking they’d taken a wrong-turn into the terraces of a football stadium – Christy Moore isn’t even on stage yet, but the tent is crammed and from the front row right down to the very back chants of ‘Olé Olé Olé’ and refrains of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ ring out. For all our notions of being boutique festivallers, Stradbally has all of a sudden gotten very Oirish altogether. Moore arrives onstage with only Declan Synnott for company, launches straight into ‘Missing You’, and the singsong is in full flight from there. ‘Ordinary Man’, ‘Ride On’, ‘Black is the Colour’, ‘Lisdoonvarna’ – no stone from the Christy Moore back-catalogue of crowd-pleasers is left unturned. The always brilliant ‘Joxer Goes to Stuttgart’ tops all else, however – the crowd has expanded to ten-deep on all sides of the tent’s exterior, and the eruption of rapturous appreciation for the immortal line detailing when Ray Houghton got the ball and stuck it in the net is really quite special. Musically, it’s consistently standard Christy Moore fare – although Declan Synnott’s lead guitar flourishes do add some extra weight. But the atmosphere is mighty – and whilst an Icelandic troupe are throwing every bell n’ whistle they can find at the Main Stage crowd, the simple raw power of two men and their guitars was more than enough to provide a goosebump-inducing hour of Electric Picnic magic to round off the evening.

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