Don’t Forget Your Wellies: Glastonbury 2008

Martina Topley-Bird woke me up this morning. The one-time Tricky muse has just released her second solo album, The Blue God, which was produced by Danger Mouse. I had no idea she was still making music, but I’m glad she is. Flanked by a back-up band dressed as ninjas, Martina, in a poofy red dress and braided blonde up-do, looked like a striking prom queen. Her sound could be described as surf rock mixed with elements of country and occasional hip hop beats. It sounds a lot like the Rosebuds. She cracked her mic cord like a whip and shimmied her way into my heart.

Yeasayer brought their “Middle Eastern-psych-snap-gospel” to the John Peel stage. One of several recent bands to infuse their sound with African folk polyrhythms and unconventional tribal melodies, Yeasayer’s earnest set broke up the snide dance-punk that is still somehow dominating this festival. When Chris Keating sings, “I can’t sleep when I think about the times we’re living in,” he recalls the existential dread and herky-jerky stage presence of David Byrne. I was hypnotized by the intricate bass work of Ira Wolf Tuton. Musically, this set was the highlight of the weekend. I can think of few other new bands that have developed such a fascinating sound. They aren’t nearly as immediately accessible as Vampire Weekend, as far as Brooklyn bands jacking the West African sound go, but their winding, writhing songs ultimately possess much more depth.


I passed the Pyramid stage as John Mayer’s sax man crapped out one of the most forgettable, muzak-worthy solo’s I’ve ever heard. Man, I hate that guy. When I returned to the John Peel stage, it was adorned with several dozen purple and white carnations. Stars set their sights a bit higher than the glut of slightly above-average white guitar bands with great melodies and tales of love and loss. I have to admit that their music loses much of its uniqueness when the horns and other supplemental instrumentation are removed in the live setting. I’ve never found the group as interesting as Broken Social Scene, their more adventurous sister band. It makes sense, though, why their music is featured so often on TV as a soundbed: It’s pretty and fun and evocative but not always interesting enough to command full attention.

Crystal Castles, on the other hand… well. Vocalist Alice Glass, who looked as though her tiny body was just dug up from a grave, skipped around the stage, immediately launching herself into the crowd. The on-looking staff of portly goateed AV dudes wrung their hands, supposedly worried that she’d damage her mic. They finally persuaded her to return to the stage, where she climbed the lighting truss, alternately screaming and whispering her lyrics. The duo’s gothic electronica recalled the Faint and more than a few Megaman stages. After twenty minutes of mayhem, the AV guys got their cargo shorts in a bunch and pulled the plug. I thought the crowd might storm the stage. Those 20 minutes comprised the greatest moment of electrifying, unbridled rock ‘n’ roll energy the festival had on offer, and it was awesome.

Lucky for me, Crystal Castles were yanked just as Leonard Cohen appeared on the Pyramid stage. He conveyed a grandfatherly elegance, but seemed confused at times, audibly asking his bandmates which song was coming up next. After several songs, he said “thank you, fans.” This struck me as odd; I don’t think I’ve ever heard a singer refer to his fans as such from a stage. It was his first live performance in 15 years, and he is 75, so I suppose slack should be cut. He opened with, “Dance Me to the End of Love”, which showcased his trademark monotone, absolutely unchanged. He also played a few songs from I’m Your Man. I’ve always thought that the instrumentation on Cohen’s post-’70s material was a little schmaltzy, and it is reproduced here note for note. Still, his lyricism packs a wallop that completely makes up for this. There is not a single artist in the history of pop capable of saying so much with so little. There were few dry eyes in the audience when Cohen finished “Hallelujah”, just as the sun set. Magic.

I stopped one last time at the John Peel stage to see the latter half of a performance by Spiritualized. I made it in time to hear a few songs form the new Song’s in A&E album, as well as “She Kissed Me (It Felt Like a Hit)” and the electrifying “Come Together”, all were fittingly boosted into the stratosphere by a trio of gospel singers.

My Morning Jacket

Nightfall brought My Morning Jacket to the Park stage. Lead singer Jim James approached the stage shrouded in some sort of druid cloak, fitting considering we were within a short car journey of Stonehenge. The band brought mammoth riffs, scorching jams, and their unique blend of reggae, soul, and even some dance beats. The inclusion of silly metal number “Highly Suspicious” was a real WTF moment. The song’s outrageous falsetto chorus cracked me up because I thought it was a joke song. To my surprise, it’s an actual track on their new album, Evil Urges. For the most part, everything gelled in the cool breeze, under the flaming stage torches, and provided a fitting end to the festival.

The organizers did a great job pulling together a diverse group of acts in terms of style and popularity. I commend their willingness to include a wider, diverse range of sounds this year, despite all the pushback from the press and Noel Gallagher. If you are willing to put up with almost certain rain and the scuzzy living conditions that come with not showering for three days, Glastonbury is really a must-do event. There is never a lack of things to do or see, and if you get tired of music a wealth of alternative cultural experiences are a short walk away. Just don’t forget your wellies.