Things were never likely to go to plan at rock’s greatest show on earth this weekend.
That was certain from the moment U2 singer Bono suffered a back injury and had to cancel performances for weeks, including Glastonbury. The world’s biggest greenfield festival responded by finding many surprise guests, including Kylie Minogue, Lou Reed and the Edge. “Glasto” took place at the same time as the rival Hard Rock Calling in London 100 miles away -- with some 330,000 people attending one or another.
Stevie Wonder said he was marking his recent 60th birthday by playing both events. Wonder paid tribute to Michael Jackson, who died a year ago aged 50, and sang “Happy Birthday” for Glastonbury’s 40th birthday as the weekend ended.
The 1,500 hippie revelers at the first Pilton Festival (as it then was) in 1970 had to pay 1 pound ($1.50). For that, they got Marc Bolan and a free pint of milk from the cows of Michael Eavis’s 500-acre Worthy Farm. “Glasto” veterans will remember how it nearly collapsed 20 years ago as crowds clashed with security teams.
In 2010, there was no sea of mud that we’ve had to endure in the past. The welly boot stalls were deserted. Silly hats and sunglasses were flying off the shelves instead. The longest lines were for phone-charging points. The Coachella-type heat of 90 degrees was enough to keep many fans seeking shade and a cool drink. My weekend dashing between town and country left me with sunburn and a list of tips of acts to watch.
U.S. band Grizzly Bear more than lived up the hype with a beautiful set. I missed out on seeing Hot Chip, though a radio rebroadcast of the band’s live “One Life Stand” was one the best things all weekend. Florence and the Machine, the Flaming Lips, Mumford & Sons, Midlake, Laura Marling and Lissie all sounded great.
Seasick Steve is always good value for money, and can make better blues out of an old plank of wood and a bit of wire than many can with the most expensive Stratocaster.
Damon Albarn’s band Gorillaz had a potentially hard job in standing in for U2. Its performance was boosted by guest vocalists Mark E. Smith and Shaun Ryder (providing Mancunian pride), Reed (craggy cool) and Snoop Dogg (turbocharged wit).
The Scissor Sisters raced through tracks off the album “Night Work,” out this week, and capped it with Minogue’s appearance. The Australian star joined the funky dancing on “Any Which Way.”
Glastonbury’s Saturday night headline act, U.K. band Muse, was disappointing, with songs such as “Knights of Cydonia” weighed down by pomp and circumstance. The best bit was the cover of “When the Streets Have No Name” with U2’s Edge.
The Pet Shop Boys revived the 1980s more stylishly while the Kinks founder Ray Davies did the same for the 1960s, backed by the Crouch End Choir. His “Sunny Afternoon” couldn’t have been a more apt title.
Shakira and Norah Jones were both remarkably laid-back, while the Dead Weather’s guitar-heavy set showed Jack White’s latest band is happy to be an acquired taste.
Of the veterans, the Seattle act Pearl Jam delivered a storming 2 ½ hour concert on Friday, friends tell me. It sounds better than the Paul McCartney show I saw Sunday, enduring songs like “Let ‘Em In’’ before he returned to Beatles classics such as ‘‘Blackbird.’’ Wonder changed the words of ‘‘Master Blaster (Jammin’)’’ to ‘‘We love you Michael Jackson,’’ fortunately moving on to ‘‘Higher Ground,’’ ‘‘Superstition’’ and ‘‘My Cherie Amour.’’ That was more like it.
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)