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Pregnant Lily Allen Bows Out, 500 Strip at Big Chill: Review

Michele Stodart of the Magic Numbers
Michele Stodart, bassist and vocalist in the Magic Numbers, performs at the Big Chill in Herefordshire, England, on Aug. 8, 2010. The group consists of two brothers and sisters. Photograph: Mark Beech, Bloomberg News

Announcing she was pregnant and banning the photographers she once cultivated, Lily Allen said goodbye to her pop princess days at the Big Chill festival over the weekend in Herefordshire, England.

A lot else happened over the four days. For instance, 500 people stripped off for installation artist Spencer Tunick to protest the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And a stage invasion by excited fans ended M.I.A.’s show earlier than expected during “Paper Planes.” Radiohead’s Thom Yorke performed a rare acoustic set, while Massive Attack and the Magic Numbers drew ovations.

Giant festivals such as Glastonbury, Coachella and Fuji Rock attract 200,000 fans or more, yet niche events like the Big Chill -- which has around 35,000 attendees and tends to specialize in ambient and “chilled” acts -- are the best way to hear rock without the stress and frustration of crowds.

“Excuse my casual attire but I’m pregnant,” Allen told the audience, “and this is called the Big Chill. I packed high heels but my boyfriend (Sam Cooper) unpacked them. He told me I’m not wearing high heels on stage.”

She wore jeans and a loose-fitting lumberjack shirt. Songs such as “It’s Not Fair” sounded as fresh as ever.

Among those watching Allen were the hundreds of people who had joined Tunick’s latest artwork. He painted their naked bodies blue, yellow, pink and black to symbolize oil floating on water. After the early-morning photo shoot, many of the participants kept their makeup on all day -- and some didn’t bother to put their clothes back on.

Fiery Vocals

Allen’s lumberjack-shirt look also was favored by Yorke, who constantly changed guitars in a solo set that confounded hopes of a Radiohead reunion yet still included the group’s song “Airbag.” Yorke said he was flying “by the seat of my pants” and would be outgunned by the headliners Massive Attack, who followed with a blazing concert, featuring Martina Topley Bird’s vocals on “Teardrop” as the highlight.

Still, the two brothers and sisters in the Magic Numbers proved to be the real discovery. After their performance on the main Deer Park stage they did an even-better separate show in the small guest area, with energetic renditions of the Smiths song “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” and tunes from their excellent new album “The Runaway.”

Lead guitarist Romeo Stodart, speaking to me after the show, said that after European dates, the band will be heading for the U.S. Watch out for something special.

Festivalgoers not distracted by entertainment such as fireworks and the constant anagram rearranging of “The Big Chill” letters on Eastnor Hill saw fine sets by Kelis, Morcheeba, Paloma Faith, Texas instrumental act Explosions in the Sky and Broken Bells. It was a chilled weekend.

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(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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