Dan Jenko offers his verdict on Latitude Festival 2014, which included headline sets from Lily Allen, Damon Albarn and The Black Keys
With the sun blazing over Latitude’s picturesque site – an unconventional festival location that sets this Suffolk-festival apart from any other across the country – the topic of conversation amongst pretty much everyone is the news of Alex Trimble’s hospitalisation and the booking of a replacement Friday-night headliner.
Although she boasts a healthy array of hit singles, Lily Allen‘s status as a festival headline act has never really been confirmed. Despite the relative success of comeback record Sheezus, her appearance on Latitude’s main ‘obelisk’ stage certainly raised a few eyebrows from those expecting another indie band akin to Two Door Cinema Club.
In typically playful fashion, Allen’s response to the Latitude crowd’s uncertainty is an attempt to win them over. Appearing on-stage in a Two Door t-shirt, she follows early-hit ‘LDN’ with a cover of ‘Something Good Can Work’ – much to the delight of a crowd who quickly warmed to the idea of her headlining a festival usually dominated by guitar bands.
It’s when the crowd are on-side that Allen really shines however. A righteous rendition of feminist anthem ‘Hard Out Here’ sends the crowd into a frenzy, whilst a re-working of chart-topper ‘Smile’ is the highlight of a triumphantly dance-heavy headline set.
A show so heavily indebted pop music was always going to be a controversial move – particularly as a replacement to an indie band (no matter how pop-inspired they may be) – but Allen’s performance never feels wooden or rehearsed. Commanding the stage at all times, she presents herself as a remarkably capable performer who infuses her own comedic timing brilliantly into her set.
A little earlier in the day the BBC 6 Music tent celebrated all things psychedelic with a performance from indie-darlings Temples, who confirmed their billing as one of Britain’s most exciting new guitar bands. With frontman James Bagshaw showing outstanding commitment to skinny jeans and fitted jackets in 30 degree weather, the band offer a sonically sublime performance for people looking to stay out of the sun.
With intense thunder storms throughout the night, the sleep-deprived masses stumbled out of their tents on Saturday with surprising enthusiasm after a far better than expected first day. Whilst many were critical of the Lily Allen decision (before her show at least), no one could possibly level the same criticism at Damon Albarn – the Blur frontman who has topped the Glastonbury bill with two separate musical projects. Although well-received critically and commercially, his debut solo outing Everyday Robots was never going to ingrain itself in the public consciousness in the same way that ‘Parklife’ or ‘Feel Good Inc’ have, but with an outstanding display of musicianship and passionate enthusiasm Albarn rises well above any sense of unfamiliarity.
Regularly hopping from piano to guitar, Albarn’s performance is unparalleled across the weekend. Despite suffering from a slow start, Albarn’s confidence in his new material is eventually rewarded – with the exemplary lyricism of his latest record feeling really impressive in a live environment.
Most memorable, however, is an encore which celebrates the singer-songwriter’s extensive career in anthemic style. Returning to the stage to the sound of thunder, Albarn introduces Blur guitarist Graham Coxon for a euphoric rendition of ‘Tender’ before launching into Gorillaz hit ‘Clint Eastwood’ – a move which sent the crowd into a frenzy. After years of playing major slots with a backing band, if feels like Albarn has reached a new level as a performer.
A little earlier in the day on the main stage Bombay Bicycle Club show why there aren’t topping the bill despite so many suggesting their popularity warranted a headlining slot. Failing to capture the magic of recent record So Long, See You Tomorrow in a live capacity, the band deliver a bland performance which culminates in many leaving for other stages before set closer ‘Carry Me’.
Those that did just that and headed over to the Lake Stage will surely be thankful, as hyped indie-band Catfish and the Bottlemen played perhaps the liveliest set of the weekend to a small crowd of hardcore fans. With outstanding energy and on-stage charisma, the band blasted through singles ‘Kathleen’, ‘Pacifier’ and ‘Fallout’ to the delight of the enthusiastic crowd.
Sunday rolled around and brought with it a selection of bands from the other side of the Atlantic, many of which faltered where the British acts had previously triumphed. Arguably the only bona-fide global superstars on the bill, The Black Keys‘ highly-anticipated headline set to close the festival feels like a band going through the motions – something particularly disappointing considering previous headliners Allen and Albarn showed so much passion for the occasion.
Having amassed a terrific collection of garage rock songs across a long career, the band’s discography certainly isn’t the problem. Whilst the two-piece are blessed with a rampantly excited crowd determined to give their weekend the ultimate send-off, their set feels extremely repetitive. Drawing heavily from the band’s commercially successful yet somewhat derivative offering El Camino, some of the more interesting production qualities that feature on the likes of ‘Attack & Release’ and recent LP Turn Blue are lost in favour of all-out guitar rock.
The pair’s chemistry, which is often praised as being a factor that puts The Black Keys in a league above other similar bands, feels completely lacking. They barely glance at each other across the stagnant 90-minute set, with only the occasional shout of “Hello Latitude”” and “Lets hear you!” from frontman Dan Auerbach.
Predictably, the likes of ‘Gold On The Ceiling’, ‘Tighten Up’ and ‘Lonely Boy’ are greeted with rampant enthusiasm, but as a whole the set feels like just another date on the band’s lengthy world tour and lacks the sense of spectacle the festival crowd deserve.
LA-based three-piece Haim are similarly underwhelming on the main stage. Drawing a huge crowd, the sisters display far better stage presence than The Black Keys but their set grows boring as it becomes apparent the band simply don’t have enough great songs to fill an hour-long set.
Most impressive on the main stage is Tame Impala, who translate the ambition of their albums brilliantly in a live environment. Seemingly taken aback by the nature of the festival, the Australian band utilise foot-pedals and distortion expertly in an accomplished yet exciting performance.
It was ultimately a slightly disappointing final day for what was otherwise a very strong year for Latitude, but whilst closers The Black Keys didn’t give much of a send-off, that shouldn’t detract from what was otherwise a very enjoyable weekend.