Review: Latitude festival 2009

At four years old, Latitude has grown out of toddlerdom and is now walking happily on its own two (eco-friendly) feet.  It has developed into a wonderful family-friendly festival that is the darling of the liberal media and the middle classes.  But such a reputation cannot be built upon vegan food stalls and top-notch recycling alone; no, Latitude Festival is built instead upon that most solid of all foundations – damn good entertainment!  Whilst the festival is indeed ‘more than just a music festival’ with its impressive array of cabaret, comedy, literary and poetry acts, it is the music I wish to talk about.

One of the first bands of the weekend were The Mummers, who took to the stage with theatrical pomp and pulled out a very assured and enjoyable performance.  Front lady Raissa Khan-Panni kept the band in order as they played through a handful of tracks from their album Tale to Tell.  They also covered Passion Pit’s hit ‘Sleephead’ better than the band themselves did in their Saturday evening slot closing the Sunrise Arena.

The sun shone bright for Of Montreal who took to the Obelisk Arena on Friday with their usual assault of colours, costume changes and completely ridiculous dancers (who, among other things, pretended to gas each other and fought as wizards on stage).  They always put on an amazing show but, having seen them in their element at Koko last year, I couldn’t help but feel the stage was just (physically) a little too big for them.  Also gracing the Obelisk on Friday was Russian songstress Regina Spektor, who performed all of her hits in guaranteed-to-please order – and it did.

Noah and the Whale chose Latitude as the venue to debut their new album-cum-film The First Days of Spring.  In a bout of second album seriousness the band have left behind the outrageously happy summer sound of songs like ‘Five Years Time’ and moved more towards the moving spaciousness suggested in songs like ‘Give a Little Love’.  The film was a nice little add-on, if, perhaps, a little bit of a gimmick.  Jeremy Warmsley took to the Film & Music Arena late on Friday night to play a set of Daniel Johnston and Tom Waits songs, including a wonderful rendition of ‘True Love Will Find You in the End’.

Saturday’s music highlight had to be the indomitable Patrick Wolf.  With his latest album The Bachelor having been released last month, Wolf seems to have moved on from his problems in 2007 that culminated in the on-stage firing of his drummer.  Taking to the stage in a costume that made him look like a giant pigeon, complete with a frontless black and grey union flag design jumpsuit, Wolf pulled out an electric performance.  The man was made for the stage, picking up a black and white Flying-V and rocking the crowd with a selection of new and old tracks.  He even managed a costume change, transforming from pigeon to dove before closing his all-too-short set with a blistering rendition of ‘The Magic Position’, leaving us all grinning so much it hurt.

Also playing on Saturday were the superb Edinburgh band Broken Records who played a perfect, but all too short, set on the main stage.  Their recent album, Until the Earth Begins to Part, is a fantastic record that translates well onto the stage with its deep cello parts, hurtling violin lines and measured brass accompaniments.  Wildbirds and Peacedrums wildly drummed to a decent sized crowd, but seemed just a little too manic, a little too drummy.

Anti-folk hero Jeffery Lewis played a wonderful acoustic set to a packed midnight Poetry Arena, debuting a couple of new songs and finishing on the much-loved and much-in-demand ‘Back When I Was 4’.  He also displayed one of his trademark “low-budget films” (i.e. a (spectacularly) hand-drawn comic book); this time it told a detective story so full of twists, turns, and down-right impossibilities that not even Hercules Poirot would be unable to solve it.  As always Jeffery Lewis was hilarious and endearing in equal measures, and he left behind a happy audience.

Sunday began with Latitude’s fourth headliner, Thom Yorke, who took the midday slot created especially for Joanna Newsom last year to play a rare solo set.  Mixing together old tracks, rare tracks, Radiohead tracks, and tracks from The Eraser, Yorke’s set was undeniably beautiful, with ‘Atoms for Peace’ being a definite highlight.  Unlucky Icelanders Hjaltalin got to play the Uncut Stage just seconds after Yorke’s set finished, so, whilst most festival-goers lay back in the beautiful Sunday sun, they played a very creditable set to a nearly empty tent.

Slow Club played a pleasantly twee set to close the Lake Stage for the year, yet the real highlights of Sunday were The Irrepressibles.  The band are Latitude veterans, having performed every year since its inception.  They played three times this year on a floating stage created especially for them.  Not many bands have a stage built just for them, and fewer deserve it – The Irrepressibles definitely do.  Their sumptuously beautiful songs drifted out across the lake, enrapturing all who heard them and gathering hordes of awestruck fans to the Waterfront Stage.  Their Sunday set culminated with their unfathomably delicate song ‘In This Shirt’.  Long may The Irrepressibles dominate Latitude!

Words: Robbie Hayward