Green Man festival 2019 review
Green Man Festival
As the 17th Green Man festival draws to a close, Sunday night presents an intriguing dilemma. In the shadow of Sugar Loaf Mountain lies the established choice. Father John Misty is a consummate performer and, backed by an orchestra and some of the best sound you’ll hear at any festival, his 90-minute set on the Mountain Stage is supreme.
Opening with Hangout At The Gallows from 2018’s God’s Favorite Customer album, Josh Tillman delivers 20 portions of consistently stellar songwriting and ultimate showmanship. The orchestra elevates a triumphant Disappointing Diamonds Are The Rarest Of Them All, True Affection is an exquisite shimmering synth pop anomaly and an unusually playful Tillman changes the lyrics to I Went To The Store One Day to name check Green Man’s macaroni cheese stall. By the time of penultimate song I Love You, Honeybear the whole crowd are joining Misty in a mass singalong of its exultant chorus.
Meanwhile, the Far Out tent is rammed to its fringes and beyond as the great new hope, IDLES, rip their way through a far more concise headline set of their own. Bowen is of course stripped to his Y-fronts and they are of course, utterly brilliant. Mother is brutally dispatched, and the Bristol punks’ rousing anthem to unity Danny Ndelko roared back by 10,000 sweaty disciples before they close the festival with Rottweiler as the green man goes up in smoke and fireworks turn the Beacons sky a multitude of colours.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a better festival than Green Man, it’s line-up carefully curated and right on the money, commercialism universally shunned, families well catered for and thought provoking discussions supplementing the musical programme.
This year’s highlights are many. Thursday night belongs to Johnny Lynch’s Pictish Trail, true Green Man legends, while Bodega’s fervent art-punk is truly thrilling in the Far Out.
Friday sees the rain descend and set in for the day as it can only in the bosom of these mountains. Pete Brown provides a tonic with his annual attempt to serve free beer to 1,000 punters in Laura Barton’s ever-engaging Babbling Tongues tent. Brown, a fine food writer, matches five beers from the festival’s superb ale festival each to a band from the line-up, successfully pairing Yo La Tengo with a zingy pale ale and Snapped Ankles with a full-bodied stout.
We wobble out of the tent and into horizontal rain in time to see Brighton’s Penelope Isles power through their set in the Walled Garden, unleashing songs from their new album with relish. The Underwater Record Shop is apposite for the conditions and as their performance nears its conclusion an epic shoegaze wig out helps us all forget the grim conditions.
New Zealand’s The Beths benefit from a huge crowd sheltering in the Far Out and their propulsive melodic guitar-rock is winningly restorative. Fellow Antipodean Julia Jacklin arrives in pristine white socks on the Mountain Stage and her beautiful tremulous voice is a delight. Whitney bring dreamy West Coast harmonies to the same stage, with drummer and frontman Julien Ehrlich sipping from a glass of red wine as he leads the band through their brilliant new album Forever Turned Around.
Former Coral guitarist Bill Ryder Jones is a charming, shambling presence in the Walled Garden, revealing that he’s trying to give up getting “completely shitfaced” before performances. Whatever he’s doing, it’s working and tonight’s set is a display of classic songwriting. The tragic, heart-rending Daniel is dedicated to Bill’s late brother, while the brilliant, brooding And Then There’s You is a visceral highlight.
David Trent is hilariously furious about the internet, the climax of an excellent comedy bill in Babbling Tongues, reaching peak fury as he twists an online troll’s idiotic objection to a ‘Muslim baker baking a gay cake’ into a furious take on Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name Of.
Gwenno is a delightful whirl of emerald in the Far Out tent before Maribou State close a sodden second day with their kaleidoscopic blissful electro-pop and the help of guest vocalists Holly Walker and Jack Sibley.
Saturday begins with Long Live vinyl’s annual ritual humiliation in Pete Paphides and Bob Stanley’s fiendishly difficult pop quiz. Bella Union signees Modern Nature get things started in the Far Out tent, before Big Moon’s scruffy grunge-pop injects some urgency into the afternoon and culminates in a onstage marriage proposal from singer Juliette Jackson’s boyfriend (she said yes). Over on the Mountain stage the captivating Stella Donnelly, Sons Of Kemet and Lee Fields provide a potent example of the wide-ranging scope of Green Man’s line-up.
Big Thief arrive with Adrianne Lenker sporting a vibrant pink wig and launch into a determined set drawn from their Capacity and UFOF albums, with a smattering of previews of their next record, Two Hands. Not, from that album is twisted into an exceptional wanton guitar solo from Lenker who forces her instrument into her amp, yielding great howls of feedback. The 4AD-signed band have become one of our most potent and affecting live acts and will no doubt return to this festival further up the bill. Stereolab provide a perfect platform for Mountain Stage headliner Four Tet’s Saturday night triumph, tearing through an accelerated breakneck version of French Disko as if their lives depend on it, while Car Seat Headrest’s Drunk Drivers proves the festival’s most determined ear worm.
Aldous Harding is one of the picks of Sunday’s eclectic line-up, odd, captivating and clever in equal measure, she holds the Mountain Stage crowd’s attention for every minute of her teatime set, while Eels are utterly joyous, Mark Everett joyful living evidence of the value of making the most of life despite being dealt a truly awful set of personal events. Their blues-heavy set takes in a brilliantly conceived cover of Prince’s Raspberry Beret, and a deconstructed version of Novocaine For The Soul. The whole audience is theirs, deservedly so. Over in Babbling Tongues, Gabriel Ebulue’s Three Track Podcast and a live episode of BBC Radio Four’s Four Thought provoke plenty of debate before the evening’s big hitters.
Sharon Van Etten draws a vast crowd for her sub-headline set on the Mountain Stage, successfully navigating the discord between the doleful alt-country indie of her back catalogue and the strident disco-pop of latest album Remind Me Tomorrow. Tarifa from 2014’s Are We There is an elegant waltzing delight, while the new album’s Hands, Comeback Kid and Seventeen are huge anthems that will surely open up a whole new audience for the Brooklyn songwriter. She leaves us with a vicious assault on live favourite Serpents, setting the stage for Father John Misty to close the show, a finale to another exceptional Green Man. As the sparks begin to rise from the green man’s frame into the violet sky and the mountain looks impassively down upon us, there’s no place we’d rather be.