Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Green Man 2014 - Mountain Stage - Saturday

My approach to choosing acts to see at festivals is, as you may have gathered, somewhat esoteric. I rarely consider main stage headlines when determining ticket purchase and have a penchant for the small stages and artists at the bottom of the running order...
Well that was true of my first trip to Green Man Festival too. I did however do something I have never done before (I'm not really sure why, it was not a prefigured plan) - that was to see all nine acts on the main 'Mountain Stage' on Saturday in entirety.

The mountain in question is Pen Cerrig-calch, just in case you were wondering.

As this is Wales who better to open proceedings than Georgia Ruth, the winner of the 2013 Welsh Music Prize, complete with a very modern version of the instrument most widely associated with Wales?
The songs taken from her 2013 LP 'Week of Pines' were as good as I expected; so too were the several new ones that were interspersed between them. She introduced each song bilingually - alternating between Welsh first and English first.

I was not so familiar with the work of all the acts and the next, Zachary Cale, is a case in point but I imagine you can see why I found it arresting.
It was about this time that the idea of seeing the whole caboodle occurred to me. It wasn't just about the music it was about the stage too. Like the 'Garden Stage' at End of The Road, but for different reasons, it is something special. In between times I still managed a few forays to the smaller stages, food stalls and the bar. Next to play Mutual Benefit. It is not a band, it is a fluid collective, except when it is only Jason Lee. Last Saturday it involved a handful of collaborators. My arrival, just as they started, limited my options somewhat.
The really important thing was now I was where I wanted to be for the rest of the afternoon and evening. I already had designs on this.
I make no secret of the fact that the 2014 LP Burn Your Fire For No Witness is headed towards my end of year list. It is not uplifting in a conventional sense.  Live is no different; she has a penchant for playing, when not singing, with her back turned to the audience and that tension is no bad thing either. Taut and compelling in equal measure this is music that requires one to pay full attention.
She was followed by another US female artist that I have wanted to see live for some time now. To my eternal shame I have missed this opportunity at a festival that I have attended at least once.
That artist is Neko Case. It was a splendid juxtaposition. Gone was the tension to be replaced by free-wheeling carelessness; some of the band asides were probably as good, and as well judged, as anything to be heard in the comedy tent. It was also the last date of a fifteen-month world tour. That is stamina.
And there was banjo, and pedal steel - heaven is a sunny Saturday afternoon in south Wales.
(And an interesting contrast with 'Saturday Night in Toledo Ohio'.)

Hamilton Leithauser has worked with more well known acts than I have the time or inclination to mention. I had never really considered what he might have to offer when he was the centre of attention until it was there for me to watch. His d├ębut solo album 'Black Hours' might have changed that in time.  Seeing him perform live just expedited the process.
This is one reason, beyond the enjoyment I get from live music, that festivals serve to inform and educate me.
So here I am, as he leaves the stage, 7¼ hours after Georgia Ruth had taken to it, and it is still only early evening. 'Are We There' is the title of the 2014 album by the next artist on that stage.
Sharon Van Etten.
Towards the end of her set she was joined by Hamilton Leithauser for a duet.
And so here they are.
First support was 'The War on Drugs' and, for some reason I seem to have taken something of a time-out on photography here and I can't, for the life of me, remember why that was because I can clearly recall watching and listening. Be that as it may, I seemed to be back for headline act 'Mercury Rev'.
This is an act that I had long managed to avoid seeing live and this time I was determined not only to fail to do so again but also to do it justice. I'm not going to hide my lamp under a bushel here; this was everything I could have hoped for and more. A band that was clearly relishing the moment as much as was the audience. This next might seem a strange choice of picture but it is the one I wanted to use just now. 

Festivals are not all about crowd instinct. Think about that.

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