Who Won the Glastonbury Music Festival: America or Europe?

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Picking victors and losers from the world's most storied rock extravaganza

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Reuters

Music festivals aren’t contests, but maybe they should be. Representatives from the world’s two rock n’ roll superpowers—the United States and the European Union—met on a muddy field in Southwest England this past weekend. We were there to judge the performances, Ryder Cup-style. Hey, if it’s good enough for golf, it’s good enough for Glastonbury.


Class: THE HEADLINERS

U2

Albums: Twelve, but little that’s worth listening to after 1987.

Strengths: A wealth of arms-aloft anthems; a spectacular live show; arena-sized self-belief

Weaknesses: Bono’s self-indulgence (was an a capella version of “Jerusalem” really necessary?)

Performance: Bono doesn’t miss a note, sermonising is kept to a minimum and “One” is the first anthem of the weekend. Mission accomplished, U2.

Crowd reaction: Mixed. Sorry, Bono, but Glasto could work with or without you.

Beyoncé

Albums: Four, but she’s best experienced live

Strengths: The only headliner at the peak of their powers; the mass convergence of 100,000 single ladies.

Weaknesses: Blur…Stevie Wonder…Beyoncé? Does she lack the gravitas needed for the hallowed Sunday night slot?

Performance: Fireworks, earth-shaking vocals and bootylicious dancing. Who run this mother? Beyoncé.

Crowd reaction: Putty in her hands. They even sing along to her dreadful new single, “Best Thing I Never Had.”

VERDICT: U.S. wins

Class: THE FOLKIES

Fleet Foxes

Albums: Two (Fleet Foxes and Helplessness Blues), both brilliant

Strengths: Beards and woolly jumpers are part of the Glastonbury aesthetic, so the band fits right in

Weaknesses: At their previous Glasto performance, in 2009, they failed to translate their intimate folk songs to these bigger surroundings.

Performance: They’ve learnt their lesson. Songs grow teeth live and Robin Pecknold’s vocals are one of Glasto’s great sounds.

Crowd reaction: The weekend’s first love-in. The Brits just can’t get enough of Fleet Foxes.

Mumford & Sons

Albums: One (Sigh No More), a hit on both sides of the Atlantic

Strengths: A swashbuckling live act that (normally) gets the crowd going

Weaknesses: The beginnings of a banjo backlash; a lack of new material

Performance: What should be a festival highlight (it’s a secret gig round a campfire) turns out to be a damp squib. The band arrives too late, leaves too early, and fails to thrill in between.

Crowd reaction: Initial excitement turns to disappointment when the band leaves after just five numbers.

VERDICT: U.S. wins

Class: THE ARTSY OUTSIDERS

TV on the Radio

Albums: Five, all of a high standard

Strengths: The weekend’s most interesting and intelligent band

Weaknesses: Bassist Gerard Smith lost his battle with cancer earlier this year—can the band cope without him?

Performance: From the soaring “Young Liars” to a cover of the Ghostbusters’ theme, TVOTR are here to have fun. An uplifting triumph.

Crowd reaction: The few that are there love it.


Anna Calvi

Albums: One splendid debut (Anna Calvi)

Strengths: The looks of a supermodel, the voice of a banshee and the guitar skills of Jeff Buckley.

Weaknesses: The tunes don’t quite match the talent.

Performance: Breathtaking. Calvi’s guitar chops are sensational, and “Love Won’t Be Leaving” is a festival highpoint.

Crowd reaction: Lots of appreciative nodding and the occasional whoop of excitement (mostly from men)

VERDICT: Europe wins

Class: THE RAPPERS

Tinie Tempah

Albums: One commercial and critical success (Disc-Overy)

Strengths: British rap’s man of the moment, Tinie’s been hoovering up awards like an anteater

Weaknesses: Is he just a poor man’s Dizzee Rascal?

Performance: Tinie’s nothing if not a crowd-pleaser and doesn’t disappoint. A few more hits and he’ll be headlining festivals

Crowd reaction: “Pass Out,” Tinie’s signature song, turns Glasto into one giant dancefloor.

Wu-Tang Clan

Albums: Five—but it’s all about the live show

Strengths: That they have made it through customs. Method Man complains that they were treated “like the moutherfucking Taliban.”

Weaknesses: He appears to be performing in his dressing gown.

Performance: Part aerobics instructors, part rappers, Wu-Tang Clan battle through the inclement weather to deliver a fabulous, high-energy performance.

Crowd reaction: Massive. More W’s in the air than at a George Bush rally.

VERDICT: U.S. wins

Class: THE ROCKERS

Queens of the Stone Age

Albums: Five

Strengths: Their hard-living heavy-rock is perfect festival fodder.

Weaknesses: They’re on at the same time as Beyoncé—and the whole of Glasto is at Beyoncé.

Performance: A raw, raucous display culminating in ‘No One Knows’ a.k.a. The Best Festival Song Ever

Crowd reaction: As rowdy as the band



Biffy Clyro

Albums: Five

Strengths: The Scots have become a festival favourite, thanks to their blistering, big-hearted rock songs

Weaknesses: During last year’s performance, singer Simon Neil badly injured his knee. Has Glasto got it in for him?

Performance: An injury-free outing that covers the full extent of Biffy’s back catalogue, it’s glorious.

Crowd reaction: Their notoriously nutty fans are out in force. Cue moshpits, fist pumps and mass sing-alongs.

VERDICT: Europe wins



Final score: America 3, Europe 2. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

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Presented by

Rick Pearson & George Bull

Rick Pearson is a music critic for the London Evening Standard. George Bull is a London-based journalist who writes for Landscape magazine and the Royal Society of Arts Journal.

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