In which our hero wins the FA Cup, sees Antlers and Overkill, and ends his Great Escape saga with a Robot Wars style taxi battle in the streets of Brighton.
A confession: after 25 years on this earth as a trophy-starved Manchester City supporter, even the packed Saturday afternoon's line-up at The Great Escape couldn't drag me away from the television to see City end 35 years of hurt at Wembley.
An afternoon of boozy stranger hugging later, I was ready to get back in amongst the action for another shot of Great Escape goodness and a rather splendid looking evening of audio treats at the seafront's Concorde 2 venue - with Antlers and Okkervil River underlined and asterisked furiously. This was the final and the most significant of clashes, with Yuck and Radio Dept sacrificed in favour of this most-stateside flavoured of line-ups.
Limbs weary from FA Cup celebrations, the hike from the city centre was particularly punishing with the wind picking up off the Channel and threatening to blow our plans off-course. Finally we arrived, and it seemed Concorde 2's rather inconvenient location had put precious few off this rather expertly crafted bill. Loyal followers of this column – read: saga - will be aware that I, at least metaphorically, exchanged my gold delegate’s wristband for a more down to earth shade of red the previous day, so I was to wait it out with the great unwashed.
It turned out to be quite the wait as we entered at the very end of Antlers’ set. Resisting the temptation to pull my wristband off in frustration, I resolved to find the very best spot to enjoy Okkervil River, which, thanks to the mass post-Antlers exodus, proved to be very easy indeed. Will Sheff led the band onstage and they opened with the first track from their latest album, I Am Very Far... titled ‘The Valley’. After breaking from a three release-long concept album dalliance, the new record is winning rave reviews for its renewed sense of focus and its reigning in of Sheff's occasional jarring moments of self-indulgence. Cuz he's y'know... read books an' that...
‘The Valley’ set the tone with aplomb, quickly casting aside any concerns that I might be catching the band too early in their tour to get a fair reflection. The band played a 50/50 mix of new album offerings and old favourites, including ‘Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe’, ‘For Real and Unless it Kicks’, though the latter was somewhat spoiled by Sheff's painfully long-winded insistence that “every last fucker has their hands in the air”, doing that whole “this means so much to me what's happening right now, feeding off the energy in the room – man, I'm just freestyling up here...” thing that might have worked had I not seen him give the same “s'posed-to-be impromptu” spiel on Youtube a good few times. I'd estimate I was in the last quarter to reluctantly raise hands... just to shut him up.
It was a single cloying moment in a set that dazzled from the get-go, multi-instrumentalist Scott Bracket providing texture to add sumptuous meat to the rest of the band's bones with an extra guitar, violin and trumpet as needed, though never arbitrarily. The new songs uniformly impressed, especially Rider which is a “good Springsteen” after swallowing a thesaurus.
The set was given its best chance by a sound quality that was the equal of any venue I've visited, everything sounding so full, so punchy, so dynamic that when Sheff announced that there would be no encore there was a collective sigh and twisting of the arm, but to no avail.
All batteries recharged, we were aware that our options were light, given that it was 11 o'clock and The Great Escape's handy text service let us know that many of the best venues were looking close to capacity. We needn't have worried. As we approached The Great Escape hub, a large crowd had gathered around a band playing on the street, half-way through a charmingly twee version of Outkast's ‘Hey Ya’. You couldn't imagine a greater cross section on a Saturday night with the curious dichotomy featuring hen/stag nights, 16-18 year old emos, Sex & the City girls, tramps and of course, many Great Escapers, like us, finding no room at any inns. All of a sudden, everyone was dancing, myself included, cans/plastic glasses of beer finding their way into hands all around us.
Then, headlights: a taxi heading straight for the band – the crowd parted. Silence. Then mass booing of the taxi who quickly reversed, the driver's side window bombarded with flyers that fell on his lap. Celebration. The band continued. Then – two taxis from opposite sides. Neither gave way and they continued towards one another slowly edging yards, a slow motion game of chicken, neither driver backing down,
“It's like Robot Wars”, heckled a youngster.
And it was.
Or the gentlest of destruction derbies. Hundreds of flyers bombarded both windows. Just when I was reflecting on this comical scene, waiting to see who would give, some whopper remarked, “Only in Brighton!” - I imagine with a rolling of the eyes and punch-me-please tut.
Everything's hazy after that.
So what did we learn? We learned not to trust smoke machines, burgers and cool bands from Oxford. We learned that wearers of low, and I mean low cut v-neck vest tops are purveyors of the most placid of dirges. We learned that Anna Calvi, War Paint and Okkervil River are worthy of all their most generous of plaudits. That Dog is Dead, Yaaks, Twin Shadow and Inflight Safety are worth closer inspection. We learned, not unlike the Aztecs, that gold can be a curse with delegate wristbands particularly be-hexed.
Most of all I think we learned something about perspective and its value in a world of bloggers quick to ordain the mundane. In this landscape of instant critical feedback, it's ever-seductive to trumpet up the next band that's going to save the world from musical malnourishment
Fortunately, the world doesn't always need saving and if you're going to let someone take that responsibility – at least get to know them properly first.
Words: Mark Booth
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