Review: Green Man 2018
Glanusk Park, Brecon Beacons
“Good evening. It’s good to be home.” Adam Granduciel squints into the light, addressing 15,000 War On Drugs fans gathered in the deepening shadow of the Black Mountains as the Philadelphia band prepare to close Green Man 2018 in the most emphatic, celebratory fashion.
Returning to headline the Mountain Stage 10 years after first playing Green Man, Granduciel’s sentiment is one expressed with admirable frequency across the weekend. On Saturday night, South London Rough Trade starlets Goat Girl tell the Walled Garden audience that Green Man is “our favourite festival”; Grizzly Bear enthuse about being back at Glanusk Park to sample another Pieminister pie; and bar a brief slip of the tongue that sees him claiming to be glad to return to “England”, Robin Pecknold is similarly complimentary before Fleet Foxes’ exquisite Saturday night headline set.
The bands cherish this lovingly curated gem nestled in the Brecon Beacons every bit as much as the thousands who made it an early-summer sell-out again this year. And with almost certainly 2018’s best festival line-up and an absence of the relentless mountain rain that has so often dogged this event in the past, it’s easy to appreciate why.
Granduciel leads his band through an exultant 90-minute performance, backed by banks of vintage analogue synths and the weighty thunder of Charlie Hall’s Ludwig Vistalite drum kit. Few bands in 2018 sound better than The War On Drugs. Opening with Buenos Aires Beach from 2008’s Wagonwheel Blues and 2011’s Baby Missiles raises a few eyebrows, before Grandcuciel straps on his Fender Jazzmaster for one of the most thrilling moments of last year’s A Deeper Understanding – the colossal Pain.
A huge crack of Hall’s snare drum later prompts Granduciel’s furious, feedback-lashed solo on Strangest Thing, launching a thousand air guitar tributes before a jubilant run through Red Eyes has the massed banks roaring its barrelling riff back at the stage. The encore climaxes with a drawn-out freeform take on Under The Pressure before Granduciel sends his crowd off to witness the traditional show-closing burning of the Green Man sculpture.
This immaculately tidy festival possessing a connoisseur’s bill replete with the finest Americana, indie, alt-country, psych and folk, had started three nights earlier with Lost Maps founder Johnny Lynch, aka Pictish Trail, and Public Service Broadcasting the THURSDAY highlights in Green Man’s second stage, the Far Out tent.
FRIDAY sees prolific Australian psych-prog behemoths King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard take the main slot, hours after singer Stu Mackenzie has taken part in a humble Q&A in the thoughtfully programmed Babbling Tongues tent. They turn the main stage into a seething, sweaty toilet-circuit gig, battering a string of infectious wig-out anthems into our defenceless minds. RATTLE SNAKE, RATTLE SNAKE…
Green Man Rising competition winners Park Motive open the day with their ragged synth-fusion Alt-J approximation on the Mountain Stage, while in the Cinedrome a new generation of children stare open-mouthed at a big-screen playback of George Dunning’s 1968 psychedelic wonder Yellow Submarine. Lancaster’s The Lovely Eggs offer an early blast of psych-punk to eviscerate any lingering cobwebs, while conversely Amber Arcades invite the Mountain Stage crowd to “get onboard the feel train” and deliver a set of breezy country-tinged pop before Baltimore’s Wye Oak lay down an early claim for the performance of the weekend.
Drawing mainly on April’s The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs album with Far Out stage DJ Big Jeff looking on approvingly from stage left, Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack display stunning musical dexterity, fusing swoonsome electronic dream-pop with off-kilter guitar work. Wassner tears out the blistering Neil Young-esque solo on Civilian with visible relish, neatly sidestepping a broken string before taking over on bass.
By night, Babbling Tongues becomes a comedy tent and we witness a stellar performance of affected awkwardness and agonisingly paced social anxiety from Petfringe Comedian Of The Year winner Simon Lomas. Sample joke: “My nan never shopped when she was hungry… she died of starvation”.
While SATURDAY sees Mountain Stage headliners Fleet Foxes draw the weekend’s biggest crowd and Teenage Fanclub roll back the years with a triumphant set of jangly brilliance in the Far Out, the day is illuminated by two emergent acts in the intimate confines of the Walled Garden. Goat Girl appear to have been beamed in from 1993, a joyful, carefree riot of oversized jumpers and jaggedly infectious guitar pop. They make it look effortless, frontwoman Lottie happily admitting: “We embrace our mistakes” as they blast through what feels like at least 50 songs, peaking with debut album opener The Man.
Phoebe Bridgers is considerably more refined, the Beacons sky appropriately darkening to indigo as she arrives in white lace and delivers 45 minutes of dark spectral beauty, duetting with drummer Marshall Vore on a cover of Gillian Welch’s Everything Is Free and her brother on the captivatingly dark Killer. Mesmerising stuff.
Elsewhere, the site is refreshingly free from the intrusion of corporate sponsorship, with the Green Man Welsh Beer & Cider Festival offering myriad choices beyond the usual major-brewery suspects, and the Rough Trade and Tangled Parrot record stalls comforting cratediggers estranged from their collection for the weekend.
Pete Paphides conducts a fascinatingly open interview with John Grant before Grant’s rapturously received Mountain Stage sunset slot, and Baxter Dury explains his hate-fuelled text friendship with Sleaford Mods singer Jason Williamson in a live episode of Gabriel Ebulue’s Three Track Podcast.
After a demoralising performance by the Long Live Vinyl team in Green Man’s traditional Pop Quiz and a thought-provoking panel discussion on the Future Of Music Journalism post-NME, SUNDAY crams in an eclectic undercard before The War On Drugs close the show.
Former Woods and Babies member Kevin Morby, in utilitarian grey boiler suit, proves one of the weekend’s highlights, embodying an encyclopedia entry for New York music as he channels The Velvet Underground, Ramones and The Strokes and blasts through 2017’s superb City Music backed by some spirited Strat wrangling from Meg Duffy.
On the eve of the release of her third album, Hunter, Anna Calvi is in stunning form on the Mountain Stage, dropping to her knees at the climax of new single Don’t Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy and shifting breathtakingly through her vocal range before letting out a curdling howl that hangs in the cooling air for what threatens to be an eternity. Debut album selections Suzanne and I and Desire witness some of the weekend’s most virtuoso guitar playing.
Melbourne’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever are busy relocating the Far Out tent roof, with their breathless Marr-esque three-guitar assault a wide-eyed sugar rush. Talking Straight, from this year’s Hope Downs album, feels every bit as exciting as the early heady salvos of The Strokes and The Libertines, and they’re met by the sweaty embrace of a packed tent.
Grizzly Bear show they’ve matured into one of our most inventive indie acts, working patiently through a set of depth and complexity as the final evening ebbs away and the Mountain Stage amphitheatre fills in readiness for The War On Drugs. It’s hard to imagine how the team behind Green Man can return with a bill more cleverly assembled and generously stocked than this in 12 months’ time, but to borrow Granduciel’s phrase we’ll be returning home to find out.
Review: Gary Walker
Pictures: Becky Leach