Reading Festival – 28/08/03 – er, Reading

Too old to go to Reading Festival for the whole weekend, but seeing as they do day passes, I thought it would be a nice day out to catch the Sunday, headlined by none other than Metallica. It was 13 years since my last visit (not counting a gig or two at the After Dark Club), and 7 since the last time I saw Metallica, so there was some nostalgia to be had somewhere along the line, for sure. St Anger is the worst album they’ve ever made, by some margin but I had seen a live show from Nuremburg on Sky a few weeks previously, and it was seriously classic laden, chugging along for a full half hour before any new stuff, if I recall correctly, so I wasn’t going to miss this. Not much else on the bill tickled my fancy, but it would be worth it just for the main act, and there would be bound to be a few surprises throughout the day.

Arrived in Reading at lunchtime, and ran the gauntlet of shoddy merchandise hawkers that lined the route from the station to the site. I grew out of tour shirts (figuratively speaking) years ago, and cheap, ill-fitting pirate tat from China was really not high on my list of priorities. The thing that struck me about Reading Festival this time round was the litter. Even though Glastonbury is a far cry from the tree-hugging crunchy granola-fest it once was, at least the people that go there now sort of clean up after themselves. Reading was just a sea of empty paper pint cups – there were possibly bins under there somewhere, but the entire site was pretty much a Carling-sponsored municipal tip. Anyway, when in Rome, I do not do as the indie kids do, so I lobbed my empties in the direction of where I thought the bin probably was, because I am environmentally responsible.

Anyway, cut to the chase, a few warm Carlings (in silly paper cups) later, and we found ourselves in the tent watching Radio 4, a reasonably entertaining punky indie outfit from Noo Yawk. Complete with guest appearance from Har Mar Superstar (what ever happened to him?). They had sounded a lot better on XFM, it must be said. Anyway, we were just maneuvering ourselves into a decent position for 80s Matchbox B-Line Disaster. Now, when I saw them in the Garage 9 months previously, they were utterly brilliant. Here, in a large drafty tent in the middle of the afternoon, it wasn’t nearly so effective. The atmosphere was nowhere near as good, mind, as apart from a few dozen down the front, it was really just people waiting, arms folded and pints in hand, for the later acts. 80s Matchbox were good, but nowhere near as good as they should have been. Next up was Hell Is For Heroes, whom I pretty sure we ignored entirely, while we waited for Hot Hot Heat. I knew a couple of their songs from Eddy Temple-Morris’s show on XFM, and I liked what I heard. Live though, they were a bit hot and cold. Hot Hot Hot and Cold Cold Cold, I should say. Puh-dm-tsh! Wandered out into the main arena just as the shambolic Primal Scream were, well, shambling off the stage. They’ve done a couple of decent tracks over the years (although most of my favourites have been heavily remixed by the Andy Weatheralls of this world), but I’ve always thought of them as a second rate Rolling Stones tribute act fronted by a professional smackheed. But that’s just the opinion of a very particular old get. Sum 41 did little for me other than annoy the fuck out of me with their facile and saccharine brand of, and I use the term extremely loosely, ‘punk’. Green Day, Blink 182, Weezer, Good Charlotte (also on the bill that day, mercifully avoided), Sum 41 etc etc etc. Fucking yawn. I think this sums up my thoughts towards all of that crap. However, such was the need to get a half-decent position for System Of A Down, from where we could push on and get a better position for Metallica, that we sat through the whole set.

System Of A Down were good. Really good. They’re so different from almost everything else around. Half the attraction, I think, is the quasi-operatic vocal style, but the music is very intricate, and the interplay between the two vocalists really stands out. The riffz and ting is fairly ordinary crunchy metal fare, but combined with the yodeling and stuff, it’s a rather complex sound. Armenian avant-metal is the next big thing, I’m telling you.

So, to the main reason for coming, Metallica. The weather had held out for us, and it was nearly dark by the time they came on. The traditional Ennio Morricone intro blared out and then we were off with Battery. Dang, they still sound good. They crunched through Sanitarium, Harvester, Blackened and just the one from St Anger (!). Lars had obviously listened to some of the feedback about his drum sound on St Anger and put the snare back in to play live, it didn’t sound nearly so bad as I thought it would. This was the first time I’d seen them play with Rob Trujillo, and he was a more than adequate replacement for Jason Newstead, but neither will ever be Cliff Burton, obviously. He noodled about with a confident (but sub-Anaesthesia) bass solo that eventually morphed into the beginning of ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’, probably my fave Metallica track.  There was a little bit of silly swappyroundyinstrumentitis in evidence when Lars ended up on guitar and Kirk on drums but on the whole they were extremely awesome. They encored with Creeping Death and Sad But True, and the final one (as we were heading for the gate) was Enter Sandman.  A grand day out.

Headed for the gate early only because First Great Western, or  whichever Mickey Mouse train company is responsible for the bit between London and Reading, was planning to use buses to transport several thousand festival-goers instead of the usual trains. Queues would surely abound…


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