Review of Summer Sundae at De Montfort Uni, Leicester on 14th to 16th August.
As the only thing worth doing in Leicester at any time of the year Summer Sundae, at the supposed peak of the summer, has become extremely popular in its home city and the surrounding area. It has also grown from a middle-of-the-road backslapping session to a vibrant and exciting weekender, offering a dazzling array of bands from every genre imaginable (except metal, unfortunately). Which such a quantity of bands (at least ten) playing across a half dozen stages rather than an exhaustive summary here is a best of, a pick and mix of the highlights of the weekend.
Due to work commitments Contactmusic arrives rather late on the virgin day of the festival. By now word has spread of several cancellations (part of the course at Summer Sundae) and fantastic sets by My Latest Novel and Wild Beasts, and so a trip to the Rising Stage is made for Icelanders Múm. Unfortunately they cannot match the quality of the stage's predecessors, or their recorded output, with new songs sounding weak and directionless.
The excuse of a member of The Streets supposedly being in quarantine with swine flu (couldn't they just take Tamiflu and die from an allergic reaction like the rest of us?) gives rise to Idlewild headlining the main stage on a Friday night. Headlining to more than five hundred people all over again must be intimating, but the band pull off a heady, hits-heavy set despite facing a crowd still annoyed over Mike Skinner's absence.
Saturday belongs to the city of Leeds. Inhabitants Her Name Is Calla and David Thomas Broughton provide the highlights of the day, and are only two examples of the cities seemingly endless array of fantastic artists. Six-piece Calla have returned from a self-imposed hiatus infinitely stronger and re-energised. New songs sound like a cyclical storm that have uprooted strands of A Silver Mt Zion's sprawling orchestral rock (sans pretension) and Can's acid-fried prog (sans noodling) and dumped them in the mechanical junkyard of 05/06 chancers Oceansize.
Even they however, are slightly caste in the shadow of David Thomas Broughton, a man of almost mythical stature and horrific genius. On stage he commands a certain ratio of adoration and fear that is missing amongst most artists who spew their guts to any blog or fanzine, and I'm not the least bit ashamed to say I froze a little when encountering him post set. A friend comments its a work, that his traits and on-stage demi-seizures are an act, but if they are he has a few hundred marks. A few hundred converts too no doubt; his songs may be haphazard and prone to veering off at an unexpected split-second but the end result is staggering, forming (especially with the benefit of retrospect) a patchwork whole of heartbreak, anger and isolation as close to Antony & The Johnsons or William Burroughs as long-time reference point Nick Drake.
The local contingent is bolstered by Frontiers and Minnaars, who bring in the afternoon on the main stage. Both are slightly lost in the wind-swept half-interest of the grassy knoll but still offer up solid performances and occasional Assou-Ekotto like moments of greatness, bringing Editors-meet-Kubichek! indie and guitar-driven dance-rock respectively.
The last band Contactmusic run into for the day is The Airborne Toxic Event, truly one of the best live acts around at the moment. Their début self-titled album may suffer from a lack of focus and energy but their songs are totally transformed on-stage. 'Wishing Well' and 'Pampillon' burn like peers The National and The Hold Steady whilst favourite 'Sometime Around Midnight' provides both witty lyrics and football terrace chant vocals over slow-burning strings and building drums.
The final day of Summer Sundae is one of those days that will go down in demi-legend, except here it won't be driven by Chinese-whispers of exaggeration but by God-honest truth, as Israel punk-rockers Monotonix offer up what might be the best rock set of the past decade. Contactmusic readers were urged to make seeing the four-piece are a priority for the weekend in the festival preview, and the promise of "the most unhinged, uninhabited performance of the weekend" is more than delivered upon.
Quantification of such punk perfection is nigh on impossible, so a mere recommendation to see the band in your town/city/country/continent will be offered. After all, when else can you be pounded by Sabbath riffs, slapped in the face and encouraged to carry a floor tom upstairs as the band relocate from the floor to the balcony, then watch the frontman jump twenty feet into the crowd?
That such a performance happened midway through the final day is a blessing. Earlier and it would have no doubt cast a shadow on the rest of the proceedings. As it is light-hearted excursions to the main stage are made in between happenings in the Liverpool vs Tottenham game and Usain Bolt's record setting (granted, that didn't take up too much time). The Joy Formidable are a bundle of energy; all female shouts, military drums and distortion wrapped guitars, like Be Your Own Pet reimagined in British Sea Power's sepia-toned nostalgic landscape. Later on Broken Records try their best to match TJF, but violin swipes and falsetto wails get lost in middle distance and the band never capture the essence of their stunning full-length 'Until The Earth Begins To Part'.
As the sun sets the festival draws to a close. Yes, The Zutons, The Lightning Seeds and The new (but not improved) Beautiful South play after him/them, but it is Bon Iver that marks the perfect point to call it a day. Voices fly and heartstrings are plucked as you would expect, but Justin Vernon +3 have added a whole new element to their heaven-kissed country-rock, and at times sound closer to the sprawling epics of My Morning Jacket than the acoustic balladry of début 'For Emma, Forever Ago'. Sometimes this works, such as on the beefed up version of EP track 'Blood Bank', but elsewhere there is a trade off in the understated magic of 'Flume' and 'Lump Sum' for added velocity. Although exploration and advancement is always to be encouraged Bon Iver are at their best when sticking to what they know, as on 'Re:Stacks' and a stunning cover of Graham Nash's 'I Am A Simple Man', in which vocal duties are handed over to bandmate Michael Noyce. Its enough to make a security person draw tears, and his voice soars much further and truer than Justin's, whose vocals sound considerably weaker without the comfort of overdubs and reverb.
Summer Sundae has blossomed into one of the highlights of a festival circuits, and comes highly recommended for its atmosphere and variety, not to mention close proximity to some fine Indian eateries. See you there next summer?