Maximo Park are a perfect late afternoon festival band. They've got a history of great singles, the sort that many won't recognise as them until the minute they strike up the first chords. And more importantly, like the two heavyweights that finish off the main stage, they're still making intelligent, articulate records like last year's Risk To Exist rather than leaning solely on nostalgia. They start off with Graffiti and Girls Who Play Guitars with Paul Smith performing his trademark high kicks, before he sheepishly informs us that he's split the trousers of his impressive blue suit by doing so, so leaves the band to entertain us with a funky instrumental designed to rekindle the spirit of The Jacksons who headlined the previous night.
Tracks from Risk To Exist, including the title track, What Did We Do To You To Deserve This? and What Equals Love, blend seamlessly with the likes of The National Health, The Kids Are Sick Again, High Velocity and the inevitable set-closer Apply Some Pressure with the only real difference the subject matter, the impassioned controlled and directed raging at the state of the nation of the last album shining through the angular beats and rhythms of the new material. Paul is as ever entertaining, strutting the stage animated, directing the crowd to move at the right moments and getting people going by the sheer energy of his performance. It's an impressive set that sets the tone for what's to follow.
We head over to the Uncommon Stage, partly to get out of the blistering sun that doesn't quite deliver the thunderstorms on site that had been promised, but mainly to see local band Low Island perform a set to a growing crowd. With recent single Whole World Tucked Away and Disconnect from their Just About Somewhere EP being highlights of their forty minute performance they show exactly why they're already selling out venues like Scala in London. Heavy on keyboards and with Carlos and Jamie sharing vocal responsibilities, either with one on lead or combining to impressive effect, they inject a passion into these songs that is often missing from bands who take this approach to their music. It's evident that they're set for big things in the very near future.
Back on the main stage, Ride are greeted like homecoming heroes, which in effect they are. This is their territory, as Mark alludes to as he greets us with an "it's good to be home" welcome and half way through as he points up to the top of the hill of South Park where the storm clouds are gathering he tells us that three of them went to school at the top of it. Like the headliners, they're a band set on not resting on their laurels and arguably released the best album of their career last year in Weather Diaries and recently followed it up with the Tomorrow's Shore EP.
They set their stall out with three of the first four tracks of the set from Weather Diaries - Lannoy Point, Charm Assault and the title track only interspersed by Seagull. What works so magically with their reformation is that the songs still pack the same punch as the heavyweights from their catalogue - Taste, Dreams Burn Down, Leave Them All Behind and Drive Blind - which all follow - and with Tomorrow's Shore, which Mark describes as a groover, and fellow EP track Pulsar, they're still excitedly pushing boundaries without discarding that explosive core that sits at the heart of most of their best work. That energy translates to the older songs too, the eight minutes or so of Leave Them All Behind is even more ambitious and mind-expanding than the day they unleashed it on an unsuspecting public and breached the top ten.
Whilst these songs are probably best suited to a dark sweaty club venue than they are a sun-kissed humid day in a huge field, the songs connect and there's moments where thousands of arms are raised skywards clapping along or, during Drive Blind as they take the song down, there's roars of appreciation that wouldn't be out of place in a headliner's set. When they play OX4, a tribute to their home city, there's even tribal football chants of "yellows" in honour of their United. They leave to a deserved heroes welcome.
Lightning flashes ominously in the background as James take to the stage as the sun begins to set and the full moon appears in the sky. That mix seems to fire the band up tonight for one of the strongest festival sets we've ever seen them perform. There's a confidence running right through the band now that feels infectious as if there's an unstoppable momentum propelling them forwards.
Six new songs are greeted almost like old favourites despite most of the crowd not having heard them before and that comes from the energy in the performance, whether it be the multiple drums of Hank, the soaring chorus of Coming Home Pt 2, the ecstatic love of Leviathan, the tribal mix of drums and cello that fire Heads and the glorious communal declaration of love for the human race that is Many Faces whilst Better Than That, the lead single, sees Tim down on the barrier, surveying the crowd. In thirty-odd years of watching the band, one whose greatest attraction is their willingness to take risks, we can't recall a point where new material has had such an impact and steadfastly refused to make way for the big hitters that crowds often demand.
There's still plenty of those big hitters of course. Ring The Bells and Come Home have been forced to up their game by the upstarts. The addition of Debbie to the band has reenergised them, whether it be the percussion she adds or the way in which she comes to the front of the stage, throwing herself around, encouraging the others to let loose. It's remarkable to note she hadn't actually met the band until a few days before the tour started, but she's totally got the band's ethos and put her own spin on it and challenged them to push the envelope further.
Sit Down is stripped back to a beautifully tender acoustic strum with Adrian on cello. Completely different from the version they played the night before, it's testament to how this band simply don't take the easy route and live these shows on their edge. There's on-stage discussion on the setlist, which means we get Attention instead of Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) and in the dark as the song hits the breakdown, with lightning at the top of the hill threatening to come down, it's a magical moment that contradicts how big festival headline slots should be performed according to the rule books of the game.
Someone shouts for Scarecrow and it looks like they half consider playing it, but then crash headlong into Laid, two minutes of barmy chaos that sees the crowd bouncing around before concluding the main set with Sometimes with all the band (except Tim) holding guitars including Mark on his bank of keyboards. Saul jokes his guitar is out of tune, but goes for it regardless as the band encourage each other to let go and take the song to new levels. They curtail the singalong to give us another song before the curfew, Tim referencing angry (and in our view a bit pathetic) tweets he's received about songs on the setlists they share not being played, declaring "we do it every night, hope you do too" as they kick into Getting Away With It (All Messed Up).
James played Hank, Better Than That, Ring The Bells, Come Home, Coming Home Pt 2, Leviathan, Heads, Out To Get You, Sit Down (acoustic), Nothing But Love, Moving On, Many Faces, Attention, Laid, Sometimes and Getting Away With It (All Messed Up).
James play festival shows at Lisbon Rock In Rio (June 29), Latitude Festival (July 13), Bilbao BBK (14), Kendal Calling (27), Linlithgow Party At The Palace (August 11), Scarborough Open Air Theatre (18) and Drumlanrig Electric Fields (30).
James' official website can be found here. They are on Facebook and Twitter. Some of the band - Tim, Andy and Dave - are also on Twitter.
Details of their upcoming Living In Extraordinary Times album can be found here.
We also run the One Of The Three James archive, the most detailed resource for information about the band, and the site also has a Facebook and Twitter page.
Ride's official website can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.
Low Island are on Facebook and Twitter.
Maximo Park's official site can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.