|Glastonbury Anthems: The Best of Glastonbury 1994-2004|
|Written by Dan Macintosh|
|Tuesday, 21 June 2005|
To a young Anglophile, The Glastonbury Festival stood out as something foreign and mysterious, and its self-contained musical universe was the kind of thing this American-bred boy dreamed about both night and day. Everybody around the world has always looked to the United States for musical inspiration, yet Americans have somehow been extremely slow to catch onto the benefits of the whole festival scene. Sure, we’ve had our Woodstock, which was amazingly good the first time around, and a total disaster with its recent anniversary celebration. Lollapalooza has been hit or miss throughout its lifetime, and Altamont, well, the less said about that one, the better.
It wasn’t until Coachella came along, toward the end of the 20th Century, that this nation finally started to get a clue about the undeniable beauty of a great festival. Yours truly was primed and ready to go the first ever Coachella, partially because I’d already read about such things as Glastonbury over years. Coachella met all of my great expectations, and then some. Now with this new Glastonbury DVD, music obsessive ones will have the chance to experience a little bit of what they’ve been missing out on all these years.
Although this disc includes historic footage from the ancient 1971 edition of the festival, it is by no means an overview of the event’s whole lifetime. Instead, the performances selected between 1994 and 2004 were chosen specifically to appeal to modern rock listening tastes. Secondly, this is a collection of strictly British music. No doubt, Glastonbury has drawn musical visitors from every nook and cranny of the world over its extended existence, but all nineteen performances included within this set are soundly homegrown products.
But despite its obvious chronological and regional limitations, this is nevertheless a smart and entertaining sampling of what is particularly good about British music from the past decade. Oh, and one other thing: this is mostly rock music, too. But as long as you know what this DVD is – as well as what it isn’t -- going in, you should have a fine time watching it.
When I say rock, I should probably clarify myself by calling it guitar rock. There are aggressive performances from Manic Street Preachers (“A Design For Life”), Supergrass (“Pumping On Your Stereo”) and Primal Scream (“Rocks”). Ash adds a dash of power pop with “Shining Light,” and Blur is captured in the midst of the Britpop movement with “This Is a Low.” Americans missed the whole Britpop phenomenon, by the way, but across the pond this Brit-centric scene was larger than life news.
One thing that Britain does better than any just about any other section of the globe is moody rock. Radiohead, the kings of this emotive sound, contribute “Karma Police” to this set. Similarly, Coldplay -- which is sort of the “new” Radiohead -- is revealed playing its first big hit single, “Yellow.” Travis also fits into this unique soft-alternative-rock category, too, and is seen playing “Driftwood” here. All of these bands place a high priority upon being both melodic and sincere. While their songs can oftentimes be a tad on the depressing side, at least they aren’t unbearably mopey the way emo too often is.
Techno, electronica and all the other computer-centric kinds of sounds you care to name have always gone over great in Britain, but not here. This is why such axe-less acts can headline large festivals like this one. For instance, The Chemical Brothers perform “Hey Boy Hey Girl,” accompanied by many flashing lights and various number combinations endlessly calculating across big screens, to the obvious pleasure of a large crowd. Moby is heard, but hardly seen, doing “Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?” It’s a slow tune, and much closer to gospel and blues, than to your typical synthesized music. Speaking of soul, Basement Jaxx shows off its extremely R&B side with its one song “Good Luck.” Its sound may offer a hint of where modern soul music may well be headed. This act uses its knowledge of electronics to create great dance grooves, which is something everybody may be doing one day.
As with almost any overview, such as this one, there are a few artists here that don’t neatly fit into any organized categories. For instance, Paul McCartney’s heyday predates Glastonbury by quite a number of years, yet it is his 2004 performance of “Hey Jude” that was chosen to close out the DVD. Positioned behind a rainbow-colored piano, McCartney sings this anthem of hope to a field full of fans, many of which may not have even been born until long after it was recorded the first time. Another square peg in a round hole is Robbie Williams, who was once a member of the popular Take That group. Take That is another one of those you’d probably have to have been there to get it kinds of groups, since it never made much of a mark over here. He slows things down considerably with his ballad “Angels.” Levellers, which takes the stage to the sound of a didgeridoo, also sidesteps the general direction (of more amplified music) contained on this DVD.
Although the set closes with the oldie Paul McCartney, it opens on a gutsy note with an appearance by the Scottish band Franz Ferdinand playing “Matinee.” It’s a particularly gutsy move, because at the time of this filming, the group had only one CD under its belt. Clearly, the compilers of this DVD believe that Franz Ferdinand will ultimately stand the test of time. Otherwise, those who watch this series of performances years from now will be scratching their heads in confusion over the oddly named group that kicks things off.
If you’re looking for a little bit of this festival’s history, go straight to the “Glastonbury Fayre” extra, which looks like it could easily have been shot at Woodstock. With all its hippie dancers, both clothed and unclothed, its participants behave like they’re attending a love-in, albeit one with great music. These scenes all takes place to the soundtrack of Paul McCartney singing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in 2004, and it is a series of clips without any narration. No narration is necessary, however, because these pictures easily paint volumes of words. There is also an interview extra at the end of the DVD, which features Michael and Jean Eavis, who started this whole festival in the first place.
Once again, what you make of this DVD is highly dependent upon how you feel about modern British rock. If you’re the kind of person that reads Q, Mojo, Uncut, or NME regularly, viewing this disc will put pictures and sounds to the stories you’ve come to love to read. If, however, you have been raised on a steady diet of little more than MTV, VH-1 and Rolling Stone, the whole event may not make a whole lot of sense to you at first glance.
Every once in a while, I read a rumor about how somebody is threatening to make a documentary on Coachella. Now that might be something worth seeing! But just as it’s nearly impossible to see everything you want to see while you’re on the Coachella grounds, it’s doubtful that anyone can fully capture the true flavor of Coachella in film form. Let’s hope that this proposed Coachella film is at least a little more ambitious than “Glastonbury Anthems” turned out to be.
In spite its obvious limitations, “Glastonbury Anthems” still has enough top level talent to show off, which makes it must-see viewing for Anglophile music fans. It’s not the next best thing to being there, but it’s most certainly still a treat for fans of British-accented music.