V Festival 2003 @ Hylands Park, Chelmsford, 16-17th August 2003
V2003 - HYLANDS PARK, CHELMSFORD, 16-17/8/03

This year’s V Festival boasted arguably the best lineup of the long list of summer extravaganzas, with political activists Coldplay and Californian funksters Red Hot Chili Peppers heading the bill, alongside Foo Fighters, Ash, Queens Of The Stone Age and PJ Harvey. It’s the clean, posh festival, with great mobile phone reception, ample amounts of Virgin Cola and portaloos which are just about bearable. It hasn’t got the rough and ready atmosphere of the Carling Weekend, but this year it made up for it’s somewhat sterile feel by rocking like a bastard.

The annual commute to Hylands Park from Liverpool Street is over, and after sinking a few cans of warm ‘wife beater’, it’s straight into the arena. Reel Big Fish arrive on the main stage early on Saturday morning to greet the arriving hoards – the lead singer announces that he won’t be singing today as there’s a problem with his throat. He hands the duty over to some other guy in the band, and it’s quite quickly apparent that there’s a problem with their music. It’s unpalatable stuff, quite frankly, even the in-your-face trumpet fanfare of ‘Sell Out’ fails to galvanise the lethargic crowd.

The Cardigans fill the mid afternoon slot with their sing along friendly tunes, played under a rather impressive living room backdrop complete with chandeliers. They turn out to be the surprise of the weekend – songs off the new album ‘Long Gone Before Daylight’ such as ‘You’re The Storm’ and ‘For What’s It’s Worth’ sound great, and should catapult the record on to the shortlist for albums of the year. Old favourite ‘Erase And Rewind’ sees the crowd humming along, whilst ‘Lovefool’ brings back images of Leonardo Di Caprio running around making a tit out of himself. The insistent riff of ‘My Favourite Game’ generates a degree of excitement in the moshpit, and perhaps more importantly, proves that this amiable Swedish outfit are far from dead and buried.

The Hives are on next, and it’s hard not to get the feeling that the novelty value of this band ran out a while ago - Probably after the release of their only real tune to date, ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’. Howlin’ Pele Almqvist swaggers on stage and for the next 40 minutes or so, does little else but champion himself and his band. It was funny the first time we heard it last year at Reading, but now it’s just painful to watch. The new material is just more inane guitar bludgeoning and howling, and the old stuff sounds particularly stale. ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’ and ‘Main Offender’ are still fun, jump up and down festival anthems, but with so many good bands coming out this year, these sharply dressed comedians have probably past their sell by date.

Festival veterans Ash burst in to ‘Girl From Mars’ to open yet another greatest hits set, and once again deliver a flawless performance. The best of the back catalogue is showcased – ‘Shining Light’, ‘A Life Less Ordinary’, ‘Angel Interceptor’, ‘Sometimes’ – we get them all, as well as some new material, which goes down a treat. The crowd is in a state of frenzy by the time ‘Burn Baby Burn’ comes on, and we already have a candidate for band of the weekend.

Dusk is approaching, two bands to go. Anticipation is building. Foo Fighters are scheduled to play an hour-long set, and the crowd is brimming with excitement. Euphoria cannot even begin to describe the atmosphere when Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel and Chris Shifflet walk on stage, armed with their instruments, and begin a thunderous rendition of ‘All My Life’, which is probably the highlight of the entire festival. ‘Stacked Actors’ and ‘Have It All’ are converted into ten minute epics, whilst Grohl keeps the crowd entertained by introducing ‘Low’ as a song you could imagine rednecks having sex to and dedicating ‘Tired Of You’ to his new wife. ‘Everlong’ concludes what is a special set, a performance that is tighter and more confident that their headline slot at Reading last year.

They’re the biggest band in the world at the moment, they want to make trade fair, their lead singer’s getting married to an A-list Hollywood actress, they’ve charmed their way into the hearts of Americans – yes, they’re Coldplay. Established set opener ‘Politik’ displays venom not usually associated with Coldplay, with Chris Martin shouting ‘Open Up Your Eyes!’ It’s a glorious V-sign to anyone who labelled them as ‘bedwetters’. ‘Trouble’, ‘Shiver’ and ‘Yellow’ are amongst the songs included - Two albums in and already they’re able to boast a back catalogue most bands dream of. Love em’ or hate em’, they’re here to stay, and with new songs like ‘Turned The World Upside Down’ sounding a bit more angst ridden (You heard it), the new album should be an interesting offering.

Saturday’s gone, and with it the bulk of the lineup. Sundays at festivals are notorious for hangovers and increased constipation, and today is no different. Browsing through the overpriced laminate, it becomes apparent that there’s not a great deal on offer today. Skin prances around the main stage early on, in a valiant attempt to wake people from their dormant state. The Skunk Anasie hit ‘Hedonism’ that soundtracked airwaves in 1997 is included. ‘Just Because You Feel Good/Doesn’t Make It Right’ – not what the crowd need to hear the morning after a Saturday night at a festival. Next.

Haven play a short set over at the NME stage – their star has yet to rise, one feels, but with ever increasing competition in the epic ballad department, it is not going to be easy. However, they’ve no doubt got the tunes in their armoury to rival the likes of Coldplay, Elbow and Longview – new single ‘Tell Me’, is more breezy melody, and ‘Let It Live’ and ‘Say Something’ provide the first real aural pleasure of the day. Watch this space.

PJ Harvey delivers a set largely filled with new material, but apart from the dark, brooding ‘To Bring Me Your Love’, and the slightly shocking ‘Who The Fuck?’ (What the families in the crowd thought of this I dread to think) it’s pretty uninspiring listening. A bit of a disappointment, really – the former Mercury Prize winner’s reputation as the queen of rock seems to have eluded her here.

The hours tick away, and suddenly it’s 4.30pm. Queens of The Stone Age are about to play on the main stage. Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri walk on like mercenaries who have been paid to rock. Opener ‘Millionaire’ threatens to blow up the speaker system, whilst ‘The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret’ and ‘First It Giveth’ witness some intense mosh action. The Feel Good Hit Of The Summer’s profound lyrics of ‘Nicotine, Valium, Marijuana, Ecstasy and Alcohol…’ win over the boozed up crowd, and ‘Go With The Flow’ is a slab of pure, unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll. This is really something else, the sheer power of these songs must be intimidating for other bands. ‘No One Knows’, closes their set, and there’s not a single crowd member who wants to see them leave.

After an insanely boring ‘chill out’ session with none other than David Gray, it’s on to the most anticipated band of the weekend, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It would be fair to say that the majority of tickets for this festival were sold due to this band appearing. You know what you’re going to get from the Chilis – they’ve been around for close to two decades and they’ve sold god knows how many millions of albums. It’s always going to a storming occasion, and tonight is certainly no exception. The opening chords of ‘By The Way’ arrive, and the delirium begins – 100,000 people jumping up and down in a state of bliss, the chorus echoing far into East Anglia. The epic ‘Californication’ and ‘Can’t Stop’ get Frusciante makeovers, as the legendary guitarist continues to reinvent the art of playing guitar. Other highlights include the gorgeous ‘Universally Speaking’, and the ultra funky ‘Give It Away’. It pours down during the encore of ‘Under The Bridge’, so fitting you get the feeling that Anthony Kiedis has some kind of divine power. At this point in time, not a single soul would disagree. An awesome end to a great weekend, the only regret is as ever, it was all over far too quickly.

Jeremy Lloyd