Words: John Balfe
Friday 8th July
Rain? What rain?! Any seasoned veteran of Oxegen will tell you that the weather gods don’t often smile upon the Punchestown festival-goers and the forecast for the first day of Oxegen suggested that Oxegen ’11 would be more of the same. One prominent online weather service even warned of small tornadoes and mesocyclones, whatever they are. Any such fears were unfounded however. Sure there was rain but nothing as biblical as predicted, meaning that the Friday of Oxegen was significantly less poncho-heavy as it could have been and this was a welcome relief for what was the most enjoyable opening day of Oxegen in recent memory.
Entertainment.ie arrived on site and immediately visited the Vodafone stage where House of Pain were seemingly just thrilled to be there. Everlast, Danny Boy and DJ Lethal reformed last year after more than a decade apart and it’s apparent that they haven’t lost much of their sparkle, even if the majority of those in attendance were just biding their time until Jump Around boomed out of the public address system.
Meanwhile, Peter Hook & The Light were turning back the years a few hundred yards away in the Heineken Green Spheres tent playing a set of Joy Division music, with Hook doing his best Ian Curtis impression on lead vocals. Hook, at 55 years of age, has lost none of his swagger and was exhibiting the sort of rock ‘n roll histrionics that other bands on this bill (we’re looking at you, My Chemical Romance) just can’t quite pull off. Hook breezed through some Joy Division classics, like Transmission and She’s Lost Control, effortlessly. The sound quality in the tent was surprisingly excellent too, something of a rarity for festivals of this size.
Next it was time for the first trip to the main stage where Weezer played a blistering set. Rivers Cuomo and his band have been playing together for 16 years now but they haven’t forgotten the art of how to entertain a crowd. Their set was ideal for a festival like this. They played all of their hits – The Sweater Song, Island In the Sun, My Name is Jonas for example – when other bands might have played a set of predominantly new material. They even found time for a couple of covers, Teenage Dirtbag by Wheatus and, more oddly, a song from their favourite “party band” Radiohead’s Paranoid Android. Without question the highlight of the day.
My Chemical Romance were next on the same stage. Weezer, though, were going to be a tough act to follow and My Chemical Romance certainly weren’t the band to do so.
The Script followed and played to perhaps the biggest crowd of the day. Danny O’Donoghue and co. have been getting increasingly bigger and for perhaps the first time on home soil, at an Oxegen festival, they looked look superstars. It’s been a big year for the Dublin band and last year’s release Science & Faith has seen the band swell in popularity not just at home, but abroad. The even took in an open air show in Central Park and even a show in the White House on their recent tour.
The Strokes, a band supposedly in the midst of internal strike, were next to take the Vodafone stage but any evidence of strife within the band was not apparent as they gutted out a workmanlike performance. As the band took to the stage, the rainclouds that had been hanging ominously overhead couldn’t hold out any longer and opened up for a good 15 minute torrential downpour. Julian Casablancas, all leather and sunglasses, either didn’t notice or didn’t care. Either way, it didn’t particularly detract from the New York band’s set. Heavy with tracks from – let’s face it – their best album Is This It?, like Someday, Last Night and Take It, Or Leave It The Strokes, even if they’re not on speaking terms with their singer as is the rumours, are still consummate professionals.
Finally, as the night fell and the mud began to get somewhat overwhelming, it was The Black Eyed Peas’ turn to entertain Punchestown. The Californian band were oddly adorned in metallic get-ups, making them look more like Star Trek villains than pop stars and gave the crowd everything they wanted to see. Will.I.Am, though, didn’t seem to know where he was at times. “It’s great to be back in the O2, uh, I mean Oxegen” and frequently yelling out variations of “Dublin! Make some noise!” to the Kildare crowd.
Saturday 9th July
The second day of Oxegen 2011 will be remembered for the lovely weather, some great performances and, er, Amanda Brunker. While entertainment.ie didn’t personally witness Brunker’s half hour on the Vodafone stage, word-of-mouth travelled quickly about exactly how cringe worthy she was. We recommend you check out the YouTube video which has amassed over 25,000 views since it was put up yesterday afternoon. Words fail to do it justice.
Other than Brunker, whose set will without question go down in Oxegen folklore, Saturday was full of mostly interesting music. The distinct lack of mud, which afflicted Friday’s festival experience, was a welcome relief allowing people to actually sit on the grass and created a very pleasant atmosphere in Punchestown.
Kitty, Daisy & Lewis’s and their infectious 1950s grooves were the first band of note that entertainment.ie saw. The Durham family band from London played a set of music that may as well have been recorded in Sun Studios decades ago.
There couldn’t have been a harsher transition when we went from that to check out UK rapper Professor Green in the Heineken Green Spheres stage. Green, who initially rose to fame winning a talent competition on MySpace, played to a packed tent who loved every second of his set. He boasts a very authentic hip-hop voice and has very engaging songwriting, even if he does look slightly like Michael Cera.
Up next was the biggest disappointment of the day, and that came in the shape of Beady Eye on the main stage. After watching this band for 15 minutes, it becomes apparent that there’s a key component missing from their music. It really becomes clear how vital Noel’s songwriting was to Oasis because, when you remove him from the equation, the remaining members of Oasis seem clueless about how to construct a well-written song. It was basically a set of several b-side quality Oasis songs, with the snarling arrogance of Liam fronting it. Bland
Arctic Monkeys, however, were the opposite. While it’s clear that time has left Liam Gallagher behind, Alex Turner and his band are on the rise. They looked like true rock ‘n roll stars on the main stage, playing a mixture of songs from their latest album Suck It and See as well as some of their older favourites like Mardy Bum, When The Sun Goes Down and Crying Lightning. The Sheffield band were the clear highlight of the day.
The elaborate state set up of Deadmau5 over on the Vodafone stage was something to behold too. A light show shone from the stage just as night fell on Punchestown.
Foo Fighters closed the night off. The band were making their first Irish appearance in several years, this time with former Nirvana member Pat Smear in tow. Dave Grohl’s brand of showmanship and stage presence provides a solid focal point for the group, even if they do seem to be more concerned with making the crowd jump up and down than playing authentic, well-delivered versions of their music. Still though, 90% of the crowd didn’t mind.
Sunday 10th July
Day three of Oxegen 2011 or 'Beyonce Day' as it will most likely be referred to in future, was without question the day that your average festival fan was anticipating the most. The Sunday crowd had swollen significantly from the that of the previous two days, with headliners Beyonce and Coldplay proving to be quite a draw for day-trippers and anyone who came to see these two acts won't have left disappointed as they both delivered a fun, and festival friendly, set.
LA rap collective OFWGKTA were the first group that entertainment.ie witnessed and their brand of authentic, raw hip-hop went down a storm in the Heineken Green Spheres tent. Band leader Tyler, The Creator was forced to spend the majority of the set sitting in a chair due to a broken leg while his band mates hyperactively jumped across the stage.
A short time later, and not knowing exactly what to expect, we visited the main stage to witness Slash. The former Guns 'n Roses axe man was joined on stage by long time collaborator Myles Kennedy who took up vocal duties as the duo, along with a solid support band, ploughed through some of the biggest hits from the G'nR back catalogue. Oldies like Mr Brownstone, Sweet Child o' Mine and Welcome to the Jungle were interspersed in the set. Slash was even joined on stage by Fergie who literally somersaulted across the stage while performing Barracuda. Who said rock 'n roll was dead?
At the relatively early time of 8.25pm it was time for Ms Knowles. The Destiny's Child alumnus was unquestionably the biggest draw of the festival and the crowd for the main stage has rarely been so large in recent Oxegen memory. Beyonce's much talked about recent performance at Glastonbury was clearly still fresh in most people's mind and the level of anticipation was incredibly high, but Beyonce certainly delivered on the massive expectation when she finally took the stage.
The tone for her performance was immediately set when the opening strains of Crazy In Love boomed from the PA system. Other notable hits All The Single Ladies, Halo and Baby Boy also followed and the aura around her performance proved that, if there was any doubt, Beyonce is a truly massive superstar
The interesting thing about having an act on stage the size of Beyonce means that almost no-one will be at the other stages for whatever poor unfortunate bands have to compete with them. Well, over on the Vodafone stage The National were making their third Irish appearance in less than a year to a crowd populated almost entirely by huge fans. Frontman Matt Berninger revealed that the band's credit card information had been stolen when they stayed in The Clarence Hotel by an unscrupulous individual, joking that he was pretty certain Bono was behind it.
Set closer Terrible Love was the highlight of the Ohioan band's set. Berninger, as he's prone to do, elected to jump the guardrail separating band from fans and sang the final few minutes of the song amongst the fans. Definitely one of the 'moments' of the festival.
The honour of being the final act on the main stage at Oxegen 2011 was bestowed upon the ever-reliable Coldplay, who can always be called upon for such situations. Chris Martin and his band are a finely tuned machine for festival situations like this and are well-rehearsed at giving festival fans exactly what they want to see - and tunes like Yellow and In My Place anchored their set. There was even time for Christy Moore to get in on the act as he joined the band on stage to a rapturous reception.
So, that's Oxegen done for another year. While this year's festival did concentrate more on pop acts that perhaps it did in the past (Beyonce, Black Eyed Peas) it still had a little bit of something for everyone. Also, the lack of rain was a major plus. Top marks, Oxegen.
For further photographs, check out our Caught Out section!