Electric Picnic 2019 - Friday: You should see Billie Eilish in a crown
All the action from day one in Stradbally as Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O'Connell takes centre stage...
Despite multiple reports of doom and gloom on the weather front, the sun creeps through the clouds in Stradbally as Friday afternoon opens up and Electric Picnic 2019 comes into focus.
It's not something to get too attached to, with a potential biblical downpour on the horizon. Come 5pm at the Body & Soul stage, it's still bright and breezy. Children - and some young adults - hurl themselves down the rushes with reckless abandon.
The soundtrack; reggae, Sebastien Tellier's wondrous 'La Ritournelle' and that godawful Poolside remix of Neil Young's 'Harvest Moon'. A calm before the storm.
On JOE's travels towards the Main Stage and David Keenan's 6pm kick-off, an actual Make America Great Again hat is spotted in the wild. Better or worse than a white dude rocking a Native American headdress? You decide.
As for Keenan and his band that includes a mime because art, the Dundalk troubadour certainly doesn't lack for fear. Still, there's no escaping the sense that his wild pretension - for it is so very wild - and familiar crooning aren't enough for the gathering youngsters to latch onto.
"ARE WE NOT DELIRIOUS?," Keenan crows as he bails from the stage, pressing the flesh with those right at the very front, clad in a combination of Peaky Blinders and Irish revolutionary attire. He's an improvement on fellow local poet Jinx Lennon, for sure, but what does that even mean?
Bruised, brooding clouds continue to provoke unrest. A half an hour passes. It's officially Billie Eilish time.
"I'm gonna live in the moment," announces a punter as a hundred phones rise up. Jessica Rabbit and love hearts spray-painted across signature oversized t-shirt and shorts - surgical mask briefly utilised - Eilish bounds onstage.
The crowd roars and heaves. It's young enough, though not exclusively, and there's no age cap on someone proudly belting out the words to 'Bad Guy' as it takes hold and everyone leaps off their feet.
And yet, and yet, and yet.
Accusations of miming land Eilish's way amidst the pockets of chatter. It's more likely that she's feeding off a backing vocal track and the sync of the big screen isn't doing her any favours.
Couple that with a strangely low microphone mix - bear in mind that the entire package, so big, so bright, is accompanied by an uninvited thumping bass line from a nearby stage - and there's an uneasy feeling of restlessness in play for an artist that usually excels at conjuring up her own specific brand thereof.
I said it last year. It's more evident now, barely hours in. Electric Picnic is colossal. 15 years on from its inception, 57,500 souls convene where once there were 10,000. The site - expanded accordingly over time - is sprawling, a mini-Glastonbury.
For the better? Again, you tell me.
Eilish is a star. The connects do what they should. But how many of us are, in fact, living in the moment? An odd barrage, this; a hype act delivering - scores of die-hards right, left, centre scream so loud you could hear it miles away - and yet... the usual.
Image via Glen Bollard
Hang back a little, but it's still there. The usual. The usual dialled-up mix of smoking area white noise ignorance and listless, endless conversations about absolutely nothing at all. Each to their own and all that. I guess 'Crown' was pretty good.
Phone signal dies entirely. Eilish does the Slipknot 'Get down and jump up when I say so' thing. If you can tune in, it's maybe pretty great. How is it not even 8pm yet?
As daylight dies, The Claque light up Body & Soul. A relatively new outfit, the Dublin trio boast Girl Band DNA, smart invention, and a calm, cool frontwoman that lends a pop edge to proceedings.
We've been told, over and over again, that Ireland is suddenly a hotbed for great guitar music. In truth, it likely always has been. If we're going to put a renewed focus on such matters, this is a band that should be included in the conversation.
Back to the Main Stage as Dermot Kennedy pitches up. He's not the main event, despite his increasing box office status. Regardless, it's another scrapbook moment for the man.
"Four years ago, I played in a tent over there to about 50 people," he confides halfway through his hour.
"I tried to sneak in the year before that, and the year before that. This is different."
He pauses, knowing now just how to play to the gallery. Their response? An 'Ole, Ole' chant, because of course. It may be different for Dermot Kennedy, yet it remains so achingly standard for those who line up to pay attention only when they choose to.
Black-and-white washed out visuals lend ceremony to the opening half of his set. Drummer Micheál Quinn remains a standout. The closing screams that Kennedy beckons as 'After Rain' sends him off tonight provide goosebumps. Boy done good.
Hozier has the task of following this. It's a weird thing, a triple main event of a Friday. How much Hozier do you want your Hozier to be, essentially?
Do you want big band booming Hozier? How about sensitive, take your time Hozier? What of patient, political, powerful Andrew Hozier-Byrne? It's all here. And it's really kind of fucking boring, isn't it?
Fair play to the man and his cohorts for elevating most of the catalogue in the live arena - an appointment like this really does demand it - but the limitations, the walls, the giant box that all of this is suffocated within, is distressingly evident.
These songs, so laboured, have so very few paths to go down. Hozier will gamely do the Hozier thing and put every element of his lungs behind it all, but to what end? For what purpose? A great speech is only great if it means something, and you can only get away with a trick for so long.
"Electric Picnic, it has been a joy," he gushes upon introducing that one that you know like the back of your hand. It depends on your level of devotion.
Over at the Electric Arena, James Blake commands a modest assembly with charm, poise, and occasional brilliance. It's quite beautiful when it gets going, and you wonder when he and an Irish live appearance will finally fully marry well.
Oh, and shouts to the Anthony Bourdain mural in Body & Soul. That was sweet.
Featured image via Glen Bollard