Electric Picnic 2019 - Sunday: Florence versus the machines
The curtain comes down on Stradbally. Also, Razorlight are still a thing. Who knew?
It ain't over 'til it's over and it's almost over.
At a press conference on Sunday afternoon, festival director Melvin Benn hails Electric Picnic 2019 as a roaring success, boasting the greatest vibe he's ever experienced in these once intimate, now mammoth surroundings.
Issues such as security, welfare of punters and the festival's commitment to environmental issues are raised, but Benn is a beacon of positivity, while also suggesting capacity - currently 60,000 - will increase further next year.
Though there's no concrete announcement on that score just yet, Benn is keen to satisfy increasing demand. Another number: 57,000. That's the early estimate for the amount of souls that hit up the Main Stage for Billie Eilish on Friday, a new record.
Like the final headliner points to, 'tis a great big machine, this.
Sunday on the main arena has begun to adopt something of a pattern; big mainstream top-liner supported by several recognised names, a bit of reggae-funk before that, and, kicking things off, the only thing more certain than death and taxes; the Dublin Gospel Choir. They do what they do.
Fangclub have the tricky task of opening the Electric Arena and sure enough, turnout is sparse.
Image via Glen Bollard
Those who venture along are rewarded with fast-paced grunge delivered with dogged energy. 'Bullet Head' and an extended, crashing outro finish things before frontman Steven King crouches down, prone, until his bandmates lift him aloft and carry him away to the strains of Whitney Houston's 'I Will Always Love You', as you do.
But let's stop dancing around it, shall we? Johnny Borrell and Razorlight are back, back, back, baby. Yes, it's 2019 and here they are, Main Stage underfoot.
"I don't know why," Borrell croons early doors. I'm not sure, either, mate. A band that commanded a respectable enough poster position - logo and all! - back in the Oxegen era find themselves in weird day three limbo. Garbage had this slot last year. Maybe it's a throwback thing.
In any case, the place does slowly fill up. "This is a song about London town," Borrell declares as 'Don't Go Back to Dalston' revs up. Because that's what a rake of Irish people in a field are here for. Lads in Dublin jerseys, missing the match, enjoy a bop to 'Golden Touch'. A passing girl adds a clown horn to the mix. Why not.
"He looks like Jerry Seinfeld if he did a lot of drugs," notes a voice to my left as Borrell indulges in what can only be described as Doors-level bullshit. 'Stumble and Fall' and 'Somewhere Else' fare better, while the opening of 'America' is dedicated, disparagingly, to Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.
That's our cue to leave. Not that messrs Trump and Johnson aren't cretins, more that, 'America', in this author's opinion, is a stain on music itself. "That's a tune," shouts a bucket hat. "This is class," opines another a few paces away. Nope, sorry, both wrong.
Despite his playful protestations to the contrary, Newcastle man Sam Fender has a touch of a young Springsteen about him, or perhaps that's the Clemons-esque saxophone solo that arrives 15 minutes into the set talking.
Brooding and booming, the 23-year-old clearly has a bright future, and his willingness to reach into a difficult present on a song like 'Dead Boys' and its subject matter of male suicide, turning it all into a towering, affecting anthem is commendable.
Image via Glen Bollard
Afterwards, a stroll in the direction of Talos and the Cork collective's vibrant fusion of future pop and post rock.
Eoin French has recently embraced a more buoyant form of pop music, and today, backed by two drummers, it all soars so very heavenly. 'Odyssey', in particular, is magical.
Richard Ashcroft, gleefully letting us know that he is not in Dublin, rattles through something old, something borrowed, and something blue on the Main Stage. 'The Drugs Don't Work' provokes tears from some, while 'Bittersweet Symphony' is as epic a set closer as you're likely to hear all weekend.
It has been a busy few days. It may sound obvious to suggest that it's literally impossible to pack everything in, but you really feel it this year. There's just so much happening, all the time, everywhere. That's appealing in one sense, overwhelming in another.
And so you miss a lot, hoping priorities pay off. Evening clashes lead us back to the woods and the Three Made By Music stage, where Let's Eat Grandma, made up of Norwich duo Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth, dazzle.
Their presence is steeped in the avant-garde to the point that on occasion it all becomes a bit National College of Art and Design end-of-year showcase, but the tenacity and tunes are undeniable. 'Donnie Darko', one of the best songs of last year, is a weekend-thieving moment. And there's another saxophone! The comeback instrument of 2019.
If it's further high grade performance art you're after, a return to Rankin's Wood for Mitski is just the ticket. Her turn is fearless, and whether it involves sitting in front of, writhing atop, or legging it towards and violently shaking a kitchen table, you cannot take your eyes off her.
Rising above and beyond sound issues - J Hus, a 30-second walk away in the Electric Arena, threatens to overshadow things with a constant, travelling supply of thumping bass - the New Yorker makes passing reference to a party happening elsewhere while gazing outwards, her expression so stoic and steeled that you wonder if she's judging every single one of us. It's a safe bet.
Speaking of safe, late additions Kodaline enter a Main Stage turn that feels oddly tame by their standards. It's grand, people sway when prompted, but you expect a Festival Moment from 'All I Want' that doesn't quite materialise.
Florence + The Machine, arguably the shrug emoji of closing headline appointments, happens. It's always been hard to shake the feeling that Florence Welch's specific brand of Kate Bush-influenced witchy alchemy basically amounts to one long warble, and tonight is no exception.
To her credit, she's going for it; barefoot and twirling about, lovingly proclaiming that toxic masculinity doesn't exist here because we all clearly love women if we're lining up right now to dance our troubles away. Embrace your neighbour, she says. We do.
All very heartwarming. Cue a wordy lecture about putting your phone away and living in the moment, maaaaaaan.
Again, nice sentiment, but maybe don't encourage people to tap strangers on the shoulder and bully them into doing so at a festival of all things. As for the folk doing live Instagram Stories for the entire thing with a smile across their face, what can you do, eh?
Image via Glen Bollard
Listen, it's a Florence + The Machine gig, the furthest thing imaginable from Julian Casablancas and his sarcastic contempt. Thousands dance, caught up in the reverie as the curtain falls and night spills into morning.
Bar staff spin around whilst taking last orders. Viewing platforms shake as feet stamp stamp stamp to the likes of 'Dog Days are Over' and 'Shake It Out'. Monday has no business here. We've got the love, after all.
And there's Florence, just singing away.
Featured image via Glen Bollard