Live Reviews

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Reading Festival 2023 – Friday

Reading And Leeds Festival has had a long-standing history with booking rock bands. From Foo Fighters in 2019 all the way back to The Killers, a baby-faced Brandon Flowers and co headlining the fest for the first time off the back of releasing their hugely successful sophomore album Sam’s Town for the band to return fifteen years later to do it all again this year, it is clear riffs run through Readings veins. 

However, in recent years to cater to the GCSE teenage leavers flooding the festival each year with explicit messages written all over their bodies in marker, Reading and Leeds fest have had to expand their horizons. From rappers and R&B artists Post Malone, Stormzy and Dave headlining respectively in 2021 and 2022, some would say Reading is no longer the rock festival it used to be. But perhaps it is?

As this year, the festival took a U-turn booking some of the most modern and relevant acts in the rock, pop and indie genre right now, Sam Fender and Foals headlining on the Friday, The 1975 stepping in for the originally booked Lewis Capaldi and The Killers headlining Saturday and some would even say Billie Eilish headlining on the Sunday after Imagine Dragons falls into the emo territory her early material leans into.

And further down the bill the story stays the same, bands like Soft Play putting on a surprise slot on the Saturday through to Don Broco, Sleep Token, Normandie and KENNYHOOPLA all upstanding acts holding up the rock and punk game Reading has had flowing through its veins for decades on end. So, as we head down to Richfield Avenue for another jam-packed year, it’s clear to see Reading Fest still has rock at its beating heart, but sometimes its heartbeat flutters into other territories for its teenage demographic in attendance.

Starting off Friday was indie rockers Sea Girls on Main Stage West. A band designed for the young crowd that lingers the whole weekend of Reading Festival, Sea Girls have indie leaning anthems made for an energetic festival set. “It’s Reading, it’s Friday are you up for it? I want to see you jumping and bouncing after this chorus” says vocalist Henry Camamile, beginning their set with Damage Done, the group gripping the crowd like putty in their hands. From here on in it’s pure indie bliss, as the band perform songs filled with brilliantly catchy choruses one after the other, new one Weekends & Workdays, Do You Really Wanna Know? Camamile demanding “I want to see a mosh pit for this next one” and Call Me Out carving out the perfect soundtrack to a sunny day in front of Main Stage West. It’s always “such a special time” when Sea Girls grace Reading Fest. 8/10

From underdogs to one of the biggest rock bands in Britain, You Me At Six are certainly flying the flag for rock music at Reading. Surrey boys back on their home turf and firm festival favourites, Reading is You Me At Six’s stomping ground and they weren’t afraid to mark their territory as YMAS’ Josh Franceschi has no fear in pointing out “This is home turf for You Me At Six”. Adding to their impressive amount of sets at Reading Fest, the band waste no time in launching into tracks new and old, Deep Cuts, kickstarting their home run, before moving onto No Future? Yeah Right bringing out guest collaborator Rou Reynolds of Enter Shikari, who sub-headlined under Bring Me The Horizon last year. Picking up on the festival attire Franceschi notices “I see a lot of bucket hats in the audience today, which I have no problem with. Say you are a raver to me” launching into their rave rock anthem SUCKAPUNCH, the audience bouncing like they literally were at a rave. Pit stopping off at performing their most heartfelt song to date with Take On The World, Franceschi dedicating this song to “all the kids that did an exam this summer”, before rounding off their time again at Reading with hit Underdog and closer Beautiful Way, in a declaration of their return to their roots, the band give a wave and a word of “life is short, but you just watched You Me At Six at Reading Festival”. 8/10

Over on the Festival Republic stage Knocked Loose and Normandie gave us a back-to-back run out of the evenings sun setting over Richfield Avenue. The hardcore kids who apparently record on their Nintendo DS’ gather as Oldham County’s Knocked Loose encourage their pent-up crowd to “look at the person next to you and push them” in their unmistakable Mistakes Like Fractures, a song that “goes out to anyone that knows our band”. 8/10

Next up Stockholm’s Normandie’s brand of arena electro fuelled rock tunes fills the Festival Republic tent. Considering they were clashing with indie heavyweights Foals, they pulled a decent crowd, a crowd that was there for the immaculate vibes on a Friday festival evening and a crowd that were clearly going out of their way to see the band in action in the first of two of their only UK shows of 2023. The other one followed the day after up north in Leeds of course. 8/10

Main Stage West headliners Foals have been on the tip of everyone’s tongues for a return to Reading Festival for the longest time, 2016 in fact as frontman Yannis Philippakis points out a few songs deep into Foals’ set “the last time we played here it was in 2016. It was so long ago we want to make it better this time” and better has turned into absolutely biblical, as Oxford’s finest indie hit makers triumphant return to Reading Festival blew everything out of the water. Hitting the proportionally and arguably small crowd for what Foals deserve with two of their biggest in Wake Me Up and Mountain At My Gate right off the bat, somewhere in between the band performing one of their newest and one of their classics, this is a band other bands dreaming of achieving main stage west headliner status would look up to. My Number comes on quite early in the band’s set, but the reaction it got felt like a closer, it’s singalong to the projection of geometric neon flower displays a florist would be proud of feeling like you were on the best LSD trip of your life. Where most of Foals’ material screams arms thrown around your mates shoulders as you sing into the hazy sun setting sky, The Runner is Foals’ Biffy Clyro moment, a darker aesthetic waiting to explode into a borage of guitars. With their latest LP called Life Is Yours and as Foals finish of their second successful time headlining a festival so close to their heart and their home, Yannis earlier statement pre My Number rings oh so true “this is the end of the summer, but the start of your life”. Life is truly yours. 10/10

There is this myth around having at least two albums to earn the status to headline Reading Festival. And much like Billie Eilish, Sam Fender could have easily headlined on his first. But with two albums now under his belt in Hypersonic Missiles and Seventeen Going Under, Newcastle’s very own lad is proving that from humble working-class beginnings with a lot of hard work in between, Sam Fender is deserving of every glory moment he relishes during his headlining set on Main Stage East down south.

We’ve always come here as punters” says Sam moments after the explosive opener The Kitchen comes to a close, perhaps referring more to Leeds Festival which is closer to Fender’s home of North Shields to which song Dead Boys pays homage to later in the set. Nethertheless up north or down south, Fender is living breathing proof that from the field to a main stage, anyone can be a headliner with a little hard graft, a humble attitude and working your socks off. “Well we’ve got the slow ones out of the way, shall we move onto the faster ones?” Says Fender post The Borders, a song that initiated a sea of people on shoulders for an emotional ballad-esque moment detailing a lot of truth, triggered memories and a troubled family, referring to the faster ones he means Spice and Howdon Aldi Death Queuethe last time we played these songs at Reading Festival they went mental. We had mosh pits and everything” and if the mental o-meter of these tracks back when Fender performed at Reading in 2021 were anything to go by then whey aye man they popped off even bigger and even better this time around. By the time closer Seventeen Going Under rolls around you can’t help but be in awe of the people pleasing talent Sam Fender has. Channelling his inner Bruce Springsteen for sax solos and country rock guitar riffs that stand the test of time, give it a few decades and Sam Fender will be at that same legendary status as Springsteen and Nirvana hold. A canny class act through and through pulling one of the biggest headliner crowds’ masses of them adorning Newcastle United Fender strips, Sam Fender has been a natural born Reading and Leeds headliner years in the waiting. 10/10

Written By: Katie Conway-Flood

Katie Conway-Flood
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