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Best of the Fests

The summer festival season is pretty much over, done for, kaput for 2013, but hopefully you left those city streets or muddy fields with plenty of amazing musical memories to counterbalance your sunburn and empty wallet. We’ve chosen our top half-dozen favourite summer festival moments (in chronological order, ‘natch) to help you start the reminiscing:

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COACHELLA | Blur

Blur’s Damon Albarn has played Coachella in a couple of different incarnations (Blur itself, as well as Albarn’s equally popular “side project,” Gorillaz), but perhaps this was the first time any of his performances could officially be called a “reunion.” It was truly grand to see the Blur boys all together on stage again, and the music didn’t disappoint – from “There’s No Other Way” to “Coffee and TV,” they weren’t stingy with the old favourites, and in fact sprinkled them with several background singers and a horn section that gave their usually-rich sound even more layers.  Maybe Blur themselves are tired of playing “Song #2” at this point, but the crowd certainly loved it – and “The Universal” served as the perfect closer under Coachella’s desert skies.

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GLASTONBURY | Beady Eye

It was supposed to be top-secret (ahem), but word got out quickly that one-half of Oasis, aka Liam Gallagher, aka Beady Eye, was prepping for a set on Friday morning at 11:00 a.m. (yawwwn) at the Other Stage. Decked out in suede shoes (and yes, they were blue – well, navy, actually), Gallagher stepped in front of the mic and just glared at the crowd for a bit, perhaps annoyed because he’s had to wake much earlier than his usual rock-star time. No matter – he and his Beady bandmates careened through a rollicking set that included, yes, Oasis songs (“I’m a rock and roll star at 11:30 in the (beep) morning!” Gallagher proclaims) as well as plenty of nearly as catchy Beady Eye tracks, crowd faves being “The Roller” and closer “Bring the Light.”

Pitchfork Music Festival  Saturday July 20 2013

PITCHFORK | Belle & Sebastian

Scottish indie chamber pop? Yes, please. After a full day of Pitchfork’s many musical oddities (has it become musically hip now to just… well, be incomprehensibly weird?), it was good to get to Saturday night and hear something purely pop at last. True to form, Belle & Sebastian opened with a flowery instrumental, and then captured the crowd’s attention with the lovelorn “I’m a Cuckoo,” resplendent with the  extra violins and guitars that the band had brought along for the occasion. They kept their pop momentum all the way to set closer “Piazza, New York Catcher,” deceptive in that its title gives no indication of the song’s romantic notions. B&S may be slightly weird themselves on occasion (there were definitely a couple of, erhm, quirkier tunes that we could’ve done without) so it’s not like they were a complete 180 from Pitchfork’s usual sensibilities – but they were the most interesting and most fun to listen to out of the entire weekend’s lot.

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LOLLAPALOOZA | Mumford & Sons

They’re in the big leagues now, headliners on the huge Red Bull stage on  Saturday night, and you could  see it both in their oft-giddy grins and hear it in the determined, fierce, polished yet earthy sheen of their setlist. From openers “Babel” and early hit “Little Lion Man” to encore closer “The Cave,” Marcus Mumford and crew set a landmark moment for themselves on Lolla weekend, both asserting their status of success, and staying true to themselves by keeping their stage set focused on the music (hardly any accoutrements were in sight – even the Jumbotron videos were in spare black and white) and taking their time to pace the set through the hits, the slower and affecting album cuts, and even a cover of Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” that gathered the whole band around one microphone in a homegrown moment that harkened back to their band roots. Spectacular.

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LEEDS | Johnny Marr

Of course he’s known for his legendary guitar work with equally legendary band The Smiths. But in recent years, Manchester Marr has claimed his own territory (and draw) as a solo artist (via his acclaimed solo debut album, The Messenger), of which tracks like “Sun and Moon” and “Generate! Generate!” proved sharp standouts. You often can’t get away from your musical roots, though – if they’re awesome, that is. Which is probably how and why Marr’s already standout set got even more memorable toward the end, with a rollicking cover of The Clash’s version of “I Fought the Law” and a mass crowd singalong of Smiths tunes “How Soon Is Now” and “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.” Shoplifters unite!

editors alex de mora

READING | Editors

Editors’ sound is b-i-g big, reminiscent of grand moments in movie soundtracks and equally huge festival stages like Reading’s Main Stage, so this was a more than appropriate matchup. Set in front of artwork from their own album cover, they trekked deftly through earlier songs like “Munich” and “Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors,” alternating them with newer tracks like “A Ton of Love” – all of Editors songs, with their complex arrangements and minor keys – showcase well live, and it’s even more impressive that the band can translate them so well from the many layers of production that are on record. Closer “Papillon,” with its galloping beat and ’80s synths, was a gigantic highlight that definitely left the audience wanting more from these Birmingham musical boffins.  – Kristi Kates

Public Service Announcement: we feel compelled to mention this not so awesome moment – the day after the Reading Fest, when festival organisers had to cope with thousands of abandoned camping tents, gear, clothes, and rubbish (see for yourself here) – get a clue, will you, festival-goers? Music fests are a privilege, not a right, and if you’re not careful, these events will eventually tire of cleaning up after you thoughtless lot and will ban camping completely. If you bring it in to the fest, take it back out with you! It’s not brain surgery.
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Photo credits:

Blur – C. Flanigan
Beady Eye – Jonathan Hordle
Belle & Sebastian – Ebru Yildiz
Mumford & Sons – Dave Mead
Johnny Marr – BBC Music
Editors – Alex De Mora