This is an amazing line up for a city based festival. The clashes alone rule out us seeing Belle & Sebastian, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Sleaford Mods and Warpaint. But there's no reason to complain when Depeche Mode, Car Seat Headrest and Bonobo await. Tonight it’s Goldfrapp, Sparks and Future Islands in the Academy. It's a line up worthy of Glastonbury.
It's a rare blue sky day in Dublin. It's two buses and a plane to Glasgow so fingers crossed for similar weather there. Not that it really matters when you're not camping but I could use the vitamin A. We’re bussed to a propeller plane in a distant corner of Dublin Airport. For the time being, this is an internal, regional flight. I'll certainly miss the relative ease of movement post-Brexit, not to mention the roaming charges. Flying over the snow-capped Mountains of Mourne with Lough Neagh looming large, it’s easy to see why people love this place.
There's definitely sunshine in Glasgow, its well I packed the sunglasses. First port of call, as ever in this fine city, is King Tuts Wah Wah Hut and a rare chance to catch up with a fellow MGer. Once we've checked in to the hotel it's a bit of a scramble to get to the Academy for Future Islands and the energetic performance of lead singer Samuel T. Herring. His crazed, compelling presence is often in contrast with the mellow backing but they're not afraid to let loose either.
They pay tribute to the other bands from tonight, with Sparks in particular noted as an influence. That influence shows through in the coolness of the musicians in the band and the manic delivery of the lyrics, accompanied by equally outré dancing. With Herring’s white short sleeved shirt and black trousers combo they aren't a million miles from Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark either.
I must admit that I wasn’t a fan going in to the show but I am definitely one now. It’s still early but the Academy is bustling. People are standing and dancing on the seats in the balcony. It's a perfect triptych of alternative dance acts, featuring the godfathers of the genre and the big guns of the modern era. I'm looking forward to watching this performance back on the iPlayer. The cameras are noticeable but no more obtrusive than the usual phalanx of photographers in front of the stage.
We need some time to catch our breath after Future Islands, but next up its Ron and Russell Mael’s venerable Sparks. Their recent collaboration with Franz Ferdinand was a high point of both bands careers but they are not satisfied with that and have a new album out in September. Hopefully we’ll hear a bit of that tonight, and some of the classics too.
Nearly fifty years in to their career, they are no less striking and individual. Future Islands got an hour long slot so it looks like each band will get close to a full length set. The forthcoming record is called Hippopotamus and there are two stands at either side of the stage with white outlines of hippopotami drawn on to a black background. Marc Riley is visibly excited to introduce them and the seemingly ageless Mael’s are accompanied by a five piece band in matching uniforms.
If the crowd were receptive for Future Islands they are rapturous for Sparks. Russell Mael’s vibrating falsetto is as hypnotic and clear as ever while his brother Ron is perfectly stoical in his immaculate white shirt and skinny black tie. The toothbrush moustache of the early years has long since given way to a thin pencil style. ‘When Do I Get To Sing My Way?’ has them dancing in the aisles and the band's trademark quirky humour is intact. Their new song is about god being overworked. It's called ‘What The Hell Is It This Time?’
The new material is immediately accessible. The title track of Hippopotamus has people singing along by the second chorus. The titular water dwelling mammal is joined by Titus Andronicus, a book by Anonymous and a painting by Hieronymus (Bosch). While other, younger bands are content to coast on past glories, Sparks remain vital, their music modern and forward looking.
And they still have ‘The Number One Song In Heaven’ in their arsenal. There's an extended breakdown and Ron gets up from behind this keyboard. He approaches the lip of the stage and ostentatiously rolls up his sleeves. The biggest cheer of the night so far greets his strenuous dancing. Russell thanks the band the audience and his brother after 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us' and promises to be back soon. There are members of Mini Mansions and Queens Of The Stone Age in the band and it shows in their performance. All seven of them stand together with arms around each other to soak up the applause as they finish.
I was so excited last night that I couldn't sleep til the wee hours and this is the reason. The stage is cleared for the arrival of Goldfrapp. It is a minimalist setup with a good portion of the floor space cleared for the presence of Alison Goldfrapp. Several atmospheric lighting set ups are rigorously tested. The band appear in almost total darkness. The singer herself appears in a red cape and a spotlight behind her makes her a silhouette.
They are barely visible beneath the thick pall of artificial smoke. The lights, the music, and the voice all contribute to an intense and involving atmosphere. It is hard to look away yet what is on display seems verboten. The sensual ‘Train’ powers through like a locomotive and the temperature in the room rises. Goldfrapp have created something unique and in their tenure the academy becomes a Dionysian temple.
In the Barrowlands tonight The Jesus And Mary Chain, Ride, Warpaint and Sleaford Mods are playing. I was anxious about whether I had made the right decision in coming to the Academy instead but it is hard to imagine another group of bands being as consistently brilliant as Future Islands, Sparks and Goldfrapp have been tonight.