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Look Who It Is!
U2? Coldplay? Pah! The real headline sets of 2011 were provided by Pulp and Radiohead.
by Matt Wilkinson

The rush is nothing short of seismic. The definition of “intense” and “agitated” and “fucking mental” all bottled together and combined into a single ecstatic feeling. We’re not talking chemicals – we’re talking the special guest spot at The Partk, 7:30pm, Staurday night. You know: Pulp.

Except… not everybody does know. Despite the fact it’s been screaming out from every redtop and news website all day, the majority of the crowd tonight remain refreshingly unaware as to who the actual band standing behind the metaphorical stage curtain are. Rumours of Kings of Leon, The Killers, Arcade Fire, Prince and – seriously – Chas and Dave abound, and the mere sight of Arctic Monkeys’ tourbus pulling into Worthy Farm pushes this particular mill into overdrive (as it happens, Turner and co instead opt to chill out backstage with The Horrors all weekend). Yeah, Glasto’s had its fair share of secret sets over the years, but there’s been nothing on this scale before.

What it means is that by the time Jarvis actually does totter onstage and declares in his best Wildean brogue, “We couldn’t think of anything to get you so we just brought you the sunshine instead,” he has the entire crowd in the palm of his hand. You suddenly realize you’re smack bang in the middle of a proper Glastonbury moment.

And to put it bluntly: every single aspect of the ensuing 80 minutes of Pulp’s greatest hits set feels absolutely perfect. From life-affirming renditions of “Do You Remember The First Time?” (a triumphant opener, and doubly poignant seeing as it was also that song that kickstarted their 1995 set here) and “Disco 2000”, to the banter Jarvis constantly spouts between songs (“We are Pulp, we are hardcore, you are Glastonbury, you are hardcore and “This Is Hardcore”), the band are very possibly a greater live draw now than they ever were in their mid-‘90s heyday.

The thing everyone tends to forget about them – that their songwriting canon is far, far greater than most bands and easily on a par with their biggest Britpop rivals – is easily waylaid here, with lesser-known gems “Joyriders” and “Acrylic Afternoons” treated with the same respect as “Mis-Shapes” and “Something Changed”.

There’s sweetness too, most touchingly before they finish. “When we played in 1995 I made a speech,” Jarvis says. “If you want something to happen enough, then it actually will.” If lanky mis-shapes like us could headline Glastonbury, anyone could do it. Although that sounds corny, it’s true, it’s in all of us. This is what this festival is about, it’s bigger than a festival, it’s a feeling.”

With that they launch into “Common People”, inciting the most feral, jawdropping crowd rush of the entire weekend – every single person singing every last syllable at the top of their lungs while Jarvis shadow-boxes his way around the stage. Reunited, re-energised and reeking of brilliance, it’s totally deserved that – according to organisers – they pull the biggest crowd ever at The Park.

Skip back around 24 hours earlier and it’s a different story. You’d best believe this: Radiohead are really, really nervous right now. It’s early evening on Friday and it’s about to bucket down. Outside, with only the heavens and themselves for company, 25,000 expectant people are caked in mud, again not knowing exactly who they’re waiting for.

You’d think this might suit a band like Radiohead. It’s been two years since their last UK show proper (although Thom and Jonny played this same secret slot last year), and for the first time in a long time they’re facing real criticism over their approach and their music.

Ten minutes before they’re due on, Colin Greenwood is running to the non-VIP bogs, declaring to the stunned mate of NME who he nearly knocks over while on his way, “I’m shitting myself!”

Two minutes later and the band are congregating in full view of the backstage crowd. Unified once more, perhaps, but unusually tense. As they psych themselves up with some bearhugs, the words “good” and “luck” ring out loudly from the scrum. Radiohead are not phoning it in tonight.

Is all their perceived worrying justified? Well, sort of. They’re clearly not bowing to any pressure to “play the hits” here – but by doing that they dig themselves into a hell of a hole. “Play some old fucking songs!” the guy next to us shouts as opening track “Lotus Flower” finishes. They respond by playing “15 Step” and everyone goes mental. Then it’s back to “The King of Limbs” stuff, and – seemingly for the crowd – it’s back to texting mates/skinning up/talking shop. This peak/trough system is repeated for the remainder of the set and, while the band themselves are clearly revelling in their new-found freedom, the lukewarm crowd response is all too revealing of the public’s feelings towards their last album.

But let’s not be overly mean here. There are big moments dotted throughout the set – it is Radiohead, after all. “Morning Mr Magpie”’s gestation from a perky, Albarn-esque folk strum to full-on freakbeat anthem is nothing short of spectacular, while “Give Up The Ghost” is simply the most beautiful melody Thom has stumbled across since “Sail To The Moon”. But it’s “I Might Be Wrong”, “Reckoner” and a mesmerising “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” that end up saving the band’s arses.

Overall, you can’t help but feel a little let down by the fact they chose such a prickly setlist. They should have taken a leaf out of Pulp’s book, a leaf out of Mumford & Sons book (their intimate Strummerville slot was the best-kept secret of the weekend) and realised that, in situations like this, you simply have to give the public what they want. “This is our fourth Glastonbury,” Jarvis quipped as “Common People” came to blistering, anthemic crescendo. “It would be nice to do five.” Eavis, you heard the man.