8 underrated festival performances
Great moments you might have missed
Woodstock, Nirvana at Reading 1992, Dylan going electric - we’re all aware of some of the fabled moments that have occurred at festivals down the years.
However, plenty of sublime moments have also been forgotten in the passing of time. Whether it be an undercard band proving their soon-to-be headliner status, the demise of an iconic act, or said band’s (kind of) triumphant return, there are loads of underrated performances that are worth recalling. So let's do it.
Nirvana - Big Day Out, 1992
Yes, Kurt being wheeled onto the stage at Reading was Nirvana’s iconic festival moment, but their turn on the undercard at the inaugural Big Day Out helped lay the foundations for the future of the Down Under enormo event.
Announced as performers months before the show to a reaction somewhere between 'So what?' and 'We couldn’t care less', by the time the day came around Nirvana had just dropped Nevermind and were on their way to becoming the biggest band on the planet. Fittingly, they delivered a suitably incredible performance.
For the record, the bill was headed up by Violent Femmes.
Slipknot - Reading, 2000
The first Reading festival of the new millennium is remembered mainly for a ridiculously intense set from Rage Against The Machine (in one of their final European performances for almost a decade) and the ungodly hail of urine-filled bottles hurled at teenybop princesses-out-of-water Daphne and Celeste.
However, it also ushered in a future heavyweight festival headliner. 18-legged hate machine Slipknot appeared halfway up the bill, but showed what they were made of with Spit It Out, Surfacing, Wait and Bleed and more, bringing a brutal feel to the mid-afternoon at sun-drenched Reading.
Foo Fighters - V Festival, 2001
It’s difficult to remember a time when Foo Fighters weren’t automatic festival headliners, but back in 2001 they hadn’t yet gravitated to bill topping status.
Here at everyone’s favourite Virgin commercial they proved themselves ready to step up. It was as entertaining a performance as you’ll see, filled with hits and Dave Grohl’s trademark, ‘Aww, isn’t he nice’ banter. The Foos blew the day’s headliners, Red Hot Chili Peppers, out of the water.
Of course, it didn’t help that the Chilis choose this show to begin their descent from sock-cocked funk masters into tiresome MOR jam band.
Queens of the Stone Age - Reading 2001
Queens of the Stone Age’s festival sets may have in recent years become synonymous with mindless noodling and flabby jams, but this wasn’t always the case.
Back in 2001 they were the most dangerous rock band on the planet and proved it with one hell of a performance. A short, sharp set filled with classic cuts from their first two albums - including Feel Good Hit of The Summer, The Lost Art of Keeping A Secret and Monsters In The Parasol - it was a definite highlight of the year.
The sight of 21st century caveman Nick Oliveri’s uncovered member flapping in the wind was less so.
Guns N' Roses - Leeds, 2002
Tick, tock, tick, tock. As the minutes (and hours) pass by, the booking of Guns N’ Roses for Leeds (and not Reading, where The Prodigy topped the bill instead) is looking less and less wise. However, as weary middle-aged men in ill-fitting Use Your Illusion tees begin to file off to bed, here comes Axl.
Knocking on for two hours late, here they are, and they sound amazing. Yes, there’s no Slash, Izzy or Duff - hell, even no Sorum - but the Gunners proceed to play hit after hit after hit, threaten to incite a riot and prove that even this faux GN'R can be an incredible spectacle.
All of which makes the past 11 years of the band's life all the more depressing…
Def Leppard - Download, 2009
If Download organisers were trying to stir up debate (and downright ill feeling), then they went about it the right way by booking Def Leppard as festival closers in 2009. The soft rockers were joined as headliners by returning cult rock royalty Faith No More and 21st century go-to bill toppers Slipknot, so they weren’t necessarily the snuggest of fits.
But you write Sheffield’s own Sparkle Lounge occupiers off at your peril: they know how to pen a sugar-coated hit and how to put on a show. Here, they combined the two, pulling out a hit-strewn set that won over tens of thousands of angry metalheads before Joe Elliott had even had a chance to ask if a rock was out of the question.
Nine Inch Nails - Sonisphere, 2009
It’s summer 2009 and Nine Inch Nails’ days are numbered. With Trent Reznor about to pull the plug on the band (this was the Wave Goodbye tour, after all, and little did we know at the time that they’d be back within four years), Sonisphere is aching to give the band a fond farewell. All they ask in return is a late afternoon rendition of all their old favourites.
Trent doesn’t play ball. We don’t hear Head Like A Hole, Closer or March Of The Pigs. Instead, we get the most melancholy offerings from the band’s back catalogue - basically the ultimate anti-festival set.
Sonisphere is not amused, but this must be remembered as the perfect send off from NIN - it’s intense, somber and packed with incredible musicianship. Nice one, Trent.
Gaslight Anthem and Eddie Vedder - DeLuna Festival, 2012
Of the slew of bands to be beaten half to death with the stick of embodying the spirit of 21st century grunge, New Jersey’s Gaslight Anthem are one of the most revered, talented and believable.
Brian Fallon’s troupe have taken the mid-'90s Seattle scene, infused it with Springsteen’s songwriting prowess and come up with their own mainstream-friendly beast. So, when all-round grunge demigod Eddie Vedder joined at the band at last year’s DeLuna Festival for a run through State of Love and Trust, it was pretty darn special.