Evolution festival | Pop review

Newcastle/Gateshead Quayside

"This is a lot bigger than when we played here five years ago," say local heroes the Futureheads, noting Evolution's expansion from its beginnings as a free festival spanning Newcastle and Gateshead. You could be forgiven for thinking the band got smaller. Although the Futureheads' urgent, shouty guitar anthems are now as unfashionable as flares, they draw such a crowd that most people can only see them on video screens and hear them through loudspeakers placed in the crowd. It was a bit like watching a TV from the other side of a car park.

The two-day Evolution has grown to three stages, with the Tyne river and Millennium bridge between them. This vastness makes for a terrific atmosphere, which for many people seemingly includes a chance to get very, very drunk. One poor chap collapses in a heap before even making it to the entrance. On the downside, the long treks between stages, not to mention the policy of charging punters an extra fiver on top of the growing ticket price for a gig schedule, make it hard to see as much music as you want.

With no discernible curation, Evolution's scatter-gun musical approach means you can encounter anyone from the trance-hardcore nutters Enter Shikari, to sublime Northumberland folkies the Unthanks, to Sting's sweary electro-reggae-playing daughter in I Blame Coco, to an ageing, fading Donovan. The Springsteenesque country rockers Danny and the Champions of the World seem to have taken up the crusade for more "whoah-oh-ohs" in pop now that the Hold Steady have moved on, and hordes come to gawp at Paolo Nutini's bizarre reinvention as a reggae performer with a Glasgow accent.

But Evolution also provides a chance to chart the progress of this year's hot tips. Ellie Goulding's problems range from a faulty microphone to the sight of a crowdsurfing blow-up doll with an erection, but she soon starts a Mexican wave and recruits the crowd to sing an "Uh-oh, uh-oh". But while her Sam Fox-style barnet and vintage MOR pop strive for populist appeal, her acoustic folk-with-electro-knobs-on slides from mainstream into bland; only her big hit Starry Eyed stands out enough to justify the fuss about her.

The young Mancunians Delphic have more in their locker. Throwing off any lingering suspicions that they are a subs' bench New Order, their triumphant set dips deeper into techno and displays a promising taste for the epic. With the Millennium bridge glowing over them like a pink half moon, shimmering electro-techno anthems such as Doubt and Counterpoint seem to grow in stature, making a sublime sound and spectacle under the night sky.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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