“Maybe you can just dance the rain away,” says one member of cheerful Brooklyn art-pop band Yeasayer to a soggy field of umbrellas and plastic ponchos. “I dunno. I’ve tried everything.” The best way to enjoy Field Day is to dash around the site sampling as much as possible, but that’s a lot harder on a grey, sloshy day which never quite recovers from a punishing mid-afternoon downpour.
The bands do their best in sub-optimal circumstances. On the main stage, Atlanta’s unpredictable Deerhunter have never sounded so warm and inviting, signing off with the joyfully slinky Snakeskin. Elsewhere, Kelela performs dreamy, slow-motion R&B, Floating Points reboot jazz fusion for clubbers and ferocious young Dubliners Girl Band play techno-influenced noise-rock like someone trying to cough up a razor blade.
There are two very different manifestations of urban ill-temper: the permanently furious Sleaford Mods and grime star Skepta, whose panicky mean-streets anthem It Ain’t Safe is bellowed lustily by people whose biggest anxiety is wet feet. Notwithstanding brief episodes of techno and grime, James Blake is an unusually intimate headliner but his introspective electronic soul swells to suit the occasion, reaching a powerful climax with The Wilhelm Scream’s oceanic roar.
On Sunday the average age of the performers vaults at least a decade, and the crowd is bigger, older and drier. The Shacklewell Arms tent fills to overflowing for the thrillingly volatile Fat White Family. Like the young Libertines, they strike you as the kind of band who would ask to crash at your place and then make you regret saying yes. Frontman Lias Saoudi ends the set stripped down to his pants, as is his wont. Sweden’s mysterious Goat also have a sinister edge. Dressed in robes and headdresses, they play sinewy, shamanic psychedelia that could be the soundtrack to a hair-raising ritual. John Grant, contrastingly, is charm incarnate with his funny, beautiful songs about depression and self-hatred. Only the Avalanches disappoint; the Australians are about to release their first album in 16 years but this messy DJ set leaves many fans nonplussed.
When PJ Harvey takes to the main stage, feathered and regal like a black swan, storm clouds are roiling and lightning flashing. It’s a fittingly dramatic backdrop to a set which begins with five forbidding songs from recent album The Hope Six Demolition Project, before slowly ratcheting up the energy. Harvey is never less than mesmerising as she physically inhabits each song: a serpentine hypnotist for Down By the Water, a thrashing live wire for 50 Ft Queenie. During the eerie When Under Ether she arches her neck and holds the pose so that she resembles, on the black-and-white screens beside the stage, a still from a silent movie. Her band, which includes former Bad Seeds, look like grizzled bodyguards protecting an exiled monarch. She closes with A Perfect Day Elise, crying: “It’s a perfect day!” Field Day wasn’t quite that this year but Harvey’s theatrical intensity makes for a memorable finale.