Glastonbury 2017: Katy Perry and Craig David win over crowds with hits and self-deprecation

From Jeremy Corbyn to Radiohead, this year’s festival featured an impressively diverse lineup, with pop as much on the agenda as indie rock and old favourites

“Do you like rock’n’roll?” Dave Grohl asked the Saturday night crowd at the Pyramid Stage. “Really? Me too. Let’s play some real rock’n’roll.” Foo Fighters, who were booked to play two years ago before Grohl broke his leg, make traditionalist dude-rock for people who wish Nirvana had been more into Tom Petty. They do it well, and Grohl is a hairy cornball who could charm any crowd in the world, but they’re a band without a hinterland. Compared to Radiohead’s labyrinth of a set, Foo Fighters took the highway from A to B, leaving no cliché unturned.

The joy of Glastonbury is that there are so many paths you can take. On Saturday, for example, Whitney played lush country-soul, the Avalanches translated their intricate sample collages into a joyous melange of disco, hip hop, punk and dub, and Father John Misty, the David Foster Wallace of rock, raised the ante with brass, strings and an intense suite of songs from new album Pure Comedy. His joke about a surprise appearance by the Labour leader ensured it was one of many sets interrupted by a chant of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”, the weekend’s unofficial theme tune.

Corbyn’s speech on Saturday afternoon drew a record-breaking crowd — quite an achievement for a 68-year-old man with virtually zero interest in popular music — but for those who prefer beats with their politics there was hard-charging, big-hearted rap duo Run the Jewels and grime’s new hero Stormzy, who rapped a moving tribute to the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire and called out government “fuckery”.

Stormzy was just one of the top 40 stars in a lineup unusually interested in pop. Craig David crowned an enormously good-natured comeback by playing his hits (and a few other people’s, too) to a huge crowd whose enjoyment was partly tongue in cheek: he’s this year’s Lionel Ritchie.

Like David, Katy Perry knows that pop is a rough game. Fresh off a messy album and an inexplicable promo campaign, she knew she needed a successful Glastonbury. “This makes me feel cool,” she said. “I don’t really ever feel cool.” Though clearly nervous, Perry was never far away from a massive hit like Firework or Teenage Dream and her eagerness to be accepted by an unfamiliar audience inspired the highlight of the set: some spontaneous crowdsurfing at the end of her victorious signature tune Roar. That, at least, qualified as cool.

Dave Grohl
Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl: real rock’n’roll. Photograph: Ki Price/Getty Images

On Friday, Charli XCX’s gonzo teen-pop songs about getting messed up were very much on message, but Dua Lipa in the John Peel Tent, of all places, was so clean and slick that she could have been playing anywhere. Halsey poses as a pop maverick, but there’s something bogus about her outsider routine, like an undercover police officer, or a new character introduced to a long-running TV series to attract younger viewers.

The Lemon Twigs also risk falling into pop’s uncanny valley. The D’Addario brothers’ baroque, episodic 70s rock crisscrossed the fine line between charming and grating, but you had to admire their commitment to such a polarisingly eccentric aesthetic. There was no such tightrope-walking for burly, riff-based duo Royal Blood, one of the only young British rock bands capable of commanding the Pyramid Stage, or indie-country singer Angel Olsen at the Park.

There were veterans, too. The Pretenders kicked off the Other Stage on Friday morning with gleeful vigour, a run of hits and relentless Glastonbury flattery from Chrissie Hynde. Just turned 81, Kris Kristofferson was more subdued, and sometimes disorientated. This giant of the 70s now has the grizzled face of a retired sheriff in a Coen brothers movie, a voice with the subterranean grit of Leonard Cohen or Johnny Cash, and songs with the weight of gravestones. It was one of the starkest sets in the festival’s history, yet one of the starriest, too. Johnny Depp popped in to play guitar, while Brad Pitt watched this lion in winter from the wings.

Friday closed with a sensational run of artists at the top of their game. A few years ago, you wouldn’t have booked The xx for the Pyramid. Their sales were big enough, but their music was too vulnerable and withdrawn. It’s remarkable how much more dynamic and colourful they have become without losing any of their tenderness. On the Other Stage, the stunningly confident Lorde used a huge perspex box filled with dancers to create an audaciously theatrical presentation closer to Kate Bush’s Before the Dawn than to a typical pop show. This faultless high-concept spectacle is one for the Glastonbury history books.

So, too, is Radiohead’s third headlining appearance, their first in 14 years. At first it felt perversely alienating, with a muted opening, experimental video collages and Thom Yorke’s perplexing insistence on silly radio-comedy accents. Less patient crowd members wandered off; the man with the “Play The Fucking Bends” flag must have been worried. But half an hour in, everybody was fully on board with this most unusual of major rock bands, who moved from writhing swamp-rock to seething electronica to sombre ballads to punk tantrums without stinting on material from OK Computer, 20 years old this month. Anyone who left early missed sublime encores including Paranoid Android, Fake Plastic Trees and No Surprises. In fact, the band were in such a crowd-pleasing mood that they ended their remarkable set with both Creep and Karma Police. That’s the thing with Radiohead: you have to show a little faith. There’s more than one way to headline Glastonbury.

Crowdsurfing at the end performing Roar was the highlight of Katy Perry’s her set.
Katy Perry capped off her set by crowdsurfing. Photograph: Samir Hussein/Redferns


Dorian Lynskey

The GuardianTramp

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