Green Man festival review – cosmic rock and communal wonderment

Glanusk Estate, Brecon Beacons
An eclectic bill of everything from psych rock to alt-folk proved again why Green Man is one of the UK’s most beloved festivals

There is much that could be said to capture the endlessly nourishing spirit of Green Man. Be it the way the clouds spill spectacularly on to the gorgeous verdant peak that gives the festival’s main Mountain stage its name, as if the horizon is leaning down lazily on to the landscape. Or the eclectic bill, which spans rock, folk, indie, electronic dance and psychedelia, plus comedy, spoken word and visual art. Or the fact that you’d struggle to keep your own back garden as tidy as their Brecon Beacons site, even without 20,000 people trailing through it.

But perhaps nothing captures Green Man’s spirit more this year than the booking of Big Jeff. The obsessively gig-going gentle giant of the Bristol music scene is invited to DJ between bands in the Far Out tent on Friday in warm recognition of his faithful attendance over the years. Where he would normally be doing it down the front, instead he thrashes his thatch of blonde curls on the stage wearing an artist’s pass.

Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes.
The biggest crowds … Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes. Photograph: Andrew Benge/Redferns

That 2018 was another early sell-out, despite a list of headliners who weren’t exactly at their most blockbusting, says much about the relationship Green Man has built with its audience. It’s hard to imagine any other event of such a stature giving King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard top billing, for instance, but with their galloping psychedelic garage rock, the Australians seize their moment and shake it. Up tight on the big stage, they play their Friday night slot like a sweaty club set under the stars.

Even if three all-male bands lead the lineup – Fleet Foxes perform to probably the biggest crowd of the weekend on Saturday – female and female-fronted artists are many and provide most of the highlights. Be it Whyte Horses’ trippy, shimmering indie-pop in the Saint Etienne and Stereolab tradition, or the tear-stained alt-country of Courtney Marie Andrews, who slays a cover of Aretha Franklin’s Chain of Fools in tribute to the late queen of soul. Cate Le Bon is joined by John Grant to duet on the majestic I Think I Knew; Phoebe Bridgers’ set of exquisitely messed-up sad indie-Americana marks her as one of the finest lyricists of her still young generation.

Phoebe Bridgers performing on the Walled Garden stage.
One of the finest lyricists of a young generation … Phoebe Bridgers on the Walled Garden stage. Photograph: Andrew Benge/Redferns

There’s space, too, for good honest nostalgia, as Teenage Fanclub rattle loudly through a rousing set rich with heart-soaring harmonic hits. Sacred Paws seem to mainline pure joy with their darting post-punk at the Walled Garden in the Sunday afternoon sun, the same stage that had earlier seen a charming turn from Portland, Oregon singer Haley Heynderickx, whose album of lush alt-folk song, I Need to Start a Garden, is one of 2018’s most underappreciated debuts.

Ten years since they first played Green Man, the War on Drugs ascend to headliners, frontman Adam Granduciel acknowledging the festival’s support with the words “it’s good to be home”. Years of solid touring in support of the critically exalted Lost in the Dream and its little less enjoyable follow-up A Deeper Understanding have made the Philadelphians a live band in absolute control of their craft, their classic rock influences given a cosmic bath. For all of Granduciel’s wiggy guitar odysseys and an electrifying longform exposition of Under the Pressure, they seem to scarcely waste a note. From this climax the crowd quickly migrate en masse to the midnight burning of the Green Man sculpture, a spectacle of apposite communal wonderment. As it sends sparks streaking into a still and balmy late summer’s night sky, it has never looked more special.


Malcolm Jack

The GuardianTramp

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