My Chemical Romance bring the theatrics to Reading festival 2011

It got off to a damp start, but the enthusiasm of Pulled Apart By Horses and Metronomy got the crowd in the mood for MCR's sensational but silly headline slot

Don't tell them up in Leeds, but this year's Reading Festival gets off to a less than spectacular start. The gates remain closed until the last minute, the site is reduced to a soggy swamp of mud and punters are forced to huddle together in their makeshift rain macs – many crafted cunningly out of bin bags. At this rate the fireworks promised by OTT headliners My Chemical Romance will be about as dynamic as a damp fart.

Thankfully, the early bands have enough enthusiasm to combat this initial apathy. Leeds noiseniks Pulled Apart By Horses make it clear they're ecstatic to be playing the NME/Radio 1 stage and cheekily invite themselves back next year; hopefully to play further up the bill. A product of their city's thriving rock scene, they blast out High Five, Swan Dive, Nose Dive and crossover hit I Punched a Lion In The Throat to an eager crowd. There's even some crowdsurfing, despite signs from "The Man" stating that it's banned (a warning that's treated with equal disdain by Horrors fans later on).

Sunderland indie lads Frankie and the Heartstrings follow PABH with their Orange Juice jangles and cheeky double-entendres. "Are you feeling horny?" they ask, before bringing out their very own brass section. Over on the main stage there's no such subtlety from the Blackout who want to "see some erections". They prove once again that Valley Boys have more options open to them than joining the local choir with some throat ripping pop-hardcore.

The younger bands clearly have their adrenal glands pumping and several bigger names could do with rediscovering some of that ballsiness. While the Offspring say that they're thrilled to be here (again), their static performance tells a different story. The Deftones, try matching their legendary 2000 performance with tracks from their first two albums, Adrenaline and Around the Fur, but it takes a cover of Katy Perry's Firework to really get the younger crowd excited.

Following a proper Reading Rock Day start, ambient alt-dubsteppers Mount Kimbie provide something completely different in the dance tent, where a packed crowd are decked out in day-glo face paint. With clever electronics from Crooks & Lovers and the recent Carbonated EP sounding muscular live, they're one of the few acts that work as well playing to punters in a pool of mud as they do causing a rave up in Plastic People. Addressing a similar crowd, electro-indie oddballs Metronomy have swapped The English Rivera for the Costa Del Sludge. But as the sun pokes through the clouds at last, their set feels like the sound of a band finally starting to live up to their early promise. A big up to drummer Anna Prior is also in order – somewhat depressingly she's one of the only women on stage today (Anna Calvi and one of Islet can take a bow, too).

So moving on to one of today's big draws, who isn't a lady but wears latex leggings anyway … 30 Seconds To Mars, or The Thing Jared Leto Is Famous For That Isn't My So Called Life, are almost drowned out by shrill screams as Leto rises from the middle of the stage. This is less a gig, more an exercise in massaging his ego – the band's set also includes a sermon and Leto's own personal mini stage. All this despite the fact that, as one disgruntled festivalgoer says, "the music sounds like something I knocked out on my casio at 4am". Mystifying.

Less confusing is the excitement building up for My Chemical Romance or MCR or My Chem's set. The band have undoubtedly come a long way since being bottled here in 2006 (seriously upsetting lead singer Gerad Way in the process) and are now part of The Big League, boasting a whopping four studio albums. Way, currently resembling an excitable manga character with his red hair and leather romper suit, seems to enjoy being bathed in adoration rather than bottles of wee (funny that, isn't it?). It could be that their ADD emo pop packs plenty of tunes – or it could be the smoke, fireworks, balloons and hi tech video show – but tonight they look like a band who belong on top of the bill. At least they do until the end, when they veer from sensational to just plain silly, inviting Brian May onstage for a cover of We Will Rock You followed by the weighty MCR classic Welcome To The Black Parade.

It's a suitably theatric climax, perhaps, but in some ways disappointing that a band have resorted to pulling in "star" names. Because if Reading's opening day proves anything, it's that the younger bands – not the established names – know how to really rock you.


Sian Rowe

The GuardianTramp

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