Live Review
Morrissey, Lou Reed, The Stooges
Hop Farm Festival

Foldable camping chairs: there’s no better gauge for measuring how middleclass the festival you’re at is. The more there are, the safer your Volvo estate is in the car park, and in front of Hop Farm’s main stage there’s a sea of green canvas with cup holders in the arms. Millets seem to have recently performed an airdrop… followed by the tartan blanket company.

Hop Farm makes Isle of Wight Festival look like the last days of Rome. It is a very nice time in a very nice (and clean, thanks to the festival’s cup recycling program) field. The lineup is largely very nice too (The Bluetones, Tim Booth, Graham Coxon, Newton Faulkner), until it turns plainly incredible, which, on day two, happens at 5pm when Patti Smith turns up. She’s followed by Lou Reed, Iggy & The Stooges and Morrissey. Yesterday Brian Ferry and The Eagles wrapped up a day of organic sausage gobbling and please and thank yous; tomorrow Prince is the prize for the sitting through the likes of Imelda May, Eliza Doolittle and The Pierces.

As Lou Reed slumps onstage even more sour-faced than expected, there’s a definite sense that the next hour is either going to be sensational or frustratingly selfish. The smart money is on the latter, yet the weathered New Yorker (“Someone could have given him an iron,” says the man to our left) starts as we’d like him to go on – with a rendition of The Velvet’s ‘Who Loves The Sun?’. Instantly, he is validated via his always-off-key spoken singing voice, which remains cooler than it is droll. Reed is sounding good – bring on the greatest hits.

The following ‘Temporary Thing’, we’ll take, if only because it shows off Lou’s whipped band of session musicians, who are lead by a drummer that smiles for the rest of us, and are very accomplished indeed. By ‘Ecstasy’, though, from Reed’s album of the same name from the year 2000, total self-indulgence has engulfed the singer like the heroin he used to sing about (but doesn’t today). It goes on forever, in a free-form jazz lollop that not even the band can enjoy because their boss is busy ticking them off throughout (at first it could be seen as rallying, but as time goes on it’s clear that Lou hates the way that his guitarists, in particular, are playing). And caught between such moments of brilliance (the jaunty ‘Smalltown’, The Velvet’s ‘Sweet Jane’) and those of everlasting agony (a cover of John Lennon’s ‘Mother’ that makes the original seem as upbeat as a nursery rhyme) is where we remain for the rest of the set.

Most odd are ‘Sunday Morning’ and ‘Femme Fatale’, the latter of which of course drastically misses Nico’s vocals, but that’s neither here nor there when you take into account their stripped down stylings, which Reed sings out of time, seemingly on purpose to piss us off. His band are amazing, but we’ve not come to see them, and while the song selection could have been far more selfish on the singer’s part, he could have at least sung those that made the grade properly. Instead, more often than not, the intros are elongated as Reed shows little sign of wanting to open his mouth at all. The shame is that when he does, his midtown, dirty croak is still as captivating as ever.

Iggy could do with an iron too, yet The Stooges live up to exactly what we expect from a band who’ve now spent as long reformed as they did being a band the first time around – certainly song-for-song, and almost word-for-word. “Let the people up here,” Iggy shouts at the security guards – it’s becoming a festival tradition. This being Hop Farm, the revellers that make it onto the stage behave themselves impeccably and happily step back into the crowd three minutes later as Iggy implores us to “Thank my lovely all star Kent dancers!”

With Steve Mackay back in the band and ‘Fun House’ songs making up a chunk of what we hear, it all gets a little too saxy, especially as the one musician Lou Reed wanted to hear from was his saxophonist not half hour ago. But that aside, Iggy & The Stooges know what’s asked of them at such an event as this, and wiggling his elastic torso about the place, Pop not only gives us the tracks we want but performs them like he’s actually enjoying himself too. Hardly surprising considering he introduces an encore of ‘No Fun’ by slurring, “I’ve got the best fucking job in the world!”

Morrissey then asks, “How do you follow The Stooges?”, although he’s really already answered that by opening with ‘I Want The One I Can’t Have’ and the equally as rare ‘You’re The One For Me, Fatty’.

Guessing the Smiths songs in a Morrissey set is a good game, a.) because it really is a game, and b.) because it’s one you can’t lose. He’ll always play five or six, and one of those will always be ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ (surprisingly not as great as it should be tonight – it’s too slow). Another will be ‘Shoplifters of The World Unite’ (much better), but the rest are up for grabs, and this evening, as well as ‘I Want The One I Can’t Have’, we get ‘Meat Is Murder’, which leaves a guilty taste in our mouths (hey, they were organic burgers!) but is nonetheless delivered with the passion you’d expect, ‘This Charming Man’ and, something really special, an encore of ‘Panic’.

These songs pepper a set of greatest hits solo material that, yeah, feels sluggish at times (‘Every Day is Like Sunday’ is needless even if you’ve never seen it live before, and the same can be said for listening to ‘You Have Killed Me’ on record), but he played ‘Panic’ for God sake! For every two or three he does for us, there’s one for himself, and it’d take a stern critic to think ill of that.

If there’s one track that’s definitely for us both though it’s a cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Satellite of Love’, which we were owed. It’s free of ‘bom bom boms’, but still a brilliant, snarling version that sees Mozza change the lyrics to “I can’t stand the TV” – he may have been out-grumped today, but Morrissey’s hard edges haven’t softened in the slightest.

His is the most balanced and effortless set of the day – a show of professional courtesy and unwavering passion. And as for Hop Farm – with its zero tolerance for corporate sponsorship, its camping chair fetish and pristine site – if it could flesh out its day programme with a few more bands that are the right side of either relevance or cult, it could easily become a highly desirable summer festival year in, year out.

By Stuart Stubbs

Originally published in issue 30 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. July 2011.