Reading & Leeds Festival took place over the weekend and Team NME were down at the very front, back and everywhere in-between to report on the all the goings-ons. Read all of our headliner reviews and interviews on the Reading homepage, and our writers’ most magnificent moments below.
Words: Liberty Dunworth, Thomas Smith, Andrew Trendell, Sophie Williams
The Last Dinner Party’s majestic welcome
We’re not here to dive into discourse, but there was a fair bit riding on The Last Dinner Party’s arrival at Reading Festival on Friday afternoon. Even though they’d cut their teeth on the small-venue circuit, this was their first full summer in the festival fields. It wasn’t quite a ‘show us what you’re made of’ affair, but more that of a gentle wave and welcome.
Despite having only two songs out in the world – ‘Nothing Matters’ and ‘Sinner’ – it seemed to matter not one jot: their charming, theatrical appeal is reminiscent of Florence and The Machine, with the emotional veracity of Patti Smith and Hole. Their rise and rise up the lineup poster now feels inevitable. (TS)
Loyle Carner’s golden hour magic
Loyle Carner and golden hour – could there have been a better combination? Even if the Croydon-raised rapper has a more sentimental approach than the thrilling, spitting UK rap upstarts – including Clavish, Meekz, and Dreya Mac – that dominated much of this year’s lineup, his emotionally wounded songs proved to be equally as electric against the backdrop of a gorgeous sunset.
After giving a moving speech about toxic masculinity and breaking the cycle of trauma, Carner launched into 2019’s serene and reflective ‘Still’, looking visibly emotional as he described it as “the song I’m most proud of, ever.” The stage’s supersize video screens continued to highlight the way Carner’s face would morph into hyper-emotive expressions: wide-eyed joy as he spotted a fan’s ‘Loyal 2 Loyle’ sign during ‘Angel’, or a snarl during the utterly compelling ‘Hate’. Throughout, he exuded a natural charisma that can’t be taught, or indeed repressed. (SW)
A fun-filled coda to Foals’ best-ever tour
In 2022, the band released ‘Life Is Yours’, a vibrant infusion of rock and their electronic tendencies to soundtrack the return to festivals post-lockdown. Following countless shows – including Glastonbury and a wide-ranging UK tour – the band got the chance to perform it to the young audience that needed hedonism and escapism more than anyone.
Topping the Main Stage West for the first time since 2016’s headline set, their return showcased just how slick their performances have become. ‘2am’ and ‘2001’ boasted eye-popping visuals and colours, while classics ‘Spanish Sahara’ and ‘Red Socks Pugie’ were bolstered by the return of original bassist Walter Gervers. “This is the start of the rest of your life”, Yannis Philippakis said to the crowd, and they undoubtedly seized their moment. (TS)
Sam Fender’s emotional peak
Our review of Fender’s Friday finale hailed the Geordie superstar as “a mirror to this audience, and that’s why he belongs on this stage more than anyone”. His relatability is in far more than his everyman charm, it’s because he deals in reality with all his heart. When introducing “a song about my hometown… a fishing town, drinking town”, flowing into a gracefully cathartic rendition of ‘Dead Boys’, about the criminal levels of young male suicide and all the pain that comes with it, the moment hits much harder than usual.
His masterful translation of the profound in the everyday into music that matters is what allowed him to fulfil this bucket list headliner moment. Here’s to many more. (AT)
Palaye Royale’s maximalist circus rumbles on
When it comes to bringing the hard rock values to the stage, there are few who can gather the same momentum and showmanship as Palaye Royale. From drummer Emerson Barrett effortlessly kicking off the intense set, cigarette in hand, to frontman Remington Leith scaling up the scaffolding and standing atop a fan’s shoulders without missing a single note, love it or loathe it, there is no taking your eyes off the Las Vegas rockers.
With tracks including ‘Black Sheep’, ‘Fucking With My Head’ and ‘Broken’ all making the set, the trio of brothers were the perfect dose of nostalgia for those missing the earlier, heavier days of Reading & Leeds. (LD)
Fat Dog bring the ruff stuff
Although they may not have the glitz and glamour of the headliners, emerging London band Fat Dog brought something more to the Festival Republic Stage on Saturday afternoon, as they cracked out a rendition of their latest single ‘King Of The Slugs’, and proved themselves to be one of the most electrifying performances of the entire weekend.
Not even nonchalant, effortlessly cool frontman Joe Love could keep a straight face as the crowd brought their favourite party tricks to the circle pit – including a game of Rock, Paper Scissors, some Irish Dancing, and an endless ‘woof woof woof’ chant. Hell, even the security guards found themselves involved in the shenanigans by the final track of their brief, 30-minute set… (LD)
Soft Play’s emotional return
One of the emotional highs of this year’s Reading Festival came from, perhaps, an unexpected place. When Soft Play, FKA Slaves, returned to the Festival Republic tent on Saturday for a surprise set, they finally got their moment: it marked the punk duo’s return to major UK festivals after a four-year break, during which both drummer Isaac Holman and guitarist Laurie Vincent underwent a series of respective personal and health issues.
The band immediately encouraged dozens of moshpits as they tore through early favourites (‘Sockets’, ‘Where’s Your Car Debbie?’), and ‘Punk’s Dead’ – sans an appearance from Robbie Williams, sadly, who offers a guest vocal on the new single – but it was their shared joy that really lingered. “What a feeling,” said Vincent at one point, bounding around the stage. “We are so happy to be back.” (SW)
The 1975 dabble with nostalgia
If you were to close your eyes and believe it, on Saturday evening, the area surrounding Main Stage West felt like a cocoon away from reality for the best part of an hour. A palpable sense of nostalgia filled the air. Taking to the stage for their third Reading headline slot in four years – replacing Lewis Capaldi, who dropped out in July due to health issues – The 1975 performed their 2013 self-titled debut back to front, and highlighted why that album continues to resonate with fans on such a profound level.
For audience members who lived through ‘The 1975’ era, it was hearing standout ‘M.O.N.E.Y’ live that sealed the night: in time with its glitchy synth loops and handclaps, thousands of punters responded with fairly remarkable vocal dexterity in a rendition of the track’s dizzying bridge. Bassist Ross MacDonald briefly held his hand to his chest, a gesture of awed respect for a huge, genuinely moving singalong moment. (SW)
The Killers crown “Ozzy from just outside of Bath” as the hero of the weekend
“Brought to you by the way of the fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada,” The Killers’ headline set was one powered with enough glamorous indie rock’n’roll electricity to light the strip of their hometown for a decade. Surprising, then, that the highlight of their residency-worthy show came when they chose to share the spotlight with a plucky young teen with nothing but a dream and sign begging to be allowed on stage to drum along to ‘For Reasons Unknown’.
The lad lagged a little (“more cocaine than marijuana,” advised Flowers) but what the kid lacked in speed, he more than made up for in razzle-dazzle, and Reading was entirely behind him. To paraphrase rock’s other great Ozzy, we’re all fookin’ mad for this kid. These are the moments of magic and community that festivals are made for. (AT)
Sleep Token maintain the mystery
In the few months since they released their latest album, Sleep Token have reaffirmed their stance as one of the most exciting bands of recent years. Before their performance, there were concerns if their alt-metal sound would resonate with the masses in a festival field. But It was the moment that the house lights dropped and anonymous frontman Vessel quietly walked onto the stage that all doubts were lost, and the festival transformed like one of the band’s headline shows.
In a way, it was both a blessing and a curse to be given just a 45-minute set from the group; although the brief set snippet of the band’s full potential, there was no other act that left us quite so eager for more. (LD)
Steve Lacy’s sunset sexiness
“What’s my name,” asks the handsome man in the wrap-around shades. “STEEEEEVEn LAAAAACYYY,” howl back the final day revellers at varying speeds and volumes. “Oh, so you do know who I am?”
He’s being coy. Here’s a rockstar greeted by a rockstar reception. It’s not easy to keep the crowd going as the final hours of R+L pull in, but his fluid android-Prince sexiness are nothing short of life giving as the packed-out field go nuts for ‘4Real’, ‘Sunshine’ and ‘Bad Habits’ as the the sun sets on Reading, and a cracking weekend. Mercury may be in retrograde, as he warns, but the summer vibes couldn’t be any more perfect thanks to Mr Lacy. (AT)
Billie’s brings her beautiful Barbie moment to the fields
Dua Lipa, Ice Spice, Nicki Minaj and Charli XCX might have summer blockbuster Barbie’s ‘biggest’ bangers, but it’s Billie Eilish’s entry ‘What Was I Made For?’ that provides the emotional heft. During her debut headline appearance – and first since her mega 2019 appearance – it was this hushed ballad that will live long in the memory, its reverence already connecting with her fans and casual.
Given that the remainder of her show was full of murky beats, horror-infused visuals and pyrotechnics, the fact that its most vulnerable moment was its finest is a testament to Billie’s talent. (TS)