Victoria Park, London - July 18-19
Once again Lovebox rolls around as a midpoint marker of the summer's festival action.
For the past four years I've used it as an excuse to take my nephew to a music event that isn't Tweenies on Tour. He's been every year since he's been alive – as the festival has grown up, so has he. He's gone from crawling on the ground to Mylo to stumbling around to Hot Chip, via dancing semi-naked during Blondie's set; this year he exudes a blasé world weariness, meaning he’s not so different to thousands of festival goers up and down the land. And in the same time, Lovebox has gone from being a barely commercially viable local festival to a massively successful event with a reputation that stretches far beyond its Hackney home.
2009 is Lovebox's biggest year thus far, with a truly stellar line-up, more stages and more fans in attendance than ever before. The personal touches that made the festival so unique in its early years may not be quite so evident, but it is still a well-appointed event with plenty of character. However, in an increasingly crowded festival market, smaller weekenders are having to work harder and harder to stand out.
Lovebox used to do this by booking the kind of acts that were favourites of the curators - Groove Armada's Tom Findlay and Andy Cato - or up and coming acts that would subsequently go on to bigger and better things; acts like Sly & The Family Stone and The Human League, Goldfrapp and Jamie Lidell. Realistically, budget constraints meant that Lovebox was always something of a bespoke affair, but as the success of the festival has grown so has its ability to book some of the biggest and the best acts out there, expertly blending the old and the new like master mixologists.
Illustrating this fact succinctly on Saturday night, on the Main Stage, is superstar in waiting Florence Welch of Florence and The Machine, followed in quick succession by international superstars N*E*R*D and long-time British superstars Duran Duran. Lovebox's ability to get some of the best acts around to come down to their Victoria Park shindig shows how its stature has grown.
Enough has been written of Welch for you to be assured that the reality does for once live up to the hype, and all that’s left to be said about her set here is that it showcases an artist who is constantly growing in confidence, ability and poise. Dressed in a feathered black leather playsuit and with glass of white wine in hand, Welch is every inch the icon, set highlights including the simply sublime ‘Cosmic Love’ and ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’ as the rain begins to threaten. N*E*R*D go some way to restoring their reputation following a poor show at Glastonbury, but the undoubted champions amongst these contenders are past masters: Duran Duran.
A great many acts come and go, reforming after years apart to chase dollars and cents one ‘final’ time – and whilst most come back uninvited, others return with fresh vim and vigour to show all and sundry how it's really done. Duran Duran slip neatly into the latter category. What surprises most about Le Bon, Taylors John and Roger and Rhodes is exactly how effortless and fresh they still sound around twenty years after their initial tenure as biggest band on planet pop. The audience are here for hits such as ‘Rio’ and ‘Girls on Film’ and are not disappointed; but thankfully the shimmering synths and funky rhythms of more recent material prove that the former Wild Boys still have something in the tank. Quite what Mark Ronson adds to proceedings in his capacity as guest guitarist is a bit of a mystery though, as he goes largely unnoticed by all until the end of the evening. But, undoubtedly, the band themselves make an indelible impact.