It was only a matter of time. Reading is a strange beast. It cottons on to trends early and discards them just as quickly. The festival is unmistakably a part of the pop culture, but unlike V and even Glastonbury, it continues to cast a crooked slant on the biggest trends.
To become a legend at this festival a band needs to be both romantic and disturbing, offering that special something that’s almost impossible to pin down and define. You have to be a little too scary Glastonbury (grunge, metal), a bit too arty for V (Pulp not Oasis), and sometimes, you’ve just got prove it in person; coming back year after year and forming a bond of kinship with the festival fraternity.
Reading has always had three strong prongs: hard rock, indie, and punk. Dance, rap, pop, and million sub genres have all played a part over the years (and will have an expanded role going forward) but the festival was built on those three pillars. So far the Strictly Reading and Leeds Hall of Fame has honoured both hard rock (Nirvana, RATM) and indie (The Libertines, Blur, Pulp), but we’ve yet to see a punk band reach the hallowed heights.
Selecting the first punk representative is tricky, punk rock and that defiant rebellious attitude is intrinsic to Reading (not only on the Lock Up but across all the stages), but the fledging genre had to fight for its place. The Ramones pulled out in 1979 and returned as conquering, but unfortunately passed their best, heroes in 1988. During the great Punk and Post-Punk years *whisper it* Reading completely missed the boat. The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Wire, The Buzzcocks, they stayed away as Peter Gabriel, Ultravox and the Doobie Brothers “rocked” the main stage.
Reading didn’t get it wrong per se, a selection of truly great bands graced the main stage, but ultimately: Reading was never really punk when punk mattered most. By the late 80s Reading finally got it, but the festival desperately needed group of stars it could call its own.
So Cal Punk turned out to be the golden goose that would continue to lay golden eggs for the next two decades – and Green Day were (oh why not) the most resplendent egg of all.
Reading wasted no time, in 1995, with Dookie at their back and Insomniac on the horizon, Green Day made their Reading debut. They sub-headlined the main stage, getting the crowd warmed up (or perhaps worn out) for The Smashing Pumpkins. Back then, Green Day provided the perfect mix of rough around the edges charm, clattering amateurish guitars, and sublime pop-melodies. They looked unfashionable, drugged out, and wild. Anyone who saw this year’s (2013’s) performance of Dookie might be amazed at just how loose and unkempt their live show used to be. This is no bad thing of course, they were once wild and spontaneous, and now they are the slickest professionals in the business.
Who could have imagined these three punks (see below) would not only be one of the biggest bands in the world but, in two decades time, would be playing three-hour long headline sets?
Green Day weren’t quite the stadium conquering super heroes we know today, they were working their way through Minority – attempting to figure out how to age, if not gracefully, then with purpose. The set was a triumph. The showmanship had been upped. Billie held the crowd in the palm of his hand starting huge chants as Mike and Tre stalled, soloed, and pulled out plenty of crowd-pleasing set pieces. Buoyant chaos was definitely the order of the day, as Green Day continued to represent a surprisingly melodic mess of the highest order.
Enter Green Day and enter American Idiot. It was all new at that point, but the entire festival knew that something very special indeed was being unveiled and they responded in kind. Still, as much as we might like to imagine the headline set was a coming out party for the American Idiot album, it was a really a celebration of the band’s back catalogue. A chance for “Basket Case” and “Hitchin A Ride” to be roared by 50,000 fans safe in the knowledge that the sun had set and Travis and Billy Corgan weren’t waiting around the corner.
Green Day were the definitive closer and this set saved Sunday night. Between The Darkness (who really were a success in person), 50 Cent, and Pete Doherty’s no show, 2004 could easily be maligned, but Green Day along with Morrissey and The White Stripes turned a strange year into a beloved memory.
Then in 2012, when all hope was seemingly lost, they came back to us with a delicious secret set – a true Reading moment if ever there was one – and in 2013 they cemented their legacy with a tour de force headline performance that touched on all aspects of their back catalogue.
Punk, one of Reading Festival’s most beloved genres, finally had a champion of its very own.