Glastonbury Fest 2021, Live at Worthy Farm, started out rough—thousands of people were met with an anxiety-inducing “invalid code” in glaring red letters as they tried to access the stream. After an apology from the festival’s organizer, Emily Eavis, it resumed an hour and a half in. The new link was free of charge, but Wolf Alice, Michael Kiwanuka and George Ezra paid the price of lost time while fans were shuttered at the login page. Though a major setback, the technical difficulties did not tarnish the skilled camera angles, detailed set designs and gorgeous sprawling stages of Worthy Farm.
The stream resumed just in time for IDLES, performing from Joe Rush’s “Carhenge” workshop. They embraced their industrial, dystopian backdrop of broken-down cars and machinery. The only sources of lighting were glowing orange and purple stage lights and sparks flying from a welder—wearing no face shield, just black sunglasses. Each member of the band faced inward towards each other in a circle, sans a physical crowd, as there was no one to turn their backs to.
The hilarious, rioting “Never Fight a Man With a Perm” depicts small-town pub violence while making people want to thrash along. During “Anxiety,” a mechanical dinosaur bared its teeth, and beads of sweat ran down Joe Talbot’s clenched brow. Haphazard flashing lights mimicked that of an anxious heartbeat as he feverishly shouted the lyrics. During the cathartically brutalist track “Mother,” guitarist Mark Bowen could not deny the music flowing through him—he thrashed and stomped to the beat.
For the last song of the set, Talbot ironically took the time to say thanks, in a very authentic way. “This entire set is dedicated to all the musicians and crew that could not work during this time without any support network,” he said. “We are eternally grateful for our audience and the people around us that have worked so hard for us to sustain a job in this industry. And more importantly, for the people who couldn’t. Thank you very much for being here, and we’re sorry that all our friends couldn’t. Peace and love. Mic drop… Pick the mic back up for Danke… So Danke.”
To say they went out with a bang is an understatement. Drummer Jon Beavis hacked his kit like an absolute madman, mouth wide open stuck in the grinning position. The drone flew over a junkyard littered with metal and cars in the idyllic countryside as the camera zoomed out.
A perfect segue into HAIM’s set, the camera coasted down to Glastonbury’s Stone Circle stage, surrounded by seemingly endless expanses of greenery. A small group of spectators gathered along the treeline in the distance. The set consisted of songs featured on their newest album released in 2020, Women in Music Pt. III, that sways on contemporary pop with a dash of folky-country. They kicked off with “Summer Girl,” as gradients of yellows and oranges slid down the sky. The laid-back indie track, mixed with the gorgeous sunset, felt like a clear reminder that Summer is just a hop and a skip away.
“We’re so excited to be here at Glastonbury, our favorite festival in the whole entire world,” said lead vocalist Danielle Haim. All three Haim sisters, clad in leather jackets, had a distinguishable personality that shined through their choice of instrument. During “Don’t Wanna,” Este stomped her thick wedged boot to her bass strums, summoning her iconic “bass face,” while Alana pounded out the thumping heart of the track on drums.
The sisters joined hands to walk to a smaller sub-stage for the poppier track “Now I’m In It.” Switching it up, Danielle and Alana hopped on keys, and Este remained on her trusty bass. The last song of the set, “ I Know Alone,” blended a somber combination of electronic pop and acoustics.
The bare bones of the Pyramid stage glowed purple, and a sea of twinkling lights stood in replacement for lighters and phone flashlights in a massive crowd. “This is the first time we’re playing to a crowd of cows,” joked Coldplay frontman Chris Martin.
Playing their first festival in the last five years, Coldplay made a notable comeback with the flashiest set of the night, complete with firework shows and smoke machines. The set opened up with their new lead single on their ninth studio album, “Higher Power,” a bold and upbeat song brought to life in a live setting. They also debuted a new song, “Human Heart,” where Martin duetted with the American rock band We Are KING.
“If there’s a day you didn’t want to stand in a field, it’s today,” Martin said, as the band was drenched in rain. In their short 30-minute set, they performed all their classic major hits: “The Scientist,” “Viva la Vida,” “Clocks” and “Fix You.”
In contrast, back at the Stone Circle stage with a tranquil full moon hanging overhead, Damon Albarn exposed a gentler side for his set. In his infamous sunglasses, even in the night, he surprised fans with his new haircut—a shaggy mullet. Aimlessly meandering from long-treasured Gorillaz hits, to sparkling solo singles and haunting takes on Blur songs, he began his set with a newer track, “The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows.” Smoke crawled around him as he crooned from the piano, and a stringed quartet bellowed in the background.
As Albarn introduced a tear-jerking cover of “The Poison Tree” by The Good, The Bad & The Queen, he honored the memory of former drummer Tony Allen. “Last time I was here, I played with The Good, The Bad & The Queen, and sadly since then, the wonderfully magnificent drummer Tony Allen passed away,” said Albarn, pausing for a sharp inhale. “And I thought this song, [it] really is somehow fitting for him as a memory, and really for everybody’s ‘Tony,’ because everybody’s felt some kind of loss during this period. So this is for everybody’s Tony.”
What followed was an intimate acoustic version of the Gorillaz hit “Melancholy Hill,” swelling violin and plucky guitar turning the popular song into a sweet lullaby of sorts. Blur classics “Out of Time” and “This is a Low” wrapped up his career-encompassing set.
Filmed at the Glade, Jorja Smith’s set looked like a scene out of a fairytale. In front of a large tree embellished with color-changing lights, she glittered in the spotlight.
Amidst calculated R&B ballads like opener “Blue Lights” and reggae-tinged “Come Over,” “On My Mind” kicked the energy up, which would without a doubt have an in-person crowd bouncing up and down. Her soulful melodies among hip-hop beats blended together, smooth and rich like honey. Also performed in raw bliss was “Home,” from her newest album, Be Right Back, released May 14. The stripped-back instrumentals gave way to her impressive range.
Enny and Amia Brave joined Smith for “Peng Black Girls,” the peak moment of her set, exuding confidence and clever flow. She ended the show with the poppy track “Be Honest.”
Just hours before Glastonbury’s live stream began, Thom Yorke announced the emergence of a new group, The Smile, including Radiohead lead guitarist and keyboard player Jonny Greenwood, drummer Tom Skinner of Sons of Kemet, and, of course, Yorke himself. For their debut performance at Glastonbury, the somber, although heavenly, tracks did not bring on smiles due to their cheery atmosphere. Yorke quickly addressed this, although with a sense of ambiguity: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are called The Smile. Not The Smile as in ‘aaah!’ but more the smile of the guy who lies to you every day,” he said. In fact, the name takes after the title of a Ted Hughes poem.
Performing from a circular wood-paneled room, with airy parachutes as a ceiling, they opened with a reformed version (“Skating on the Surface”) of an unreleased Radiohead track, “Skirting on the Surface.” The tracks to follow could’ve been an extension of an experimental Radiohead album, stripped down to just three members. The stars of the show were Yorke’s soft drifting falsettos and hypnotizing spirals of guitar and synth. The hard-driving post-punk track “You Will Never Work in Television Again” gave a solid contrast to the airier aloof tracks like “The Smoke.” The eight-song set ended on a more upbeat note with “We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings,” showing a more pop-centric side to the new group.
Despite three artists being cut from the initial stream and a downpour of rain, the cinematic qualities of the festival were enamoring. The typical five-day event managed to condense its talent into just five hours, doing what it does best—embracing accomplished acts from genres all across the spectrum.
Never Fight a Man With a Perm
Kill Them With Kindness
I’ve Been Down
Now I’m In It
I Know Alone
Viva la Vida
Human Heart (with We Are KING)
A Sky Full of Stars
The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows
Royal Morning Blue
Lonely Press Play
The Tower of Montevideo
The Poison Tree (The Good, The Bad & The Queen cover)
On Melancholy Hill (Gorillaz cover)
Carousel in the Light
Out of Time (Blur cover)
This is a Low (Blur cover)
On My Mind
Peng Black Girls (ENNY cover with ENNY)
Skating on the Surface
You Will Never Work in Television Again
Just Eyes and Mouth
We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings
Photo Credit: Raymond Flotat