Flanders is a Festival – PUKKELPOP in Pictures: Day 2 (feat. EAGLES OF DEATH METAL, GRANDADDY, AFGHAN WHIGS, STONE ROSES)

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Pukkelpop Day 2 starts slowly with aching muscles from Day 1, and even more intense heat. The fireball in the sky is cranked to frazzle, and so begins another day of sweating profusely at one of Europe’s best rock festivals. And speaking of rock, I run into this guy, first thing. It’s BOOTS ELECTRIC! Jesse Hughes of Eagles of Death Metal, a man I haven’t seen since he appeared in this video for me, at which point he also gave me my own EODM nickname “Sexy Cherry.” So here we are, a few years later outside the backstage village and he’s all “darlin’” this and “darlin’” that, and when I apologize for fiddlin’ with my phone, he tells me it’s okay because it means he gets to hold onto me longer.

He doesn’t mean it, of course, but Jesse’s smooth. Except for his face.

After my run-in with the best mustache in the west, it’s over to the mainstage to peep in on Maxïmo Park. Like pretty much half of all British rock bands formed since 2000, the Maximoos are, yunno, okay. Paul Smith does a fair “Apply Some Pressure” in the wilt-worthy sunshine.

Following Max, it’s time for another okay band, this time the Northern Irish/Welsh melange known as Two Door Cinema Club. Pretty poppy stuff. Meh. Things I learn later about Two Door Cinema Club that surprise me: singer Alex Trimble is a MASSIVE Grandaddy fan and can be seen sidestage at GD watchin’ history launch itself back into the present.  Anyway, I tip my hat to all GD fans, so good on you, young man.

Then it’s on to see this chiquita, Samantha Urbani from BrooklynBuzzBand™ Friends. I dig Friends. They’re pretty swag. Or whatever its the kids are saying these days. She’s bummed out about the Pussy Riot ruling, and wears a the word “HOOLIGAN” written on her chest. Nobody else knows that she’s fashioned her hat out of the bits of the backstage Artist Village artwork/installation pieces. EXCEPT ME.

I need to flee the tent, though, once I start drowning in my own bodily fluids. It’s gotten hotter than yesterday, and I’m rocking the wet look. Meanwhile, back over on the main stage, these kids are rocking….MUSTACHES. Seriously, there’s a whole hairy metric ton of ‘tache in honour of Eagles of Death Metal. Right on!

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The man, the myth, the mustache again: Jesse Hughes bounds out onto the massive stage with a shit-eating grin. It’s as if the grin says “holy shit, I used to be just this guy, who was childhood friends with Josh Homme, now I’m this GUY ON THIS STAGE IN FRONT OF, LIKE, 8o THOUSAND PEOPLE.”

And he owns it. “When you go home to tonight,” barks Boots,”I want you to look your mama in the eye and say ‘Mama, I ain’t never been rocked so hard by a mustache before,” and he’s absolutely right. “Cherry Cola”, “Pieces of You,” “Now I’m a Fool” and the rest are perfect for the big stage. Big,dumb, fun festival rock and roll and EODM absolultely nail it. Mustache rides for all! (Sorry.)

AND THE CROWD GOES WILD! This is EODM’s Dave Catching, one of the nicest guys in the West, the type who will ensure a girl has a beer when she’s backstage (fact). He also rocks a Flying V which makes him ultra.

In the hot sun, the Pukkelpop flags make me feel more at home. But another sauna tent is beckoning so I can get an ace spot and see the end of these guys…

RAWR! It’s Band of Skulls. Rockin’ in that acceptable fashion. But I don’t need Band of Skulls, right now. What  I NEED is for the return of the guys who wrote the album that lies somewhere on my Desert Island Disc list. It’s the return of Grandaddy. The return of one of the greatest American indie bands of all time. The return of a band I haven’t seen for almost 10 years.

Jason Lytle’s swigging from a bottle of red wine, the images and graphics are spot on and “El Caminos in the West” roll out. And I am in all kinds of music heaven. It’s a little glitchy – and that’s the way I’d want it – but Jason laughs it off in between songs. “Now it’s On”…and it is. During “The Crystal Lake” I get shivers.

Afterwards, I boot on over to the Artist Village to try and wrangle my way into see Jason and Co. My texts to the band’s manager weren’t going through (cell coverage was spotty), and I had to rely on a new approach: trying to talk my way into the Fort Knox of backstage areas. It works and I’m walked in through the insanely awesome CITY of portables. I run into Grandaddy’s Kevin Garcia who points me in the direction of Jason Lytle.

Jason Lytle, Grandaddy & Mikala

SERIOUS FACE. But J’s chill and relaxed. He pours me some red wine, we get caught up, talk about his new solo album, Dept of Disappearance and goof around. Dinosaur Jr’s roadie Larry walks by (this time out with Afghan Whigs) and it’s rad to run into someone I know…in Belgium. I chat to dude from Band of Skulls.  And I bond with Aaron and Kevin from Grandaddy. Funny guys. Deadpan as all hell. We’re joined by other various crew and former crew, and it’s a fun reunion. I’m a bit giddy. Could be the sun. Or maybe this:

Jason Lytle, Grandaddy - pic by Mikala Taylor/backstagerider.com

We all head over to the artist restaurant, for a spot of food and encounter this POND in the middle of it. Jason pulls a Blue Steel  before we all have dinner. Jason loads up his plate – I have no food tickets – with all manner of delicious and shares it round. It’s a communal family dinner with Grandaddy at the head of the table. We laugh…a lot. Good times.

But soon it’s time to bid adieu to the men of greatness and head out into the haze. As the temperature drops by 10, I have never been so grateful for a sunset in my life. And as the darkness falls, the summer of  1989 rises.

“I Wanna Be Adored” rings out across a vast expanse and I’m second row for the third coming. Stone Roses are back, and it’s amazing. King Monkey Ian Brown still sounds rubbish and shakes his jingles and runs around and grooves like a baggy. In other words, exactly what you’d want and expect.

It’s still epic though – there’s a thousand-watt smile plastered on my face as they run through “Sally Cinnamon”, “Fool’s Gold”, “Waterfall”, “Don’t Stop” (!, “She Bangs the Drum” and the surprisingly MAMMOTH “Love Spreads”, including a rap of sorts from Brown. I’m singing along with a bazillion people and feel nothing but pure joy.

But it’s this guy I crane to see. John Squire. I met Squire once, during his Seahorses years, and was starstruck. We had a conversation, about his artwork, a mutual friend on the crew and music, and it’s amazing to see him bending strings again for this most anthemic of returns.

And Brown’s in a playful mood, too. Literally. He grabs a pair of plastic toy dolls and poses them, or sneers, right into the camera that’s broadcasting his fookin’ mug across the big screen. He folds setlists into paper airplanes and launches them, and lopes around like the Original Liam. Yes, this was worth leaving the backstage and Grandaddy for. But Jesus H. Christ on a bike, I’ve not had enough 90s revivalism. I need to go see me some Gentlemen.

The last time I saw the Afghan Whigs, this happened. And the last time I ran into Greg Dulli was a year ago in Seattle with the Twilight Singers. But it’s been an age since I’ve heard those songs, the songs from Gentlemen and all the rest. The howl, the gritty, soulsucker vibe.

It’s midnight, I’m caked in saltsweat stains and ready to collapse, but it’s all just perfect. For several moments within the songs, I believe what I always believed: despite the fact that he totally fucking knows it, Dulli is the man.

But as with all nights, it’s time to wrap up in the get up and get down boogie part of town. Digitalism Live is blasting out from the Dance Hall and I stand and look out over the expanse of Pukkelpop. And I’m thankful for being here.  Night 3 awaits. \m/

With many thanks to Tourism Flanders for flying me to Belgium to experience their region’s great food, festivals and people. It’s an amazing place, I suggest you visit. For more info, check out VisitFlanders.com

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