LIVE: 2000 Trees 2018 – Friday

By Mark Johnson

2000 Trees is one of the most beloved festivals of the season thanks to consistently superb line-ups that focus on the best of British alternative music, along with an unrivalled atmosphere that embraces the spirit of our own, cosy corner of the music industry. This year’s festival sees US post-hardcore legends At The Drive-in invited to join the party, alongside other more local headliners Twin Atlantic and Enter Shikari. 2018 also sees the festival embrace a cashless environment for the first time, with the implementation of contactless wrist bands to reduce queues and increase financial security.

The Forest, home of acoustic acts throughout the weekend, plays host to the first act of day two with Grumble Bee, the stage name of the hugely talented musician Jack Bennett. “Man, this is early” Bennett jokes, regarding the 10:30AM start. “I’ve only ever been up at this time twice. Once to run a half marathon and now this.” Despite the early slot, a packed out crowd has woken early to see him and it’s no surprise as to why. Playing rearranged acoustic version of his anthemic alternative tracks, Bennett’s vocals are pristine, nailing every note that he sings, producing one of his best performances to date for the admiring audience. Bennett is a classic case of someone who doesn’t know how good he really is, apologising for missing the occasional a note and forgetting the odd lyric. It’s impossible to not be endeared by Bennett’s humble and down to earth persona and with superb songs and talent to go alongside it, his Grumble Bee project is always a joy to witness, no matter what the format.

Alt-grunge trio Sick Joy open The Axiom with a crowd pleasing set. The band’s simple, poppy grunge tracks are easy to listen to and just as easy to appreciate, making it a pleasant, gentle start to the day. There’s a fair bit of attitude in the thick bass and floor-tom heavy drums but the band doesn’t inject any of this swagger into their stage presence, which sadly doesn’t project the enthusiasm that the crowd needs at this early stage of the day, especially for the quarter of the audience that remain seated inside the tent throughout the set.

In contrast, Phoxjaw bring enough energy to The Cave to keep it fuelled for the rest of the day, particularly synth player Huw Allen who propels himself around the stage like a man possessed which, by the look in his eyes, may well be true. The quintet’s multi-faceted sound is hard to pin down; the ambient, atmospheric parts are reminiscent of Deftones, before aggressive, angry shouts from vocalist Danny Garland combine with heavy riffs to sound more like Every Time I Die. In the middle of these extremes the band sounds like no one but themselves, with little comparison to tie them down. However it’s categorised, Phoxjaw are a creative and interesting act that know how to put on a show.

We head to the The Forest next to catch a breath and watch Ross Leighton from Fatherson perform a handful of stripped back songs. Leighton’s expressive voice sounds impressive enough with the full band, but when isolated it’s even more sublime, hitting every note effortlessly and flawlessly, stunning the packed out crowd into a respectful silence. With the full band performing at the Main Stage later this afternoon, this is a beautiful taster of the treat that’s in store. One thing’s for sure: Leighton is already on top form.

Dead! were due to play a Main Stage slot this year but following their recent break up, Bad Sign step in, and they take the opportunity well, treating the crowd to a super-sized set. Everything about this three piece is just huge: big choruses, even bigger riffs and the drummer hits hard to produce massive beats. The mix for Bad Sign is in their favour too, all instruments balanced perfectly to maximise the power of the band’s sound. It’s an excellent performance that proves Bad Sign are a worthy Main Stage act.

Holding Absence are also worthy of a Main Stage slot, based on talent alone, so much so that you have to remind yourself that despite their confident stage presence and avid fan base, this young band are still yet to release a record. For now though, they play The Cave, but whether the stage is big or small, this Cardiff-based act always give it everything they’ve got. Drummer Ash Greene hits the drums so hard it’s like he’s trying to hammer them through the stage and front man Lucas Woodland continues to amaze with his remarkable vocal range and flawless execution. It’s only a matter of time now before Holding Absence treat to us to a debut album, and you can’t help but think main stages at festivals will beckon soon after.

Ross Leighton is joined on the Main Stage by his band mates to provide the first Fatherson full band show for nine months. The Scottish trio have been writing a new record, due out on September 14, and on the strength of latest single ‘Making Waves’, it’s going to be well worth the wait. The new slots in nicely between the best of the band’s previous record, providing plenty of huge singalong and arms-in-the-air moments. Leighton’s vocals sounded sublime in the Forest earlier in the day and even with the power of live instrumentation to compete with, he doesn’t lose any of the soulful vibrato and character from his voice. It’s an assured performance that puts a smile on your face to combat the rain showers that have rudely started to fall.

Three of the best singers of the festival perform next at The Forest and they’re all in the same band. The amount of vocal talent in Press To MECO should be investigated by the competition commission because it’s simply unfair to everyone else. Playing rearranged versions of some of their biggest hits, this performance ranks not only up with the best set of the festival but possibly the entire year. The execution of their three part harmonies is so flawless it causes the hairs on your skin to stand, and the band’s cover of Manchester Orchestra’s ‘The Maze’ manages to sound like an entire symphony of musicians, rather than simply three. Guitarist Luke Caley’s crowd banter endears the crowd to them even more, even attempting an ambitious three part harmony with the crowd which elicits rapturous applause even though we don’t manage to hit our notes quite as well as the experts. This is one of those special moments that had to be experienced to be believed and those crowded in The Forest leave with broad smiles across their faces and a 2000 Trees moment to cherish.

US post-hardcore quintet Touché Amoré pull in the largest crowd so far at The Cave, with spectators spilling out of the sides, jostling to get a look at the band. Jeremy Bolm delivers his emotionally tinged screams with conviction and passion, equally met by rows of adoring fans shouting them right back at him. The musicians of the band back him up with enthusiastic, energy fuelled instrumentation which brings their sound to life, filling the stage. On any individual song, Touché Amoré are up there with the best in their genre, but across a full set their songs start to bleed together and lack variety. Regardless, it’s a strong performance that satisfies the legion of fans packed inside The Cave.

Over at the Neau Stage, Conjurer serves up the heaviest set of the weekend, bursting into their opening track with blast beats, heavy riffs and guttural screams. As heavy as they are, it’s not all bluster; the quartet are surprisingly melodic at times, selecting interesting chord progressions that take their sound to unexpected places, and when combined with interesting time signatures and dynamics, there’s more complexity to Conjurer’s music than the initially boisterous opening would have you believe. This set, combined with their fantastic new album ‘Mire’, highlights a band at the top of their game.

Twin Atlantic last headlined 2000 Trees in 2016 to a warm reception and their easy listening, anthemic tracks make them a safe bet for another headline slot this year. The quality across today’s schedule has been one of the highest at the festival in recent memory and happily Twin Atlantic don’t drop the ball at this late stage, ensuring a positive end to a fantastic second day. Sam McTrusty’s voice is on top form, projecting his vocals with power and precision and the guitars are crisp and driving, ensuring everyone’s energy levels are kept high enough for the Silent Disco later in the evening. The band’s production is superb as well thanks to some excellent lighting, capping off the kind of assured Main Stage set that a band of this quartet’s experience and stature always manage to achieve.