n the end, then, it was the small-time arsonists in the campsites who made headlines as proceedings came to a close on Sunday. A real shame: because bar the boneheaded, long-standing tradition of burning tents, Reading (and Leeds) Festival felt truly refreshed and new in 2022.
Chiefly because its posters have largely been full of boys, Reading has in recent times become a poster boy for the lack of diversity at festivals. But no longer. Anyone who witnessed Megan Thee Stallion’s set at Glastonbury will know that she out-headlined all the Pyramid stage headliners. On Friday night, with second album Traumazine having now been out for two weeks, she went even higher: defying security to bring up a succession of fans onstage – ‘Why would someone break up with her?’ she said of one who’d been recently dumped – and exhibiting the kind of gale force, superstar charisma that is supposed to be extinct.
Friday’s other main stage headliner Dave – there are now two main stages at either end of the site – also looks very, very comfortable in front of a field full of people. He brought out Stormzy and AJ Tracey but the night belonged to him and him alone.
With Rage Against The Machine having pulled out, Arctic Monkeys were the closest Reading got to elder statesmen in 2022, heading up a day of the guitar-based bands – Wolf Alice, Fontaines DC – who are more traditional to this site. They have a seventh album, The Car, due in October, but only played one of its songs, the funk-infused I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am (frustrating, given that they are one of about three bands on earth who you want to hear utter the words “This is a new one”).
Other than that it was (brilliant) business as usual, to the extent that they start with the same two songs (Do I Wanna Know, Brianstorm) as they did the last time they played on this stage in 2014. Alex Turner said very, very little – we just about got a “Hello, Reading” – but didn’t need to, such is the power of these songs.
Saying very, very little is certainly not something that Matt Healy of The 1975 could be accused of. Perhaps conscious of the fact there were lots of disgruntled Rage fans in the Sunday crowd, he went out of his way to charm the field in front of him, conversing and joking with the assembled throng, even utilising the old Freddie Mercury “daaaay-ooo” routine.
His band would, he said, have prepared a Rage Against The Machine cover, but their call up here was of such a last minute nature that they didn’t have time. No matter. The 1975’s set was – as Healy himself puts it – “Just. F***ing. Bangers”, and by the time they closed with Give Yourself A Try the field, though slightly emptier than it was the previous two nights, was moving with them.
If Luton can be called a London Airport, then Reading, now thanks to the Elizabeth Line, can be classed as a festival that the capital can call its own – there are more London acts than ever before filling the 2022 lineup – and be proud of. Reading has truly now moved into the modern age, and is serving its still very young audience the perfect post-exam results weekend. All they need to do now is dissuade a minority of idiots from setting fire to everything at the end of the bank holiday and they’ll be all set for decades to come.