The Killers deliver the hits to close out day two at Reading 2023

Brandon and co prove those iconic songs still cut it, while The 1975 turn back the clocks, Soft Play return and more on Saturday at Reading 2023.

Words: Abigail Firth, Ali Shutler, Finlay Holden, Jake Hawkes, Jamie Muir.
Photos: Frances Beach, Patrick Gunning.

If you think Reading was shaking off hangovers come first-thing Saturday, then James Marriott makes sure they’re quickly banished to the side. With “We want James” chants ringing out from Main Stage East, his arrival is greeted like the Next Big Deal he already is. Building out the sort of devoted fanbase that most bands spend years trying to capture, the sheer size of the Main Stage feels perfectly in line with the skyscraper ambition that echo from his every move. Screams ring out, songs are sung back like they’re the moment people have been waiting for all weekend – this is James Marriott putting the world on notice. He’s ready.

Noting it’s the earliest he and his band have ever played, it sets the tone for day two of Reading in the best way possible. ‘Him’, ‘Car Lights’ and ‘So Long’ elicit potentially the earliest circle pits in Reading history – whilst the widescreen pull of ‘Romanticise This’ and punchy unreleased track ‘Don’t Blame Me’ perfectly distil that hook-laden indie-pop brilliance. 

As the scorching ‘Sleeping On Trains’ closes out a bright opening to Saturday’s action, the chants for James continue to ring out. Today at Reading is laying a marker for what’s to come: a ride with James Marriott where fun and release is the order of the day. You bet we’re ready for that. (JM)

After a big, carefree dance party to Shania Twain’s ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman’, Nieve Ella kicks into her own giddy, ambitious anthems designed to keep that joy going. ‘I’ve Fallen For You’ is a wide-eyed surrender to love, ‘19’ is a rumbling number, fueled by angst, confusion and heartbreak but finds catharsis in the soaring breakdown. Elsewhere, ‘Your Room’ has only been out a few weeks, but the swelling crowd seems to know every room to the swaying anthem of moving on before an unapologetically sweet ‘You House’ and the fierce, snotty drive of ‘His Sofa’. (AS)

That energy carries through to Hannah Grae’s slot on the BBC Introducing stage. An hour earlier, she was watching old tour buddy James Marriot play Reading’s Main Stage and her own slot clearly has similar ambitions. ‘Time Of Your Life’ and ‘Never Say No’ are furious but twist that rage into something far more joyful while the title track to debut EP ‘Hell Is A Teenage Girl’ is delivered with an extra layer of snark, thanks to the gig being watched by people who knew her from school. Smirking slacker rock anthem ‘Screw Loose’ is more intimate than her other sprawling revenge anthems, but as it turns self-doubt into an outstretched hand, it creates a moment of magic amongst the packed audience. (AS)

Having just announced her long-awaited debut album, the buzz around current Dork cover star Baby Queen has grown into a torrent of hype, intrigue and questions – but she’s not here to answer them all just yet.

Kicking off with ‘Internet Religion’, Bella instead smashes out some hits in her hybrid pop-rocker style; she necks champagne, riffs on real and air guitars, and slaps some cymbals, but the hook-rich melodies rule all.

Advising her crowd that “the best hangover cure is to drink more,” you can’t always trust her advice, but you can trust her to hype up a crowd. ‘Raw Thoughts’, ‘Buzzkill’ and the cloud-opening closer ’Want Me’ are sung back word-for-word, while ‘DREAM GIRL’ and ‘We Can Be Anything’ look set to join their ranks soon.

Emphasising how important this day is for her, Baby Queen reflects on her first-ever UK festival experience and setting her gaze on the exact spot she’s now sharing with her excellent live band. Based on the intimacy she shares with familiar faces on the front row, it’s important to many others, too. Her coronation may be waiting just around the corner, but Baby Queen’s kingdom has long been letting its presence known. (FH)

Lyrically detailed, sonically sharpened and critically appraised, Arlo Parks’ Mercury prize-winning debut established her as an artist not to be underestimated. May’s follow-up took her artistry in a new direction entirely, leaning into hazy, colourful, assuring sounds as she seeks to be less self-critical and more generous with what she calls ‘My Soft Machine’.

That same sentiment seeps into the crowd even as the rains pour hesitantly over the fields of Reading. Arms sway, groups huddle together, and the storm is banished by the catharsis of ‘Oh Caroline’. Contrasting this with the indie-rock musings of ‘Devotion’, Arlo expresses a passion for Deftones and Arctic Monkeys – there’s a range of influences in her palette, but she offers something entirely of her own creation. (FH)

If one pop star has dominated this festival season, it’s Caity Baser. Flying out every weekend, she’s gone from strength to strength, climaxing at this full circle moment at Reading. Last year she played at the BBC Introducing stage to a field full, now she’s graduated to the Dance tent, packing it to the rafters and bringing the bangers she’s spent all summer warming up.

Releasing singles consistently all year, she swaps out tracks to pull in the newer ones. Where for some artists that’d be a risk, it’s those fresher tracks that pop off most for Caity, like recent smash ‘Why Can’t I Have Two’. Still, the well-worn numbers like ‘X&Y’ and ‘Pretty Boys’ remain, with no signs slowing down momentum. If you’ve not caught Caity this summer, there’s sure to be many more to come. (AF)

There’s something poetic about the fact that the rain falling on Reading Saturday stops, and the sunshine returns as Holly Humberstone takes to Main Stage East. As her journey builds to the release of debut album ‘Paint My Bedroom Black’, today at Reading she makes a statement of intent in a big way.

Blending the ripped raw and the euphoric in equal measure, it’s a set that pulls from across her career so far. Early cuts that have become beloved favourites, such as ‘The Walls Are Way Too Thin’, ‘Overkill’ and ‘Falling Asleep At The Wheel’ are the sort of tracks that don’t just become favourites on a playlist but are scribbled on tattoos and notebooks. It taps into something altogether more magical, with Holly embracing that main stage status with an unstoppable new confidence. Cuts from ‘Paint My Bedroom Black’ fit perfectly in the world forming around her – ‘Antichrist’ and ‘Superbloodmoon’ are stunning in their presence, and an added dose of unmissable is added with ‘Room Service’, seeing Holly joined onstage by Arlo Parks for a spellbinding performance.

Holly’s moment is secured with an emphatic new take on ‘Vanilla’ and a resounding whip through ‘Scarlet’. Reading 2023 may be remembered for many reasons, but Holly Humberstone controlling the elements to bring the heat will certainly be one of them. Forecast now? The very, very top (JM)

Embodying the energy of summer with opener ‘Sunshine State’, Pixey banishes the rain for an energetic set over at the BBC Introducing stage. With a formidable list of accomplishments now growing exponentially, the Merseyside singer-songwriter-producer can add a very busy Reading set to her belt. Continuing to develop a sonic fingerprint as unique as her story, new fans are joining the journey along the way. Dancing around a keyboard with infectious joy, it’s easy to see why. (FH)

With multiple EPs, two full albums and a freshly-forming mixtape in their pockets, Leicester five-piece Easy Life have a multitude of material to choose from for their festival sets, and today we get a career-spanning show from one of the modern indie scene’s great successes.

Donned in black and opening to the moody ‘BEESWAX’, Murray struts with an assured stride despite hurting his backstage diving during his warm-up shows, and Oliver almost suffers the same fate after leaping into a moshpit for ‘Skeletons’.

Clearly able to bring the energy, the band are also able to mellow things out and soak up some sunshine with recent drop ‘palm trees’ and older cut ‘ocean view’. Picking and choosing tracks to curate their moments, Easy Life have become a festival favourite for a reason.  (FH)

Inhaler have long been festival sweethearts and are no newcomers to R&L or its main stage, but this time they come back with fresh material from February’s ‘Cuts & Bruises’, a record that took the euphoric anthems of their 2021 debut and honed that approach into something even more sharp and addictive.

This rapid evolution has only improved the four-piece’s stage craft, the band firing sounds around the stage while Eli’s charming, lowkey vocal takes to the forefront to deliver catchy melody after catchy melody. ‘These Are The Days’, ‘Cheer Up Baby’, ‘Just To Keep You Satisfied’, ‘Love Will Get You There’… the hits start coming and they don’t stop coming.

Confident, free and not afraid to indulge, Inhaler’s second stab at a Reading performance is a belated victory lap for a band achieving their highest ambitions. Ever since they stormed onto the scene, the electric excitement around Ireland’s finest has refused to settle down and that shows no signs of changing. (FH)

“If you don’t know who the fuck we are, you’ll about to find out,” grins Scowl’s vocalist Kat Moss. Seconds later, the five-piece hardcore band from California launch into a slinking instrumental number that quickly morphs into a slab of pure, untethered rage. As you might expect, a sprawling circle pit quickly breaks out.

The likes of ‘Shot Down’ and ‘Bloodhound’ allow Scowl to play hard, fast and frantic while the playful ‘Fuck Around’ toys with a stop/start fury that’s as physical as it is fun.

“It’s a dream to be standing here, with my best friends,” starts Kat, taking a break from churning the crowd up to share a sincere moment of gratitude. “I don’t know who came here today to break a sweat and do some dancing but ‘Psychic Dance Routine’ is your chance,” she continues. The title track to the band’s latest EP sees Scowl dial into the melody that’s always been a vital part of their sound, and push it through a fearless, colourful filter. It doesn’t mean that the circle pits are any less intense, only that the people who really have no idea who Scowl are have something to latch onto. And it isn’t long before some of them are in the middle of the circle pit, either.

Alongside bands like Militarie Gun, Scowl are part of a breaking new wave of hardcore who are proving there’s more to the scene than bludgeoning riffs. In the process, they’re opening the door for a new generation of fans to get caught up in the cathartic, community-first scene. There are a few raised eyebrows from the fringes of the tent when Scowl launch into their chunky, unforgiving music but by the end of the set, there’s clearly some new fans in the audience. And for the Scowl faithful, today’s set is another reminder of the giddy power this band wields. (AS)

There’s a whole world of buzz around Lucia & The Best Boys’ evening set on the BBC Introducing stage. Less than a month away from the release of debut album ‘Burning Castles’, today’s Reading set serves as the perfect showcase for everything that makes them essential. 

Immediately setting the tone to the beat of their own drum, it’s an intoxicating mix of style, swagger and showmanship. ‘Perfectly Untrue’ is a snap-tight alt-pop smash, whilst ‘When You Dress Up’ and that anticipated debut album’s title track ooze an aura of their very own. The Lucia & The Best Boys show is here. Roll the tape, and get ready for the motion picture to come. (JM)

Retro yet simultaneously modern hip-hop duo Joey Valence & Brae have ventured their way to Reading all the way from Pennsylvania, but thankfully the journey proves a fruitful one as the Festival Republic stage sets ablaze. Barely visible over the sea of jumping hands, the jarring combination of a classic sonic approach with references to current cultural trends electrifies a crowd willing to bend the rules a little bit.

Beer is flying across the tent before the guys even take to the stage, but with ‘WATCH YOUR STEP’, ‘TANAKA’ and ‘START A FIGHT’, surreal levels of energy are achieved. With a carefree vibe that’s accessible for anyone to latch onto, Joey and Brae are the perfect hype men. Fans are backflipping in the moshpit, security are jumping on the barrier – to inspire this much ferocity so far from home is a feat in itself, especially when considering that these tracks were all home cooked in a cramped bedroom with no studio glamour.

“Do art because you love it,” Valence belts, reflecting on how close he came to pivoting into a corporate role. “If you’re a stupid idiot, that’s awesome.” As if to underline that point, two front row attendees chuck pink cowboy hats on stage, and they are worn until the beastly finale of ‘PUNK TACTICS’. “Thank you for being yourself,” Joey concludes. The feeling is mutual.

As the evening picks up steam, HotWax touchdown on the BBC Introducing Stage with a lightning bolt of intensity. Furious riffs and immediacy follow, proving just why so many are paying such close attention to every move that the trio make. That purpose and drive which has taken them to this stage sees fans turn up draped in merch, and by today’s bitesize set – HotWax are only going to pick up more attention over the next year. Today is but a taster, but the main course is ready to land. Get ready to be fed well. (JM)

Being a UK rap act and being put on at the other side of the festival just before the absolute phenomenon that is Central Cee is a tough slot, no matter how you slice it. Somehow though, Knucks has pulled in a sizeable crowd and is whipping them up into enough of a frenzy that you feel they’re unlikely to have any energy left for the rest of the night.

Mosh pits open throughout, with Knucks pointing at one mid-set with a grin. “We’re gonna need those in a minute” he jokes before ushering on SL for a storming performance of ‘Nice & Good’. The energy doesn’t stop there though, with wheel-ups and massive choruses dominating until the last bar of the set. As soon as he steps off, thousands of teenagers turn to sprint towards Central Cee’s set, but it’s a testimony to Knucks’ abilities that they couldn’t tear themselves away until he finished. (JH)

Following a year where he’s rocketed to the top, UK rap’s beloved himbo Central Cee steps out to a field full at the Main Stage. Signs across the crowd read “I’m in love with you” and “I’d turn straight for you” while countless girlies have “I <3 CENCH” scrawled across their chests, there’s no doubting his immense popularity. It’s a set of back to back hits, from recent number 1 ‘Sprinter’ (sadly sans Dave) to viral smashes ‘Doja’ and ‘Let Go’, Sir Cench is unstoppable. (AF)

Comebacks are weird – especially when you haven’t been away that long. What do you do to acknowledge your absence? How much nostalgia do you lean into to announce your return? Soft Play’s answer to both of those questions is to give 40 minutes of absolutely blistering energy that can probably be heard two towns over. Their secret set at the Festival Republic stage is absolutely rammed for a greatest hits show which looks to the future as well as reminding people just why they’re such an unstoppable force.

Foundational track ‘Where’s Your Car Debbie’ gets an airing within the first ten minutes, a concrete statement that the name may have changed, but the bangers aren’t going anywhere. Any worries about a band trapped in the past are unfounded, though. New single ‘Punk’s Dead’ gets an absolutely huge response, with mosh pits, people on shoulders, and even a couple of people on shoulders in mosh pits. 

Isaac gets in on the fun for ‘Beauty Quest’, descending into the crowd as he screams the lyrics. The biggest response is reserved for ‘Cheer Up London’, but the band’s rendition of Skepta’s ‘Shutdown’ is nearly as raucously received, with Laurie reprising his role as “outraged member of the public” as if it hasn’t been several years since he last had to hit a vocal register that high-pitched. The whole set has a sense of anarchic fun that was always the beating heart of Soft Play’s live shows – it’s a joy to have them back.

A pause in the chaos for Isaac to say a few words: “My name’s Isaac and this is my mate Laurie” he says, dripping with sweat and dripping from ear to ear. No matter what Soft Play are called, or what they do next, that’s all that really matters. (JH)

“I’m done with the backflips, time for me to grow up” said Kennyhoopla earlier this month. It doesn’t stop his set at Reading Festival being one of the most explosive of the weekend.

After tours with Blink-182 and Limp Bizkit, Kenny has evolved into a formidable force onstage. He twirls about the space like a whirlwind, crumples into a ball screaming the lyrics to his cathathic, rage-fuelled anthems and trusts the crowd to sing the words back at him. It makes for an electric show. 

Opener ‘Silence Is Also An Artist’ kicks things off with its stadium-ready refrain, while ‘Smoke Break’ keeps the intense energy up. ‘Plastic Door’ is more dreamy, but no less hammering while the fiery ‘Hollywood Sucks’ sees him on the barrier, sharing the mic with people who’ve found belonging in the angst-ridden track. Breakout anthem ‘How Will I Rest If I’m Buried By A Highway’ is turned into a moment to rival ‘Mr. Brightside’ or ‘Sex’, with Kenny leaning into the tracks thundering refrain as one of the most exciting rock songs of the past few years finds new ways to inspire and surprise. “I’ll give you all I got if you give me all you got,” he promises before the closing snarl of ‘Estella’. “Don’t let me down,” he adds.

Diving into the crowd for one more moment of connection, it’s another stunning performance from an artist who continues to exceed expectations. Shortly before the gig, he admitted he wanted to be on Reading Festival’s main stage. With a show this fiery, it’s a question of when, not if. (AS)

For every Sleep Token fan who’s versed on the lore of Sleep and the band’s mysterious frontman Vessel, there’s many more who just like the big, catchy songs that regularly blow up on Spotify. Today at Reading Festival those worlds collide. Despite clashing with both The 1975 and The Killers, Sleep Token pack out the Festival Republic tent and the crowd are chanting their name long before the masked collective take to the stage in a haze of dry ice and atmospheric rumblings. 

Without saying a word, they dive straight into the swaying pop might of ‘Chokehold’ before the silky ‘The Offering’. The songs fearlessly cycle through moods and sonic stylings. Heavy one moment, lush and vulnerable the next, Sleep Token dabble in everything from screamo to r&b inspired pop, but it never feels jarring. It’s dreamy, confrontational and escapist, with a heavy dose of musical theatre only adding to the ambition. Sleep Token are still impossible to pin down (Bastille meets Slipknot, via The Phantom Of The Opera maybe) and their continued success has inspired more questions about where the lines of pop, rock and metal are actually drawn. 

There’s no time for those lofty debates today though, as the carefully curated set hits hard, then harder. It’s both ridiculous, and emotional as Sleep Token prove that the secret to their success is writing bangers, and nothing more. (AS)

“Uh oh” says Matty Healy before launching into ‘The City’. It’s the collective emotion as The 1975 take to Reading’s headline slot for the second (surprise) consecutive year. These days, booking the band tends to involve hoping Matty Healy won’t manage to find a way to create a new point of collective outrage in his continuing headline-grabbing narrative, a promise he manages to keep tonight.

With that in mind, it’s clear why, after the events of the last few months, they’d want to go back to a simpler time, this year’s headline set honouring (most of) their debut album ‘The 1975’ from a decade ago. The album played largely in order, not stopping at the tracks but bringing back the old logo, rectangle imagery and stage manner (cue Matty swigging from a bottle of red wine sporadically throughout). 

Back in 2013, the group still divided opinion, the albatross they never quite managed to shake, but the people who ‘got’ it back then still get it now. Despite everything, it’s undeniable that every bit of the debut still goes off. The tracks that usually make up the encore like ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Sex’ arrive in the first half, but there’s no energy dip afterwards. Songs that have remained locked away or only occasionally given an outing since the debut years like ‘M.O.N.E.Y’’, ‘Menswear’ and ‘Pressure’ are played to a crowd who’ve either been hungry for them for a long time, or missed them the first time around.

While the debut wasn’t sonically groundbreaking, it laid the foundations for the bangers that’d come in their more experimental records as the years went on, proving that if they just wanted to do big pop bops, they could. That proof comes in the second act as they run through a similar greatest hits set to the one they’ve been touring since they jumped in at Reading this time last year.

‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’ catapults The 1975 into another set of back-to-back bangers, including the usuals like ‘Happiness’ and ‘If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)’. Sincerity may be scary, but Matty does rustle up a bit of it to shout out friend of the band Lewis Capaldi and his well-deserved break, the reason the boys are here tonight. It’s refreshing to watch a whole show without any major Matty tangents and a dropping of ‘the act’ that’s dominated the maelstrom of opinion around the band of late for at least a couple of hours.

A lot has changed in ten years, but as Matty mentions, the internet has done its thing, and the album still resonates now. It was the start for a band always destined for huge things and one of the few from the early 2010s crop who’ve clung onto their relevance, regardless of how many hiccups there’ve been along the way. So as ‘About You’ kicks in, the thematic callback to self-titled’s ‘Robbers’ that went as viral on TikTok as it’s predecessor’s lyrics and neon rectangle did on Tumblr, it does feel like The 1975 could pull it back, if the turnout tonight isn’t proof that they have already. (AF)

When you look at this year’s Reading headliners, The Killers occupy a unique space. For over 20 years, they’ve remained as a definitive band for a generation – the stuff of indie disco dreams, with songs that everybody knows. Their history with Reading is equally renowned. Headline slots and landmark sets have sat at the heart of their career, launching them beyond these stages and to stadiums across the globe, riding in a wave born from an era where bands topping the charts and having tracks that would sit in the collective psyche for an entire year would be the norm. For every storied moment, their return to a festival that has morphed and evolved since the last time they played poses a core question. Where do The Killers sit at Reading Festival in the year 2023? On tonight’s evidence, the answer is simple. A living, breathing jukebox of headline-grabbing heavyweight anthems – it’s a stadium-sized Saturday night party that bulldozes any doubters.

“Let me introduce you to The Killers,” welcomes Brandon Flowers. “This used to be the Reading rock festival… let’s turn back the clock”. A frankly ridiculous opening run which includes ‘When You Were Young’, ‘Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine’, ‘Smile Like You Mean It’, ‘Somebody Told Me’ and ‘Spaceman’ is the sort that most bands build their whole set around but for The Killers is different. It is undeniable star power pouring out of every turn, lead by Brandon Flowers who becomes a sort of talismanic leader for a night that simply refuses to relent. It’s a headline moment from a headline band who embrace the notion of being the biggest band on the planet with a knowing flex of their muscles and a grin of unabashed fun. They can let loose on a track like ‘Caution’ and the towering ‘Read My Mind’ but still find time to welcome eager fan Ozzie from the front row to take over drum duties on ‘For Reasons Unknown’, creating the sort of memory that his mates not at Reading will probably refuse to believe if it wasn’t for the video proof. It distills everything The Killers are into one moment – a band who always differentiated themselves from the pack with their pull towards the bright lights, neon jungles and showbiz glam that’s bubbled throughout their career. Even with time to drop brand new track ‘Your Side Of Town’ and its Pet Shop Boys flair, tonight is a Hollywood-dazzled spectacle that puts Reading at its core.

Taking a moment just before a ground-shaking ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ to note how that track is now 20 years old – it gives a beating heart to every widescreen turn tonight. “The boys that wrote that song got swept up in a whirlwind and now stand before you today”, glancing across a crowd that runs for as far as the eye can see. As ‘The Man’, ‘Human’ and the towering national anthem that is ‘Mr Brightside’ (mashed between the famed Jaques Du Cont electro remix and the licking original) rips Reading into a final confetti-soaked crescendo – The Killers leave Reading with a world of emotions. A band whose DNA has flowed with British music returning to remind everyone why there’s no show quite like it and no better band to point to when you ask to define stadium-sized champions. Universal. Timeless. Bombastic. Brilliant. The Killers prove they’re Reading royalty and more on a Saturday night of Las Vegas swagger. Stick another dime in the jukebox yeah (JM)