Coldplay, Sabrina Carpenter And More! BBC Radio 1 Brings Its Big Weekend To Luton, 26th May 2024

Every year, the pop extravaganza that is BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend descends on a lucky UK town, bringing it with world class artists to wow local residents. Previous years have seen the likes of Miley Cyrus in Middlesbrough, Calvin Harris in Coventry and Madonna in Maidstone – mind boggling. Now it’s Luton’s turn, and if anything could make you want to go and spend a day in Luton of your own free will, it’s this year’s dazzling line up. We headed down on the Sunday to see what it’s all about.

Over on Radio 1’s New Music Stage, the always intriguing Everything Everything are getting the crowd warmed up. The End Of The Contender, one of the highlights from stellar new record Mountainhead, makes for an ideal opening track with its punchy synths, and the infectious Pizza Boy following shortly afterwards gets the whole tent clapping. The soaring vocals and melody of Enter The Mirror is almost reminiscent of tonight’s headliners, Coldplay, but of course, it’s the band’s biggest hit Distant Past with its massive hook that gets the biggest reaction of the set. All in all, the band sound bigger and more interesting than ever. Don’t bank on them running out of ideas any time soon. 8/10

Back at the Main Stage, one of the most hyped acts of the weekend, Sabrina Carpenter, is trying to brighten up proceedings despite the pouring rain. And, if anyone can do it, it’s Sabrina, a bright orange dress, and an arsenal of pure pop bangers. The groovy Read Your Mind melts effortlessly into Feather, which has a chorus as deliciously light and airy as the title suggests. Every pop gem is accompanied by flawless dance moves, with the exception of Tornado Warnings which sees Carpenter bring out her electric guitar instead. Her onstage banter occasionally leaves something to be desired – “Can I call you Lulu, Luton?” falls a bit flat – but it leans more towards endearing, rather than full on cringey. As she launches into the irresistible hook of Espresso, arguably the biggest song on the planet currently, you can imagine all the main pop girls must be sweating right now – this girl is hot on their heels. 8/10

The weather has warmed up for Years & Years lead vocalist, turned TV star, turned Eurovision pop hopeful Olly Alexander, in his first festival show performing under his own name. He turns in a set filled mostly with inoffensive radio bops like Shine and Desire, all fizzing pleasingly in the sunshine but without managing to ignite, although the bubbly Dizzy, which failed to perform at Eurovision, is certainly more fun to see live than it is on record. There are some standout moments – the stunning cover of the Pet Shop Boys classic It’s A Sin is an outpouring of gay joy – and Alexander himself has no lack of charisma. But he’ll need some stronger hits of his own under his belt if he wants to compete with the megastars of pop. 6/10

New York indie veterans Vampire Weekend are up next, and at first, it feels like they’ve understood the assignment. The bouncy Gen-X Cops, Holiday with its upbeat brass section, and ‘08 throwback Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa are exactly the sort of tracks you want to be dancing to on a sunny bank holiday Sunday. Unfortunately, the band’s newer tunes don’t quite match the vibe: Classical feels like indie-rock-by-numbers, and Capricorn slows things down too much. Frontman Ezra Koenig deserves credit for his stable vocals, however, and does his best to try to keep things on pace. In the latter half of the set, Cousins is a return to form and perks the audience up in time for the now notorious A-Punk, which will have you singing that guitar riff with your mouth, whether you like it or not. 6/10

Headlining the Radio One New Music tent tonight is the brilliant Beabadoobee, who has gone from strength to strength in recent years. Opening with Talk, a gritty pop rock jam which sounds like it was taken straight out of a 00’s teen movie (with matching ‘fits too), the small but enthusiastic crowd hang on Bea’s every word. Her soft vocals contrast well with the edgy bubblegum pop of 10:36 and Together, and add even more of a dreamy feel to the already hazy ‘She Plays Bass’. It’s a fun, cohesive set that never loses pace – slower moments like The Perfect Pair are a refreshing switch up without bringing the vibe down. Believe the hype, this is one artist well worth checking out. 7/10

Playing a shortened version of the setlist from their Music Of The Spheres tour, Coldplay seem clear on what their mission is: to cram as many of their hits as possible into just over an hour. They rise to the challenge with the kind of conviction and assuredness that only a band of their calibre can muster: the massive Higher Power sweeps straight into the soaring hook of Paradise, which in turn slips seamlessly into the unmistakeable strings of the mesmerising Viva La Vida.

It’s after dark that the show really comes alive, though; with the light up bracelets that were handed out to each member of the crowd, Hymn For The Weekend feels nothing short of euphoric, Fix You has never been more tear-jerking, and an entire crowd singing the chorus of A Sky Full Of Stars encapsulates the unifying effect that only music can bring. Frontman Chris Martin whips up the crowd as though he’s done this a million times (spoiler: he has), and even technical issues during the start of thumping dance anthem Something Just Like This are navigated with aplomb.

The only disappointment is that the set doesn’t go on long enough. A twelve song setlist for a headliner means you’re left feeling a little short changed – particularly when some real gems like Adventures Of A Lifetime and the iconic ballad The Scientist have been scrapped. However, it would be harsh to criticise the band for this when they deliver hook after electrifying hook, bringing out Sabrina Carpenter for a rendition of Magic before ending on of course, Yellow, followed by an edited version, ‘Orange’, in a charming nod to Luton Town Football Club. An absolute masterclass in how to headline a festival from one of the best to ever do it. 10/10

Photos by Jemma Dodd

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