Passeio Marítimo de Algés, Lisbon
7 - 9 July
It’s a claim wheeled out at almost every major festival – “It’s not all about the headliners.”
Exploration and discovery is a key part of any festival experience. Anecdotes often run on a currency of “and then we ended up at…”, which can make the big players seem a little dry. While NOS Alive, Lisbon’s prime festival of this kind, succeeded in piecing together a bill of world-class support, the weekend was anchored by the two biggest acts on the bill. For their 10th year in the game, the event put together a double header of unchallengeable, iconic bands, and by the time we left Lisbon on the Sunday – sunburnt and sad to be missing out on Euro celebrations – we were reminded to never underestimate the main attractions.
This isn’t to belittle the efforts of the supporting bill. Pixies were brilliantly anthemic – conducting the opening night crowd in a chorus led by a banter-free performance brimming with enough classics to excuse the unbothered demeanour. Offering a similar bout of nostalgia despite the age-gap, Tame Impala pulled in one of the weekend’s largest crowds. Having struggled with the band in the past – ultimately finding the whole PBR-sponsored-psych thing a little naff – there was no denying the command they had over the audience. It’ll be surprising if they aren’t headlining festivals of this size in a couple of years time (the confetti canons on Feels Like We Only Go Backwards made it look like they already were). There was a similar mood in the air for Foals, a band whose newer material carries a certain intensity live which it lacked on release.
Venturing out to the second stage across the weekend, a key standout set came courtesy of Courtney Barnett whose melees of fuzz and unpolished vocals are vital to anyone who has listened to her records. This stage also housed our weekend finale, a characteristically hyperactive set from Grimes. Maybe it was the late-night showtime or the overload of partying, but for the first couple of songs it looked as if she were miming. It was later proved otherwise, she was singing – but she’s just literally just so good live that we thought it was some kind of witchcraft.
NOS Alive at night also benefited from an appearance from Four Tet whose rework of Rihanna’s Kiss It Better provided one of the most memorable and blissful moments of the entire weekend. He’s a good fit for gigs like this where crowds are beginning to get loose but aren’t quite past the point of no return where any beats will suffice. Lisbon DJ Branko also showed us that the distinctive Principe sound which has come to define the city and its surrounding barrios, has a glossier, cleaner counterpart. The sheen of Branko’s set left us a little cold but an airing of Marfox’s timelessly invigorating 2865 in its hometown got the pulses racing.
On to the headliners, then. Radiohead have a history of performing staggeringly intimate live shows at every phase and incarnation of their career, however stratospheric their status. If intimacy has always been one of their strong suits then the closeness of A Moon Shaped Pool makes it more of a necessity than ever. Unsurprisingly, they played a set which unfolded with all the dreamy intensity one could possibly hope for.
Their setlist opened with new material before unravelling into a generous run-through of favourites and hidden gems. They were clearly accommodating for the festival crowd, bowing out with 2+2=5, Creep and Karma Police, the latter of which ended in a Yorke acoustic reprisal. Their connection with the crowd was palpable. Talk Show Host seemed to bloom into Lotus Flower and there was an overwhelming silence among the crowd, with everyone closely focused on their next move. A generous and immersive set which surpassed the hopes of first timers and raised the expectations of longtime fans.
Then came the optimum finale band to close out the third and final night. Arcade Fire were only playing a handful of festival dates this summer which led to a whirring of the rumour mill that new material was on the cards. Those dreams weren’t answered this time round but the special set of hits we got was more than welcome. Win Butler passionately sung Bowie’s lines of Reflektor before moving into Afterlife – a poignant touch, if only unintentional. A line from Nirvana’s All Apologies was then interpolated into We Exist before Butler took us to church and rolled out the Funeral.
There was a refreshing clarity to bands of this level pulling out such massive shows for the event’s 10th birthday. NOS Alive is an affordable festival, in a city which is fast becoming the most popular destination for young people in Europe. What this event offers is a superbly reliable and immensely enjoyable cornerstone for a visit. You won’t see as many upcoming artists as you would at other events but you can rest assured that what you will see won’t disappoint. Rediscovery never gets old.