Four days into Mad Cool’s hefty 2022 event and the constant run of big-hitters is showing no sign of abating. Tonight, on the Madrid festival’s big Saturday, they’re packing at least three fully-fledged headliners in their own right, and that’s before we even reach the none-too-tiny supporting bill.
Before the celebratory festival vibes fully kick in, there’s a socially-charged moment from Ukraine’s Alina Pash over on the Amazon Music stage. Interjecting her beat-heavy, bombastic pop with impassioned speeches about the current state of war in her home country, it’s an emotional juxtaposition of pain and escapism that hits hard. “This is not a conflict from Ukraine, this is real war,” she pleads at one point. “This is real genocide from Russia to Ukraine and the world community - humanity - needs to react to it collectively.”
It might be a large jump in tone from Pash to Leon Bridges - who emerges onto the festival’s second main stage in full bell-sleeved ‘70s garb for a sun-drenched stop off of his current Gold-Diggers Sound tour - but the singer makes for the perfect ease into the evening, the warm guitars of ‘Texas Sun’ or the gentle harmonies of ‘River’ a born soundtrack to the beating heat of the day.
If Bridges is a natural fit for balmy climes, then the legendary Pixies couldn’t be any more of a wickedly crotchety bedfellow. As per usual, there’s zero interaction or acquiescence to eager stagecraft from Black Francis; he casually walks on, sips his drink for a bit and then begins the intro to ‘Gouge Away’. But that’s all part of the magic: still armed with the feral howl that could conjure a thousand demons, but with a set that rips through the hits (‘Debaser’, ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’, ‘Hey’, ‘Gigantic’ helmed by bassist Paz Lenchantin, a huge sing-along of ‘Where Is My Mind?’), they’re already a mass of glorious contradictions, a band full of strange, dark pleasures that also can’t help but write a hook. They walk off with the same nonchalance that they walked on with, safe in the knowledge that they don’t need any more tricks than the catalogue they came armed with.
The majesty of Frank and co isn’t lost on Kings of Leon either. “Do you know how it feels to play a show after the Pixies?” Caleb Followill questions midway through their set. “It’s pretty fucking intimidating. They’re the band that taught me how to scream.” That the quartet follow that declaration with the distinctly un-howling ‘Radioactive’ feels like something of a trolling, but following the mid-set lull of their more MOR material (the world could live without a run of ‘Revelry’, ‘Manhattan’ and ‘Time In Disguise’) they deliver a closing thirty minutes that could absolve most sins. ‘Closer’ and ‘Crawl’ still sound wretched and brilliant, while a brief dalliance back into their giddy earliest wares (‘Molly’s Chambers’, a glorious ‘The Bucket’) is a reminder of a band who, at the time, felt plucked from a whole other planet.
If there’s one musician who seems hand-picked to bring a crowd back together after a pandemic of isolation and anxiety, meanwhile, it’s Florence Welch. Decked in a sweeping crimson kaftan gown, traversing the stage barefoot and repeatedly descending into the crowd to serenade, hug and throw herself into her adoring congregation, tonight’s set is just as much a sermon or a communal post-Covid exorcism as a gig. Before ‘Dog Days Are Over’ she urges people to put their phones away; “Can we have a collective experience? Tell the people you’re with that you love each other.” But pesky phones in the way or nay, Florence + the Machine are all about collective energy, rousing emotion and big-hearted feels: by the time they close with an encore of ‘Shake It Out’ and ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’, the result is like a musical wellness retreat for the soul.
It’s left to Royal Blood to close the night, thundering through the likes of ‘How Did We Get So Dark?’ and a hip-swinging ‘Boilermaker’ with a customary mix of riffs and sass. ‘Little Monster’ comes buoyed by a huge drum solo from Ben Thatcher, before he takes a swig of tequila and bangs the comically oversized gong at the back of the stage. But if this sort of pomp is why Royal Blood remain more polarising than perhaps they deserve to be, then the QOTSA-sized stomp of ‘Out of the Black’ or ‘Come On Over’ remain undeniable slammers fit for a festival finale.
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