Sam Smith reigns supreme on second day of Mad Cool 2023

7th July 2023

Queens of the Stone Age also offered up a hefty slab of their brooding rock at the Madrid weekender.

If there’s one on-stage accessory that’s probably not well-suited for playing in 33 degree heat, it’s a rubber alien mask. Nevertheless, when Maynard James Keenan’s Puscifer take to the Madrid Is Life stage early on Friday, that’s exactly what a handful of back up dancers are toting. A surreal thing to witness, the theatrics almost entirely distract from the music, with the band’s Men In Black schtick (they’re decked out in black suits, ties and sunglasses, while the accompanying 90s-era aliens run circles around them) coming off a little too daft so early in the day.

While today’s line-up boasts some of the UK’s most exciting new bands (both scuzzy trio HotWax and Liverpool’s boisterous STONE have early appearances on the Vibra Mahou Avenue strip across site), it’s the Main Stage slot of Sam Smith that most of today’s audience are patiently waiting for. After being forced to cancel a handful of their final UK headline shows earlier in the summer due to vocal issues, their slot today seems all the more cathartic for the singer, who’s debuting their ‘Gloria’ tour for the first time on an outdoor stage. As per their recent arena run, there’s a good dose of pomp and ceremony to the whole thing, with Sam emerging in their iconic chandelier-esque corset for the show’s first act, before a variety of risqué costume changes and slinky dance breaks. Their setlist, too, feels to work seamlessly, moving majestically from the crystalline heights of their early classics ‘Stay With Me’, ‘I’m Not The Only One’ and ‘Like I Can’ through to their more sassy, anthemic new era, with the disco stomp of ‘I’m Not Here To Make Friends’ and, of course, the glorious ‘Unholy’ arriving towards the end. A slick, sexy, and celebratory show for an artist who feels to finally be revelling in their musically multitudes.

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In almost complete contrast to the sublime nature of the previous Main Stage set, the arrival of Queens of the Stone Age is a frenzied one; within mere moments of the rockers kicking into the opening chords of ‘No One Knows’, the crowd bristles with electricity and pints go flying into the air. It marks the beginning of a chaotic but brilliant set, with the band swaggering through hefty tracks like ‘My God Is The Sun’ and ‘Little Sister’ alongside newer, more funk-infused cuts ‘The Way You Used To Do’ and ‘Emotion Sickness’. It’s also easy to tell the band have been missed, having originally been booked for Mad Cool’s 2020 edition but unable to attend since. But the wait seems to have been worth it for their Spanish fans; the band are on the some of the best form of their career so far, and after over 25 years in the game, that really is saying something.

Across site, after the the euphoric wares of Bombay Bicycle Club take over the Ouigo Stage, Liverpool multi-instrumentalist Pixey takes to Mahou Cinco Estrellas stage for a run-through of her sunshiny psych-pop. The venue itself feels perfect for such a showcase - the three rooms of the Vibra Mahou Avenue are set up like individual club venues, giving everything a much more intimate (and, thankfully, air-conditioned) feel. An early showing of her recent Tayo Sound collaboration ‘Daisy Chain’ provokes a giddy reaction, while the rest of her set feels perfectly suited for tonight’s summery evening.

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While it’s always been easy to be cynical about Mumford and Sons, the fact that they manage to ignite such fierce adoration from their fanbase is something impossible to ignore. As soon as the band emerge on stage for tonight’s headlining set (after the unlikely intro music of Rosalía’s ‘Chicken Teriyaki’ fades out to a burst of fireworks), there are several sections of the crowd already sobbing; someone close to the front of the crowd is even holding a sign aloft saying they’ve travelled from Brazil for their set. In the midst of a small run of festivals that marks their first real live appearances since before the pandemic, their set this evening might feel a little paint-by-numbers, but the epic reaction to the likes of ‘Little Lion Man’, ‘The Cave’ and ‘I Will Wait’ gives the whole thing a special edge.

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Brought to you in partnership with Mad Cool 2023.

Tags: Pixey, Queens Of The Stone Age, Sam Smith, Mad Cool, Festivals, Reviews, Live Reviews

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