Radiohead, Arcade Fire and Wolf Alice bring poignant highs to NOS Alive 2016

So many festivals can book the biggest bands in the world, but with Portugal in a football-related euphoria, NOS Alive picked these acts at the right place and the right time.

At this year’s Glastonbury, The 1975 were one of the few bands to capture the mood of a crowd caught up in post-Brexit chaos while still wanting to have the weekend of their lives. The same applies here, on Lisbon festival NOS Alive’s opening day. Despite Lisbon itself being caught up in a football fever, events seem to be in a game of oneupmanship in providing unbelievable shock and misery. It’s something Matty Healy’s fully aware of, declaring midway through their sun-drenched set: “Sorry I haven’t said much. If I start talking I won’t be able to stop, with everything going on in the world. I just want us to have a good time.” For the most part, the group’s sparkly 80s-nodding pop does the job. Shunning the grand-scoped ambition of their latest album for something more direct, their set is a source of instant escape.

Despite emotional highs of John Grant and the tops-off fearlessness of Biffy Clyro, day one’s sentimental moment belongs to Wolf Alice, who finally reach a meta peak by playing storming single ‘Lisbon’ in the city it was named after. Theo Ellis and Joel Amey both came here for a laddy holiday when they were both nineteen, it turns out. The group’s open-buttoned shirts and vests suggest they’re still on vacation. But this is a sharp, focused, brilliantly loud set; a timely reminder of debut album ‘My Love Is Cool’’s force, just as an endless tour begins to wind down.

There isn’t a designated headliner on day one. The Chemical Brothers technically provide it by closing out the main stage at 1am, but Pixies’ greatest hits-churning appearance feels more at home in this slot. New material sounds promising - far from the sound of a band dragging their feet along for the sake of it - but they stick to the fan favourites tonight. The same can be said for The Chemical Brothers, but after opening with ‘Hey Boy Hey Girl’ their unsubtle, faddy take on dance grows quickly stale. Closing with ‘Galvanize’ and ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ makes gimmicky visuals and an endless build feel partly worth it, but they look to be an act relying on old tricks, no intention to reinvent the wheel.

Photo L-R: Arlindo Camacho and Hugo Macedo, courtesy of NOS Alive.

It’s hard to imagine gloom-merchants Radiohead sunning themselves up backstage at NOS Alive on day two, but they’ll have been tempted. A sweat-pit welcomes anyone peering in to the Heineken tent to witness Jagwar Ma’s early-evening set. Fellow Aussie Courtney Barnett can be seen watching from a distance, but a small part of the crowd are bopping in sync to frontman Gabriel Winterfield. No doubt about it, the trio’s bouncy, thick beat pop soup works better in a closed environment. Gabriel’s vocals are more an endless yelp than a genuine firestarter, and there’s definitely a disconnect. Still, the glimpses of new material they offer suggest a sharper fix than 2013 debut ‘Howlin’’ is imminent.

Both Foals and Tame Impala had their pre-headliner stints on the biggest platform just last month, being second from top on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage. The former nab tonight’s sunset set, the perfect excuse for frontman Yannis Philippakis to sport a classic Hawaiian shirt (drummer Jack Bevan, meanwhile, captures the mood with an “I Wanna Be Inside EU” vest). This evening, Yannis isn’t quite the fevered maniac he portrays himself as. Closer ‘What Went Down’ finds him diving into the crowd like he’s lost his sunglasses, as per. But he’s more settled than usual, suggesting before ‘Knife In The Ocean’, “if you have something on you, smoke it now.” Chances are he’s not referring to vapes.

By the time Tame Impala arrive, humidity’s taken its toll. Their set hosts more nudity than a secret sauna, dozens of fans removing clothes like they’re swept up in some naked party fever. “I see you, Portugal… Taking off your clothes,” remarks Kevin Parker like a seedy dad who’s just discovered Nuts magazine. But really this show of flesh is a real sign of affection. Beyond the psych-pop flavour, 2015’s ’Currents’ is a lights off, after-dark dream of a record. And that’s reflected in tonight’s tops-off occasion, even if the festival’s cameramen get a little too excited, the dirty sods.

Needless to say, things are a little more settled for Radiohead. Nobody’s flashing their bits for ‘Karma Police’. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a festival crowd more observant for the band’s softer moments. ‘Daydreaming’, barely a couple of months old, receives complete silence. Remarkable, given the frenzy awaiting Tame Impala just an hour before.

Radiohead’s set swings between perfect calm and berserk fandom. Oldies like ‘Creep’ and ‘Paranoid Android’ are certified classics, and post-‘00s efforts ‘Nude’ and ‘Reckoner’ earn a similar status. They haven’t quite figured out how to perform all of this year’s ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, though. Opener ‘Burn the Witch’ is a clogged-up, dense mess without the strings of its recorded version. But given how they re-jig fan favourite ‘Talk Show Host’ and percussive tracks from ‘The King of Limbs’, Radiohead treat their songs like constant works in progress. That might explain why they often refer back to past, “discarded” tracks when making new records. It certainly goes a long way to explaining why they manage to be such an exciting, ever-evolving group more than two decades to the good.

Photos: Arlindo Camacho, courtesy of NOS Alive.

Emotions are at a high by day two’s close, thanks in equal part to Hot Chip’s bespectacled, ‘what midlife crisis?’ danceathon. Starting at twenty minutes to three in the morning, these electro-heads have all the energy of twenty-something party starters. Golden oldies like ‘Boy From School’ have a carnival energy, re-jigged for the masses over a decade after emerging. Nothing halts Hot Chip’s free spirit. They could play for several hours more and wouldn’t receive a single complaint - not even from NOS Alive’s neighbours, who were probably front row.

The mood changes by the time Arcade Fire close the festival’s main stage. Just their second show in two years, they give the impression of a band who’ve been watching the world unfold before their eyes, unable to pass comment. Frontman Win Butler crams as much politics in-between songs as possible, giving nods to Nirvana and The Sex Pistols with fleeting, thirty-second covers. The most touching moment arrives when they perform ‘Reflektor’, Butler barking David Bowie’s line (“thought you were praying to the resurrector, turns out it was just a reflector”) while looking up at the skies. They then follow it up with ‘Afterlife’, and its poignancy doesn’t go unnoticed. Ignore the fact they didn’t play any new material. After an endless world tour, it feels like Arcade Fire have been recharging ever since. Their return to a headline status is a late, unforgettable highlight at the festival.

Tags: Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Wolf Alice, NOS Alive, Festivals, Reviews, Live Reviews

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