Festivals The xx, Phoenix and The Weeknd weave magic on day one of NOS Alive 2017
Alt-J, Royal Blood and Glass Animals also played the opening night of the Portuguese bash.
With a small stage dedicated to traditional Fado music and native comedians taking centre stage in one tent, it’s unsurprising that the opening acts for NOS Alive are also Portuguese - and they’re a pretty diverse bunch too. Rastronaut smashes up hip hop, traditional Portuguese elements and Afrobeat-inspired flavours into a tasty high energy melting pot, while You Can’t Win, Charlie Brown are a bit more meditative, weaving tight harmonies and lilting melodies. But they also couple that with bursts of euphoric synths, periods of throbbing bass and snapping percussion, tempos and rhythms occasionally changing on a whim.
Every one of YCWCB’s nods to the bands they were opening for on the Palaco NOS Stage gain cheers but, perhaps unsurprisingly given Charlie Brown’s more thoughtful moments, Alt-J receive a particularly rapturous reception, and that enthusiasm can be seen in the large crowd that arrives to see them. Kicking off with the tricky chords and soaring chorus of ‘3WW’, each sound in their set, from shimmering beats to throbbing bass and the twinkling glockenspiel of ‘Breezeblocks’, weaves in and out in perfect harmony, providing varied texture and undulating like the waving, sometimes glitchy visuals behind them. While a very bold synth line gives ‘Tessellate’ something of an aggressive transformation, it’s the crowd that helps bolster ‘Matilda’, singing its refrain over Joe’s sensitive vocals.
As the sun sets, Phoenix emerge ready for a burst of effervescent pop that sets the night ablaze. It’s testament to their supreme confidence that they can string three powerhouse tracks like ‘Entertainment’, ‘Lisztomania’ and ‘J-Boy’ together in one run and still have enough in the tank to keep the crowd going, exuding energy at every turn. Its mile a minute pace seems a bit much for Thomas Mars at one point, as he takes a little bit of a lie down during a still-fizzing interlude. He’s soon back on his feet though - and then some. Though a pounding ‘1901’ technically rounds off the set, Thomas just can’t get enough of the crowd, diving in and reaching out as the rest of the band perform an instrumental reprise of ‘Ti Amo’. It’s sheer joy personified, and impossible not to fall head over heels for.
Over at the Clubbing Stage, Jessy Lanza is busy synthesising a blend of winning, danceable electro-pop, but back at the NOS Palaco Stage a huge crowd begins to amass to witness The xx. And with good reason. Their latest album ‘I See You’ probably surprised a few skeptics with its expansive sound palette, and its bolder, more vivid vision comes truly to life on stage. ‘Intro’ might seemingly introduce an introspective band, but by the time they launch into ‘Say Something Loving’ - with the deft interplay between Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim’s vocals and sweeping, atmospheric rushes of guitar - it’s clear that they’re a very different beast now. Even after the gentle opening of ‘VCR’ fades out, it becomes far more muscular, the fragile chimes accompanied by meaty riffs. The xx’s transformation is complete by the time Jamie xx turns the set’s climax into pretty much an all-out rave with ‘On Hold’.
Royal Blood haven’t undergone such a change, unless seemingly developing even meatier riffs and drum beats with every passing moment counts. They’re a force to be reckoned with inside the Palco Heineken tent, which is so rammed for their performance that there’s a large crowd formed around the edges, some of whom head-banged just about as hard as those inside to witness Mike and Ben’s majesty, replete with mighty bass and drum solos that provides even more drama.
Just like the duo, The Weeknd starts off a headline set strong, launching into ‘Starboy’ and following it up with a version of ‘Party Monster’ that contains a crushing drop and added twisted, slightly gory imagery for added punch. Things start to get a bit bogged down in mid-tempo R&B for a while, albeit broken up by some occasional epic guitar squalls. Yet the crowd seem thoroughly energised, and Abel Tesfaye whips up that enthusiasm even more, constantly calling out to the crowd, encouraging them to bounce and lift their hands in the air. They’re all too happy to oblige, but by the time he brings out a climactic double of ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ and the funk licks of ‘I Feel It Coming’, he doesn’t need to work them any more - they’re already in a state of frenzy.
While ‘The Hills’ tops it off for Tesfaye, its pitch-black tale made even darker by stark screams, a quick dash over to the Heineken Tent later, and something a bit lighter is being stirred by Bonobo. His jazz-infused work getting a bit of added oomph with the help of a live brass section that helps ground some of the set’s airier moments. He paves the way for an early morning performance by Glass Animals, Dave Bayley almost immediately asking the crowd if they’re feeling tired. Of course, he’s greeted by a firm response to the contrary, but if there were any cobwebs starting to form then simply seeing the band’s raw energy as they launch into ‘Life Itself’ would blow them away. They leave pineapples in people’s heads, an uplifting end to a packed-out evening.
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