NOS Alive, now in its 10th year, is an open air festival based in Lisbon, Portugal, that features mostly rock music with some indie and electronic thrown in for good measure.
Starting out as Optimus Alive! in 2007, the festival has consistently pulled in the biggest names in rock, since its creation. Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Metallica, Radiohead, Kings of Leon and the Arctic Monkeys have all graced the main stage throughout the years. The list of headliners is truly stunning to read through.
This year, the Foo Fighters were headlining, with The XX, The Weeknd, Alt-J and The Kills providing enough other big names to pull in the crowds.
As English festival goers, we couldn’t wait to spend a weekend not worrying about the weather and we were looking forward to not having to slop around in wellies for once!
We arrived in Lisbon quite late the night before the festival after a long journey. The next morning, instead of an early alarm and sluggishly trudging to the site, we were grateful to be able to lie in way past our normal time. As the sun can be super fierce during the summer months in Portugal, NOS Alive doesn’t open until 5PM. Even at that time of the day, it’s still very warm, so shorts and t shirts were all we really needed.
As a treat, we had booked into a hotel for the duration, about a 15 minute taxi ride from the site. Fares varied depending on the time of day, but generally we paid about 10 – 15 Euros per trip.
There are plenty of other options for accommodation at NOS Alive, with hotels, hostels, general camping and boutique choices such as Lotus and Bell tents all available to suit different budgets.
Upon arriving at the site, we were greeted by a well thought out, but busy entry system. Being in a capital city, NOS Alive can be hard to reach by car, as the city is already bustling with traffic, and the queues were hot and hectic.
Most people seemed to arrive by train which worked really well. In the evenings, getting a cab ride home was frustrating. There was one long and extremely slow queue that hadn’t really been thought through. Opposite the hordes of people waiting as patiently as possible was an equally long line of taxi drivers. The problem was instead of having a few bays set up so multiple taxis could pull in at the same time, we had to wait while one group got in a taxi, gave their destination (sometimes requiring a few attempts owing to the language barrier), and pulled away. Only then would the next group be allowed past the line. After a day spent dancing with the masses it was a slight dampener to have to go through this each night.
The site itself was well laid out, with the stages close enough to get to quickly, but far enough apart that no sound crossed over between them. There was one main toilet which never seemed to be too busy, and a huge food court with plenty of picnic table seating. And the food…so many places to eat!
Along the side of the main stage and around the edge of the food court were plenty of meat choices and vegetarians will be pleased to hear I counted at least four vendors selling veggie delights. If you’re a fellow meat eater, the hilariously named Best Sausage Alive served some absolute bangers (pun intended). I definitely came back a few pounds heavier.
Of course plenty of beer was available too, with Heineken being one of the main sponsors (even having its own stage) and the queues were always minimal. The staff were super friendly and happily served a pint for €4.50; good pricing compared to London!
The only real gripe to the site itself was the size. For a festival boasting a 50,000 capacity, we found it to be extremely crowded, pretty much all over the site. Walking from one place to another took some effort, snaking in and around people, and lots of times we had to stop and wait for people to squeeze past us. Throw in a slightly tipsy crowd, plus lots of punters who for some reason insist on running everywhere, and it does get annoying. The organisers have got so much else right though. From the astroturf giving you a break from muddy and uneven grounds, to excellent phone signal throughout; even having a full map of the site online a few days before it opened helps make for an easier festival in terms of logistics.
If you’ve made your way to NOS Alive, you’re probably there for the music. Our top picks for the weekend started with Alt-J. This was our second time seeing them live and they play their songs exactly as they sound on record. They played 'Tessellate' and the crowd sang along at deafening levels. After playing another hit, In Cold Blood, singer Joe Newman said hi to the crowd and thanks in Portuguese, receiving a massive roar in reply.
Next up we saw The XX. Romy, Oliver and Jamie were on top form as ever, opening with 'Intro', one of our favourite songs. It is literally their intro song and the crowd were immediately dancing and cheering along. Romy herself has become more and more confident on stage and dedicated 'Angels' to her fiance Hannah Marshall, which brought a tear or two to a few eyes in the crowd. The xx have such a strong stage presence, especially when you consider so much of their vocals are quiet, almost whisper like.
On Friday we caught Warpaint in the Heineken tent. The Californian foursome knocked out some pitch perfect songs, including 'Undertow' from 2010’s 'The Fool' album and we were hoarse from singing at the top of our voices. For a slow beat song it really got the crowd into the mood for the rest of the set. Emily Kokal in particular was a delight to watch, her dance moves were intense and full of emotion and the whole band let go and rocked out for the full set.
Predictably, our highlight was the Foo Fighters. We had no doubt they would have us and everyone else there in a shouty, sweaty state of delirium, and we were spot on. The energy the whole band emits is something you must see live and as often as possible. They played for two and a half hours, with plenty of crowd interaction all the way through. Dave Grohl is probably the best front man in rock, and will likely stay that way for years to come. He captures the audience instantly and clearly gets a huge buzz from being on stage. At 48 years old he has the energy of a 20 year old jacked up on a gallon of Red Bull.
In between every song he would say something; about the crowd, about Portugal, about the rest of the band. One memorable moment was Dave telling Taylor Hawkins on drums that he loved him. He’d gone around introducing the whole band one by one, each met with a huge roar of approval from the audience, but Taylor's back and forth with Dave received the biggest by far.
Alison Mosshart from The Kills joined Dave to sing 'La Dee Da', a new song they debuted at the Secret Solstice festival in Iceland, back in June. They shared one microphone between them, pretty much nose to nose and the mass of hair was unreal, as blonde (Alison) then brunette (Dave) took turns shrieking, almost clashing heads at each changeover. The Foos opened with All My Life, Times Like These and Learn To Fly and we still had almost two hours left. What other band can fill so long a time slot with so many well known songs?
They even touched on a few covers from Queen and the Ramones; Blitzkrieg Bop started out as an impulsive jam but continued as the crowd began singing along before Dave admitted sheepishly that they didn’t know the whole song. No one cared. Such is the love and admiration we all have for the Foo Fighters!
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NOS Alive 2017 review