Crazy, Sexy, Cool (as RnB legends TLC once said) are the first words that spring to mind when talking about Nos Alive the jewel in Portugal's festival crown. First let's start with the basics – The killer line up that must have had festival goers (and organisers) salivating. With the likes of Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Pixies, Tame Impala, and Wolf Alice the competition must have been running scared. You would be forgiven for thinking a line-up such as this over 3 days would be a wallet buster, but you would be wrong. Coming in at around £100 it offers amazing value (last time I paid £100 for a festival ticket was Glastonbury 1995).
So you may ask, what's the catch? Well, apart from wall to wall sunshine, a plethora of amazing artists, and a genuinely lovely crowd….there isn't one!
Set along the coast a mere 10 minute train journey away from the gorgeous city of Lisbon lays Nos Alive. Nestled within a working port you know not to expect rolling green hills; however the organisers have covered most of the flat, concreate site with a kind of soft Astro turf (meaning even if it did rain, NO MUD!). It was truly a spectacular site having the imposing main Nos Alive stage to my right, whilst the sea and beach on my left. The arena is adorned with a host of sponsors with elaborate temporary structures which offered elevated viewing platforms. It's this sponsorship that enables the festival to keep ticket prices low.
As ever there are some pinch points with a festival of this size (namely the toilets which would benefit from being a little more spread out around the site rather than in 2 locations) and with everyone leaving at the same time, local transport can be a bit of a struggle to cope with the numbers, but if you plan ahead it won't be an issue.
Because of the sun and heat (hooray!) most of the music begins around 5pm (with the mainstage at 6pm). So first of the starting blocks on the Nos Alive stage are a band I thought I thoroughly disliked – The 1975. Being proved wrong is not always welcome, however on this occasion I greet this with open arms. They are joyful to watch in the early evening sun. The screams from adorning fans confirm that this is a band on an upward trajectory and the hype is entirely justified. Only 1 band in and already it's clash central, is it Biffy Clyro, or Vintage Trouble? - as frontmen go Ty Taylor is hard to beat I reason so I find myself transfixed as he and the rest of Vintage Trouble literally tear up the Heineken Stage. This is a band that plays hard and fast with the obvious highlight being Taylor's crowd surfing.
Before I even get chance to draw breath, its John Grant's turn to grace the stage. You know when something shouldn't work (like ice cream and lager in the same glass) therefore mixing beautiful ballads, techno, and classic rock should be a recipe best ignored. However ignore at your peril as this genuinely warm and unassuming man takes us through the emotional wringer. Some of the more poignant moments came courtesy of a glorious 'Queen of Denmark' the defiant 'GMF' and outstanding 'Glacier'. This is a performance that will live on in my mind for years to come. As if reeling from John Grant's performance wasn't already enough here comes a stomping Wolf Alice who are every inch the indie darlings. They are literally an explosion of riffs, energy and cool classic indie pop. Much to the crowd's approval, they mention that two of the band had their very first holiday abroad in Lisbon and that it was good to be back. This band has toured hard for the last 2 years, but you would never have guessed from this spiky performance.
From the new guard it's time to pay our respects to a band Wolf Alice owe a lot to and that's the Pixies who are over on the main stage. Preferring to let the music do the talking there is little crowd inter-action, but that doesn't matter as I find myself lost in my youth to songs that as cheesy as it sounds were the soundtrack to my life. The only slight disappointment was the number of people around me talking, and perhaps it could have been louder to drown out conversations. That said I left with a big smile on my face reflecting on all the extraordinary performances I witnessed today very much looking forward to what the next day will bring.
Not being the 'clubby' type I still thought it would be amiss of me not to at least check out the Nos Clubbing Stage at least once. I'm glad I did as Bob Moses were laying down some smooth electronica. I was pleased to see a live element to this rather than some anonymous random behind a lap top. After an enjoyable half hour lapping this up I ventured towards the main stage for the very slick Years And Years, lead singer Ollie (much like the pied piper) leading the crowd who were hanging on his every move and utterance. The voice is flawless and the rapport with the audience is tangible. Soulful and bursting with shimmering pop, the set flies by quickly and it's time to have a stroll around the site which is easily done thanks to its compact size and flat terrain. There is all manner of craziness from the various sponsors from virtual band performances, Control Sex Talent (a kind of dirty dancing competition) as well as cool, funky bars and seating areas that surround the main arena. As for food, there are plenty of stalls serving the basics. Beer is limited to Heineken (but there are plenty of bars). As with most large events, things like toilets, bars and food stalls have most demand once a band has finished, so it's a good idea to make use of the facilities during performances.
I can't say that Foals have ever grabbed me (despite trying) so I use the opportunity whilst they are on the main stage, to check out Courtney Barnett. Her garage rock has me hooked as she and her band play with gusto and passion. This plucky Aussie clearly revelled in reaction from the crowd. Speaking of the crowd, I found them to be welcoming and warm towards other nationalities and never once witnessed any trouble.
A band I had been (unsuccessfully) trying to stalk for a few years are finally within my grasp as at last I have the opportunity to see Tame Impala live for the first time; and my oh my they do not let me down. As the sun sets, their set can only be described as sheer bliss providing the perfect soundtrack to a perfect setting. A confetti cannon during the first song adds to the vibe as thousands of festival goers are smiling ear to ear. Much like 'Glastonbury moments', this was without doubt the Nos Alive moment. After a little over an hour they leave us both chilled and exhilarated at the same time and make way for perhaps one of the most talked about and critically acclaimed bands of the past 25 years – Radiohead. This is less of a feather in the cap of the organisers and more like the whole bird! The anticipation and excitement is palpable!
At 10:45pm prompt Radiohead appear opening with recent offering 'Burn the Witch' which sets the tone for what's to come.
What follows is an introduction to some other new material from 'A Moon Shaped Pool' including a stunning 'Daydreaming' before we get some familiar material. A trawl through the past reveals tracks from 'The Bends' we have a snarky 'My Iron Lung' and the beautiful 'Street Spirit' from 'OK Computer' we are rewarded with the tension building 'Exit Music (for a film). As much as I love these songs and as good as they were, I found myself more immersed in the more experimental side of Radiohead and their post-OK Computer output. All the usual words apply when watching Radiohead from intense to fragile and everything in-between. It's easy to completely absorb yourself when you listen to the glistening 'Everything in its Right Place' and the frenetic 'Idioteque'. This is the closest I suspect Radiohead get to a greatest hits set, even 'Creep' gets an airing. Radiohead appear to be a band comfortable in their skin and happy to make a nod to the past whilst keeping one eye on the future; and it's this that keeps them relevant and exciting.
It's the final day and it's pleasing to note that many of the bands on the main stage today are from closer to home with less reliance on artists from the UK and America etc. This was an opportunity to hear something new from my perspective, of which it was clear that Spain's Vetusta Morla, had more mainstream appeal thanks to their catchy pop crossover material. Their pin-up lead singer Pucho had no problem enticing the younger female members of the crowd judging by all the hollering and screaming Having caught the tail end of Band of Horses I promise myself this won't happen next time (food could have waited a little longer). Still at least I am suitable fed, watered and in position for Arcade Fire. A bit of an exclusive for Nos Alive as this is only one of three European dates. After a bit of a subdued opening with 'Ready to Start' and 'The Suburbs' it's not until 3rd song in 'Sprawl II' that vocalist and keys player Régine Chassagne makes an appearance. A lacklustre 'Reflektor' follows and disappoints. However things soon improve thanks to 'Normal Person' which noticeably starts people dancing. However the set dips again and it takes 'No Cars Go' and 'Rebellion' to revive things. A joyous 'Here Comes the Night Time' provides the carnival spirit and of course the mass sing-along to 'Wake Up' closes the show.
Nos Alive has proved to be more than an equal to many European festivals, it's a place where magic happens, where the hip, cool and even not so cool happily co-exist. It's funky and care-free attitude permeates your very being as you are sucked in to a technicolour dream…….a dream I don't ever want to wake up from.
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NOS Alive 2017 review