H2N goes to Nos Alive 2017
In the end we were contented bunnies with our Nos Alive experience, but the organisers made us sweat it until an exceptional final third night. I’m all for tying out the new but I spoke with a few folk who agreed Nos Alive festival felt just a little thinner this year at times. Unlike previous experiences at Nos Alive there wasn’t too much time spent pondering our options on competing acts we had an interest in and we didn’t have an argument about whether to hot-foot it in for opening time at 5-ish or whether we were better to first enjoy a nap for a couple of hours to sleep off that lunchtime bottle of local Red. The clubbing stage had distinct periods of non-dance music and for the first time to my knowledge these performers were almost exclusively local, and the usual local bands on the Coreto by Arruada stage was reduced to 2 days with an opening day of local DJ sets (although this change is one I applaud and DJ Dotorado Pro in particular was excellent).
Perhaps Nos Alive had spent a significant proportion of the national gross domestic product of Portugal on the Foo Fighters on night two. Of course the Foo’s are dependable crowd pleasers and they promised (and delivered upon) their longest set (an epic two and a half hour stroll through the hits). It was a solid and pleasing performance although to me it felt just a little rambling with extended instrumental solos of non- Foo stadium rock songs, and the continuing bromance between Dave and Taylor “I love you man” “Well, I really loovvee you man”. Get a room and get over it guys. If you had watched the Foos on BBC at Glastonbury that was also pretty much what we got at Nos Alive 17; a good solid performance. As I’m not a natural Foo Fighters fan I was surprised at just how many songs I knew, and of course the band can press our buttons just by strumming a riff to a 40 year old Queen song. It was a good show and we happily strode the endless “bridge of death” in the early hours (the traffic closed motorway flyover festival goers must negotiate on foot to avoid risk of crush in the tiny train station subway tunnel which is the route on other evenings).
While the Foo Fighters were solid and professional, Royal Blood who performed on the first evening were a different league entirely. Royal Blood were pure energy and testosterone, and clearly by the look on their faces were overwhelmed at just how many of their audience was doing their nut out there in front of them (including one rather elderly and rotund occasional music reviewing gentleman who briefly pondered ripping off his t-shirt in the heat of the moment; thankfully for the Nos Alive party video, common decency prevailed). Even Ben Thatcher the fantastic drummer in the duo let his “Mr Nasty wrestler” pose slip and a cheeky grin would occasionally emerge on his face as he looked out at the manically gyrating, furiously sweating crowd. Royal Blood produced a truly memorable performance and there wasn’t a duff song or ill -chosen moment of banter amongst it. Given Royal Blood is a band with just two albums and 4 years of working together they surely must become festival headliners for years to come.
Yet another contrast can be made with Imagine Dragons who with their excellent crowd pleasing set on the final day proved to be something of a revelation. “Work the Stage” was a phrase made for this Las Vegas band, a city that knows a thing or two about putting on a show, and they made every other artist I saw over the weekend seem a little slovenly by comparison. Lead singer Dan Reynolds made full use of the stage area, a cat walk set out for the band at punter level meaning they could get out to the centre of the audience, and also along the long line at either side of the stage usually the preserve of lighting and rig engineers. This meant that a far greater proportion of the huge audience got up close and personal with the band, and it really helped form a strong connection. Portugal yelled their hearts out for this one and it merged the pomp and majesty of stadium rock with the intimate special feel of the smaller venue. Again, I won’t say I was a particular Imagine Dragons fan before this festival but after this performance I’ll be taking a much greater interest.
The other big show of Nos Alive came with Cage The Elephant who also played their hearts out on that epic final night. On record, Cage The Elephant come across as mid-range rocksters with pleasant, catchy singalong choruses. On stage we got pure Iggy and the Stooges energy, balls of steel, and power in spades. There was a good smattering of reinterpreted heavy punkish versions of the songs on their last album Tell Me I’m Pretty, together with some earlier classics. Again I Ieft the stage tent with a new respect for the band together with a red face, sweaty back and a pumping heart that yelled out about just how good it is to be alive.
While I wouldn’t put The XX into the same blood pumping genre, their understated but class performance on the first night was also noteworthy and which made night one well worth the effort. I adore The XX, so they were pushing at an open door with me, but to my mind they provided the voices of Nos Alive – rich, fluid elastic and perfect together. It all rather felt that both audience and band could have chilled there all night, and the band offered Portugal a lot of love.
Of the other band I caught I was happily on the barriers for Blossoms, who gave a very solid and typically relaxed and understated show. I don’t think Blossoms are particularly well known in Portugal and the reception felt polite and interested rather than rapturous. The more immediate rolling sound of Courteeners were much better received on day 2, although while again I got the vibe Portugal also didn’t know the Courteeners that well, it was also clear they made a lot of new friends as a result of their nicely flowing and well performed set. Wild Beasts gave a mixed performance; it always feels to me that if they lost the tracks that are a little too introspective, this pleasant intelligent band could really fly. It was slightly telling that at the start of the gig I was about 15 rows back, but it didn’t take much effort to get to 5 rows in from the front within 4-5 songs.
Any review of Nos Alive 17 would be incomplete without a mention of those two marching beasts from the 1980’s, The Cult and Depeche Mode. The Cult confirmed their move from Goth Heroes from the 1980’s to Heavy Metal heads. However, the Led Zep on the sound system before the show perhaps offered an aspiration which is currently beyond The Cult (and indeed almost everyone else too). Ian Astbury looked well and the band provided a good account of themselves although Astbury in his black shiny bomber jacket and a hair length that was neither short and trendy, or rock star long looked a little “off-style”. All credit to the man for not giving a stuff.
Depeche Mode are the more “current” and “vital” of the two dinosaurs, and unfortunately they were let down a little by over ambitious technology. While all the other bands largely relied on images of themselves playing, or their record logos, Depeche Mode had a long and complicated line of animation videos which unfortunately seemed to be played a little out of synch. Likewise, the audio on the set wasn’t wonderful (it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t wonderful). It all left the band feeling a little “cold” and disjointed, although Gahan and Gore’s voices (and Gore’s in particular) were spot on. Gahan looked a little frail on stage, and we all know about his health issues of the past but he gave a good performance and didn’t stint on the length of set.
Summing up, it says something of the amazing 5 star + standards of the last couple of Nos Alive events that 2017 appeared a little lighter; it was certainly a great experience overall and a solid 4 stars. I would have personally liked to have seen a few more up and coming second tier bands, rather than some of the established but “might never quite make it” bands that were there. In terms of seeing most of the big bands touring in 2017 then Nos Alive once again gave a good account of themselves, although perhaps The Killers or Kings of Leon who were both playing in Europe that weekend might have added a final bit of extra polish. If you are thinking of a Europe festival then you could do far worse than Nos Alive.