Celebrating its 10th anniversary, NOS Alive in Lisbon has to be one of the most anticipated festivals of the season.
With good weather bringing high spirits, the sun-soaked seaside location sees 55,000 music fans flock to Lisbon for a weekend of sun, sea and sounds.
The festival is set in a prime harbour location, with a manageable sized site, making it easy to flit between stages when the dreaded clashes happen. Despite this, there was none of the sound bleed other festivals are bemoaned for - something you might expect when the stages are in such close proximity.
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The 1975 kicked off the festivities on the main stage with a surprisingly good set, with crowd favourites ‘Sex’ and ‘Chocolate’ giving the audience plenty of cause for applause. Opening with 2015 single ‘Love Me’, their set was new material-heavy, featuring eight tracks from their recent second album ‘I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It’.
Next up were Biffy Clyro, featuring an ever-shirtless Simon Neil, whose attempts at Portuguese were lost on an international, largely non-native crowd. Asking the crowd if they could “play all night”, the Scottish rock giants treated fans to four tracks from new album ‘Ellipsis’ released the same day – ‘Wolves Of Winter’, ‘Friends And Enemies’, ‘On A Bang’ and ‘Animal Style’.
Closing on ‘Many Of Horror’ and ‘Stingin' Belle’, it was clear that the bands triumphant return this year has proven to be one of the highlights of their career, and it’s exciting to think what lofty heights this album will propel them to.
Over on the Heineken Stage, John Grant attracted a huge crowd for his hour-long set. Veering between techno-inspired, synth-fuelled tracks like Pale Green Ghosts and softer, piano-charged ballads, such as Glacier, Grant had the crowd in the palm of his hand for the duration, before ending his awe-inspiring show with GMF - a hand waving, sing-along moment of joy.
Up next were true indie stars Wolf Alice, whose summer sound has been a highlight of British festivals for the past few years, and was sure to have the same effect in Lisbon. Opening on album favourite 'Your Love's Whore', the band were truly on form. Announcing to the packed out tent that "this is our first time in Lisbon,” the four piece, blew the roof off the tent with the track inspired by this city.
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Friday was the biggest and best night of the festival, with a stellar line-up from start to finish.
The first act I caught was long-time Tame Impala tour mates Jagwar Ma - seemingly their dancier cousin. Their psych-fuelled electro-pop had a pretty full tent (considering they were one of the first acts of the day), and had the audience of face-paint clad youngsters dancing in their hundreds. They’ve still only released one album, but it’s easy to see this band can and most likely will do well, judging by the reaction they got this evening.
Foals played a storming career-spanning set, thrashing from early math rock songs to poppier numbers and back again. Frontman Yannis Philippakis led the Oxford quintet through highlights including the sprawling Spanish Sahara and the raging 'Providence'.
Drummer Jack Bevan donned an 'I Wanna Be Inside EU' t-shirt, echoing a similar sentiment expressed by The 1975’s Matt Healy - British bands love Europe, and Europe love them even more.
It was a tough slot, being placed before Tame Impala and Radiohead, but Foals have more than proven themselves worthy of playing to audiences this size, and it’s clear from performances like this that their forthcoming headline set at Reading and Leeds Festivals next month has been well-earned.
The ever-triumphant festival favourites Tame Impala took to the stage around sundown, with their incredible visuals pitched against a dimming seaside panorama. They played a very familiar set, which they’ve been touring since the release of Currents earlier this year, but the crowd went wild for the much-beloved Australian psych-rockers - especially long-locked frontman Kevin Parker.
With one audience member brandishing an ‘Our Lord and Saviour Kevin’ sign, and with an alarming number of women embracing nudity, only to be further encouraged when the enchanting frontman mentioned it, it was clear to see who a lot of the crowd were here to see.
From openers ‘Nangs’ and ‘Let It Happen’, through first album tracks such as ‘Why Won't You Make Up Your Mind?’ and ‘Alter Ego’, then returning to their latest album to close, it was clear that Tame Impala had the crowd in the palm of their hand.
With three explosions of confetti bursting forth into the clear Lisbon night, this marked a much-awaited and much-loved return to the beloved seaside city by the Perth band, who assured the baying audience that they’d be back for more soon.
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Next up were Radiohead - by far the most highly-anticipated act to play the festival. A far cry from the psychedelic light show, crowd conversations and confetti cannons of their predecessors, one of the biggest bands of the past 25 years soared through an incredible set, pleasing even those such as myself who came to it knowing fairly little of their back catalogue.
Opening with five new songs from ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, they tore through their back catalogue across their two and a half hour, 24 song set. An enthralled crowd went from manic for Tame Impala to silent and awe-inspired by Radiohead, leaving a borderline eerie silence for parts of their more reflective songs.
From melodic moments interspersed with heavier, grungier periods, they were perfectly on form - in keeping with their recent run of stellar European festival performances. Highlights included ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ from their seminal 1997 album ‘OK Computer’, ‘Talk Show Host’ from similarly iconic ‘The Bends’, and latest single ‘Burn The Witch’.
Much praise must go to Jonny Greenwood. Whether he was playing a guitar with a bow, piano or playing guitar normally like us mere mortals, his musical prowess is a force to be reckoned with. Closing on classic, rarely-aired-live tracks ‘Creep’ (seemingly a last minute decision, according to online rumours) and 'Karma Police’, it became clear that the hype was entirely justified - seeing Radiohead live really is a life-changing experience.
For some lighter relief, we headed to see Hot Chip - one of the funniest acts of the weekend. Their wild energy and electro-fuelled dance hits had the Heineken Stage packed past capacity, with audience members spilling out the sides in a bid to take part in the party. Despite some of the songs they played, such as ‘Over And Over’ and ‘And I Was a Boy From School’, being released over ten years ago, they retained their vitality and wowed the crowd over just as much as new track ‘House Of Truth’. It didn’t matter what they played, the audience loved it and danced madly throughout - despite their set starting at 2:40am.
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The exhaustion of final festival day blues lingered around the site on Saturday, but when Arcade Fire hit the main stage at 10:45pm, the audience was instantly invigorated.
Opening with 'Ready To Start', the band tore through an anthemic, hit-laden affair, treating the crowd with favourites from across their back catalogue, accompanied by one of their typically beautiful live shows. 'The Suburbs' merged effortlessly into ‘Sprawl II’, which in turn led into recently released tracks 'Reflector' and 'Afterlife'. Tracks from 2013’s Reflector sat comfortably alongside tracks from golden oldie 'Neon Bible', and served to only show further how much the band has progressed sonically.
Not only did they plough through hit after hit, the band also touched upon the Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save The Queen’ and Nirvana’s ‘No Apologies’, which introduced We Exist, as well as paying tribute to the late legend David Bowie, who provided backing vocals on ‘Reflektor’’s title track.
Having only played a handful of shows in the last two years due to recording their upcoming fifth(!!) album, it was easy to see how passionate the crowd was about the band’s long-awaited rare live appearance - although perhaps somewhat disappointed about the lack of new material.
Their rare live outings only serve to make crowds more eager to see Arcade Fire, and this was for many the climax of the festival. Looking at the crowd afterwards, it was obvious that we’d been given more than we could possibly have asked for, united in awe of the semi-religious experience we’d encountered.
Grimes finished the weekend with a bang, with a very late-night set on the second stage, bouncing through hits from her latest and hugely praised third album ‘Art Angels’.
For her long-awaited first appearance in Portugal, Genesis and Oblivion received the biggest cheers of the nights, but her high-voltage hard drops and bass-filled ravey tunes had the crowd dancing solidly for her entire set, despite her set lying at the tail-end of the festival. The cult icon’s dark breed of bubblegum-pop is shrieking and weird, but in all the best ways.
It was incredible to see the change in mood that sunshine brings to a festival, and the cheeriness of the site across the weekend. All I want to know now is where can I get my ticket for next year? Definitely a must-visit, and surely one of the best European festivals there is.
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Words: Megan White