Olá from Lisbon, we’re sipping on sangria and we want to get some important things straight: if you’ve got the weight of 24 warm lagers burning your shoulder muscles as you sweat and stumble over rugged fields, you’re not on holiday. If you wake up in a tent you might be on holiday, but you’ll want to be somewhere else. Glastonbury is not a holiday, neither Reading nor Leeds. It’s only a holiday when a slab of tarmac-infused heat wallops you in the boat-race as you emerge from onto airplane steps. It’s good to go on holiday. It’s good for your soul, and it’s good for your Vitamin D levels (there’s some sol / soul work here I can’t quite reach). Go on holiday my friends, and go to a festival in the rest of Europe while you still can.
Here’s a plan: go to Lisbon. Swap your Gregggs’ slice for Pastel de Nata, swap your sell-out London brewery for Sagres, swap literally whatever you’re looking at for a place that can look like Havana and Rio and San Francisco all in one eye-full. Come for the rooftop bar which is like Frank’s but with a less-pink staircase, or go to cooler rooftops in cooler markets because, like, who still goes to Frank’s anymore? More importantly, come for NOS Alive because NOS Alive is an absolute blast of a festival.
Here’s some things about NOS Alive: NOS Alive is a shimmering astro turf wonderland, camped on the banks of the Tagus River, cooling breezes chill the ankles of Brits who’ve rolled their jeans up one roll more that our mainland friends have yet to embrace. It’s just £3.51 a pint here. Monzo told me that, and Monzo has no reason to lie to me. There’s a mini silent disco and VR parachute jump simulator, there’s a 100 foot corridor of foosball tables, which is all great, but there’s also a hot-dog stand called The Best Sausage Alive and though I’ve not checked all the sausages that consider themselves alive, these are the best. Those 18.5 miles a day you racked up walking Worthy Farm? No chance, you could power walk from the furthest stage to the front of the main stage in maybe 4 minutes at full-pelt, but you might drop The Best Sausage Alive doing that, so maybe just relax and watch some bands?
“Come see Blossoms,” a once-esteemed colleague/friend of mine says, “they’re really good,” they say. I could tell you about what happened, but suffice to say the Arrested Development narrator was heard to intone “Blossoms were not very good”. You probably already know this because people like to know things, but Phoenix are a really slick and sophisticated pop band who play slick and sophisticated pop but I didn’t know this – it’s tough knowing every band – but now I do and my world feels better for it. Jessy Lanza is predictably wonderful, and I already knew that would be the case. Ryan Adams is denim. He’s the best denim jacket you ever owned, to be fair. Strong, steady stitch, no tassels or flashy adornments, worn-in but not worn-out. Durable, y’know? There will always be a place for Ryan Adams in this world. Morbid curiosity drags me to Royal Blood and I’ll never forgive it. Royal Blood are the problem with everything, dreary death music for dreary dead people. Brainless, sexless, neanderthal fuckwits – making so much noise and stirring so little feeling. A pointless post-Brexit headbutt of a band. We need to have a conversation about letting British men have guitars without proper vetting. After years of kinda ignoring The xx, because they seemed so polite, they’ve now become a huge pulsating pop machine, with every song stuffed with more EPO than your average Tour De France winner. They’re exhilarating and ‘VCR’, is a weekend highlight only bettered by The Weeknd. He’s a proper star, the kind we don’t see so often in our grubby indie world. My second favourite pop moment of the year was my mum telling me how good Take That were live, my first favourite is the Weeknd. Are all his tracks solid gold? Nope, but when ‘Starboy’ and ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ blare out, our feet move in ways they didn’t know they could, or should.
It’s day 2 at the astroturf wonderland, the sun is shining because that’s what happens, and I’m eating The Best Sausage Alive and watching Savages. On your first day at music-writing school you’re told to never use the word ‘visceral’ unless you’re specifically referring to early Manics, but it might be time to let Savages have a go on it. They’ve developed into pretty much the perfect live band; always impassioned, always committed, armed with a canon of righteously ferocious songs. I’m hoping for a Phoenix-esque conversion from Warpaint, but it doesn’t happen today. Morbid curiosity drags me to The Courteeners, and I’ll never forgive it. Seriously to-hell with this limp indie in 2017, there’s just no need for an act like this to exist. A clammy post-Brexit handshake of a band. We really need to have that conversation about letting British men have guitars. Wild Beasts though, Wild Beasts are on incredible form, propulsive and non-repulsive, a band to genuinely treasure. NOS Alive / Portugal / the world look a little surprised that The Kills are still going and still sound like The Kills. But we drink our beers, forget about them again and a happy balance is restored. It’s real nice when The Cult play the hits and when they do it’s enough to justify these ancient rock warriors still gracing stages. It rains, not much, but a bit and we feel safe because astroturf does not turn to mud. This is festivals without fear. Tear up the grass, England. Flatten the hills and cover them in sweet artifice. The Foo Fighters play, but until the Foo Fighters get around to saying, ‘yes, AIDS exists’ then my eyes and ears will have nothing to do with them. We go to Lisbon’s Franks instead and have a swell time.
Day three is upon us and Benjamin Booker is doing good old rock’n’roll the good old fashioned rock’n’roll way but with enough bounce to avoid the stodge that happens all too often when that happens. It’s kinda like the good bits of M.Ward when M.Ward is real good, but with more fizz. Melodies sneak and snake through tried-and-tested chord structures, adding vibrant licks of paint to his pallete. Kodaline do their cheeseball schtick to a huge and rapt crowd. I don’t know any of their songs, but such is the algorithm precision of their craft they all sound eerily familiar. The singer whips out a harmonica and an electric ukulele and you know how this ends. It ends in distance from Kodaline and The Best Sausage Alive. Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan is wearing the most splendid sequinned waistcoat of the weekend and it’s thrilling to watch the man in action. Preening, prowling, controlling the stage in the manner that only a damned lifetime of living that life can teach you. The new Depeche Mode songs sound like the old Depeche Mode songs more or less, but when the hits hit you understand the reverence afforded to this band. ‘Enjoy The Silence’ gleams in its genius pop structure and ‘Everthing Counts’ is responded to with lusty glee by the weekend’s largest crowd, but it’s ‘Personal Jesus’ that absolutely floors us. Big song, big band, huge times had.
And, oh god, that’s it, we’re done. I hear reports of a blistering show from The Avalanches, but we’re back out in Lisbon, soaking up the last we can of this glorious city. All the talk is of returning next year, all the talk is ‘definitely coming back’ and a lot of the talk is ‘and it’ll be even better because Royal Blood and The Courteeners probably won’t be there’. Adeus from Lisbon.
Photos by Jose Fernandes, Hugo Macedo & Alrindo Camacho.