"Why doesn't this say 'Optimus?'" wonders The War On Drugs' Adam Granduciel aloud, staring at a backstage hoarding. "They told me we were playing a festival called 'Optimus'..." He's not the only person who's been confused by the festival's last minute decision to change it's name to reflect the fact that sponsor Optimus (a phone company) is now known as ‘NOS’ following a merger. Fortunately, not much else has changed about Lisbon’s biggest festival. It’s still swelteringly hot in the daytime, it’s still got a bill that mixes big indie headliners with late night dance acts and it still attracts hordes of British tourists to soak up the sun and the Portuguese hospitality. Here’s what they saw:
Heineken Stage - Thursday 10 July – 9:25
"This song is about international air travel, drinking, smoking, and the back of women's necks. All things dear to my heart… as is that young lady there. Rita? This ones for you..." Ah, Guy Garvey you old charmer. Having introduced new album track ‘Fly Boy Blue/Lunette’ thusly he had won over the Portuguese crowd before a swooning rendition of ‘New York Morning’ followed. Elbow sometimes get dismissed as bit of a ‘Radio 2 band’ – a bit too grown up, not quite rock’n’roll – but Garvey dismisses that false notion and seems to get the measure of the crowd when he introduces ‘Real Life (Angel)’ by advising the crowd that the best thing to do with a heartbroken friend is to “tell them to go to a club, take some drugs and forget about them for a little while". Garvey is well aware of the substantial British contingent present, and aware enough to tell them: "No Manchester chants! I'm as proud as you are, but it can be intimidating to other people, alright Northern gentlemen?" before thumping versions of ‘The Birds’ and ‘Grounds For Divorce’. After the latter, he cracks a terrible in tents/intense joke, but by the time they close with the massive singalong of ‘One Day Like This’ they’ve proved they’re as rock’n’roll as they come.
NOS Stage - Thursday 10 July – Quarter Past Midnight
The chatter in the crowd at the beginning of the set is all about the recent allegations that the Arctic Monkeys have been stashing their millions in a tax-free offshore bolt-hole. People wonder aloud whether they’ll cover ‘Taxman’, but of course they don’t – Alex Turner operates a well-oiled, finely-tuned weapon of mass seduction, and as previously discussed on this site the substantial Portuguese crowd has fallen for the Monkeys’ charms long before closer ‘R U Mine?’, which they milk for an extended singalong finale.
Buraka Som Sistema
NOS Stage - Friday 11 July – 25 Past Midnight
Advertising in the UK for the festival suggested that the Friday night headliners were The Black Keys, and while the blues duo did play earlier in the evening the main stage was actually closed by local heroes Buraka Som Sistema. The Portuguese answer to Major Lazer, these guys brought confetti cannons, a stage full of hot dancers and a frontwoman who mixed equal parts MIA and Rihanna. In short, it was the weekend’s biggest party, particularly when they played their collaboration with the actual MIA – ‘Sound Of Kuduro’. Stick it on, I dare you not to end up shaking something.
Heineken Stage - Friday 11 July – 1:30am
Anyone who saw SBTRKT’s disastrous live show a few years ago at Field Day should feel reassured: it’s now very much safe to get back in the water. SBTRKT at NOS was a full-on rave, the sound as clear and sharp as the lasers slicing through the air. Set closing Jessie Ware-collaboration ‘Right Thing To Do’ had a packed Heineken Stage crowd singing back the “Such a hurricane” hook at the top of their lungs.
Heineken Stage - Friday 11 July – 3am
Compared to SBTRKT who was on just before, Caribou’s live set-up looks much less ready to rave. Instead of the masks and lasers we just get four guys dressed all in white in a tight group in the centre of the stage. Caribou aren’t about appearances though, they’re about the music and they deliver a pretty much flawless set of gorgeous dance tunes, with ‘Odessa’ standing out as the glittering jewel in their crown.
The War On Drugs
Heineken Stage - Saturday 12 July – 7:50
Adam Granduciel is in high spirits in Lisbon – and why shouldn’t he be? After all, he’s released the best album of the year so far in ‘Lost In The Dream’ and he’s fresh from an acclaimed set on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury. Tracks like 'Red Eyes' and 'Ocean Between The Waves' stood out, as did the moment Granduciel told the crowd that he’d met one of his heroes the previous evening at The Black Keys show. "It's not who you think it is," he smiled. "It's their guitar tech. I love the way he runs a rig!" Turns out Granduciel is a big fan of Premier Guitar’s ‘Rig Rundown’ series (Check it out here). Not just album of the year, but band of the weekend too.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Heineken Stage - Saturday 12 July – 7:50pm
The Heineken tent is rammed with people to see Ruban Nielson lead Unknown Mortal Orchestra through a set full of psychy jams overlaid with folky vocals. Closers ‘So Good At Being In Trouble’ and ‘Boy Witch’ beg the question: Is hipster prog a thing now?
Foster The People
NOS Stage - Saturday 12 July – 10:25pm
Before the arrival of The Libertines comes a band who couldn’t be further to the other end of the spectrum – ‘indie’ bands don’t come with more of a polished pop sheen than Foster The People. The way Mark Foster peacocks about the stage is reminiscent more of Maroon 5’s Adam Levine than a rock and roll band, and even though they rip off ramshackle heroes The Dandy Warhols on closer ‘Don't Stop (Color on the Walls)’, they’d do well to remember that you can’t polish a turd.
NOS Stage - Saturday 12 July – Quarter Past Midnight
A night of shocks for Libertines faithfuls who’ve made their way to Lisbon (there aren’t many locals watching). First shock: They turn up on time. Less of a shock: they sound like they haven’t rehearsed. More of a shock: despite the scrappiness, there’s heart, promise and they’re clearly loving being back together. Pete doesn’t want the show to end – read why here.