Dirty Pretty Things choose Bestival–On-Ice for their live return. Austria (March 31 – April 6)
It might only take an hour and a half to get there by plane, but Mayrhofen is a mighty long way from home. When NME arrives at the ski resort – which doesn’t seem to have had a makeover since 1972 – the town is awash with dark tales of girls being ordered to strip naked in the saunas and shiny platters of cold ham and cheese being offered for each and every meal. The local schnapps has the novelty of being petrol flavoured and there’s scarcely a fresh, un-pickled vegetable to be seen; it’s going to be an interesting, not to mention artery-clogging, few days.
Luckily, the week-long winter sports and music mash-up that is Snowbombing is doing its best to rescue Mayrhofen from the strange The Sound Of Music-meets-Abigail’s Party vibe that seeps through the fondue-loving town. Alongside the fancy dress theme, which gives the whole event the air of Bestival-On-Ice, they manage to pull a blinder by nabbing Dirty Pretty Things for what is essentially – a few acoustic spots here and there aside – their guns-blazing return to the live stage. And what a return it is; loud enough to kick-start an avalanche on the glorious snow-peaked mountains that surround us, the four boys in the band are as grungily charming and as rock’n’roll as ever. Their half-puffed ciggies rest in their guitar necks, the novelty of being allowed to legally smoke indoors clearly amusing them – and the crowd – no end. Drags on fags are broken up by Carl Barât, rocking naughty public schoolboy floppy locks, swigging from a bottle of red wine and pummelling through the rollicking ‘Deadwood’ and ‘You Fucking Love It’. From their forthcoming second album the shameless Kinks-y clatter of ‘Hippy’s Son’ lifts the snow-battered crowd, while the sweet balladry of ‘Come Closer’ brings to mind the kind of simple tune a shy teen would write for the most popular girl in class, but never ever play to her in a million years. ‘Plastic Hearts’ sees Carl take on a role that’s closer to narrator than rock singer; he could just as easily be fronting a slightly debauched poetry reading as a gig. Didz Hammond and Anthony Rossomando continue to be the perfect foils to Carl’s louche stage manner, and are just as interesting to watch; Didz with a swagger that could make the Gallagher brothers cower (plus an ever expanding ’tache) and Anthony, with a seemingly possessed guitar that he brandishes like a loaded tommy gun and pokes towards the front few rows.
To finish, Anthony takes the trumpet for the bugling intro to a hectic run through of the pounding ‘Bang Bang You’re Dead’. As he lifts it to his mouth, a beer can comes spiralling towards him, but he smoothly volleys the offending receptacle back into the audience with the tip of said trumpet. It’s slick, funny and a little bit stupid – and that’s pretty much what makes a band great, isn’t it?
If DJs really were rock stars they’d be Manchester rave-rockers The Whip, whose Happy Mondays at lightspeed shtick is a celebration of sonic squidges (‘Divebomb’), taut techno drops (‘Trash’) and satisfied smiles all round. At the other end of the scale, Calvin Harris comes across as little more than Mark Ronson’s annoying little brother, bouncing across the stage and throwing crucifix shapes like Jesus leading a particularly enthusiastic aerobics class. The smug pervert pop of ‘The Girls’ – essentially Prince for simpletons – is excruciating.
Mr Harris, please come in, your five minutes is most definitely up.
Madness, who play in a winter wonderland clearing in the forest, couldn’t fail to impress if they suddenly decided to break into a medley of One Night Only B-sides. Suggs, looking every inch the pop grand master in a salmon-pink dinner jacket, runs through 30 years of faultless, solid gold hits with his grinning compadres. ‘My Girl’, ‘Embarrassment’ and a skanking cover of Max Romeo’s dub reggae classic ‘Chase The Devil’ are unquestionable highlights, but every ska-coated song is flawless – so let’s not mention Suggs’ onstage jokes, which would make Pontin’s bluecoats shake their heads in shame.
Lightspeed Champion’s interesting fashion choices have never seemed more appropriate as he stands resplendent in his Mayrhofen haute couture of ski-jumper and big fuzzy hat, before piling into newie ‘Marlene’, which he introduces as “a bit of a dance song”. It’s actually just more of the same fabulous, violin-laced, undulating up-tempo folk but, frankly, it’d be churlish to complain, especially when the gypsy jazz-goes-punk of ‘Tell Me What It’s Worth’ swoops into the end of the instrument-swapping set. The Metros continue to cement their reputation as the dirty boys you couldn’t take home to your mother, by guffawing through ‘Last Of The Lookers’ and ‘Education Pt 2’, as lead singer Saul Adamczewski does his best impression of an après-ski Sid James.
The festival is rounded off by yet another storming show from The Pigeon Detectives. Another band testing new material, ‘Say It Like You Mean It’, ‘I’m Not Gonna Take This’ and ‘This Is An Emergency’ are rendered instant classics as Matt Bowman leaps on to the monitors, falls face-first off the stage and chucks so many bottles of water into the crowd he look likes a human vending machine. Baby, it might be cold outside but, at Snowbombing, everything’s sweltering.