There’s something about watching small planes land on one runway of Gdynia’s Babie Doły Military Airport while you’re watching The Black Keys headline a festival from the other which lets you know that Open’er is not like other festivals. Located on a sprawling airfield in northern Poland, things don’t tend to get started until gone 6pm – which is pretty civilised for those of us who are staying in the nearby beach resort town of Sopot. The festival site serves hundreds of gallons of Heineken each year but frowns on spirits, giving it a reputation as the sort of place serious music fans come to watch music, not just get out of their heads. That could be part of the reason they attract some of the world’s biggest bands and most exciting new artists here to entertain 60,000 Pole dancers over four days. Here’s some of the best bits of Open’er 2014:
The Black Keys
Open’er Stage – Wednesday 2 July – 10pm
The Black Keys will one day take their place alongside Bachman–Turner Overdrive and Deep Purple as the sort of band who appear primarily on Top Gear soundtracks. There’s a riff on ‘Run Right Back’, the second tune they play tonight, which would make the perfect bed for Jeremy Clarkson sliding across a car bonnet while saying something racist about the Japanese, or whatever it is he does to earn his £14m a year. Their set of chugging blues rock includes a handful of outstanding tunes, notably ‘Howlin’ For You’ and ‘Lonely Boy’, although playing ‘Gold On The Ceiling’ is pretty much the textbook definition of peaking too soon. When Dan Auerbach tells the crowd that they’re “1/4 of the size of Glastonbury, but have 10 times the energy,” you can’t help but wonder if that’s because at Glastonbury you get what you give.
Tent Stage – Wednesday 2 July – Midnight
The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach may be one of the most famous guitar players on the planet, but for my money I’d rather listen to Danielle Haim any day. Maybe if she pasted on one of those beards from the stoning scene in ‘The Life of Brian’ and restyled herself as ‘Dan Haim’ she’d be headlining festivals and appearing on the cover of ‘Guitar Fanciers Magazine’ every week talking about open tunings. The girl has serious chops, and Haim’s live show – from its thrilling reworking of Peter Green’s ‘Oh Well’ through to the pop genius of tunes like ‘The Wire’ and ‘Forever’ – is filled with drama and tension. It’s easily the highlight of Open’er’s Wednesday night. Two ideas humbly offered to make music better in 2014: 1) Haim should stop fretting over production and record their next album live at some sweaty basement show. 2) Somebody make The Black Keys sit down and watch a Haim show. That’s how you get energy! Guys, if you hurry their Glastonbury set is probably still on iPlayer.
Open’er Stage – Thursday 3 July – 6pm
MGMT must be the worst band on the planet if you have either epilepsy or short patience, but for the rest of us their acid-drenched, strobe-lit show is a rare treat. I can count on the fingers of one foot the number of other bands who’ve written two unimpeachably great pop singles and then wilfully decided to sack it all off in favour of being 2014’s answer to the 13th Floor Elevators. You probably have to be crazy to think a festival crowd is going to want to hear a version of psych-rock epic ‘Siberian Breaks’ which meanders on for about 12,000 hours. If you then segue into ‘Kids’, which an added rave outro which sees frontman Andrew VanWyngarden down in the crowd high-fiving the front row, you’re probably still crazy but I don’t want you to be sane.
Open’er Stage – Friday 4 July – 7pm
Foals were lumbered with a slightly-too-early slot on the festival’s main stage on Friday, but they pulled it off because they’ve got tunes to spare. ‘Spanish Sahara’, ‘Inhaler’ and closer ‘Two Steps, Twice’ could all have graced a headline set. Meanwhile, I spent far too long asking myself: can ‘My Number’ plausibly be considered an answer song to Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’? She gives him her number, but he lets her down with the words: ‘You don’t have my number, we don’t need each other now.’ Yannis and Carly – the truth will out.
Alter Stage – Friday 4 July – 8pm
There’s two problems with being hyped to the rafters: one is that it becomes almost impossible to live up to people’s expectations, the other is that even reasonably sized tents like this one get jam-packed with people desperate to see the new big thing. Fortunately for Royal Blood the first of these worries won’t concern them too much – they deliver on the hype with a punch that sits somewhere between Nirvana and early Muse. The second issue will have to be addressed though – these guys are gonna need a bigger stage.
Open’er Stage – Friday 4 July – 10pm
Jack White is an intense, raw and by most accounts often difficult man, but he’s blessed with a multitude of talents. At Open’er, he almost-raps on ‘Lazaretto’ then leads White Stripes singalongs on ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You’re Told)’ and ‘We’re Going to Be Friends’, a duet with Lillie Mae Rische. Storming new track ‘Just One Drink’ is ‘Blonde On Blonde’-era Dylan hotwired for 2014. His signature riff is of course ‘Seven Nation Army’, and the moment when the crowd roars it back to him at the end of the set while he sings over them is one of the moments of Open’er 2014 that they’ll be talking about from Gdansk to Warsaw for years to come.
Tent Stage – Friday 4 July – 11:45pm
There’s a short speech that Banks gives a little way into her Friday night set which gives a pretty good summary of where she’s coming from. She says: “When I started writing I had all these beasts in my head that made me feel like a weaker person. I wanted to feel sexier, like a goddess. I want every woman to feel like a goddess, and every guy to feel like a god.” Then she sings ‘Goddess’, and gets down into the crowd as if to bless the front row, and the trick seems to work. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m definitely feeling more omniscient. Tracks like the furious, scolding ‘Drowning’, with its “You were not deserving” refrain, and crunching closer ‘Waiting Game’ leave no doubt whatsoever: the woman is a goddess.
Open’er Stage – Friday 4 July – 1am
Lykke Li is one of those people who probably wouldn’t be anywhere near a headline slot at a British festival, but Europeans go wild for her. Her big moment comes on ‘Never Gonna Love Again’, a proper 80s power ballad, and despite her gloomy stage presence she’s suitably schmaltzy when she tells the big Friday night crowd that she needs to “find a phone to film you, because this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” She closes with a banging version of ‘Get Some’ before striding offstage to John Lennon’s full-throated wail on The Beatles’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, played out at top volume. If that had been the message from the organisers beforehand, they had nothing to worry about.