Decked out in the blue jumpsuit from her music video for ‘Alright’ – one part Star Trek meets two parts Postman Pat – French artist Jain is first up at Lisbon’s NOS Alive. Aided by booming synths mounted on a slim platform, it’s otherwise a one-person show filled with wily rhythms drawn from across the world, and maximalist, saturated pop music. Born in Toulouse, France, Jain also grew up in Dubai and the Congo, honing her craft at parties in Pointe-Noire. As such her music is crammed full with surprising ideas and left-field turns. Despite a few technical difficulties involving a very complicated-looking light up panel on her sleeve – calmly dealt with in a minute – it’s a joy-filled first set to kick off the festival.
She’s shortly followed by Wolf Alice, still riding the aftershocks of ‘Visions of a Life’. Mid-way through yet another never-ending tour, the band are in blistering form. Ellie Rowsell, a fearsome vocal chameleon, leads the charge, veering from butter-wouldn’t-melt high notes to menacingly gravelly roars that can shatter windows in an instant. Never ones to miss a golden opportunity, the band play ‘Lisbon’ in, er, Lisbon, and otherwise it’s a set that pays equal attention to both their records. Arms-round-shoulders standout ‘Bros’ brings the tent together in soppy unison, and the ridiculously massive ‘Giant Peach’ – complete with a swaggering, scowling guitar solo from Joff Oddie – is as dazzling as ever. Standing shoulder to shoulder with second album highlights – from the pissed off squalls of ‘Yuk Foo’ to ‘Don’t Delete the Kisses” introspective outpouring – it’s yet more proof that Wolf Alice are one of the UK’s finest bands.
Equally versatile and shapeshifting, Nine Inch Nails – for the first and last time in their lives, probably – are playing right before yer da’s favourite rockers Snow Patrol. On the attack at all times, snarling and sashaying in equal measure Trent Reznor is the kind of frontman who can turn the core debauchery of ‘Closer’ into hot, salty industrial-disco. Determined not to “fuck around”, the band instead pick out the cream of their thirty-year back catalogue. As brutal and punishing as their music may be – tapping into a hollow, painful kind of emptiness – Nine Inch Nails somehow make it all strangely cathartic.
Shortly after the provide the half-time entertainment. Along with a clutch of obligatory newies (they’ll all be soundtracking various sun-dappled cider adverts within a few months, you wait and see) they obviously play ‘Run’ (that one Leona Lewis covered) and the incredibly rousing ‘Chasing Cars’. Risking a road traffic accident has never sounded so epic.
Returning to Portugal for their first show in years, Arctic Monkeys headline the first night of NOS Alive; after an oddly relaxing interlude of lift-jazz piped over the PA, that is. Far from striding through the perfectly practiced motions – in the way that many seasoned headliners tend to sometimes – tonight’s set is the picture of a band discovering brand new possibilities, and rolling with them. It’s no real revelation that a piano-led concept album set on a fictional hotel on the moon could easily have landed with a bit of a thud, but for the Monkeys, it’s freed them up. Dressed like an extra from a Wes Anderson film, Alex Turner’s in a playful mood, yelling “obrigado” (thank you, fyi) to the festival’s delight, and relishing the multitude of bizarre lyrics that pepper ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’. There’s certainly something special about a crowd of thousands yelling the words “kiss me underneath the moon’s side boob!” in drunken unison, and ‘Star Treatment’ – a crooning, tongue-in-cheek musing on the band’s own superstar status – is another highlight.
Arctic Monkeys’ latest material might stand in stark contrast to the swaggery of ‘AM’ cuts and the loved-up sincerity of ‘505’, but bound together by Alex Turner’s completely logic-defying imagination (he writes with a peculiar dexterity possessed by no other artist out there) it all, somehow, makes sense.