Optimus Alive

Lisbon, Portugal Friday, July 12 - Sunday, July 14

From Phoenician settlers in the 13th century to the 1970s revolutionaries who ushered in the current democratic republic, people have always been willing to fight for Lisbon, Portugal’s capital city. And though in 2013 any hopefuls on a mission to win the city’s heart tend not to ride in on horseback with artillery in tow, some attack strategies can’t be beaten. So when Billie Joe Armstrong unveils his toilet-paper cannon during Green Day’s two-and-a-half-hour headline siege on Friday – only matched in ferocity by the pump-action T-shirt gun he’s also been using to pummel the crowd – it’s as if pop-punk’s longest-serving generals are staging a three-chord coup.

Having just rattled through a set spanning their 25-year career, from ‘Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)’ to the anthemic peak of ‘American Idiot,’ the bogroll battering is only a second-tier novelty: the biggest trick up Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool’s sleeves is a medley of covers, including The Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’, The Rolling Stones’ ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ and Lulu’s ‘Shout’. It strips back the experience and makes the Optimus site feel like a party in your mate’s dad’s garage, a sense of intimacy unheard of at shows of this size.

This trait they share with Biffy Clyro who, like Green Day, are preparing to headline Reading & Leeds in August. And despite Lisbon being muggy and grey, frontman Simon Neil does a fine job of beaming like a giddy sun as the band-cum-rock-cult hypnotise the crowd with their stadium math-rock. ‘Bubbles’ and ‘Mountains’ send currents of frenzied energy through the moshpit, and the trio’s frequent dropping of Portuguese phrases (probably just “Where’s the toilet?” and “I’ll have two beers please”) only adds to their charm. Across the site, Vampire Weekend are the opposite in appearance to Biffy (ie clothed and shaved), but share their love of intricate songs, the New Yorkers noodling through blossoming moments from recent album ‘Modern Vampires Of The City’ such as ‘Ya Hey’.

When midnight strikes, Friday night descends into dance chaos. Jessie Ware joins Disclosure to perform ‘Running’, part of a set that features enough button-fiddling to prevent anyone from accusing Guy and Howard Lawrence of ‘just pressing play’, as they did at the Capital FM Summertime Ball in June. It’s a shot of ’90s-infused foot-shuffling that’s followed on a deep house tip by producer Mosca. The night rounds off with UK bass’s pantomime party-starter Hugh Pescod, aka Redlight, who, despite veering towards the cumbersome, subtlety-free side of dubstep, still signs off the night in style. 

Come Saturday, Depeche Mode are running through a surprisingly dreary headline set that’s heavy on new material but lacking in classics. Even the timeless ‘Enjoy The Silence’ falls flat. Elsewhere, Australian producer Harley Streten, aka Flume, is sweating somewhere on site, having missed his earlier flight from London. But despite arriving 10 minutes before his set is due to start, the rave kicks off when he drops ‘Stay Close’. But before the festival crowd gets too pumped with happiness helium, Crystal Castles swing by at 3am in all their terrorcore glory, and Ethan Kath and Alice Glass channel the spirit of every negative emotion human beings are capable of. Scary, but sublime.

By Sunday – much to the chagrin of everyone who’s aware of the British heatwave – Lisbon has still seen no sun whatsoever. But the final night’s indie roll-call is too stellar to let this detail ruin people’s moods. Jake Bugg opens the show with a couple of new songs, ‘They Won’t Catch Me And You’ and ‘Slumville Sunrise’, which are heavier than the tracks he plays on his debut. Tame Impala admit with some glee that they’re on the last day of their tour, and are looking to celebrate before returning home to Australia. The quintet do so by indulging themselves with extended jam sessions that sound like they’re trying to part the clouds and usher in the sun. Sadly the band’s method fails, and though airings of ‘Elephant’ and ‘Solitude Is Bliss’ keep heads nodding, it’s only when Phoenix bowl in that the crowd really starts moving. As people dance, bop and skiffle, the French quartet look happy to be celebrating Bastille Day here, as they storm through ‘If I Ever Feel Better’ to rapturous applause.

And so to the weekend’s finale: Kings Of Leon. Keeping the spirit of the American Deep South alive via the MOR stadium rock of their recent albums, ‘Sex On Fire’ and ‘Use Somebody’ are efficient arena-fillers. There’s a creeping sense, however, that the band are the musical equivalent of a Kelvin filter on Instagram; an illusion of false nostalgia. But they bash out ‘Molly’s Chambers’ with enough energy to remind you they were – and sometimes still are – capable of substance over style.

Alex Hoban