July 19, 2012
Review: Optimus Alive, Lisbon. 13th-15th July.
As one of the first dominoes to teeter in the Eurozone debt crisis, Portugal has more of a need to blow off steam than most right now. Optimus Alive — a festival now in its fifth year and with a consistently high-calibre line up despite its relative infancy — provides the country with a great opportunity to do just that, with crowds flocking from all over Europe to join them in the stunning, historic city of Lisbon.
The 2012 edition has a distinctly British feel to it. Partly, that’s due to the proliferation of UK acts on the bill, and partly it’s down to the wealth of commercial activity (Optimus itself is a major player in the Portuguese mobile phone industry). This isn’t a festival for stumbling across those undiscovered acts in small stages on the outer reaches of the site: its MO is low-cost, brand-heavy and line up-focused: far more Reading & Leeds than Glastonbury.
Friday night goes for the jugular, hedging its bets with a range of crowd-pullers. Snow Patrol’s trudging stadium-indie is offset rather bizarrely by an amped up LMFAO; their over-hyped dance pop —an enjoyable blend of semi-ironic school disco and Wombles-like novelty — filling the tent at the second stage and spilling out over the thousands unable to get inside.
The Stone Roses, off home soil and away from the excitable hype of the recent Heaton Park shows, give a decent enough account of their travelling nostalgia show to a mixed crowd of slightly perplexed Europeans and raucous travelling Brits, Brown’s characteristically off-key vocal performance not proving too much of an issue through sing along-friendly hits like ‘Waterfall’ and ‘Made Of Stone’. Customary closer ‘I Am The Resurrection’ and a decent workout of ‘Fools Gold’ are highlights, and the swaggering frontman even slips a verse of the Eric B & Rakim classic ‘Paid In Full’ into the instrumental break of ‘Love Spreads’.
Headline slot over, the festival reverts to night mode with local kuduro dance music collective Buraka Som Sistema bringing their brand of stimulated West African-infused techno to the second stage, while Justice lighten the mood further still, rolling out their French house classics like the bastard child of Daft Punk that they are.
Saturday eases itself in with some early-evening fare from The Antlers. The Brooklyn quartet’s coming-of-age has culminated in upcoming EP ‘Undersea’: four tracks of melodic and unhurried dream pop, all of which get an airing here alongside cuts from last year’s impressive Burst Apart.
There are more tedious things happening elsewhere however, as the National Trust-sponsored folk whinge of Mumford & Sons — and Noah And The Whale’s saccharine indie-pop — precede an awkwardly out-of-place appearance from Morcheeba; the ’90s trip-poppers arriving at the last minute to replace Florence & The Machine who pulled out due to vocal cord trouble.
Tricky is on fine form, whether brooding his way through ‘Hell Is Round The Corner’ and ‘Murder Weapon’ or inciting a stage invasion for a thunderous ‘Ace Of Spades’ cover, before The Cure fill their headline slot with another of their familiar three-hour sets of rigidly tight hits as a cool Portuguese breeze blows in from the Atlantic, taking the edge off the daytime heat.
The festival’s token club tent rarely inspires aside from a fun turn from James Murphy and LCD bandmate Pat Mahoney on Saturday night, while away from the stages there is very little happening at all by way of entertainment, and the temptation to nip off and explore Lisbon’s beautiful old quarter grows during the more uninspiring musical moments.
This doesn’t matter so much on Sunday, whose stellar line up keeps the mind and feet from wandering too far from the action. Warpaint are always a treat, their psychedelic post-rock given a clinically funky edge by Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa’s thrilling rhythm section. A lengthy version of ‘Elephants’, complete with soaring vamp out, is a particular highlight, and closes a well-received set.
Many of the sold out 55,000 crowd on Sunday are fresh with day tickets in hand in amongst those nearing the end of the three day slog in the heat — the attendance so high due to a Radiohead headline slot in one of the Oxford band’s first shows following the tragic events in Toronto that resulted in the death of drum tech Scott Johnson.
They are an eternally massive draw, and prove why over the course of a couple of hours with a set that dips into a highly esoteric back catalogue and pulls out perfectly executed versions of recent tracks such as ‘15 Steps’ and ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’, mixing them with a few old favourites like ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ and a particularly haunting ‘Lucky’. An admirable, if slightly off-putting Portuguese tendency to clap along to almost everything comes to a disorientating head during ‘Pyramid Song’’s jaunty time signatures, but there’s a palpable awestruck feel to the thousands gawping at Yorke et al. It’s a completely different proposition to the nostalgic warmth of The Stone Roses and The Cure’s respective performances, one that even the most hard-hearted Radiohead resistors must surely doff their cap to.
Encores of ‘Paranoid Android’ and ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ (complete with a few bars of R.E.M’s ‘The One I Love’ as an intro) precede an electrifying ‘Idioteque’ and surprise closer ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’, the band showing as much reverence to their formative past as their imperious present.
Positioning Radiohead as final-day headliners is a shrewd move, in keeping with the general air of slickness to the whole of Optimus Alive. Sometimes this translates as sterility, sometimes as an impressive feat of festival management. Yet if there is not much that appeals on the 2013 line up, it would be best to stay away.
Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON