Well that was an immense few days. There’s not much you can’t do in Rock In Rio Lisbon. From watching electronic music gods and indie rock n’ roll hitmakers, to swimming and zip-lining. World cup on the mainstage, and a rock 'n' roll president – it had it all. Here’s what Gigwise learned at this very fine mid-summer festival in the capital of Portugal.
Jessie J really loves herself
“Whenever anyone asks you to name three things you love, no-one ever says ‘myself’,” Jessie said in the middle of a soul pop set crammed with confidence-boosting platitudes and self-help sloganeering. To be honest, it’s pretty rare anyone asks us to name three things we love, and even then the conversation is pretty close to an end at that point, but ‘myself’ wouldn’t get a look in in a world where wine gums, cocaine and terriblerealestatephotos.com exist.
The Killers know their chicken
When they’re not bursting the space/time continuum with their gigantic Vegas rock hooks, The Killers love a good spit-roast. Their favourite Lisbon chicken hot-spot, their tour manager told us, is Bonjardim, the rustic downtown locals’ favourite where we headed for lunch the next day to discover that Flowers and co certainly know their Nando’s from their no-gos.
London needs its own version of Lisbon’s Time Out Market
At the back of the site lurked a large tent housing an onsite foodie pop-up version of Lisbon’s famous Time Out Market. Here, renowned Michelin-starred chefs transferred their stalls from the market’s larger riverside home at the Mercado da Ribeira – a real foodie paradise akin to Heston Blumenthal putting together your local Boxpark – to Rock In Rio, serving highlight dishes such as crayfish risotto, top-end croquettes and the sort of magnificent pork burgers that only Kate Moss has ever tasted at a festival before, thanks to a helicoptered-in personal chef. Inspired by the culinary works of Alexandre Silva and Vitor Sobral, we hit the town-based market too, and snaffled up a none-more-chocolate éclair that tasted as though it dropped straight from beneath God’s fingernail. How do we start one of those annoying online petitions to get one opened in London?
Football is great at festivals
Unlike British Summer Time Hyde Park which is not stopping all the concerts to show the England V Sweden World Cup game. Shock, horror. Rock In Rio Lisbon has respect for its national team that exceeds that of British promoters. It was great hearing the game blasted out on the main stage and the drama from the tens of thousands of fans in the festival as close to being at the game as we were likely get anywhere. It was all fun and games until they lost. They were hopeful and passionate until the dying seconds then the final whiste turned everyone weary and mournful. Quite an odd scene. Nevertheless, the crowd were soon back on the horse buyoyed at the prospect of Katy Perry brining her lavish pop ceremony to the stage.
Right shark was robbed
Katy Perry’s closing night show was a sublime surreal spectacular full of dancing eyeballs, breast-grabbing dice, giant flamingos, Burton-esque fly people and military warchickens. Perry herself pranced around to mega-hits like ‘Roar’, ‘Cali Girls’, ‘Chained To The Rhythm’ and ‘Teenage Dream’ in outfits resembling a sexy C3-P0 and Glitterpatra, or in a dot-matrix bra displaying the lyrics, her tits effortlessly upstaging Matt Bellamy’s lyric glasses from the previous weekend. But the most memorable part of the show was the cameo of Left Shark, celebrated as a hero. Which only made us feel for poor Right Shark, who did everything right but was flung aside like sharky garbage while his useless counterpart went on to international fame and fortune. It’s like Andrew Ridgely guesting with Elton John while George Michael watches from the crowd, dressed as a promotional hot dog. What sort of aspirational message is that to fling at our pop kids, Perry?
Xutos & Pontapes gave the ultimate posthumous tribute to their late guitarist
It was another day at the office for Xutos & Pontapes - who dominated the Portuguese rock scene since the 1970s - as they played a superb punk rock/classic rock set. This was until they reached their penultimate song and started paying tribute to the life of their late, great guitarist Ze Pedro. The guitarist whose life was ended at 61 after contracting a liver disease. For the cereomonial ending to their set, they put footage on the huge screens from the 2009 concert of them at a stadium in Portugal jamming out `Para Ti Maria'. We see the guitarist in rude health, topless looking like a young Keith Richards whilst hammering at his Les Paul. The band, visually moved since the guitarist`s relatively recent death, held it together to perform all other parts bar his recorded one. It was a truly strong tribute and a heart-warming moment for those affected by his death. Respect to Rock In Rio Lisbon for pulling this off, especially for allowing a stage invasion whereby public figures of authority and close friends and relatives to came on for the last song.
The Portuguese President is their Corbyn
Gangly suited grandad and president of Portugal Marcelo Rebelo De Sousa was talk of the town in Rock In Rio Lisbon. His politics may not align entirely with Corbyn’s as he’s center-right wing with a rhetoric that focuses on economic growth over lavish public spending. But young people we spoke to are very supportive of him and his appearance with a huge entourage at Rock In Rio Lisbon echoed the joy people in Glastonbury gave Corbyn in 2017. Of the long trail of people that followed him on stage to pay tribute to Ze Pedro, an English woman stood beside me joked: “It’s like a Stormzy gig” which is a pretty apt analysis. There was a tight-knit sense of unity among those coming on stage with Sousa and he's seen below comforting widow Cristina Moreira. Kids watching could see that politicians aren’t all dry and have a rock ‘n’ roll streak which could inspire a new generation to be more informed and listen and have an opinion what’s going on politically. Onwards and upwards.
The spirit of Rio itself was brought by Anitta
Rock In Rio Lisbon is the sister event of the massive Brazilian version. But being thousands of miles the other side of the Atlantic didn’t mean we were left alienated from the raunchy city. The twerk master Anitta – Brazil’s new pop megastar, who has had a collaboration with Major Lazer – flew in a bombastic representation of the highly charged carnival feel of the City of God. Arriving on stage with the letters ‘BANG’ in bold with a troupe of dancers we were treated to a slick set of dancefloor-fillers that fuse Latin rhythms with ultra-modern bass-heavy production. Akin to much of her music videos, the set was all about shaking ass and the camera man didn’t show much of her face at all for a large part of it. Gasp. Dancers of all shapes, sizes and gender were involved, making it a production that’s seemingly listened to the mistakes in pop over the years; especially the one that over-glamourizes certain body types. Plus, the male dancers did well to advocate expression that isn’t overly macho. An unlikely source of progressive fun.
Este Haim rock’s the best bass face
It’s the epitome of how to pull a bass face and the cameraman knew it. He would hone in on her trademark ‘look’ throughout the afternoon set where Haim made the most of the amazing soundsystem. The three sisters backed by an awesome drummer blasted through cinematic pop with clever r&b vocal arrangements and more rugged classic rock riffage. It was their last gig of the second album campaign and they’ve become much more nuanced live force than their AOR rock heavy shows back in and around 2013. Incorporating more synth, it was the sound of dawn after a heavy night out at a 90s rave in a quarry at one point, which is no bad thing around these parts.
Rock In Rio knows how to lay on an experience
There’s a street dancing stage. A dinosaur park. A Star Wars photo op. A gaming tent previewing the latest triple-A console releases. A swimming pool overlooking the second stage, where Lisbon’s eternally beach-bodded parade their lithesome stuff. Oh, did we mention the frigging zipwire over the main stage? RIR is so crammed with experience that six-year-old boys are emerging after just one weekend as heavily bearded, fully-grown men.
Video needs more exposure at big festivals
We love listening to music but sometimes video is what brings a track more alive. Plus with video making software and hardware more affordable than ever there are so many great visual artists who need a platform. Hats off then to The Chemical Brothers for showcasing the work of their favourite visual artists who have created the ultimate manifestation of the sound for these odd-ball dance juggernauts. In addition to videos made from people who’ve a lot in common with the St.Martins students who’ve dabbled with the most psychotropic substances, the light show was a spectacle. They didn’t skimp on hits either with ‘Block Rockin' Beats,’ Galvanize’, and ‘Hey Boy, Hey Girl’ a feast for the ears at this sweaty late night rave.
James had a vital political message: “Fuck Brexit”
With our politicians not representing the open borders many British people – especially those in the music industry have – want to have with the rest of Europe, it’s up to people with a platform like James’ to speak for the people who feel disenfranchised by Brexit. Leaving the stage after an amazing show where they peformaned ‘Sit Down’ as the second tune to treat those who braved the bit of rain that we had - their guitarist sauntered to the front of the stage opened his blazer with the t-shirt that said “Fuck Brexit”. Aside form right-on political messages, they belted through plenty of bangers that got a rousing reception. Inspired by the musicians around him, Tim Booth was on fine form doing his usual flailing around and being the closest thing Britain has to Michael Stipe in terms of charisma and songwriting. Great band.