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FESTIVAL REPORT: Nos Alive
Anna Wood , July 22nd, 2015 08:31

Anna Wood reports on a night in Lisbon watching a trio of brilliant British bands at Nos Alive: Mogwai, Sleaford Mods and Jesus And Mary Chain

Photo courtesy of Ana Viotti/Sidestage Collective

A few miles north of Lisbon, Nos Alive festival is 55,000 people, about 60 bands, three stages, and very hot and dusty. There are stalls everywhere and young men walking around with Heineken backpacks, siphoning out pints if you have the right change. The lineup is pretty standard for a 2015 European festival – big names, little names, dance acts, a bit of comedy. On one stage on the Saturday night there is a three-headed beast of joy – Sleaford Mods followed by Mogwai followed by The Jesus And Mary Chain. We want to explore the winding lanes of old Lisbon while we're here, plus we have a very nice hotel with a pool, so we decide we're going to put all our festival eggs in this glorious Saturday night basket.

It's reassuring and exciting when you find out that a band everyone has been saying are amazing actually are amazing, on record and live. Sleaford Mods open with 'Silly Me', which reminds me of 'King Of The Slums' (a good thing) and listening to trip hop in the 90s while getting stoned and having insights about the prison industrial complex (also a good thing, although I realise it sounds pretty dreadful). Andrew Fearn, behind the laptop with a pint and a fag, looks like Matthew McConaughey very much gone to seed. He's fairly static – he sways and nods, hand in pocket, occasionally pressing a button on that laptop, occasionally singing or shouting along – but he is so obviously and thoroughly delighted to be here that he's almost as captivating as his bandmate. Jason Williamson shouts and sings and gurns with fury, has a fancy little foot shuffle and a repertoire of unsettling, appealing, obscene and comic (often all at the same time) gestures. There's a raging mince, Carry On-style nipple poking, blowing raspberries into the mic, a frantic fake masturbating, tongue flicks, that thing he does when he strums the side of his head; there are thumbs up to the crowd, too, and there's a bit when he puts his finger in the back of his T-shirt and runs about, head down, like a rhino. Mainly though he is angry and clever and appalled. At times he reminds me of Billie Whitelaw's livid mouth in Beckett's 'Not I'.

They launch into 'Bunch Of Cunts', and the crowd of mainly Portuguese youth is singing along, with them all the way. There are grins too and, although maybe some of them are 'grinning in a patronising way' as Williamson put it recently, there is also a relief and joy in hearing someone so righteously and brilliantly fucked off. Sleaford Mods are comic, sort of – they are easy to imagine as cartoon characters (this is true of pretty much any great band, or so says my half-baked theory on it) – but it's serious comedy. There's great power to be had in saying, loudly, how shit things are. Over and over again.

Williamson is clear, between songs, about some of the targets of his rage. It's three days after Osborne's 'emergency budget', and Fizzy is "dedicated to the people at Number 11… you horrible fat English bastard". 'Jobseeker' is "dedicated to anyone who's having money trouble." The lyrics, of course, are stranger and angrier and more brilliant and confusing than the dedications. He's got the surreal rage and the dark, domestic details of Mark E Smith, but he's angrier (and not creepy). He's doing us a public service, really – sticking his furious, demented head above the parapet to shout "FUCK OFF YOU BUNCH OF CUNTS" and, "SACK THE FUCKING MANAGER", because we're all too shy and polite (and scared of losing our jobs) to do it.

And as they finish, he says, "We've had a lovely time, we hope you have too." Why would it be surprising that an angry man has such lovely manners? What nonsense are we falling for if we think that being polite is the same as being complacent?

Jason leaves the stage and Andrew takes pics of the crowd on his phone, looking as chuffed as ever. Then he approaches the mic. "Has anyone got any weed? I'm gasping for a fucking spliff." A few whoops, but no spliff is forthcoming, so he shrugs and helps the roadies pack up.

Soon after, on the same stage, Mogwai at once flatten and uplift us with a sternum-shaking, sinus-clearing set that covers their two decades of delicate but massive guitarnoise – "ants and elephants music", as my friend describes it. I was ready for something quite cerebral, because I'd forgotten how exciting they are live. There's rave lights too (and glow sticks in the crowd) for Mexican Grand Prix, and a foggy heavy haze to match the foggy heavy vibes in 'Hunted By A Freak'. The colossal Mogwai Fear Satan inspires what may be the world's first postrock clap-along. Stuart Braithwaite, with his glass of red wine, says "obrigado" a lot, and it does sound lovely in that accent. He sings sweetly on new-ish track 'Teenage Exorcists' and it's like old-fashioned 80s indie pop made strident and monumental. There's a brief technical hitch during the encore – the music stops suddenly, the bassist sips his beer, there's distant noise from the rave tent across the site – and it serves as a glancing reminder that this is actually just five Scottish men playing and not an actual natural phenomenon. And then whoomph, we're back in the game. Braithwaite is all grins again, and says "thank you" and "obrigado", and then – with giddy excitement, as if he's only just remembered himself – he says: "The Jesus and Mary Chain are on next!"

Thirty years after Psychocandy, The Jesus And Mary Chain are touring and playing that whole dearly beloved album, ATP style, and it's also even more exciting than I'd expected. Jim Reid is still louche and skinny, hanging off the mic stand like a proper rock star, hunched over and holding on tight (he and Bobby Gillespie have the same Glaswegian singer posture, just like Ian Brown and Liam Gallagher have the same Manc singer posture). Maybe the 30th anniversary makes it feel more nostalgic, but they seem especially romantic and swoony tonight, in love with rock & roll: the Hal Blaine 'boom boom-boom tssh' from Be My Baby; Jim Reid's doo-doo-doos, like he's remembering Lou Reed remembering doo-wop. The non-album songs they play at the end – Head On, Some Candy Talking, Reverence – send me into non-linear time, gazing at Jim through the green haze, thinking of the Shangri-Las and John Hughes movies ("This would be great in a prom scene!" I exclaim, shitfaced) and the Ramones and the Velvet Underground. Later on, all wise and philosophical with booze, we come up with a summary of our Saturday night: Sleaford Mods are reality, they're harsh and funny and there's no escape; Mogwai are imagination and nature, powerful and beautiful; The Jesus And Mary Chain are dreams and romance, and play-acting until it becomes real. And now we're off to the rave tent.

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