From Lollapalooza to Panorama, this is a golden age of festivals

Right now, there are more opportunities than ever to enjoy the communal experience of watching the worlds great bands at the peak of their form

Few bands, youd think, could open a Friday night headline set at a festival with five songs off the new album. Fewer could do it and still keep an audience in the tens of thousands, onside. And yet, there was a moment watching Radiohead earlier this month specifically, in the middle of Karma Police, on their second encore where two things seemed inarguable: the first, all tedious hype aside, they really are one of the greatest live acts of our time. Sorry. But I cant think of another band right now for who playing an actual hit, a mainstream crowd favourite, is a rare mythical treat rather than a festival-goers standard expectation.

And yet, their much-blogged performance of Creep at Nos Alive in Portugal wasnt even the highlight of the set; Radiohead have hit the point in their live careers where their staggering back catalogue is almost incidental. Almost. (For what its worth, a mid-set triple punch of Reckoner, Everything in its Right Place and Idioteque went straight from guts to hearts to lumps in throats.) A love letter for anyone who will see them headline Lollapalooza in Chicago on Friday night: theyre on peak form, I promise.

Peaking: Thom Yorke at Nos Alive in Portugal. Photograph: ddp USA/Rex/Shutterstock
The other thing, worth taking stock now that were midway through the season, is that we really are living through the golden age of festivals. This is really it. Its easy to scoff, given the saturation of a market flooded with endless arenas in which you can see a familiar lineup on a three month loop, but consider the flipside: you can now witness any number of acts slickly oiled to deliver the performances of their lifetime, at any given weekend, delivering at a level unthinkable two decades ago.
Governors Ball, Coachella, Bonnaroo, Panorama, Austin City Limits … Well done, the artists yes. But audience appetite also shows few serious signs of abating: weve hit festivus maximus and weve barely even registered it.

Lisbons 10th edition of Nos Alive was a case in point. It was a blockbuster spectacle, not built on the new or avant-garde but about canonical bands at the peak of their live powers. And so, transcending an astroturfed concrete carpark next to a beach were a litany of artists lab-tested for festival conditions: Arcade Fire, Pixies, Chemical Brothers, Hot Chip, Tame Impala, even Robert Plant (for whom the sorry best that my notes amounted to were: Robert Plant … is on). Watching each of them, you forgot that the dominant music geeks of the day stopped caring about bands sometime at the turn of the decade, preferring artful, game-changing practitioners of beats, atmosphere and production. Few of which, its worth pointing out, translate to the massive communal experience that festival audiences now seem to demand.


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Regine Chassagne of Arcade Fire at the WayHome music and arts festival in Oro Medonte, Canada. Photograph: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Its a situation where the likes of Arcade Fire, a band with neither a new album to promote or an absence too fondly missed, still take absolute control. Even as they arrived on stage to headline Saturday night, a seven-piece seemingly teetering on the brink of falling apart, they revved everything up to fifth gear: Keep the Cars Running, No Cars Go, Rebellion each more bonkers to take in live than the last. By all accounts, it was a performance gracefully repeated at Panorama in Long Island last weekend.

And thats the thing. Back in summers gone, a standout festival show might be remembered as one per summer: Nirvana, Reading, 1992; Pulp, Glastonbury, 1995; <a href=”″ data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>Daft Punk, Coachella, 2006. At this point, in 2016, you could do one every weekend from June through to September in Lisbon, you had a genuine handful in two nights. Even John Grant, not a man best known for being giddy in sound or spirit, was flushed, excitable and taken aback; set-closer Disappointing went fully disco, thanks to a crowd more up-for-it than any Ive seen in the five weekends of festivals Ive been to so far this year.

Festival culture is, of course, now embedded into the fabric of summer, taken for granted. The transition from when they were only ever for serious music fans to anyone even mildly into music, plus their dad is complete. For any farmer with a spare field, theres no better opportunity to open up the land: your time is now.

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