Lisbon’s NOS Alive festival has been around, in some iteration or another, since 2007. In the last 10 years, it’s garnered a reputation similar to other European fests: an overall layout or setting that’s just a bit more civilized than many American counterparts (consider the tame waterfront park of NOS vs. the sprawling humid fields of a Bonnaroo or Firefly), with lineups often more uniquely curated than the US summer circuit, showcasing local stars alongside international headliners. This year’s NOS has currently ever-present fest choices like the Weeknd, but it also has the Foo Fighters (who aren’t doing many American festivals in 2017) and artists like Depeche Mode adding something different to the mix.
While a lot of the on the ground buzz centers around synth-y Euro indie pop — alt-J, Phoenix, and the xx all drew fervent crowds last night — it’s a bit striking to realize just how rock NOS Alive’s upper tier is compared to a lot of other major festivals these days. Alongside Foo Fighters, you have classicist-leaning indie stalwarts like Spoon, the beloved modern post-punk assault of Savages, the triumphant return of Fleet Foxes, and an old riff-driven curiosity like the Cult with significantly high billing. And last night, we had the ever-reliable Ryan Adams, who summed up all that by thanking the crowd for still believing in the power of rock ‘n’ roll.
And more so than with any of his slight modulations or shifting backing bands of the last several years, the Ryan Adams on this current run behind Prisoner is all about Rock Music. Perhaps partially because it was a festival set with slightly limiting time constraints, Adams wasn’t messing around– he came out roaring with a slightly sped up reading of “Do You Still Love Me?” and paired it with “To be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)” and “Gimme Something Good,” collectively making for a hell of an opening salvo.
The song selection stayed that course through much of the set, as did the way Adams played them. “Magnolia Mountain” was, as always, a standout, and this time came with an extra jammy detour through the middle. “Outbound Train” doubled down on its Springsteen-indebted pulse live, continuing to prove it’s one of the best of Adams’ new songs and a track that effortlessly fits in with older classics in a live set. Even moments that could’ve been calmer came with a lot of firepower: “When The Stars Go Blue” almost — almost — flirted with power ballad territory thanks to the thicker, electric treatment, and “New York, New York” felt like it had as much propulsion as more unhinged moments like “Shakedown On 9th Street.”
The whole thing was very take no prisoners — sorry for the DRA 2017 pun — and Adams barely stopped to talk, which is sort of out of character for the guy often adept at loopy, goofy stage banter and the occasional improvised song based on said stage banter. But he did find time to take a hilarious shot at alt-J, who had played a few hours earlier. “We’re sorry about alt-J,” he told the crowd towards the end of his set. “It’s like a mosquito bite — if you ignore it, it’ll go away. I’m just kidding. I love Nickelodeon. It’s a great channel.” Aside from that, he saved his vitriol for a bigger target, saying goodbye to the audience with a “I’m sorry our president’s a fucking moron, we love you!”
All that — the Grateful Dead noodling and the alt-J vendetta — could feel a little uncomfortable when you’re in a crowd where there are way too many fedoras and a bit too much bro-excitement about this or that guitar line. But while a band like Foo Fighters is still a major draw, there isn’t always room for a traditionalist like Adams to shine at a contemporary mainstream festival. Last night, it was mostly all business, a professional run-through of the hits from a nearly 20 year solo career now — and, altogether, it was a reminder of just how unstoppable Adams can be onstage, especially when he has electric guitars turned way, way up.