“Is it a dream? Is it a lie?” Win Butler roared during Arcade Fire’s explosive performance of “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)”. And, walking around the festival grounds of Portugal’s NOS Alive, the show’s sense of ritual still hadn’t stopped rippling through my body, a third question arose. Gigantic neon signs and posters all over read “The Dream is Real”. Looking around the beautiful city of Lisbon, the charming festival grounds, it felt a lot more like a dream than a lie, but the signs acted as a friendly reminder just in case your brain split open from all the talent on display — this was all real. In the festival world full of spectacles and posturing, it feels restorative to wipe away the thick film of anxiety and live in some musical heaven and hope for a few days.
Oh, but there was plenty of passion too, akin to a massive sports match — in fact, a lot like the Euro Cup championship run that Portugal was in the midst of leading up to the festival, and would cap with a championship victory just after. There was a celebratory sense in the entire city from the moment I landed, an almost ceremonial force amping up the already hyped atmosphere of any music festival.
NOS Alive sits perfectly in the interstitial space between sea and cultural landmarks. If you peer slightly to the right during any performance at their biggest stage Palco Nos, you’ll see old castles peering out from under bushels of vines, and to the left, the bluest ocean. There are nostalgic acts at one end and young, rising stars on the other, globetrotting headliners on one stage and remarkable Portuguese artists on another. It might not seem real when you first listen to a lyric of Radiohead, or sing along to the strings of Arcade Fire, or first experience the fado of Raquel Tavares.
But NOS Alive lures it all together, and in this constant sea of variables, having that mix as a souvenir on your musical journey through the breathtaking, beautiful city of Lisbon couldn’t have been a better reminder of reality. So, to celebrate that reality and the 10th anniversary of NOS Alive, here are 10 performances that best defined this year’s installment.