Now that I have fully recovered from the last weekend’s mudfest, I can now view it through the rose-coloured lenses of nostalgia – ‘Awww, remember that time we stood in the pouring rain and mud for 10 hours without proper rain gear and almost got trampled to death by hordes of teenage boys and I ruined my favourite pair of boots?’. Yeah, we can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible…but only the weather. The music was great.
Friday morning dawned dark and dreary and only got worse as the rain came down in sheets. Somehow, though, I expected it – after all, what’s an outdoor festival without vales of mud!
Due to some delays at the entry we missed most of The Shout Out Louds, but the small crowd that had gathered for their anthemic pop/rock was appreciative. Loved their stage backdrop. A real shame that more people didn’t see them – myself included.
Even early in the afternoon the barrier at the Main Stage was already split into two distinct fandoms – the middle and left (Brian’s side) for Placebo, and the right-hand side for Courtney Love (it was the baby-doll dresses and ripped lingerie that gave them away). I know all about the hardcore Placebo fans, but was a little surprised at the number of Courtney Love-ettes. Of course, when La Diva herself came on stage, they went bonkers in a hail of old lace and mud. A middle-aged guy in front of me made a pest of himself , so enthusiastic was he in his appreciation, and had to be removed (good riddance, arm-flailer!). As for Courtney, well, I think everyone was just happy that she made it on stage. Plastic surgery aside, she still looks good and knows what she is doing, even if it sometimes seemed a little rote. Classic Hole songs like ‘Miss World, ‘Violet’ and new song ‘Skinny Little Bitch‘ were feisty reminders of when she used to be great – a raw feminist rock girl who lived through a whole lot of shit and came out the other side, not unscathed, but at least alive. Her cover of Pearl Jam‘s ‘Jeremy’ was pretty awful (after all, who can match the distinctive baritone awesomeness of Eddie Vedder‘s voice) but it’s such a great song that I was happy she tried.
After Hole finished, I wandered over to the MTV stage and stood at the edge of the massive crowd for Belgian band Vive La Fête. I’d never seen or heard of them, although I was tipped off to their status when someone gaspingly said next to me that ‘You know they are Karl Lagerfeld‘s favourite band!’. Hmm, now there is a claim to fame. Having started with that dubious idea in my head, I wasn’t prepared for the formidable gig ahead – the glam of Scissor Sisters with the dynamics of The Gossip and the attitude of Courtney Love (back in the good ol’ days). In fact, singer Els Pynee is like Courtney Love’s sleeker, sexier, chic-er and more together counterpart. Vive La Fête (meaning ‘long live the party!’) formed when Danny Mommens, one-time dEUS bassist met Els and fell truly, madly deeply in love and decided to start up a band dedicated to ‘glamour, humour and love‘. Interestingly, they were one of the few bands at Zurich Open Air to sing in their native tongue (French) – the curse of the English language knows no bounds (more on that later). I’m an introverted kind of soul, preferring to keep my enjoyment to myself, but even I had to shake my booty (just a bit) to Vive La Fête‘s dark and sexy electro-rock.
See? Pretty amazing (thanks, Seb76zrh):
The prospect of Swedish rockers The Hives brought every teenage boy within a 100 km radius to the Main Stage. Being the only person in the room who didn’t know (or care) about The Hives, I was completely unprepared for the tidal wave of pogoing teenage boys that surged forward the moment Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist and co. set foot on the stage. I had to abandon my cosy spot at the front for the safety (and airspace) of a spot way, way back in the audience. But even from there I could see and feel the euphoria rise up from the crowd. Fetchingly kitted out in natty stockings, knickerbockers and caps, they worked the crowd into a frenzy, with Pelle’s charismatic, evangelical fervour and Little Richard-esque swagger keeping the audience under tight control. What a spectacle – and a populist one at that. Rarely have I seen an audience so entirely focused on a frontsman, but Pelle knew exactly how to keep his fieldful of muddy teenagers entranced, with rhetoric, crowd surfing and a rather majestic sense of self.
Once The Hives crowd had dissipated I managed to get to the front row for Placebo. By this stage it was sleeting torrential rain, and we must have looked a pretty pathetic sight, 12 000 people in a muddy field huddling under makeshift raincoats (the plastic rain poncho was the much sought-after object of desire of the day), because the usually reticent Brian Molko expressed his appreciation for all of us standing out there in the rain, cold and mud in the middle of the night. Or maybe he just felt he had to live up to Pelle Almqvist’s antics. Whatever the reason, we got the chatty, happy Molko that night, and it was a pleasure. Adding to my fun - ‘Bionic’ and ‘Post Blue’ were on the set list – love those two.
I often wonder why Placebo have such enduring appeal, because let’s face it, they aren’t fashionable and the music they make now isn’t outstandingly different to what they’ve done before. Perhaps it is because they straddle that fine line between alternative and mainstream, with just enough elements of each to draw audiences from both sides of the divide – although, even now one could argue that they are too popular to be called ‘alternative’. We all like to hark back to our days as melancholy, misunderstood teenagers – a space that Placebo inhabits the best. I think it’s mainly because they are very, very good at what they do. The show is slick and tight, with just the right amount of stadium-worthy hits to ensure maximum audience movement. Or perhaps it’s just that The Molko is so very pretty…
Placebo ended the gig in MSF (Medecin Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders) t-shirts, the charity partner for the Zurich Open Air. Nice move, that. Free publicity for a good cause is always good. As the last euphoric strains of ‘Taste in Men’ faded away, and the crowd screamed out their last pleas for encores and offers to have Brian’s babies, I felt an acute moment of despondency – my last Placebo gig for a while, because soon the boys will stop touring and take time off to record the next album. Well, we can’t begrudge them that, they’ve been touring Battle for the Sun for a year and a half now, and surely they want a break and to sleep in their own beds. But I cheered up at the thought of a new album next year, and my wave of post-gig euphoria soon resumed to carry me on through the long trip home.
Check out Seb76zrh’s video highlights:
Next up: Review Day Two.
I’d like to thank my partners-in-crime Bruno, Luzie and Kerrin for their fortitude throughout the day and long, long night. You guys rock!