“And now, fireworks” promises the main stage of Rock Werchter as Arctic Monkeys bring the weekend to an electrifying close. Their new album might see the band once again change things up in the most dramatic of ways, but tonight they somehow bring all those ideas, identities and defining moments of the past decade together in glorious precision.
It starts with the scarlet slink of ‘Four Out Of Five’ before the rampant thunder of ‘Brainstorm’ courses through the site. The menacing swagger of ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’ quickly follows, all curled lip snarls and teasing grins, as Arctic Monkeys fearlessly show off every daring leap and dancing confidence. With their name in lights, excitement tumbling from ever hip-shaking move and anthems for every occasion, there’s never a hint of dull or distraction as the band teeter on the edge of dangerous, grins plastered across their face. After the years of silence, the unexpected yank of ‘Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino’ and a career trajectory that’s always threatened to run away from them, Arctic Monkeys have come crashing back into the spotlight bigger, bolder and running on pure, beaming excitement.
As they hurtle through ‘’Dancefloor’, lean into the rugged excess of ‘R U Mine’ and sway to the twinkling heartburst of a ‘One Point Perspective’, Arctic Monkeys have never been greater. They’ve also never looked like they’ve got so much more to offer. Twelve years after that album and tonight, it feels like they’re just getting started. They’re still on the up. They’re not the only ones to explode under fistfuls of glittering light though. There are fireworks throughout the weekend.
George Ezra continues his summer of success, those churning songs of bloom and cheer even more captivating when sung by a full tent choir while The Vaccines’ streamlined rock ‘n’ roll celebration finds fists in the air and no time for rest as they storm through a lean, mean, fighting machine of a set that’s angled for maximum impact. The Magic Gang always shine but today, with the sun beating down on them, they dazzle as songs of hope are sung out in four-part harmony.
Friday’s headliners The Killers launch into the ‘The Man’, all shimmering light, raining confetti and unbreakable purpose, and simply don’t stop swinging. Brandon Flowers is every inch the showman, somehow looking both completely at home driving the night onwards into the unforgettable but also like this is his first time, every confident move coupled with a wide-eyed enthusiasm and relentless desire to make every moment matter.
The pulsating tumble of ‘Spaceman’ picks the crowd up and refuses to let go, ‘Run For Cover’ stomps, sparkles and twists under the trick of the light and ‘Mr. Brightside’ is so good, they play it twice. A fan is invited onto the stage to play drums for ‘A Reason Unknown’, before being asked to leave because only the best will do. You don’t get to spend over a decade at the top by letting average in and tonight, The Killers are never anything but brilliant.
Gorillaz history is bathed in less glory. There’s been highs, lows and plenty in between and that’s something new album ‘The Now Now’ knows. The band still have something to prove, and perhaps they always will, but as they cry “Hello, is there anyone there?” before kicking into the frantic tear of ‘M1A1’, it’s brutally obvious that the band have finally found their purpose. They know what they are, and they play to their strengths.
Songs of universal connection, anthems of daydream escape and the chaotic fight for a better tomorrow come together under kaleidoscopic influence and impact. ‘Humility’ sees them looking at the clouds, finding hidden shapes and enjoying getting lost in the scale of it all while ‘Stylo’ wastes no time in hitting the road, dirt under the nails and the horizon in the rear view mirror. ‘Feel Good Inc.’ is a ray of positivity, ‘Kids With Guns’ is altered to celebrate Belgian International Eden Hazard (though Damon’s attempt at starting a chant for Harry Kane is less successful) before the looming, ominous party of ‘Clint Eastwood’ brings things to a chaotic, joyous and madcap close as Gorillaz go into the night, larger than life once more.
Elsewhere Franz Ferdinand play to a capacity tent, despite Belgium playing (and winning) their World Cup game against Brazil at the same time. The band play a little bit of everything, embracing their past but always facing forward, as their set bubbles with vigorous energy and they have the time of their lives while Sigrid continues to be everything you want from a pop star and more. Her slowly expanding catalogue of singles has been revealing a fluid artist and live, it’s nothing short of spectacular as the angled pieces come together.
Jorja Smith is a powerful force of nature, all heart and soul while PVRIS are now performing without the weight of the world on their shoulders. Unburdened and having the best time, their shadowy songs of fury, frustration and haunted existence are twisted into triumphant anthems of persistence and dream chasing.
Every time Idles play, they tap into something secret and unspoken. Not only does their set inspire the most physical reaction we see all weekend, it connects to something deeper. At one point, their songs were inspired by an anger but through sharing, sentiment and stage, it’s grown beyond that. That aggression isn’t trying to push people away, it’s a tool to unite. And from the juddering crash of ‘Heel/Heal’, through the jutting chest of ‘Mother’, the stomping circle of ‘Well Done’ and ‘Samaritans’ slow-burning exploration of masculinity, Idles connect full body, full heart, with everyone present.
On the same stage, Wolf Alice take a break from the stadiums they’ve been playing with Foo Fighters but they’re never ones to rest on their laurels. Bringing spectacular and wonderful, the band carve their way through a set that shows off just how far the gang can reach without ever losing control or dimming that special spark that zaps between them.
‘Your Loves Whore’ aches with nostalgic want before ‘Yuk Foo’ rips, shreds and tears into being here, in this moment. The lyrics are roared, wanting to be heard while ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ hangs in the air, twinkling with cinematic hope and everyday affection. ‘Visions Of A Life’ is an album that weaves its way through those extremes but a year on the road has taught Wolf Alice how to be everything all at once. Just when you thought they couldn’t get any more exciting, they summon, grow, shock, surprise and delight and today, that all comes thick, fast and without apology.
‘Love Is Dead’ saw CHVRCHES become the sort of band they’ve always wanted to be. Live, the same sort of evolution has taken place. Sure, they’ve got an actual drummer now which has changed things, giving the songs more of a bite and a flex, but that shift has flowed through everything else as well. From the broken kisses that line the stage to the way Lauren, Iain and Martin lean into the crowd, embracing the spotlight and leading the charge, CHVRCHES throw their shoulders back and stand tall.
‘Get Out’ runs on first, all handclaps and unsure reflections before the unblinking threat of ‘Gun’ keeps promises with a smirk. The first quarter is great, but it’s the back to back inhale of ‘Graffiti’, ‘Miracle’ and ‘Forever’ that see CHVRCHES become something truly incredible. It could be the energy of the new, the settling into a new space or the simple fact that they’re stone-cold bangers, but almost instantly, everything changes. The tent crackles with jubilance, the band drop the last few crumbs of whatever was holding them back and as one, everyone lets go. From here on out, the band rampage with glistening brilliance until the grinning urgency of ‘The Mother We Share’ and the eternal flame of ‘Never Say Die’ bring things to a glorious, blood-letting conclusion.
There’s a lot going on at Rock Werchter. The lineup strikes a balance between established rock bands, fizzing newcomers and neon drenched dance. The only rule is hits. Everyone’s got ‘em, from Stereophonics, The Kooks and Noel Gallagher to Anne Marie, Anderson .Paak, Vince Staples and Post Malone. There’s one band who deal exclusively in bangers though, and that’s Pale Waves. Over the course of the past eighteen months, they’ve learnt that it takes more than great songs to be great live. Lessons learnt and hard work done every day, today Pale Waves are spellbinding. Every song feels like a moment, a memory that’ll last forever, and the band treat each one with care. It’s not just the crowd that this means the world to. ‘Television Romance’, ‘Heavenly’ and ‘Kiss’ are stars, dazzling and blinding as the band throw their whole weight into their gravitational pull while the slow dance of ‘Heavenly’ sees them toy with moments of calm, moments of tension and moments of release. There’s an urgency to the way Pale Waves attack their set, but there’s also the calm knowledge that they’ve got this. It was always going to end one way though. It doesn’t matter how many times you hear ‘There’s A Honey’, it still courses through your body like it’s the first time. A classic with the sheen still intact, it’s angular, razor sharp but sugar sweet. Finding new colours in the red and the black, the band are on the verge of something wonderful. It’s only going to go one way and now, fireworks.