Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Lisboa report I: Sound exhibition, Radiohead, The Kills

I'm no longer doing my reviews in chronological order, I'm that behind on blog work. But I'm catching up, I'm getting there. Here is the first of a two-part series on my musical experiences while spending a week in Lisbon last month.

C* listening intently to Excepter
The most noteworthy experience we had in Lisbon was art-related. We ventured out of the old city centre and took a tram out to the Museu Colecção Berardo, a space built to accommodate the impressive modern art collection of Portuguese millionaire José Berardo. Entry to the museum is free to the public and pretty much all art movements of the 20th century are represented and informatively presented. To our delight, while there, we stumbled into a small temporary sound art exhibition called O Novo Ofício (The New Trade). It displayed pieces of sound equipment and art associated with music and sound collages, starting with Eric Satie and moving up to contemporary musicians like Excepter, Black Dice, and Jandek. It was the most amazing exhibition and I wish it could move to Berlin for all of you to see. You were given MP3 players with songs and you would select the relevant track to the piece of art or musical equipment you were looking at. Some pieces involved the visitor by encouraging play, others were off-limits to the public. We spend a lot of time in those two small rooms. My favourite pieces were those by John Cage, a rondel of record players and literally hundreds of records that you could play as you chose, and by Excepter. They had chosen to transform a hot dog cart into a boom box stand with candy and skulls and bones added. The chosen song was so good I listened to it three times in a row, all too aware that J. had been seeing them at West Germany only the night before. Magic.

Our primary reason for our little travel to the Mediterranean was the Optimus Alive festival, which we had to attend in a work-related matter. The Kills were playing the festival on the stage sponsored by a beer brand at 1:50 am. (On a side note: that brand seems to follow us around. A week later, we would see Moon Duo at another sponsored event, not to speak of the beer sponsored festival that The Kills played earlier last month - when did that beer brand become so interested in sponsoring music events?) Now I seriously lack rock'n'roll credentials since I struggle to sustain stamina past midnight. However, my partner had a lot of work on his plate and I could watch Radiohead, making the time pass surprisingly fast. I was getting into the Portuguese late-night spirit. 

Over the years, I have come across a considerable amount of Radiohead fanatics. This band is adored unlike any other, mainly for being hyper-intelligent musicians and rebellious in its approach with the music business and press. Or so it appears. Of course, I was curious to see them live. They headlined the main stage from 10:30 pm until 0:30 am and during that time, no acts were scheduled for the other two smaller stages. All the attention was directed at this genius supergroup. And the attention they got, and probably deserved. I for myself came away a little disappointed. Musically, the band sounded like they do on record, but with deeper vocals. Visually, a live film show was being projected of the members playing, but with art effects. So you couldn't actually see the band playing if you were at the back of the crowd. This was a professionally organised and delivered show, musically and visually. But in my view, it lacked that genius artistic element that is always associated with Radiohead. It came nowhere near popular artistic performers like Björk. If anything, it reminded me a lot of U2 and Coldplay. Now you may argue that this is harsh judgement on my part, but to be honest, I saw Coldplay twice in the early 2000 and they were pretty good.

To be honest, when we came away from Radiohead, a little bored and tired, I was ready to go back to the hotel. Luckily, I sat out the time while Jamie and Alison were doing their press interviews and got to see The Kills play. Naturally, I have seen them play so many times over the past 10 years, and especially on the campaign of their latest album. So in theory, I should have grown bored of it, and I cannot deny that I kind of know the show by now. But it is true what they say: it is the fans that make the show what it is. And this is what happened. The Kills are incredibly professional and well rehearsed by now, having toured with this album for a year and a half. But fans are unpredictable and react differently in every place. In this instance, not having played in Portugal for years, many people had shown up to the festival just to see Jamie and Alison play. More fans came to see the show that fit in the tent, with people watching outside on big screens as well. There was fanatical support for the band, heck, there were even lighters lit during the slow songs. I have not seen anything like this before. We are still talking about an indie band here. It was such good fun watching an amazing show, but more importantly all this fan behaviour, from stage. Simply great.


  1. I have just found this photo stream of the New Trade exhibition online - some good pictures of the exhibition.

  2. Furthermore, here is some more info about the exhibition in English:

    Also, if you go to the official exhibition site as linked above, you get to hear the tracks from the individual pieces. The Excepter song is absolutely amazing, but so is the Black Dice one and some of the really old stuff. Check it out.