Vodafone Paredes de Coura 2023

Death, taxes, rain at the Vodafone Paredes de Coura festival. This year, it fell in fewer people than usual, though: the festival reported a 80k attendance figure (an average of 20 thousand people per day), as opposed to the usual 100k. The result was a (even more) pleasant experience for everyone: there were virtually no queues (except, of course, for food at peak hour), most grass stayed green for most of the festival, as it should, and shows didn’t feel crowded. It was a difficult festival to book bands for in 2023, according to the festival director, as the only big headliner capable of drawing thousands by themselves was Lorde. On the bright side, there was only one late cancellation, as The Last Dinner Party could not travel to Portugal; MДQUIИД., who had already performed in the first of five official warm up nights at the town centre, took their place in the lineup.

The next edition of the festival – which already has five “incredible” confirmed bookings, although it will take a few months until they’re announced – will take place from 14-17 August 2024.

© Hugo Lima | |

10 Jessie Ware

Stellar headline show from the queen of the hill. Jessie Ware‘s staging was pretty sober for a big pop name – something we later saw, again, at the Lorde show – with her name in giant neon lights, a few dancers and backing vocalists, and her band towards the back of the stage. Bangers all around (including a crowdpleasing version of Cher’s “Believe”). The only valid complaint about Ware’s show is how short it was, at under an hour. Sure, her live shows now focus exclusively on her more poppy, disco-infused last two albums, but if she wants to, I’m sure she’ll find a way of integrating songs off Devotion, Tough Love or Glasshouse into her set.

© Hugo Lima | |


Playing the (smaller) Yorn stage after Lee Fields, the Dutch quartet didn’t have an easy task, but quickly conquered the small – in comparison with most bands playing after dark, that is – crowd with their mostly instrumental, Eastern-influenced funk songs. Highlights include the debut of a couple of songs off a yet unnamed forthcoming album, the countless comments of people comparing them to “Tarantino soundtracks”, and the fantastic set closer “Dis kô dis kô” (the one I always talk about whenever I write about them).

© Hugo Lima | |

8 black midi

It wasn’t the best show I’ve seen by the lads. After all, this was my seventh rodeo in under 6 years. But black midi‘s triumphant return for a headline slot at the Paredes de Coura main stage (after a small stage debut in the Schlagenheim era) was still one of the best shows of the 2023 edition of the festival. The consistent rain and muddy pit were only a minor inconvenience for a (often topless) crowd hungry for guitars during the most eclectic day of the festival. Throw in an absurdly raucous ending combo (“John L” + “953”) and, well, the next day you wake up to find out there’s no grass remaining near the stage.

© Hugo Lima | |

7 Squid

The Brighton quintet shows up on stage with a horizontal disposition towards the front of the stage, drummer and lead singer Ollie Judge dead center. More bands should try this. Starting off by debuting “Green Light” off O Monolith and smoothly segueing into the gorgeous “single” “Swing (In a Dream)”, it didn’t take long until Squid reached the core of Bright Green Field (“G.S.K.”, “Narrator”) and made the crowd move. (As always happens in this festival, play the drums fast enough and 20 kids take off their shirts and start moshing and crowdsurfing). We left for Jessie Ware while they were ripping into the brilliant “Peel St.”, so we missed the dude pretending he was Bez during “Pamphlets”, dancing around the stage until he was dragged away by security.

© Hugo Lima | |

6 Fever Ray

In the history of Paredes de Coura, few shows have left the crowd as puzzled as The Knife’s headline performance back in 2013 – our review got lost somewhere in a Blogger-to-Tumblr-to-Wordpress migration, but this Quietus review from the same show says it all. Ten years later, this incarnation of Fever Ray is definitely more palatable for the less adventurous festivalgoer. But “more conventional” doesn’t mean much in Karin Dreijer’s world, and it certainly doesn’t equate with “boring”. After all, each show is still equal parts concert and performance. It helps that this year’s Radical Romantics sounds great live, from the slow-burner “Kandy” to the Reznor/Ross-produced revenge story “Even It Out”, the highlight of the whole set.

5 ascendant vierge

Just like last year, one of the highlights of the entire fest came at the very end. After the classic post-headliner aftervideo/LCD Soundsystem celebratory tune/balloon release/next year’s dates announcement (August 14-17, btw) at the main stage, whoever wasn’t dying to go home congregated at the afterhours stage for an hour of gabber revival. Brussels duo ascendant vierge might have released only their second album earlier this Spring, but singer Mathilde Fernandez (joined sometimes at the front of the stage by DJ/producer Paul Seul) knows how to command a crowd. Of course this is easier when you start up proceedings with a French version of Danny L Harle’s Harlecore modern classic “On a Mountain”, but that was the soft part of the set. It was, of course, the “hard” version of their hit “Influenceur” that really set the ravers on fire, 170bpm and all. Remember, kids, hardcore will never die, but you will.

© Hugo Lima | |

4 julie

The members of julie don’t look like they were around the last time someone willingly used Windows 95, but that didn’t stop them from using Win95 imagery in their looping background video. Plus, the blue light from the routinely shown BSOD made the Californian trio look extra cool. The aesthetic fits the music, too: this is a band that wouldn’t feel out of place in the early 90s, but not in a derivative way. (This is an opinion that some old rateyourmusic farts, bitter at the band’s cult status among young people on the internet, don’t really seem to share.) Part shoegaze, part the-decent-side-of-grunge (crunchy guitars, sudden tempo changes, two of the three-piece sharing vocal duties? Are you Dino Jr.’s kids?) straight to the heart of anyone with a penchant for post-hardcore, they’re ready to take on the world – and I can’t wait for their debut LP. The big revelation of the festival (at least for those that, unfortunately, had to miss the very celebrated Expresso Transatlântico and MДQUIИД (that’s me)).

© Hugo Lima | |

3 The Walkmen

By the 20 minute mark of The Walkmen’s second European show after a ten years absence we weren’t sure how the hell would they keep engaging a prime-time Paredes de Coura crowd that wasn’t necessarily there to see them. Not that their discography isn’t full of great songs, but a “Dónde Está la Playa”/”On the Water”/”In the New Year”/”The Rat” sequence to start off things, so early in the set, is unreal, to say the least. Maybe they were relying a bit too much in the rose-tinted image they have of the country: lead singer Hamilton Leithauser mentioned how important Portugal was to early days-Walkmen, before they played one of the handful of songs off Lisbon. But the truth is that by the time they play “Heaven” there’s a moshpit going on and a few crowdsurfers make their way towards the stage. Leithauser couldn’t believe it (and neither could we), and his smile all through the later part of the set was priceless. Also, while you’re reading this, please take a few minutes to consider that set closer “We’ve Been Had” is one of the best songs off the golden era of indie rock.

© Hugo Lima | |

2 Wilco

No matter how the show went, they had to be somewhere this high, right? We’re talking about the most precious band in the world. Of course, the rather short (75min) setlist was tailor-made for an audience that simultaneously doesn’t get to see them often (the last visit was for the very first Primavera Sound Porto, in 2012) and isn’t very familiar with their back catalogue (half of the audience wasn’t even born when they released Summerteeth, let alone listening to it). That kept things interesting for most folks, at the expense of the more seasoned fans wishing for a deep cut, but it’s not like the band went into “let’s play the singles” mode either. We’re talking about a band that opens their festival slot with a 10-min long “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”, lulls the audience mid-set with what seems to be an extra long “Bird Without a Tail / Base of My Skull” (off their latest record, Cruel Country), and only visits their most critically acclaimed album twice (“I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” and “Jesus, Etc”). I’ve seen them eight times now and there’s two more shows (with no setlist repeats!) to go this week, but there’s nothing like seeing Wilco at the most beautiful of stages, surrounded by your friends — in a surprisingly well behaved audience.

© Hugo Lima | |

1 Les Savy Fav

Earlier in the day, minutes before the YĪN YĪN show, I stumbled into Les Savy Fav frontman Tim Harrington just outside the Yorn tent. He looked at the stage as if he was an engineer. The first words he told me when I fanboyishly engaged in conversation: “the stage… it’s too high”. Five minutes before the show, a Zoom meeting code gets projected onto the stage, and people start joining for added shits and giggles. The show hasn’t even started and people are entertained already – maybe this is the backup plan in case he’s sticking to the stage, for a change. Of course, less than ten minutes into the show, a man dressed in white starts pulling the microphone cable and makes his way into the crowd. “The Sweat Descends”, and so does Harrington – while the person in charge of the projection searches for “sweaty bald man” on Before bursting into “Raging in the Plague Age”, he sits next to a tired audience member and asks what they’re gonna see next (“ambient music?”)

What follows next is one of the most memorable parties the festival’s smaller stage has ever seen. The pogo gets bigger with every passing song, whatever’s projected on stage gets more and more bizarre (we saw you, dude with the watermelon video), the band’s ripping hit after hit (“Patty Lee”, the deep cut “In These Woods”, “What Would Wolves Do?”). All of this, of course, while Harrington keeps losing clothes (see picture above), parades among the crowd, drinks someone’s whiskey, distributes “Portuguese kisses”, sings to the staff, jumps into a beer stand and drinks directly from the tap (during a memorable “Pills”, a rare foray into Go Forth), emerges back from the crowd wearing someone’s captain hat. All thanks to the real MVPs of this festival: the patient security guards carrying the mic cable around and ensuring the show was memorable for all the right reasons. Unfortunately, the only bad clash of the festival made us leave for greener pastures (and by that I mean the main stage, where Wilco were about to perform) during the delirious and aptly called “Let’s Get Out of Here”, and took the last two couple of songs from us. Still, this is the show we’ll all be talking about twenty years from now, when we’re all old farts reminiscing about the good old times in what will hopefully be the 50th anniversary edition of Paredes de Coura.