The Way Out West festival has been taking place in the Slottskogen park in central Gothenburg, Sweden in early August every year since 2007 and they’re showing no signs of slowing down. Working on last year’s success (with Prince and Kanye West headlining), Way Out West decided to expand into a full three day festival.
The Stay Out West program, which features some excellent acts, takes place at clubs all over town after the festival area closes – cause for desperation when you realize how much you’ll be missing when choosing which venue to go to. In addition to expanding the festival they also decided to only serve vegetarian food during the festival due to environmental considerations.
The year’s festival was, as usual, excellently organized, but with the festival area almost too small to hold the 27,000 people who attended every day, and while the cancellation of Frank Ocean marred an otherwise great festival there’s no reason not to think that next year will be a continuation of Way Out West’s excellent streak.
Mark Lanegan Band
45 minutes after Sonic Youth guitarist/vocalist and indie icon Thurston Moore ended his set in the Linné tent another indie icon, albeit more of a cult one, took the stage. Mark Lanegan began his career in the underrated ‘90s grunge act Screaming Trees and has since their break-up in 2000 been quite busy; he’s managed to be a member of Queens Of The Stone Age, released a record with Greg Dulli as The Gutter Twins, released three records with singer-songwriter Isobel Campbell, as well as releasing an excellent string of solo records.
Despite his long and productive career Lanegan shows no signs of wanting to relive the past as much of the set is taken from the Mark Lanegan Band’s newest record Blues Funeral, which was released in February this year. Lanegan’s main strength has always been his voice–dark and raspy one, but still is able to convey emotional intricacies, and it loses none of its potency in a live setting. Lanegan is backed by a stripped down band of a guitar, bass, drums, and barely audible keyboard, but the four musicians behind those instruments still make more than just enough noise, and with Lanegan on top form they achieve and surpasses any expectations held prior to the set.
The reunion of seminal hardcore punk Refused has been one of the most talked about reunions of the year. Initially, I had been skeptical about how much of the buzz was based on the actual performances and how much was fanboyism, but after just a few minutes of the show it was obvious that all the praise they’ve received is deserved. Refused is without a doubt one of the top live bands around today.
With their Refused hardcore legacy the fact that they’re playing a relatively huge festival stage in front of 20,000 people while dressed in suits may seem a bit, um, wrong, but frontman Dennis Lyxzén and the rest of the band seem to be fairly aware of the contradiction. Lyxzén’s own comments during the show were enough to win almost anyone over. As a live band they’re just about as tight and professional as you can imagine, while having more energy and focus than just about anyone else. Dennis Lyxzén can compete with most anyone as a frontman – the way he dances around with the microphone would make Roger Daltrey green with envy.
The Black Keys
The Black Keys were arguably the smallest of three headliners – both Blur and Kraftwerk have to count as far bigger bookings – but they showed why they belong in that slot. The Black Keys have seen a remarkable rise in popularity for the past few years. They’ve gone from starting out with reviews as a light version of The White Stripes to headlining festivals all around the world.
As they’ve gotten bigger, they’ve moved away from the original garage rock duo format. When they took the stage at Way Out West, they did so with a full band. In the middle of the set, when the original duo played a couple of songs by themselves, I was immediately struck by how much more immediate and more affecting the duo sound is for the group, with everything but the most necessary parts stripped away. After around an hour of their set, I was forced to leave to make it in time for the Stay Out West gig of the night, and, walking away, it was clear why they belong on the biggest stage of the festival – while they’ve clearly stolen most of their playbook, they’re the best there is right now at doing what they do.
For the Stay Out West part of the festival, I made the tough decision to miss Cloud Nothings, Savages, Purity Ring, Megafaun, Josh T. Pearson and El Perro Del Mar to go see Chromatics, Kindness and Zulu Winter at Storan. Even after Zulu Winter cancelled, we were left with “just” Kindness and Chromatics, two of the year’s most hyped acts. Kindness leader Adam Bainbridge and his band seemed dead-set on not only living up to, but surpassing all expectations.
Bainbridge is an excellent frontman (and dancer) and his band handled the neo-soul influences of the music expertly, with particularly the two choir girls stealing the show. Kindness created something of a party feeling, at times very intimate – both by delivering a great show, but also through bringing out Bainbridge’s two Swedish cousins to play with the band. As far as how good a “show” it was Kindness surely delivered one of the best club gigs in a long time, but Bainbridge’s vocals is a bit too one-dimensional to carry the type of soul show he was trying to, and the songs weren’t strong enough throughout the set either.
One of my most anticipated acts of the Stay Out West program was Chromatics, who released one of the most talked about LPs of the year, Kill For Love. While Kill For Love is very much a synth-based record (and all the better for it) Chromatics live show brings the guitars to the front and gives the synths more of background role.
Surprisingly enough, this works very well and also gives the band a bit more strength live, instead of what I feared would end up sounding flat. Showcasing many of Kill For Love’s best tunes and an impressive show, Chromatics were easily good enough to justify missing out on the slew of competing acts.