Way Out West 2012: Florence, Black Keys, Kraftwerk + More Light Up Sweden
It may not have the storied tradition as other European festivals like Roskilde and Glastonbury, but Way Out West, held annually in Gothenburg, Sweden since 2007, has quickly established itself as a premier summer stop for A-list acts. In past years, Prince, Kanye West, Neil Young and Flaming Lips have all performed, with this year's sold-out crowd of 27,000 seeing headline sets by Kraftwerk, the Black Keys and Blur (the latter highlighted in our recent review). Two omissions, though, impacted this year's festival, with Bobby Womack pulling out due to health concerns and Frank Ocean canceling his highly anticipated gig for unknown reasons.
Still, there was plenty to catch over three days in Slottskogen, the picturesque park in the middle of the city that has hosted the festival since its inception. Odd Future played a predictably raucous set in a festival that included Common, A$AP Rocky, De La Soul and Yelawolf. Swedish punk band Refused and indie-pop group Miike Snow played ecstatic homecoming gigs. And Bon Iver, Wilco and Best Coast satisfied the Swedish hipster contingent (many of which looked remarkably like a pre-shaved Justin Vernon) with well-received sets. Here are our 10 favorite moments from the fest.
"It's great to be here, but we have come for something in return," said Florence + the Machine's Florence Welch during the band's Thursday evening set. "We want human sacrifice. If you like the person next to you, just met someone, birthed someone, whatever; we want you to raise them up." The singer asked fans to get on each other's shoulders for "Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)" and began counting the number of people. Given that the average height of a Swede is already 12 feet, it now looked like a race of giants were enjoying a concert by their elfish Queen. I know now what my 5'2" girlfriend feels like at every show.
Florence + the Machine's "Spectrum"
Since debuting her punk-inspired track "Krokodil" last year, St. Vincent's Annie Clark has been ending many of her live shows by jumping into the audience and performing the raucous track while crowd-surfing. If you've never seen the ostensibly demure singer before, it will likely come as a shock. Gotenberg security guards have apparently never seen her before. When the singer began to enter the crowd, concerned guards immediately tried to pull her away. ("Super forbidden," is how one organizer described crowd-surfing to me.) But you will not stop Annie Clark if she wants to surf. Each time security grabbed her, Clark would immediately wrestle herself back into the crowd, finishing the song -- and her set -- with a guttural scream, microphone slam and push of the house camera. St. Vincent: Punk as fuck.
"Planning to see Kraftwerk tonight?," read the sign by the festival's main gate. "We give you 3D glasses when passing the entrance." I don't use pretentious phrases like "total sensory experience" often, but for a Kraftwerk show, which relies as much on its visual component as audio, the description is apt. Donning form-fitting bodysuits presumably left over from Tron, the four men took their respective podiums underneath a massive screen displaying celestial objects, geometric figures and animatronic versions of each member from their The Man-Machine era. The paper 3D glasses made the crowd look like a '50s movie theatre, but visions of '80s-era computers and German trains "coming at you" made this the most visually stimulating show of the festival. Musically, the group didn't alter classics like "Metropolis" and "Spacelab" too much, yet rearranged select tracks, placing a thumping house beat over "Computer World." The inscrutable question of what exactly the four men actually do onstage is still ripe fodder for discussion, but who cares when the show is this good.
Noticing the barriers that divided the main stage crowd into two separate groups, Feist ensured that her attempt at crowd participation wasn't tainted with unintentional meaning. "This looks like two evenly divided teams," said the singer before 2007's "So Sorry." "Do you want to pick a name for your team? How about blue? Wait, does that mean something bad and political in Sweden? Let's go with chartreuse." Feist did get quasi-political, displaying a "Free Pussy Riot!" homemade sign in tribute to the imprisoned Russian punk band. On the non-political front, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, whose band had just wrapped up their set, joined the singer for "You and I" from 2009's Wilco (The Album).
This year, Way Out West became the first major music festival to only serve vegetarian food. "Way Out West has always had the environment as one of our top priorities," said organizers in a statement. "Food is the single largest variable in our environmental impact and meat is the greatest culprit. We are not forcing people to stop eating meat altogether, but if we can positively impact the environment, if only for a few days, we want to take the chance to do it. We want to help dispel the myths about vegetarian food being disgusting and non-filling; we want to challenge a norm where meat is normal and vegetarian is abnormal." Organizers estimated a significant emissions reduction based on the shift to non-meat products, with falafel, soy burgers and veggie tacos being served in record numbers.
On Friday, Blur played a 21-song, career-spanning show, alternating between arch pop singalongs ("Song 2," "Parklife") and dramatic, orchestral anthems ("This is a Low," "The Universal"). Read a Review
A small Gothenburg club at 12:30 in the morning seems like an unlikely spot to catch cult psych-folk singer Rodriguez, until you realize that Sweden is home to Malik Bendjelloul, the director of a new widely acclaimed documentary on the singer. "Searching for Sugar Man" was shown at the festival, but it was the elusive singer's Thursday night set that was the highlight. Dressed in his trademark all-black outfit with sunglasses, the 70-year-old singer told jokes, covered "Blue Suede Shoes" and performed tracks from his two underrated early '70s albums. The on-the-fly Swedish band clearly didn't have much time to rehearse with the singer, as Rodriguez occasionally missed his cues, but it only added to the raw, spontaneous feel of the set. For a guy who allegedly committed suicide onstage in an oft-told urban legend, the rabid audience was happy to see the real thing.
Copenhagen punk band Iceage may have lifted their name from a Joy Divison song, but the four members, still barely out of high school, borrow more from fast and loud, three-chord punk groups than the UK post-punk pioneers. A late-night set Friday night at the cramped, sweaty Jazzhuset ("Jazz House") was the perfect spot for the band, who inspired stage-diving and crowd-surfing from the first song. Sadly, there was no St. Vincent spotting.
Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit are still buzzing stateside, but they're massive in their home country, garnering one of the biggest crowds of the festival. The group tackled Fever Ray's "When I Grow Up" and Fleet Foxes "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song," telling the audience that the latter group was one of the biggest inspirations when forming the band. Throughout the set, sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg weren't shy about discussing their influences, name-dropping Johnny and June Carter Cash, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris before "Emmylou."
The Swedes seemed almost as fascinated with former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan's facial hair as his music. Lanegan's band balanced crunchy guitars reminiscent of his former band with propulsive funk bass lines and ominous synths, but when I talked to most people after the set, they mentioned their love of Lanegan's handlebar mustache, which fell somewhere between Civil War re-enactor, movie villain and serial killer.
Despite his cancellation, Frank Ocean was here in spirit during the Afghan Whigs' Friday afternoon set. The reformed Cincinnati rock group has been performing a cover of the R&B singer's "LoveCrimes" since May, but today, frontman Greg Dulli augmented the track with a brief, shimmering cover of Ocean's "Thinking About You." At the time, no one knew it'd be the only Ocean track they'd hear the festival, but Dulli did both songs justice.
Afghan Whigs Play "Uptown Again"
One Act Not Heard:
Way Out West fans took to Twitter to express their displeasure upon hearing that Frank Ocean canceled his Way Out West appearance the day of his scheduled performance. A rep for Ocean wouldn't comment to Billboard past a released statement from the singer, which stated, "Let me start by saying I feel like an asshole right now, but a tough decision had to be made in regard to my schedule over the next few months. The casualties of that decision include my appearances at upcoming festivals in Europe and my opening slot on the European leg of the Coldplay world tour. Sorry as f**k, I'll be back if you have me."