It is closing in on midnight in Slottskogen in Gothenburg and singer M.I.A. is the last act to take the big stage on a Friday night for the Way Out West music festival. Between her head-splitting bass and cocksure delivery, her dancing entourage, burka-wearing back-up singers, background videos and laser show, she has worked a sizeable portion of the 25.000 attendees into a lather. “Good Evening Stockholm!” She deadpans. Yup, Gothenburgians, meet M.I.A.
I get a late start on Friday and Wu-Tang Clan is already into their third song when I clear the line for my press pass. This incarnation is only four strong and features Ghostface, GZA , Masta Killa and Raekwon, Tearing through older material, Wu-Tang Lite (as it were) show their age and forget the lyrics to some of their rhymes, in particular those originally delivered by other members, but the crowd is no less appreciative. “Jump up if you love hip-hop!” yells Masta Killa, and the crowd instantly obliges.
Finding food wins out over seeing the Local Natives at the far end of the area. I am hungry enough not to regret it even if I later hear they put on a great show. On the plus side, I am able to choose my spot in front of the big stage to see The National. Their set starts out slowly, but builds to a strong crescendo with Bloodbuzz Ohio, their fourth song, followed by Runaway. The band downshifts, but the set picks up again with a great deliver of Fake Empire. By now, singer Matt Berninger is visibly inebriated, having gone through a full bottle of wine on stage. As the wine kicks in, he becomes more alive on stage, dancing, clapping and breaking into high-pitched screams instead of his distinctive baritone.
Tonight, Jónsi is playing the smallest stage at the festival. There is a small crowd gathered when his set begins, as the LCD Soundsystem show one stage over seems to be attracting the crowd. He draws a heartfelt and welcome applause following his opening number but the thumping sounds from LCD’s show cause some problems for the low-key delivery and Jónsi’s delicate voice. At one point he even tries to sync his rhythm to theirs to avoid the problem. The crowd grows steadily as the show goes on. Next to me a young couple has spread a rain poncho on the wet grass, and lie together staring at the starry evening sky, with Jónsi’s melodies forming the perfect backdrop for such romantic encounter. In all his serenity, Jónsi is killing them tonight. After the show, several people mention it to me as the day’s highlight. Which is probably well-earned, considering Jónsi’s bassplayer managed to sever a ligament in his thumb following the show, forcing them to cancel an appearance in Helsinki the following night. And then I am off to see M.I.A.