PalÃ©o Festival, Nyon, Switzerland
Friday 06 August 2004
Now almost twice as big as Glastonbury in spectator numbers, the Paléo Festival in Nyon, near Geneva, had humble beginnings as a simple folk experience back in 1976. Over the years, it has steadily grown to become one of the biggest festivals in Europe. This year, more than 200,000 people saw bands from diverse genres perform on four different stages.
The initial disappointment of David Bowie's cancellation was softened by the announcement that Patti Smith, The Charlatans and Texas would take his place. Peter Gabriel was to headline on the big stage the following day. In between were, among others, Starsailor, a Mexican diva, Poland's best band, a French rising star known enigmatically as "M", and much more.
The Club Tent kicked things off with a Swiss band, A Season Drive, who, unsurprisingly given how they sound, cite The Cure as an influence. Much more rewarding was Patti Smith, in the "Chapiteau", or big top, singing "Dancing Barefoot" in that quavery voice edged with emotion. Next up were the guitar-led cult British band And Also The Trees, followed by Poland's finest, Myslovitz, both playing to packed audiences; the former with a unique blend of shimmering guitar and heartfelt vocals with a jazz twist; the latter trance-like guitar pop with one of hose analogue synths that seem to be surfacing from uncles' attics after decades of neglect.
Next day, N&SK (Nomades & Skaetera) proved an energetic ska band, but nothing quite prepared me for Astrid Hadad's performance. The kitsch Mexican diva was a cabaret act, fashion show, stand-up comic and work of art all in one. Visually, she was a gem, but with a translator interfering with her flow, it didn't quite work. "M" was a curious combination of French pop vampire and spangly Elvis, fronting a band with a Village People vibe playing consummate rock and funk. His voice was beautifully breathy, though songs were delivered in a deadpan fashion - "M" never ever smiles.
Buck 65 delivers masterful, wry hip-hop tunes with a voice more Waits-esque than anything previously heard in rap. The audience were still chanting his "I like sex, politics, cinema" line when Peter Gabriel took to the stage. Gabriel's voice seemed gruffer than in the past, and his set was composed of mid-tempo numbers, each song as earnest as the last. Classics such as "Games Without Frontiers", "Sledgehammer", "Solsbury Hill" and "Digging in the Dirt" had the entire crowd in his hand, but the more reflective material is probably more suited to home listening.
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