After the crush of the last two days, the first few hours of day 3 of Northside feel empty. There are plenty of people, but it’s easy to walk around. There are no queues anywhere for anything. It’s possible to walk down to the barricades at any of the stages, which makes it a tough gig, as usual, for the artists with early slots.
Such is the case for Royal Blood, a duo from Brighton, UK, whose sudden rise comes on the back only three singles and an Arctic Monkey wearing their t-shirt. They’re on the Blue Stage with a small audience assembled before them, the detritus of yesterday’s confetti cannon is still under foot. Frontman Matt Kerr plays bass like it’s lead guitar, tuned and distorted to sound like it’s lead guitar. The crowd is impressed with his tapping solos as well — not something you typically on a bass. Not bad for a band that’s only released an EP.
Much has been made of the gradual decline of the Pixies, and how ten years into their reunion, they have mentally checked out (or in Kim Deal’s case, physically checked out). It’s true that there are moments when Black Francis/Frank Black seems to be trying to get through songs as quickly as possible. Then there are times like when he’s playing the intro to “Ed is Dead” or performing the more recent “Bagboy” when he almost looks like he’s enjoying himself, and maybe more new material in the set is what’s needed to keep the band engaged. The most enthusiastic of the bunch is bassist of the moment Paz Lenchatin, who perhaps has the most at stake. She also does a pretty good approximation of Deal, and rather adorably has a ribbon tied around one of her tuning pegs. It would be great if more musicians could do that, please. Joey Santiago spends the last minutes of the bands set getting his guitar to feedback, either by holding another guitar to the fretboard or smacking it against his body. The audience is into it initially, but you can tell that people have gotten their 15 minute warning for Arcade Fire as they begin drifting away towards the other stage.
It’s really for the best that they do, because Arcade Fire’s set is possibly the most widely attended of the weekend. The cynical belief is because there’s no other set conflicting, but it doesn’t take long to see that this was always going to be a festival highlight for many. They open with “Here Comes the Nighttime” and confetti cannons, with Win Butler saying with delight, “We played it first because we know the nighttime is never coming.” There is a platform built out into the crowd that allows band members to come out a little further into the crowd, and is actually a point of performance for songs rather than just a one-off tease otherwise blocking people from the rail.
In terms of visuals, the spectacle is unparalleled. Whether it’s the colorful fringe on Régine Chassagne’s costume or the mirror-suited person who comes out to pivot on the platform during “Afterlife” or the conga line of people in paper mâché heads dancing to “Normal Person,” it’s a level of pageantry sometimes bordering on the surreal that not even Röyksopp’s glittery masks or Robyn’s wild outfits can beat.
After the spectacle and frenzy of Arcade Fire, the set from Wild Beasts is positively intimate, and has the vibe of an after party. They ease into their set with swooning, down-tempo synth-pop, initially going for the light touch instead of impact. Frontman Hayden Thorpe raises a glass of wine to the audience, saying “It helps us dance better, it helps us look better, it helps us sing better.” And there is plenty of room for people to dance. The tempo picks up, the bass picks up (and occasionally is bolstered by thunderously loud programmed bass), and slowly but surely people’s feet pick up. It is an excellent comedown after a long weekend.