Last year I began the best concert countdown with the remark of how strong the line up was, so this year, for a change, I’ll whine a bit. An activity which can be strangely energizing, as a matter of fact, just like reviewing a bad concert is often more satisfying than doing the same with a good one. It allows you to reach cathartic heights of unleashed passions, hatred, contempt, disdain, all mixed up in a cocktail of happy release. Good concerts, on the other hand, often leave you in a kind of contented stupour and you end up articulating sophisticated, nuanced thoughts along the lines of OMG that was so damn NICE.
So back to the whining then and here it goes: this year’s Sziget had an army of average concerts and very few spectacular ones. Before jumping into the thick of it, I will indulge in another favourite activity of mine, namely breaking down numerical data: during the festival’s 7 days I made it to 39 concerts where I spent enough time to be able to pass judgement on the performance. As possibly interesting information, given how many people complain about the surging cost of Sziget, calculating an average of 5.000 forints per concert (though some acts like Rihanna and Muse would have probably cost at least four times that much), the ‘worth’ of my concerting only is 195.000 forints, more than double the price of a seven day camping ticket, which includes accommodation as well for those who want it. I rated all these concerts on a scale of 1 to 10, with most scoring between 5 to 7. From those who made it to the final list, a few are more spectacular sevens, the rest scoring 8 or above.
Since no main stage headliner made it to the top ten, I will say a few words about the two which a lot of people would probably place there. After a week of musing on the subject, I decided not to really like Muse after all, my complaints being those already voiced immediately after the concert. There were just too many guitar solos, too much operatic intent, and too much Queen feeling- while this might also sound unorthodox, Queen are Chinese torture to me, a song like Bohemian Rhapsody being the soundtrack of my own personal hell. A hell where too many things are happening musically, all at once. And that is exactly how Muse start to feel like as of late.
My objection to Sia, on the other hand, is that nothing was happening musically. It was a wonderful contemporary dance performance, with a bit of method acting thrown in, her songs themselves are ridiculously catchy, her voice is lovely too- but all of that still doesn’t make a concert, especially not a festival concert. Without live instruments Sia’s stillness in a corner of the stage made me feel duped- not like the Israeli audience who demanded their money back, but duped nevertheless.
Having gotten over these thorny matters, let’s get it on with the two acts at number 10, I decided that the position would be shared again, since Sziget is not only the island of freedom, but that of kindness and generosity as well. Róisín Murphy, though not averse to wearing wigs, is by all means the anti-Sia: she loves to be on stage and to put on a show. During her midnight performance in A38 she went through numerous wardrobe changes, in a sort of cooky electro cabaret. This resulted in the fact that, although I am not particularly well versed in her catalogue and she doesn’t have any songs which are true festival belters, she kept me involved with what was happening on stage from the first to the last song. This last song having that Sing It Back bit which so many in the audience were waiting for- but I’m being a nihilist again, and will confess to hating it, so I was pretty happy it didn’t really get center stage. I was also recently informed that Róisín’s first costume, which I assumed to be some horned creature, is actually a flamingo. I consider this wonderful trivia and a very fitting way to sum up the Róisín Murphy experience.
The other act at number ten are Bastille– and yes, I am completely surprised by this myself. Two years ago they were stashed into the cathartic bad concert category and I had horribly unkind words about them. But apparently people change, and either Bastille got considerably better both at writing music and playing live, or I became a better person. So yes, it’s the first. Since they are approaching the release of their second album, planned for September 9th, they now have enough tunes for a more muscly set and lead singer Dan Smith seems to have finally found both the rhythm of his dance moves and the way to connect with the audience- a lot of on stage banter seems to be done on auto pilot, more out of boredom than actual desire to connect with the crowds, but he came off as genuine throughout the set. I have also had the epiphany of how some of their songs, namely the hits, are indeed catchy and genuine festival material, the kind of tunes which induce a giddy feeling of contentment with being in the hot dusty now of an August sunset.