So one evening, while doing basically nothing, which is probably the perfect state to be be assaulted by Great Ideas, it dawned on me that since we are fast approaching an anniversary Sziget edition- 25 years for the festival itself, of which 15 years with me getting confused while looking for stages and missing acts out of utter foolishness- it was high time I made a Definitive List of the best ten concerts. Yes, I am capitalizing a lot because I feel a little bit like Winnie the Pooh counting his pots of honey, and he loves capitalized things too, because then you know they are important.
Also, a thus spelled Definitve List means there’s no 11 concerts, no 10+2, no also rans, no I should also mention them because so and so. It’s just going to be these 10 acts- how hard could it be?! Hard as hell, of course. Evenings spent poring over old festival programmes and imaginary letters addressed to bands I love who just did not make the cut, concerts haphazardly added then just as suddenly removed, performances making the cut in the very last minute and regrets over the ones who missed out by oh so little.
Fair disclaimer: this is a supremely subjective and personal list. The ground rule being: was there an extra spark? Do I remember something special about this concert clearly today, ten, five, two years after it happened? Would I gladly travel back in time for a chance to see it again, knowing all too well that what makes such moments special is exactly the fact that they could never be relived in the same perfect way. Strangely enough, some concerts which I considered the best, as concerts, in the given years have not ended up on the list, begging an eventual longer analysis of what is a great concert and what is a great concert experience- the ones below belong to the latter category, then.
The order is absolutely random, but if we are to start somewhere, let us then start with the beginning. August 5, 2003, Main Stage: Massive Attack. The official account has it that the band were late, even if through no fault of their own, and could thus not play their full set, to the dismay of those in the know. I was not in the know. I was a fresh out of the egg, fuzzy Sziget beginner, with a possible mild sunstroke and a stomach filled with the intensity of a day’s worth of questionable food choices. I was also awestruck- as the giant crowd, bigger than anything I’d seen before was swaying in front of the Main Stage and the LED screens behind the band lit up with their reddish alien light, it was love at first sound. Not necessarily, or better said, not just, for Massive Attack, but for that feeling of being both firmly in the moment and also firmly outside of time that great live music can give you. For fourteen years, as I would randomly come and go by the Main Stage during the festival’s week, I would occasionally tell myself with a smile: remember when you first walked this way and saw Massive Attack?
August 9, 2013, Main Stage: Blur Ten years in, and I consider myself in the know. Both about the festival and about Blur. I also profit of the age given right to be a little bit blasé about things: well sure I always loved Brit pop, and Blur were perhaps my favourites (or Pulp, see below) but this concert is happening about twenty years too late, isn’t it? Well, I both loathe and feel overjoyed to admit it, I was massively wrong- the concert happened exactly when it had to, on an overhot evening which Damon Albarn braved in double denim, constantly hoping for the storm. Which ultimately did not come, or perhaps it did- it was on stage, in the shape of a band distilled to its essence, a concert that lasted the full 90 minutes of the headliner, but felt like that supersonic (pun intended) blast of Song 2 maxed out to forever. (Review from back then here.)
August 12, 2016, A38 Stage: Editors Here come the big favourites to whom I need not apologize for leaving them out, because they don’t give me a chance to. Nor did I have doubts, nor did I feel like oh come on I just saw them last year, or they used to be bigger before. Thing is, if measured against the indie etalon of their generation, they probably never got as big as the promise of their first album with that ridiculously catchy chorus on Munich. What they got is better, in a quiet reassured way and with a certain honesty which sets them apart from the rest of the field. (Review from back then here. )
August 8, 2013, A38 Stage: Triggerfinger The one where it’s five PM in the afternoon, the day is hot as hell and getting hotter, and you go to the A38 tent only to realize that in spite of the organizer’s best efforts and the giant fans in the corners it’s even hotter than outside and oh well, there’s these middle aged Belgian men coming on stage but holy mother of God do they rock this sauna like it’s never been rocked before, and perhaps never after, and definitely never in such heat. Also, Ruben Block is the only human being ever to look perfectly composed and dapper in a soggy suit. And that’s a fact.
August 12, 2015, Main Stage: Gogol Bordello. Eugene Hutz, on the other hand, is neither composed nor particularly inclined to look dapper. He’s also taken his travelling bordello quite a few times to Budapest, and one could assume that he does not have so many tricks up his sleeve, but then one would be wrong, because he sings in Hungarian, walks through the sprinkler system like an ancient God of debauchery, wine in hand and brings happiness to those who have come to greet him. It’s one of those concerts where the music is almost secondary, it just feels like a perfect sum of its many imperfect parts. (Review from back then here.)
August 11, 2007 Main Stage: Nine Inch Nails Strangely enough, the first thing I recall about this concert is that it was not packed- or at least not in the way headliners tend to fill the Main Stage area these days, with hardly a place to move, breathe and generally exist at all. There were these spaces among people in which you could stand relatively undisturbed and enjoy the music- I am sure there’s plenty of souls out there who’ll mosh to NIN with every chance they get, but to me their music has always been a rather more solitary experience and I was absolutely overjoyed to be able to get a together alone rendition of it at a time when Sziget’s headline slot still allowed for it.
August 10, 2011, Main Stage: Pulp Since we talked about first things one remembers from a concert, for this one it was the almost surreal length of Jarvis Cocker’s legs. She’s really rambling here, you’re going to say, but I will insist I’m not: Jarvis’s nature as an extremely wise and equally gracious and awkward super-creature with almost arachnid limbs has always been a defining part of Pulp’s slightly odd charms as the indie band for cooks. It was thus wonderful to see just how in line they were with what was expected to them, and a strange but exquisite beauty that is: being exactly yourself, exactly when you have to.
August 12, 2006 Main Stage: Radiohead Moment of truth here: I do not like Radiohead, at least not in the Church of Radiohead style worship you’re supposed to. I’ll say they are alright and have had a fair number of important albums along the way, but they’ve never made my heart skip a beat, with the momentous exception of an August night on Óbudai island when, as far as I can remember I even danced- now, I never dance at concerts and no one ever dances to Radiohead so this is somehow momentous and definitely unique.
August 13, 2014 A38 Stage: Miles Kane. Occasionally contradicting myself is just one of my many consistencies, so, in sharp contrast with the above-mentioned statement of I never dance at concerts let me tell you that, bar for the three songs I had to spend in the photo pit insistently trying to stop myself from bouncing around like a lunatic so I could at least occasionally focus my camera on Mr Kane, all I did at this concert was dance. I was not alone in this undertaking either, so the tent soon become one giant ball of unbridled energy, heaving back and forth to the rhythm of the songs. It was the kind of concert that leaves you fully exhausted but wearing a happy idiotic grin and makes you completely useless to your friends for the rest of the evening, because all you will want to do is tell them about how great it was, and they’ll either know that already, having been there, or will never ever truly find out. (Review from back then here.)
August 11, 2012 Main Stage: The Horrors In an odd but somewhat exciting twist of events I have heard several people fondly remembering the rather haphazard 2015 Horrors concert as it included THAT dive by Faris-hint for those who weren’t there: it was so unexpected no one really planned or tried to catch him and he subsequently wandered out aimlessly into the great beyond. Much as I appreciate a touch of the absurd in my afternoons, I am however much more enamoured by their 2012 performance which was one of the very few genuinely great ones by anyone ever in the 4 PM slot, which is especially fabulous as, out of all the possible hours of the day, 4 PM is probably the least horrors-y. They are obviously bound to be better at a dark night bright lights kind of show, yet they just walked out and achieved anyway. Sometimes the most impressive things are the ones that look the simplest while actually being pretty damn complicated.