Rock and roll? Check. Stadium sensations? Double check. Day one of Rock Werchter sets the festival off to a flying start.
Kicking things into full swing, Declan McKenna rises through the ranks with a performance to rival the most established of arena acts. His debut album has yet to see release (“you should buy it, blah, blah, blah,” he states in a particularly enthusiastic plug), but as the musician throws himself around the stage in front of a crowd dancing and singing along to his every word, the power he displays is one destined for bigger and bolder things.
Taking their place on the main stage, Savages performance is something like a pantomime of your darkest fears. Jehnny Beth mesmerises from centre stage, prowling and screeching as she tries to decide which side of the audience is best (a question which is never answered). Feeding their anger to the crowd, the band stir up a frenzy with effortless charm, favourites like ‘Hit Me’ and ‘Fuckers’ arriving unhinged and setting the audience’s energy ablaze.
They’re not the only ones to play with anger. Prophets Of Rage take to the stage armed with an arsenal of furious classics. The members of Rage Against The Machine, Public Enemy, and Cyprus Hill pull out all the stops for a set packed with all the hits and every rock and roll cliché in the book on a mission to “make Belgium rage again.”
Describing the nature of feeling to much and learning how to be alone as she starts to sway her way through a performance of ‘Liability’, this is Lorde at her most real. Taking pent up anger and confusion and fusing it into something contagious and beautiful, the New Zealand artist is at once a sensation and staggeringly sincere. Expressing gratitude to her crowd for bringing her so far from home, dancing through a set where every song is a favourite, Lorde makes every moment her own – and there isn’t one who doesn’t revel in it.
As the atmospheric introduction of ‘Everything Now’ pulls the masses towards the main stage, Arcade Fire take their rightful place as champions. “You get out of it what you put in,” Win Butler tells the crowd, offering their hearts to an audience who open theirs in return. It’s an energy and enthusiasm that can’t be forced or faked, a shared adoration for the moment they’re in. Dedicating ‘The Suburbs’ to David Bowie, reaching a resounding high with ‘Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)’, and kickstarting a freewheeling dance party with ‘Reflektor’, the band own every moment they spend on the stage.
Of course, there’s new songs too. The panpipe solo on ‘Everything Now’ becomes an anthemic cry of its own, while ‘Creature Comfort’ sees the band build up a dizzying momentum, spinning and diving around the stage with an energy so bold its contagious. ‘Signs Of Life’ pairs that energy with an unhinged ferocity, snapping back at the world with a staggering sensibility.
Switching instruments throughout, this is a band at the peak of their power. With a new album imminent, it’s a stance that shows no signs of shaking. As the group end with the double whammy of ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’ and ‘Wake Up’, with a shout of “fuck Trump!” and a parcel pass of a tambourine to a young girl on her dad’s shoulders, Arcade Fire leave the stage as they arrived: a band without parallel.
It’s Kings Of Leon who have the unenviable task of following such a show. Performing at the festival for the seventh time, the group are no strangers to the audience that eagerly awaits them. With a set focused firmly on their newer material, it’s less of an engaging energy and more of a swaying sensation that pulls in the crowds. Ushering in the night with a gentle grace – and a series of classic hits for good measure – Kings Of Leon stand tall.