Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot form the quixotically exotic Tricity on the Pomeranian coast, perched like spent Soviet-period sentinels over the Baltic Sea. Scene of WWII’s opening shots and later birthplace of Poland’s solidarity movement, it’s a landscape seeped in history, political activism and admirable pragmatism.
Turns out, it’s also a purgatory of Alan Partridge motorway hotels, seventh circle of hell style suburbs, interminable (and at times incredulously perilous) taxi journeys, and 40 pence supermarket beers. Trust us, there’s always an upside.
So we arrive this year’s Open’er Festival, held in Gdynia, expecting equal levels of visceral danger, fiery crowds and reckless abandon. But in truth, it’s one of the more sedate and chilled out festivals Clash has ever attended.
This may be in part due to the licensing restrictions, which mean that drinks can only be consumed in specified areas, resulting in little to no litter. There’s also less of the tat or beguiling money sapping rubbish that shows up at UK festivals. It’s back to basics without sacrificing any of the comforts you need.
The first set we watch in its entirety is from Mø, the Danish ‘maiden virgin’ appearing as a pimped-up, maxed-out, lean-and-mean Mel C pop appropriator – even down to the freshly scrubbed face and impressive hair plait. Her Scandi shtick is surprisingly good and she certainly gives up a pound or two of festival flesh.
Her antics are all the more refreshing in light of the evening’s headliners, Pearl Jam, who feel more like reformed ham from a can rather than an era-defining rock band. They play for approximately 36 hours, one monotonous, monolithic song; which isn’t terrible by any means, but also wouldn’t sound out of place down the pub of a Sunday, as a fine accompaniment to a game of darts.
It’s our first day and as that it’s a perfectly pleasant ease in. For ease in organisers certainly do. Nothing starts on site until around 6pm here. Great news for the 40p beer drinkers and those who want to visit nearby theme parks with massive assorted fiberglass sea creatures of an afternoon.
Day two begins better – we cut our insane journey time to the site to around a quarter of the previous day’s trek – but our schedules get stupidly muddled and we sadly miss Royal Blood, who colleagues report were great. But we’re pretty excited to see Wild Beasts. We’d be lying if we said we didn’t prefer the flamboyant exuberance of their earlier albums, all bolsh, Brel and bovver boots. But their recent work is quiveringly brilliant in this subdued but packed tent. They’re a band of brothers with their hearts on sleeves and voices nearing the heavens.
It ends emotionally and abruptly as we stumble through the ridiculously expansive potholed field back towards the main stage. I swear the drink sponsors are putting sedatives in the on-site beer, because everything thereafter has a Mogadon slowness to it.
The White Stripes were magnificent, The Raconteurs were pretty bloody good, but there’s something excruciatingly masturbatory about Jack White on stage, solo. And there’s also something vaguely unpalatable about his ‘hurtling toward Michael Jackson-style strangeness of appearance’, which doesn’t help. He can play a mean guitar, sure, but his Dr John meets Robert Plant hybrid histrionics leave us surprisingly cold. In direct contrast to our cynicism, several thousand Polish fans appeared to be at a different gig, and watching them all sing along to closer ‘Seven Nation Army’ is a heart-warming sight.
We decide to retire uncharacteristically early in preparation for tomorrow’s fine fare and in the blink of an eye the third and final day’s fresh treats and terrors are upon us, but not before discovering a Narnia-style bowling alley in the basement of our hotel, playing Eurovision song entries on a loop.
Such pre-site sorcery could only end in disappointment. The less said about the surly, early ’90 s redundancy and ill-attended set of The Horrors, the better. But we always like to have something positive to say. So here it is: Faris Badwan has quite good hair.
Headliners Faith No More are, by frontman Mike Patton’s own admission, “old men”. But even playing a dangerously nostalgic set, they blow every young upstart off the stage by a massive margin. Dressed in white and sporting prayer beads, their set is a protrusion of veins, vigour and healthy venom.
Playing a surprising amount of ancient songs from ‘The Real Thing’ album, but also showcasing two brand new tracks, the band is as tight as ever they were. Patton’s multi-octave voice has not withered with age. Free from ego, it’s a stand-alone instrument, sharp as a weapon, wielded with the fluidity of a samurai, stealthy and overwhelmingly deadly.
We’re torn to leave the main stage area where the upbeat, consummately professional French dance of Phoenix ends the night on a jubilant high of flushed-faced dancing and ecstatic smiles all round. It’s been a refreshingly idiosyncratic experience.
There’s no peacock coquetry the likes of which you see at Glastonbury, no full face glitter and ridiculous hats at Open’er – just the odd flowery headband and appliqued skirt, which could be viewed as lacking in imagination or as a positive, “we’re just here for the music” type of attitude. Poland, no two ways about it: you’ve been a peculiar but endlessly engaging Pomeranian pageant.
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Words: Anna Wilson