Live Review: Denmark's Roskilde Festival

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Forget Coachella and Bonnaroo: For real festival madness, try traveling all the way to Denmark for mainland Europe's biggest rock fest, the four-day-long Roskilde — where you can swim nude, fish (and have your catch cooked by pro chefs), play basketball, guzzle Tuborg and, oh yeah, rock out to 180 or so acts from Bob Dylan to Kanye West. This year's event, which took place from June 29th to July 2nd (with four days of "warm-up" beforehand) drew around 80,000 fans to see sets on six stages by Guns n' Roses, the Raconteurs, Roger Waters, the Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand and dozens of other acts. The English-impaired official festival guidebook noted that 2005's festival was a major success, and added that "everything suggests that it will be at least just as good this year." It totally was!

Check out our highlights:

Thursday

Guns n' Roses: It might seem safe to assume that Guns n' Roses (a.k.a. the unhinged Axl Rose and his band of faceless hacks) would deliver an underwhelming set. Hate to disappoint, but they gave a performance at Roskilde that was powerful enough to convince doubters that G n'; R — even this week's incarnation — might have a future. They broke necks and blew minds with "You Could Be Mine" and except for a few too many meandering solos and absurd Axl costume changes (as if cornrows weren't silly enough already), the entire set was pure octane rock and roll. Fireworks lit up the sky as the band launched into "Welcome to the Jungle" — which sounded just as it should. Even though the set (which closed out the festival's first official day) lasted for hours, the prospect of a neverending Guns n' Roses show wasn't entirely horrifying.

Friday

Rufus Wainwright: Fresh off his two-night stand channeling Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall, Rufus returned to his own material in Denmark. Alone on piano or guitar, he crooned "11:11" (which he dedicated to Axl Rose, of whom he said, "His hair has become a concentration camp for hair") and "This Love Affair" (dedicated to "the Nordic soul") before being joined by sister Martha for a lovely duet on "April Fools." While the set lagged at times, eliciting the occasional yawn, "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" and the siblings' show-stopping rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" moved the audience to sing in chorus. Wainwright also performed the new, pretty "Sans Souci" (French for "Without Concern") from his forthcoming album, which he's currently recording in Germany for release in early 2007.
Bob Dylan: Sandwiched awkwardly between an awesome Morrissey set (in which Moz commanded the stage in a way that was reminiscent of Freddie Mercury) and a high energy set by the Scissor Sisters, Bob Dylan's main stage performance — which featured a sick set list including "Masters of War," "Wheels on Fire," "Blind Willie McTell" and "Highway 61 Revisited" — was relatively subdued. Dylan, who sauntered onstage with the vigor of a tortoise, stayed mostly motionless behind his keyboard and, as usual these days, his guitar remained untouched. Despite sometimes confounding the huge festival crowd (many of whom may not have seen him play recently) with radically reworked versions of hits like "Positively 4th Street," he connected with the audience with energetic, muscular — and recognizable — takes on "Maggie's Farm" and "Like a Rolling Stone."
Scissor Sisters: "Roskilde, we are going to grab you by the balls!" shouted Scissor Sisters singer Ana Matronic as the band kicked off their mainstage set — which didn't end until after 2:00 Saturday morning. Scissors leader Jake Shears, wearing a purple and cream striped leather tuxedo over his shirtless torso, turned the crowd into a 50,000-person dance party with new songs, disco-rock favorites ("Tits on the Radio," "Take Your Mama Out") and their glitter-coated electro cover of "Comfortably Numb" (warming up the audience for Roger Waters' closing-night set, maybe?). Bonus fact for superfans: Ana Matronic and a couple of the other Sisters love Tool so much they showed up an hour early for the prog-metal warriors' set the following night.

Saturday
Primal Scream: Clad in a vintage MC5 tee, Primal Scream frontman — and icon of Nineties British music — Bobby Gillespie dedicated two songs during his outfit's swaggering, surprisingly rock-dominated Orange Stage performance. The punk-tinged "Dolls (Sweet Rock & Roll)" went out to the reformed New York Dolls, while the rootsy "Nitty Gritty" was for Axl Rose, who'd performed at the fest two nights earlier. (Weirdly enough — and perhaps evidence of a burgeoning Gillespie Axl obsession — Primal Scream has already dedicated that number to the G N' R man this year.) High on the heavier sound of "Riot City Blues," the Scotsmen rocked out on many of their classics, almost completely eliminating the electronic elements of songs like the techno-driven "Swastika Eyes." The Scream Team was also sure to dig into their past, performing mid-Nineties tracks like "Medication," "Rocks" and "Movin' On Up."
George Clinton: Ain't no party like a P-Funk party, 'cause a P-Funk party don't stop — especially when it involves audience participation. During the classic jam "Atomic Dog," chief funkateer George Clinton invited the audience — including the Rolling Stone posse — to get up on the stage to get down with the P-Funk All Stars (which included a guitarist wearing a diaper, a hype man dressed like a pimp and kimono-clad backup vocalists). Also onboard the mothership? Peaches! But not the randy electro-princess. We're talking about the cast member from VH1's reality series Flavor of Love, on which lucky girls had the dubious honor of dating Flavor Flav. A P-Funk All Star for six years, she pirouetted in roller skates across the stage. Clinton also brought his granddaughter, Shonda Clinton, a.k.a. Stankadelic, onstage to rap during his new single, "Bounce to This." (Another name for the Clinton progeny is Sativa, a kind of marijuana — and a hobby she seems to share with gramps). Backstage, Clinton talked about his new album, How Late Do You Have to Be Before You're Absent? — in particular, his collaboration with Prince, "Brother, Can You Paradigm?" According to Dr. Funkenstein himself, the team-up was a true exchange: "My stank influenced his stank, and his stank influenced mine."
Kanye West: The hardest act to get in to see was Kanye's performance at the Orange Stage. The biggest ego in hip-hop (and that's saying a lot) made a dramatic entrance decked out in his hip-hop-preppy khakis and an iced-out Jesus piece, while his onstage string section donned painted-on eye masks. Kanye talked to the crowd about his early musical influences, and proceeded to spin Michael Jackson's "Rock With You," Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" and the Eighties curveball "Take on Me," by a-ha. When his set finally started, he kicked off with his earlier track "Through the Wire," followed by "All Falls Down," "Overnight Celebrity," the mega-hit "Gold Digger," "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" and the crowd-favorite "Jesus Walks." Although some crowd participants became confused about his abrupt halftime break and lack of encore, he put on a great show — as reflected in the hundreds of Roc-A-Fella diamonds flashed by his European fans.

Sunday
Arctic Monkeys: Still bitter from England's World Cup loss the day before, Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner dedicated "When the Sun Goes Down" to Portuguese soccer saint and British public enemy Number One, Christian Ronaldo. Ronaldo plays club for England's Manchester United, but nailed the game-winning goal playing for his homeland Portugal — because, as Turner sang, "he's a scumbag don't you know!" With the audience spilling out from under the Arena Stage's tent and into the blaring sun, the band played a tight set of album tracks and newer songs. Thanks to the massive, enthused crowd, the band even dropped their usual aloof pose and showed some enthusiasm as they blared through favorites such as "I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor" and "Mardy Bum."
The Raconteurs: "I've never seen so many good-looking people in a place that smells so bad," Raconteurs co-frontman Brendan Benson said near the beginning of his band's set — one of the best-received of the festival. He and Jack White comfortably shared the spotlight in the set, trading vocals and even guitar solos on hard-hitting versions of "Steady As She Goes," "Blue Veins" and a cover of Bowie's "The Lady Is." Every song sparked a sing-a-long from the good-looking, bad-smelling crowd. At the end, Benson and White took a bow, and had to force their rhythm section — Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler, from the Greenhornes — to join them in the limelight.
Roger Waters: Former Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters pulled out all the stops to play a flawless rendition of Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety, singing David Gilmour's parts with help from several backup vocalists. The backstage area filled with awed celebrities — including Fabrizio Moretti of the Strokes and Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand — who came by to sway with the rest of the fans to hits like "Money" and "Time." Waters also went on to play other Floyd classics, as the giant video screens behind him intertwined cosmic images with political statements — such as a quick shot of Osama Bin Laden standing in good company next to George W. Bush during "The Fletcher Memorial Home," from 1983's The Final Cut. Waters closed the set with "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)," as the full festival audience joined him in a chant of "Hey, Teachers! Leave them kids alone!"

Reported by Krishtine de Leon, Pete Maiden, Tika Milan, Russell Morse, Krystal Simpson and Colin Stutz