In the southern suburbs of São Paulo, a new city rises. Its ornate town square jumps with samba big bands, complete with full orchestras, taking full advantage of the genetic swivel in Brazil’s national hip. In a large dome, a big budget Brazilian Broadway show plays out four times a day on a stage bedecked with a life-sized train. An indoor gourmet market draws the foodies, the zip wire over the main stage mosh-pit calls the thrill-seekers, and onto vast stages resembling the city’s towering skyline – topped with radio towers spewing fireworks – troop the biggest names in rock and pop for the entertainment of 100,000 hard-partying residents. There’s even a national anthem and a working church with a schedule of official marriages taking place, ordained by an incredibly convincing Freddie Mercury.
This is The Town, a brand-new festival from the people behind Rock In Rio touted as Glastonbury meets Disneyland. After all, where else could you clamber aboard a liquor-sponsored UFO or ride an actual rollercoaster within a hundred yards or so of a Wet Leg gig? For its two weekends in early September, it’s undoubtedly the biggest show on earth. Post Malone, Demi Lovato, Iggy Azalea and Bruno Mars got festivities underway on the first weekend, and as NME arrives for the second, the party is already peaking.
In a blitz of flames and fireworks, The Chainsmokers pander to a euphoric pop crowd by mashing ‘Seven Nation Army’ into Justice Vs Simian’s ‘We Are Your Friends’ and hypercharging their Coldplay collaboration ‘Something Just Like This’ to the point it seems to spin clean off the DAT. And headliners Maroon 5, aware they’ve got a vibe to maintain, show us the musical booty early. ‘Moves Like Jagger’, ‘This Love’ and a cover of Gym Class Heroes’ ‘Stereo Hearts’ kick off a set of exuberant soul pop, falsettos that could double as wildlife pest control and plenty of tatt-flashing double denim. At least until they don Brazil shirts in time for the encore, Adam Levine crooning ‘She Will Be Loved’ like the most shameless pop rock glory hunter.
Saturday’s rock day is one drenched in emotion. The fact that Foo Fighters were due to play São Paulo shortly after Taylor Hawkins died last year hangs heavy over their return here, while the rest of the bill is overwhelmed to be along for the ride. “This is fucking mental,” says Shirley Manson between Garbage’s gorgeously gritty chunks of night-crawling industrial pop, gazing out across the vast, roaring crowd. It’s the sort of night that gets her ruminating on “why we’re one of the survivors”, but also charges the band up, ripping through a sizzling ‘Supervixen’, an intergalactic ‘I Think I’m Paranoid’ and an ‘Only Happy When It Rains’ that opens as a wracked piano torch song. Between the patriarchy demolition of ‘Godhead’ (involving “me imagining what my life would be like if I had a dick”) and a final entreaty to the crowd that sounds like a founding ethos for The Town – “don’t be boring, don’t be scared, be courageous and be kind” – Manson instantly earns herself a statue.
Over on The One second stage – a gigantic array of screens showing local São Paulo street art between acts – Wet Leg are having their own special moment. “Happy last show!” Rhian Teesdale wishes the band in turn as the final gig of two years of touring winds to a close, having earlier declared “This is where it all ends for now, thank you for making us feel held and not lost at all.” Guitarist Hester Chambers even has to hide behind her amp for a cry every now and then, but there’s a sweetly celebratory tone to the show. They relish their last spin on the spot during the oceanic opening guitar chime of ‘Too Late Now’, the final longest loudest scream of ‘UR Mum’ and the climactic ‘Chaise Longue’ with a ramshackle warmth, Teesdale camping up her marionette moves as the mention of free beer in ‘Angelica’ comes with the anticipation of a major end-of-the-road piss up.
Every Yeah Yeah Yeahs gig feels like the party at the end of the world of course, and as Karen O spins on the spot in a flowing tribal cape, bug shades and frilled green 1920s gloves to austere electro-goth opener ‘Spitting Off The Edge Of The World’ they seem like the only band capable of upstaging this most fantastical of stages. The synthetic tunes from latest album ‘Cool It Down’ (‘Burning’, ‘Lovebomb’, ‘Wolf’) expand strongly into the festival setting, but it’s the crazed punkoid classics that maintain their position as arguably the most exciting live act on the planet. “It’s Saturday night, baby!” O yells, unleashing giant inflatable eyeballs over the crowd for a monstrous ‘Zero’ and gargling her microphone through a frenzied ‘Pin’. How unpredictable is it? A demented disco ‘Date With The Night’ starts with a snippet of ‘Song For The Deaf’ by Queens Of The Stone Age (who were supposed to have this slot tonight) and ends with O smashing her microphone repeatedly into the stage, and a typically magnificent ‘Maps’ is paused while a stranded woman is rescued from the overhead zip-wire.
Dave Grohl, meanwhile, arrives to test The Town’s capacity to rock. “Is this who you are?” he asks, slotting riffs from Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ and Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ into ’No Son Of Mine’ and, finding São Paulo worthy, piles into two and a half hours of intense Foos flame-throwing, promising “all the songs, that’s 200 songs, you want 200 songs?”. They get a choice and varied selection: lean, mean rampages through ‘Learn To Fly’, ‘This Is A Call’ and new song ‘The Glass’. Loose, time-chewing rambles through ‘The Pretender’ and ‘Monkey Wrench’, paused for a Wet Leg-style screaming lesson. A fittingly samba-laced ‘Run’, with Grohl attempting limbo moves out on one of the ego ramps. Hawkins is honoured with his favourite Foos song ‘Aurora’ (“We’ll play this song every night of our lives,” Grohl promises) but new drummer and US rock legend Josh Freese more than earns his place, jack-hammering through ‘Breakout’ and showcasing his impressive CV during the band introduction medley with covers of Devo’s ‘Whip It’ and Nine Inch Nails’ ‘March Of The Pigs’.
Pop returns with saucy force on the final day. Kim Petras – the self-styled “throat girl” and queen of ‘Slut Pop’ – pouting, catwalks and Insta-poses around a centre-stage podium, she reels out songs about her boobs, documents how she enjoys getting “sexed” all hours of the morning, noon and night and describes bedroom capabilities that make her sound like a penile miracle worker. When she begins a song with a rhyme scheme around the word “designer”, it’s a wonder she gets to the end without going quite graphically downtown.
Across on the One Stage – down by the street parade where even the microphone warm-up DJs get this party crowd doing synchronised dance routines to House Of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’ – local stars keep the flamboyance sky high. Gloria Groove has set-piece routines set in jungles, carnivals and a sci-fi Studio 54; local pop god Jao has brought an enormous dragon to project electric bones onto. Against such vibrant competition, H.E.R.’s neo-soul and tropical ragga pop pales somewhat, no matter how much she rocks out to Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’ or drums along to a closing ‘We Made It’ like the soul pop Dave Grohl.
Bruno Mars and his hot-stepping classic soul band – think The Jackson 5 playing a Bahamian beach party – won’t be out-showman’d though. Returning for his second show of this inaugural event, he shamelessly plays on his heartthrob status here, getting every girl in Town to scream “I’m coming!” at him in the throes of faux ecstasy and singing sweet nothings in Portuguese into a golden mobile phone on ‘Calling Up My Lovelies’. Pop romances like ‘Just The Way You Are’ and the jive rock ‘Marry You’ set Latin hearts a-flutter and his relatively chaste funk, soul and reggae-flecked groove pop makes him São Paulo’s ultimate sweetheart, probably the only major pop loverman you could safely allow into your DMs. He even ingratiates himself with a rendition of classic Brazilian billow ballad ‘Evidencias’ and gives ‘Uptown Funk’ a samba carnival intro.
As a final burst of fireworks light up The Town’s spectacular vista, two questions remain. How much are flats here and do we need a visa?