Primavera – Barcelona – live review

30 May – 3 June 2012

Declan IOM shares his weekend at Primavera Sound from pre-festival to closing act.

Primavera Sound Pre-Festival Show, Arc de Triomf Barcelona

The Primavera Sound organisers put on this free curtain raiser to the festival, in one of the main city centre squares. This drew a crowd of 10,000. There was a party atmosphere, with the locals determined to enjoy themselves.

Not all the crowd were that bothered by the bands and preferred to talk loudly with friends, but that was a small price to pay for a friendly atmosphere.

As I arrived Californian Jeremy Jay was playing pleasant sunshine pop. There was enough variation to keep the set interesting.

The Wedding Present are next playing their LP Seamonsters in full. I must confess this is not one of my favourite of their LPs. It is dark and denser than others in their repertoire and initially this effect was compounded by a muddy sound.

Later, however, Gedge’s guitar rings fulfilingly, with the final Seamonsters song beautiful. They end with Drive and a spirited Kennedy, with a fantastic thrashy ending.

The Walkmen put in a polished and confident performance, which carried to back of the large crowd. Their best song The Rat was emotional and majestic.

The Black Lips are a great party band that capture the mood well. The members share lead vocals and harmonise on occasion. The music is a bubblegum mix of surf punk and Southern Garage Rock.

They set the scene for a great celebratory start to the festival.

Primavera Sound

The festival takes place in a large concrete park by the sea in Barcelona. Two stages,  ATP and Ray Ban are surrounded by concrete seating, this is a great improvement from British festivals, where the crowd for a big act on a smaller stage leaves many people half-listening on the edge of the tent, here everyone who wants to can experience the band with good sight-lines.

As we arrive, the Black Lips are playing to the queues from the top deck of an open-top bus. Once inside the Archers of Loaf are playing an intimate set on the Ray Ban Unplugged stage. It is not strictly unplugged but is good fun.

The first real highlight is on the ATP stage where in absence of el-P, Paus from Lisbon Portugal deputise. A band with two powerful drummers, both of whom sing, plus Prog Keyboards and a bass. It’s great stuff. Inventive, humorous and rhythmic it was well received.

Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo follows. On the back of a fine solo LP Between The Times And Tides. His band is Alan Licht on guitar, Irwin Menken on bass with Sonic Youth colleague Steve Shelley on drums.”¨”¨ I’ve always enjoyed Lee’s tenderly sweet vocals with Sonic Youth and it’s great to hear a whole show of this. A highlight is the song Christina as I Knew Her. Ranaldo’s contemplative and venerable guitar sound is beautiful.

A thrilling Mudhoney set follows. It’s tremendous to hear these songs again Sweet Young Thing is thrilling, whilst Touch Me I’m Sick and You Got It Keep Outta My Face is still a tremendous sing-a-long. Exuberant mosh pit kicks off during Suck You Dry. ”¨”¨The first part of the set ends with a magnificently controlled In ‘n’ Outta Grace.”¨”¨ Mark Arm then puts his guitar aside and reminds us what a great frontman he is. It’s a difficult trade off for the band, I suppose, since they sound better with the two guitarists.

They end with a blinding Hate the Police and a blistering version of Black Flag’s Fix Me.

There then followed an awkward conundrum, when a plethora of bands I liked played at the same time. I solved this by making a circuit of the venue; Wilco on the main stage were pleasant and controlled; Kindness played a storming revamp of Womack & Womack’s Footsteps; The Oh Sees seemed in great form and received a great reception on the ATP stage; whilst Beirut played thoughtful Euro-Folk influenced pop on the Mini Stage.

A single continuous note builds tension before the return of Refused. They are dramatic, explosive and dynamic.”¨”¨ And that’s first song.

For We Want the Airwaves Back the stage starts all black with ghostly radio voices. Then song explodes into life.”¨”¨ Rabble rousing frontman, Dennis Lyxzén is ready to storm the barricades. “15 years ago we wrote these songs. About a fucked up world. Now they seem really relevant.”

Whilst the bass drum skin’s slogan is “Free Pussy Riot”.”¨”¨The show is theatrical and emotional. There are false walk offs before storming back on stage. One tune end with Dennis lying in seeming agony while band plays on. Building intensity as he climbs up slowly up the mic stand to croon “lets bring this city to life tonight”. Then screaming “resurgent, resurgent, resurgent”.

This was an assured triumphant and powerful return.

Before Spiritualized I catch a portion of Franz Ferdinand. They are confident and classy before a large crowd on the main stage.

ӬSpiritaulized take the stage at 2:25am. They begin with Hey Janey a song that feels permanently on verge of epiphany.ӬӬӬ J. Spaceman is dressed all in white and stands side on to the audience, seemingly aloof even enigmatic. ӬӬӬFor most of the set long instrumental passage end in euphoric sing-along choruses.

The new material is well received but a big cheer greets Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. Stately and majestic, it morphs briefly into I can’t help falling in love with you.

Finally a euphoric Come Together ends with J booting the monitors over, chucking his guitar at them and walking off at 3:30am.

Afterwards, I catch a part of local electronic musician John Talabot, playing a stylish live set.

A varied and enjoyable day, made special by the triumphant return of Refused.

A notable difference between Primavera and UK festivals is the variety of stages. The San Miguel and the Mini stages are the traditional big stage, whilst the Rayban stage is a concrete amphitheatre. The ATP stage accommodates a large audience but has a bank of concrete seating running alongside and feels intimate. VICE & Pitchfork stages are smaller seaside stages. On Friday and Saturday, the Auditorium also stages gigs. This is a seated theatre and hosts more intimate gigs, out of the sun, earlier in the day.

First up on day two (1 June) was Nick Garrie, a 60’s folk singer from England, who had massive success in Spain. Tonight he is playing his LP The Nightmare of JB Stanislas I full. In the UK his profile rose slightly by the lp’s inclusion as featured album on Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone.

Garrie is backed by a 7 piece group, and the music is pleasant Donovan-like freak folk. It is a confident performance that receives a warm reception from a predominately Spanish audience.

Poor organisation meant that people who’d bought special tickets to guarantee entry to his gig, and arrived early, were outside when Jeff Mangum began his first show of the weekend.

I arrived as he finished O Comely, and it took a moment to adjust my mind to the atmosphere. This was supposed to be one of the highlights of the weekend, given Jeff’s long absence from playing live during which time the reputation of Neutral Milk Hotel’s LP “In An Aeroplane Over The Sea” has grown meant that this was many people’s first chance to hear this songs live.

What we eventually saw was a moving and powerful acoustic performance. Mangum is unique in making acoustic songs sound loud and expansive in a large venue. He received a standing ovation that was tinged with annoyance that half the audience missed substantial parts of the set.

He was followed by Marianne Faithful, who sings well enough with a pan-European accent and a touch of frisky granny chic. She can’t, however, overcome the plodding nature of a band that play competent mainstream blues rock of the type where originality and emotion are seen as character flaws.

To the ATP stage where Swedish dreampoppers I Break Horses are receiving a warm reception from a crowd that swells as the set continues. Maria Lindén’s vocals are intended to be ethereal initially, however, they are indistinct. The duo is supplemented live so that there are two synths, guitar, and electronic drums. Once the vocal sound is sorted the band produce beautiful and enthralling modern shoegaze.

Back in the Auditorium and an all-star cast are attempting to recreate Big Star’s Third album. This is a difficult task because the album itself is fragmentary being built up from fraught recording sessions as the band imploded. It doesn’t even have a definitive track listing.

The band tonight has been assembled by Chris Stamey of the dB’s and has been playing a series of gigs at prestigious venues like the Barbican in London and at festivals such as SXSW. It is a fluid line-up with musicians running on and off stage, like an American Football team switching from defence to attack, at the end of each song. However, the core band includes Jon Auer and Ken Shuttleworth from the Posies, Mike Mills of R.E.M. on bass, producer Mitch Easter, and Big Star drummer Jody Stephens. These are augmented by an eight piece string section and assorted additional singers.

The show kicks off with Kizza Me sung by last night’s mainstage headliner Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, the musicians produce a rich and powerful sound. Later singers include Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, Sharon Van Etten, Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake, Django Haskins, and Wilco’s Pat Sansone.

A particular highlight is Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip, who delivers a beautiful soulful rendition of the Velvet Underground’s Femme Fatal (covering a cover). On Downs they address the difficult arrangement by having Mike Mills bounce a basketball for the bass rhythm. Elsewhere, beautiful gentle string arrangements are to the fore. Throughout Stamey is leading the band, nodding people in or silencing them rather like a football player-manager.

After a rapturous reception the band return for encores of September Gurls, Thirteen, and former Big Star member Chris Bell’s I Am The Cosmos. It was a magical, stylish and well executed experience.

There follows a quick sprint across site (unfortunately catching a portion of the Cure’s interminable set in the process – they don’t get any better!) and in so doing I go from the sublime melodies Big Star to Napalm Death. Who in their own way were just as wonderful.”¨”¨The band manage the difficult task of being uncompromising compromising without being po-faced. Highlights include Scum and a cover of the Dead Kennedys’ Nazi Scum Fuck Off.

What is striking about this band is that they are clearly playing earnestly, they are not so serious as to be come silly. They rattle through the songs with passion and speed.

Barney Greenway is good natured between songs, speaking in an ordinary Brummie timbre before introducing the next song in Heavy Metal voice. “This is a little number called LOCUS OF DEATH”.”¨”¨ It’s an unexpectedly fun and fabulous set.

As the second day draws to a close, Codeine’s beautiful, gentle melancholy casts a sombre pallor over the ATP Stage, before The Men’s aggressive NYC Garage punk gives the blues a good kicking.

The final day begins with an intense acoustic performance by the Swans’ Michael Gira.

Organisational problems rectified for his second set of the weekend, Jeff Mangum, invites the audience to sit around his feet on the edge of the stage, like an infants class around teacher. This is a beautiful gesture and does much to soothe hurt feelings from the previous day. In fact it creates a fabulous intimate atmosphere.

The set draws heavily on Aeroplane material, but also takes in the rest of his repertoire, Little Birds being a particular high point. This was an emotionally wrought and special performance, one for which I had high expectations that were exceeded. The overwhelming feeling is of what an incredible talent Mangum is, I hope that once this run of gigs is over a further fallow period doesn’t follow.

On the Pitchfork stage, Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound alter ego recieves an ecstatic reaction to his electro pop. But I’m headed to the neighbouring VICE stage for another Athens, Georgia act – Olivia Tremor Control.

Their are an act that switches lead vocals and instrument roles on occasion violin, oboe and glockenspiel are utilised. There’s a variety of styles too, but they don’t stray too far from light psychedelica. A pleasant performance, but having heard their recorded work I was hoping for a more convincing show.

On the ATP stage, a continuous dark beat builds tension for ten minutes before Shellac take the stage. The drums are set up centre stage, as if the drummer is co-frontman, at times Albini & Weston drop right back giving him the spotlight.

This is a stunning performance. The drum sound is the best I’ve heard from any band at a festival managing to be crisp and thunderous at the same time. Sparse tense guitar creates an electric atmosphere.

A spine-tingling moment is the End of Radio, always one of their greatest songs, it has morphed to become in part a performance piece about a snare drum, where Todd Trainer goes walkabout with just a snare drum. He bounces drumsticks off the snare into the joyous crowd. The song eventually returns to it’s central theme as a radio broadcast from the last dj on earth, here too the lyrics have moved on. Now Albini addresses extra-terrestrials centuries in the future who’ve picked up the broadcast –

“I apologise all the awful music, I apologise for way too much sports, I apologise for right wing talk show hosts, But I do not apologise for John Peel”¦”

This was an exceptional show that will live long in the memory.

Yo Le Tengo begin with feedback and guitar smashing. Maybe it is the juxtaposition with the controlled grandeur of Shellac, but the lack of focus from YLT grated as the set went on. There are moments of great quality and periods of fucking about.ӬӬPerhaps they go hand in hand for this band.

The last great performance of the festival was by Bristolian post-punk legends the Pop Group. This is perhaps because the closest I’ll ever get to livin’ it large in Ibiza is the Pop Group at 3am in Barcelona.

Mark Stewart looks a little like a taxi driver but he gives a energetic and vibrant performance. The crowd dance throughout with many singing along to We Are All Prostitutes and She Is Above Good and Evil.

All that remains was to catch a bit of Neon Indian’s unremarkable dance pop.

All words and images by Declan IOM.

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