Benicassim Festival 2012
Cote Azahar, Spain
12-15 July 2012

Manchester bands New Order and the Stone Roses dominated the Benicassim 2012 line-up and with the addition of a wonderful set from Bob Dylan and some glorious weather made this a festival to remember. 

With festivals, amongst all the fun and varying line-ups one thing is usually consistent: rain. Buckets of rain and mud and sweat, and the departing shots of the weekend usually entail abandoned wellies, macs and reluctant cleaners slipping and sliding their way towards dismantling the stages. That is, if you stay in England.

Over the years Spain’s Benicàssim festival, now in its 18th year, has seen celebratory headline sets from the likes of Iggy and The Stooges, Lou Reed, Oasis and Blur; as well as career-defining slots from Kings of Leon and Vampire Weekend.

This year however, Vince Power pulled no punches by securing main acts who have been here and done it all before, namely New Order, Bob Dylan and the newly-reunited Stone Roses.

Florence + The Machine managed to cancel even before the inevitable opening day sight of English festival-goers scattered over the Spanish streets, battered and brown from the searing heat.

The Horrors stepped in nicely, playing an extended set that saw no changes but firmly confirmed them as genuinely one of the best bands in Britain today, frontman Faris stalking the stage and pulling live favourite ”˜Sea Within A Sea’ out of the bag.

After it was over to the Trident Senses stage to catch Bat For Lashes, only to be met by another cancellation so it was with pure delight that I made my way back to the Main Stage to see At The Drive-In‘s first European show in over 10 years.

A band possibly more suited to smaller venues (contributed by the fact their electrifying 1999 Electric Ballroom show is a worthy inclusion on most best-gigs-of-the-decade lists) they drew mainly from the classic ”˜Relationship of Command’ to please the rabid audience, who couldn’t quite bring themselves to mosh ”“ either due to the heat or the fact a lot of crowd featured bemused middle-aged folk unaware of Florence’s cancellation.

Friday was awash with eager talk of Bob Dylan’s midnight headline slot. So, after enjoying the sound of Miles Kane’s delightful set from the confines of my own tent, I thought it best to spend time before Dylan checking out the local Spanish talent. And no, I didn’t head for the beach. I mean in the form of former Sunday Drivers singer Jero Romero, bringing to the Trident Senses stage a nice touch of indie pop so catchy and fun you didn’t even have to understand the lyrics.

Main Stage again, Bombay Bicycle Club justified themselves as future headliners with a stunning show, proving by a long way they were far more than just a warm-up for the man on everybody’s lips. It’s difficult to believe they broke through by winning the ”˜Road to V’ competition, Jack Steadman’s ethereal vocals ensuring ”˜Leave It’, ”˜Lights Out, Words Gone’ and old staple ”˜Always Like This’ garnered enchanted reactions from the delighted audience ”“ despite risking the wrath of the sweating masses in stating he’d think of everyone as he woke in his air-conditioned hotel room.

Then Dylan himself: the folk legend who manages to divide everybody’s opinions with regard to modern-day live performances. But he was on good form, his voice less a growl and more determined, confident and well, dare I say it, full of fun. He even began to dance and with the ever-present hat rooted firmly on his head he led his band through a fine set taking in old classics, ”˜Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hot’, ”˜Desolation Row’ and of course, the ”˜Like A Rolling Stone’ encore before blowing kisses into the mainly-British crowd and departing for the East of Spain to continue his ever-expanding Neverending Tour.

Saturday saw all-out no-frills punk rock from legends Buzzcocks, Steve Diggle strutting around lifting his axe into the air as powerhouse singer Pete Shelley led from the front. They’ve been doing this thing for decades and they never give you anything less, but somehow in 2012 it sounds ever-more vital, far ballsier in their advancing years than any fresh-faced debutants.

And as the final cries of ”˜Ever Fallen In Love’ reached my ears I was already sprinting towards the Main Stage in anticipation of The Stone Roses, whose so-far consistently brilliant reunion tour had led many to claim each gig as their greatest ever. Waiting impatiently at the front, I wanted to clear any opinion from my mind and just enjoy the show: impossible.

It’s difficult to avoid thinking about the hype and the adulation and praise heaped upon Ian Brown, Mani, Remi and John Squire since their revered reformation. And as the opening bass lines of ”˜I Wanna Be Adored’ sounded out I knew it was going to be special.

It was an intensely spiritual experience. You can see many amazing bands play many amazing gigs but this was far more than that. They are hands-down the greatest band on the planet and it’s incredulous to think of John Squire’s guitar lying clad in dust for a decade.

It’s useless to add anything more to the millions of column inches already covering the band’s shows but it was going to very obviously be impossible for any other band on the bill to top it. Although Sunday did come close, in the form of New Order.

If Saturday was tears of joy at the witnessing of beauty, the closing day was tears of memoriam. Nicely building up to the Manchester legends, Belle and Sebastian songwriter Stevie Jackson perfected the art of indie pop, quickly drawing clichéd comparisons to a ”˜Scottish Graham Coxon‘.

The Vaccines further maintained their steady ascent towards the crown Arctic Monkeys didn’t want, three songs from their promising sounding second album solidly filling the gaps between the usual debut album hits.

And though New Order dedicated their set to Ian Curtis on what would have been his 56th birthday they ripped through their greatest hits, promising a display that would ”˜hospitalise’ the audience. And whilst I didn’t see anybody led off on stretchers, they lapped it up just as much as the Roses the night before.

New Order are surely amongst the finest live bands ever to have picked up instruments and despite Blur’s obvious seminal achievements, should rightfully be headlining next month’s Olympics closing ceremony ahead of the Britpop kings.

Walking onstage to ”˜Elegia’ they gave us, especially in ”˜Crystal’, ”˜Ceremony’ and the closing ”˜Love Will Tear Us Apart’, firm reminders of the strength of their back catalogue, accompanied by a stunning laser display.

And despite Toronto’s Crystal Castles bringing the festival to an emphatic close well into the early hours, ensured that Manchester, for a weekend, ruled this little corner of Spain.

All words by Richard Gilbert-Cross. You can read more from Richard on LTW here. 

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