Primavera Festival, Porto – Live Review
Primavera Festival 2018
7 – 9 June 2018
The Portuguese leg of Primavera is held in the ‘idyllic when it’s sunny’ setting of Porto’s Parque da Cidade near the sea. It’s a fashionable one which means that while tourists like me who think it is beyond belief that Mogwai is spelt wrongly on the posters are here, you can be pretty sure Noel Gallagher isn’t.
Despite the drizzle on Sunset Strip things really kicked off with the Alice meets Quatro rock of Starcrawler. A start which saw the sort of plodding rock which blighted their debut album being soon enlivened by the in the flesh experience this stuff should always be. With the Carrie let loose in a dressing up box of vocalist Arrow De Wilde and the “built to destroy” of Love’s Gone Again seeing her clear the massed ranks of photographers by throwing a mike stand at them.
Following this with I Love LA and the stand out Ants showed how electrifying they could be. Here the ridiculously thin De Wilde and the rock star that guitarist Henri Cash is fast becoming contort themselves into some sort of weird geometry lesson. The miming of guns and hanging probably annoying somebody somewhere too. By the end it was a singalong “I do what I want” which was only really enlivened by a blood capsule drenched De Wilde exiting the stage after an up close therapy session with several audience members. If Starcrawler want they have enough time to get the songs and failing that could always employ a Chinn and Chapman to really agitate the indie intelligentsia.
No such concerns for Ezra Furman who is turning into quite the songwriter. Don’t get me wrong I love the likes of Tell Em All to Go to Hell and I Wanna Destroy Myself. Bellowing “I have fallen deep in love with nothing” from the latter was particularly satisfying but these New York tinged blasts of punk rock have slowly been replaced by something a little more widescreen. He stills paints a vivid picture but Driving Down to L.A. sounds like a rough arsed version of Mercury Rev.
And no it doesn’t matter that none of us have done all this. In fact it makes it better. Suck The Blood from My Wound’s refrain of “We’ll always be freaks” continuing to lay the gauntlet down to the fear of boredom he spoke of between songs. While seeming more comfortable with himself than the last time I saw him he retains the edge which flies in the face of simply wanting to have the freedom to replicate a straight marriage and kids lifestyle.
Indeed he takes his coat off to reveal a quite discreet little number around the time of a cracking cover of Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love. Throughout the show the white suited band fill out the sound with a variety of stuff and sax player Tim Sandusky contributes with particular gusto. A wonderfully desperate version of Love You So Bad finishes us off and I realise they have made me forget about pissing myself. At a certain time of life praise doesn’t get much higher.
I am hardly a floating voter when it comes to Idles either but vocalist Joe Talbot’s “What the fuck is this?” before a note had been struck still did no harm. People like to have their views confirmed and my observation that U2 must be landing on the runway stage extension that had appeared since yesterday seemed sound. However I for one had not thought this through as the minute guitarist Mark Bowen started his camp cavorting on it the potential was evident. While Talbot may have introduced Bowen as “Keith Richards” he soon joined him on the catwalk before this splendid inappropriateness culminated in them crooning Xmas songs to each other from either end.
But enough of this fact fans you want to know about the songs. Most of the magnificence from debut album “Brutalism” but more importantly some new ones that showed the standard wasn’t slipping. First up a song introduced as being about “toxic masculinity” which will need narrowing down in a set which includes a few. This was a slow burner that exploded into a serious chorus before Talbot appropriated Katy Perry and “kissed a boy” whilst raising a middle finger in the general direction of the audience. With a tune that lodges straight in your head but has enough depth to work as a vehicle for the celebration of immigration and name checking Freddie Mercury there was a thrilling Danny Nedelko. Love Song featured mountains of skree while Rottweiler may have finished the set for months but stills shows you can just repeat the title if you know what you’re doing.
Overall then what was confirmed today at teatime is that Idles are by some distance the most vital zeitgeist capturing twenty first century punk experience around. In the midst of this front man Talbot is the sort of intriguing force that has not been seen in remotely popular guitar music for years. Some of the grimacing and foot stamping is theatre while much is righteous anger but occasionally he just seems genuinely fucking furious in general as the songs strive to be positive but I’m not sure he really believes we can change.
Following this was going to be a tall order and that Zeal & Ardor came anywhere near is testament to their fusion of black metal and spirituals. That’s right black metal and something that a lazy writer would compare to that album from Moby but the Swiss main man Manuel Gagneux and his band generate all on their own. Pre gig nerves meant I wondered whether the splicing of the genres would look a little like the experiment it is but any fears were soon dispensed with as the band took to the stage. Arriving hooded and surrounded by dry ice before going into In Ashes with its “Burn the young boy burn him good” incantation was fun but it was when the riffs collided with the blast beats that the conviction seemed evident.
Authenticity can be overrated anyway but the guitar section rocked without the awkwardness that would have killed them and two vocalists supplied the even more ominous counterpoint to Gagneux’s classic tones. Something so atmospheric was happening that before the title track to their new Stranger Fruit album he felt confident enough to break cover by admitting what a good time they were having. Lord knows what your serious church desecrator would make of this but the tee shirts down the front seemed to approve and just before it started to drag it was time for the clanking chains of early single Devil Is Fine.
In reality the chain gang element is more dominant than the metal and it can feel a bit one trick but what a trick. That they evoked enough of the sixteen-year-old spirit in me to think that anyone who didn’t think the same deserved their subscription to Smashed Avocado Weekly is a testament to something. At worst the spectacularly high body count means a career sound tracking HBO series is theirs for the taking.
Steve Albini matters to certain gentlemen and they are usually gentlemen of a certain age. There was certainly something in the air as I made sure I was on his side of the stage. I pontificated about guitar sounds and production techniques that I knew nothing about to someone that wasn’t interested. Not having seen him since the awesome Big Black and the ill-judged Rapeman listening to someone bang on about not having been to Primevera unless you had seen Shellac made me feel like calling it a day.
Thankfully I didn’t. The initial intensity of Squirrel Song and Copper suited the stripped down setting. Albini with guitar in his place and bassist Bob Weston in trademark loud trousers a real sight in full flow. Riding Bikes prompting an unlikely crowd singalong while that nagging voice was still perfectly suited to the delivery of lines like “Kill him” on a taut as hell Prayer to God. Steady as She Goes riding in on a riff which had considerably more oomph than on record. Here the impressively thin Todd Trainer looked like he was going to do a drum solo before Albini and Weston returned to the stage from opposite corners to unleash the guitar part that made for a tremendous feeling of release.
That is maybe the point as here they left it just the right amount of time whereas some others seemed more like exercises in musicianship. Precision or not it can all start to feel a bit learned. By the end of the set and during a plodding The End of Radio I was hoping they would play Ballroom Blitz rather that the turgid exercise they had inserted into it. As Weston held down the bass part they did the packing stuff straight away thing which made for an abrupt or drawn out exit depending on what way you look at it. Grown men repeatedly shouting “Steve” like they were in an Alan Partridge series.
Maybe it was the full length black sowester I had bought to try and keep dry but for me the last day was mostly about Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. When the time came it was a stately beginning with Jesus Alone before From Her to Eternity featured some frenzied No Wave style skronking from Warren Ellis. Keeping up the attack was a wonderfully entertaining Red Right Hand with some updated lyrics about “little red phones” in what maybe was a mild rebuke to the sea of cameras facing him. They want to be thankful it wasn’t the Birthday Party.
Girl in Amber with its projection of Brighton’s broken pier felt like going from the ridiculous to the sublime after Fatboy Slim had opened the Festival in the Porto square I was staying in with some acid house images of the city. It was definitely a moment when they went into Tupelo’s story of Elvis’ birth in a storm lashed Mississippi and the weather took a further turn for the worse. The rain became torrential and give or take a few hundred umbrellas almost matched the images unfolding behind the band. I cannot remember another occasion when getting this soaked felt so perfect.
That the rendition of Jubilee Street came close was testament to an epic ending that Cave and the Bad Seeds threw everything at. While the biblical weather may have the devoted thinking twice after he could have claimed prophet status in the wake of Skeleton Tree it is onstage were this is useful. When required the darts around the stage and the flailing limbs where present but in general it is more a laying on of hands with tongue in cheek that makes for the spectacle.
All of which makes me conclude that no one has made the move from punk to stadium sized shows in such style. In what might be his usual creative trajectory or a feeling that those songs wouldn’t work in this environment tonight’s set list featured noticeably less from Skeleton Tree than his recent tour. As he knows himself Cave has plenty of “beautiful songs” to choose from and The Weeping Song delivers before the crowd join him onstage for a very moving ending of Push the Sky Away.
Now Mogwai fear Satan but not as much as I fear sixteen minute instrumentals. In an unfortunate bit of scheduling the Scottish post rockers follow Cave on a different stage and only a relatively few hardy souls brave it out. It’s a shame as I enjoy their more reflective moments but after the initial rush of the quiet loud thing rain stops my play as I head for the exit. On the bus back to the city there was plenty of time to stare through the odd bit of window that was not completely steamed up and reflect on a festival which mirrored the ups and downs blowing in from the Atlantic Coast. Sometimes there was a whiff of stuff that couldn’t hit a tunes arse with a banjo but when it was good it really was.
All words by Steve John – Author profile here
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