Primavera Sound 2012: Barcelona – live review

Primavera
Barcelona
30 May ”“ 3 June 2012

Primavera is one of Louder Than War’s favourite festivals so, following a review back on the 10th June by Declan IOM, we thought we’d treat you to another, this time written by Craig Johnson.

At the end of May, I spent 8 days in Barcelona for the phenomenon that is Primavera Sound festival. It was my second journey out there and my anticipation for this years festival had begun as soon as I got home from last years. I must say it’s one of the best festivals in the world, not only does it always has an incredible line up but it’s also in Barcelona (not a muddy field in England).

This year was no different. I spent three days in the blistering sun watching a load of brilliant bands, drinking lots of San Miguel and trying to master my Spanish. There was a bit of a ”Ëœcurse’ this year though in the form of artists cancelling, first it was Guided by Voices, then Bjork and, on the actual day of their scheduled performances, Sleep and the Melvins pulled out. I know the festival organisers couldn’t help it but it did upset me somewhat. To be honest though, I got over it pretty quickly as the rest of the line up was stellar.

I’ve been thinking about how to write this up for a while. I could go into the most detailed review of every band and every little part of the festival but I feel that would be a bit self-indulgent. So, I think I’ll just do a sort of ”Ëœoverview’ of each day, highlighting the best bits I saw. So, here it goes”¦

Thursday

To be honest, I think Thursday got off to a pretty good start as far as festivals go. I got to the site around 7.00pm, mooched around the record shops in the boiling hot sun and then went to see my first band of the day, which just so happened to be Archers of Loaf, definitely a great start to my festival experience. They power through a flawless set spraying out their 90’s guitar rock to a fanatic audience. The tracks from Icky Mettle sound as great today as they ever will.

Next up, I was reminded of my hometown of Newcastle as I saw Field Music play on the vice stage. This was fairly surreal, just because I was seeing a band that have such a close connection with the North East of England in a completely different environment. The set is great, full of wit, charm and modesty and a perfect soundtrack to the late afternoon sunshine.

Afghan Whigs were my next choice one the line up. Sadly though they didn’t deliver quite what I was expecting. While on record their hissy, noisy soul songs sound great, they seem flat and uninspired when seen live. I mean, I’ve never been the biggest fan of the band, but seeing them live I just couldn’t really get into it which is a shame as I was excited to see what all the reunion fuss was about.

For the next few hours I sort of just milled around. Caught a bit of White Denim who were fun at first but started to sound a little ”Ëœsamey’ after a while. I managed to catch a glimpse of Mazzy Star, who sounded great on the massive Ray Ban stage. I wish I’d been able to see a bit of Mudhoney too but the walk along to the ATP stage mixed in with inevitable band clashes meant it wasn’t to be.

After a bit of food and a few beers I headed to the main stage to catch a little snippet of Wilco. Opening with ”ËœPoor Places’ from their Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album, they sounded absolutely massive. I’ve never been their biggest fan, but judging by the size of the crowd, they have some fairly devoted followers. Their alternative folk rock really worked on such a big stage and I only wish I could have seen more, but Thee Oh Sees were calling my name. I got to the ATP stage as they were finishing their sound check. Even that was full of humour with singer John Dwyer expressing his seemingly close relationship with sound man ”ËœSam’. Soon though they burst into song. Probably one of the best and most exciting bands I saw this weekend. Throughout their entire performance they only seem to build energy and showmanship. Their psychedelic garage punk is utterly infectious and seeing them live adds so much to what I’d already heard on record. For a show that’s so fun and engaging you cant go wrong with Thee Oh Sees.

It is now time for one of the bands that have gained so much hype recently, due mostly to their reunion”¦Refused. The Swedish hardcore punk band, back on stage after so many years still have all the energy and tenacity that they originally did. Blasting through song after song of unrelenting post-hardcore genius its clear that the years have been good to them. One gripe though, singer Dennis Lyxzén seemed a little too ”Ëœpreachy’ for my liking. Yes, we’re all aware of how relevant your songs are now but we don’t need to hear it every second. Still though, that’s not going to put me off an incredible show. It was really great to witness how fresh and significant the songs from 1998’s The Shape of Punk to Come sound in 2012.

I think I needed something a bit more relaxing after seeing Refused and what better way than seeing Spiritualized. Granted it was on the ridiculously far away Mini stage, the walk was worth it. Launching straight into their new single ”ËœHey Jane’, the band really show how it’s done. For a band that hardly moves on stage they manage to give out some truly inspirational sounds. At 2.15am, Spiritualized sounded absolutely mind blowing. The soft, psychedelic space rock blasts out over the Barcelona night and sounds terrific. A perfect end to a perfect day of Primavera festival fun.

Friday

The day started off in the best way, with another blast of 90’s guitar rock. I arrived to the festival site earlier that the day previous, this time to see Milk Music. The shy looking trio definitely sound louder than they look. A perfect cross between Dinosaur Jr. and Nirvana, they reinvent 90’s guitar rock and make it sound utterly delectable. In between songs they address the crowd with the line “let’s get high”, surely an insight in to the minds of these four guys. After these, I managed to catch a couple of songs by Chavez. Im not the biggest fan, but I left happy as I managed to catch them play ”ËœLaugh Track’ from 1995’s ”ËœGone Glimmering’. Even though they played to a small crowd, they seemed to get a good reception. I’m glad I made the effort to run over to the Mini stage to have a peek.

ATP stage was next, this time for Siskiyou. After wondering just how to pronounce their name without sounding idiotic, I just decided to watch their beautiful folk music. With strange, half shouted, half yelped vocals reminiscent of Wu Lyf they really surprised me, in a good way. You know that band Mumford and Sons? Well, imagine if they were good and had a better understanding of what music should be about, that’s how I could describe Siskiyou if I was being lazy. Honestly though, it was the first I’d heard of them and I left their performance feeling impressed and satisfied with what I’d witnessed. A great collection of musicians with some really inspring sings under their belt.

At the other end of the musical spectrum, we have Harvey Milk. A self proclaimed “blues band”, they play their own slower, heavier, sludgier brand of blues. A band full of humour, they play a flawless set that has the whole crowd nodding their heads. While the bassist goes through about 6 cigarettes while he’s playing, the whole band seems to make their mammoth sound feel effortless.

I’d planned to watch the Melvins next, but they had the cancel their show (I heard it was because they missed their flight, but I’m not sure). So, we chilled out a bit and waited for The Cure. What can I say, it’s The Cure. No introduction is needed. They were incredible. They played for about three hours. They were exactly as I’d always imagined they would be. Surprisingly, Robert Smith still has a great voice, the years have been good to him.

I’d been looking forward to seeing Codeine ever since the first got announced. My excitement got the better of me and I actually went to see them an hour before they were due to play! But it meant I got to catch the majority of the Dirty Three’s set. As you may be aware, the trio of musicians play a strange blend of instrumental folk rock that also incorporates aspects of post rock, I suppose. Live, it’s frantic and messy, but somehow always seems to fit together. Warren Ellis is on typical form, rambling nonsense in between songs before lunging into a torrent of violin sound, something pretty special actually.

Now though, it’s time for Codeine. I take a seat on the bleachers at the ATP stage and prepare for the show. The modesty of the musicians really makes for a denser, more personal sound. Their songs, as you are probably aware, are both equally beautiful and heart wrenching. They’re on top form tonight and they sound even better and more personal than on record. As I sit there, I feel like I’m watching an intimate show with only 30 people, but the reality is much different. I just wish I could have watched them play for another three hours.

I sort of chilled out after the mentally draining performance of Codeine. Saw a bit of The Men, who I wasn’t too fussed on and then saw Obits who played a really great, high energy set. When hearing Rick Froberg’s voice, it just reminded me of seeing Hot Snakes last year. God, I wish they had played Primavera this year.

Sunday

The final day of the festival started with a Primavera first for me, a trip to the Auditori (Rockdelux stage) for two different shows. The first of which was Michael Gira. I’d missed Swans play the year before and wish I’d seen them but I suppose Michael Gira is as close as I could get. Seemingly humble as he takes to the stage, he quietly tunes up his acoustic guitar and as soon as he starts to play, the modesty quickly disappears. It’s weird, armed with only an acoustic guitar; he manages to play it in such a way to make it sound industrial and brutalist while still retaining the sense of closeness. His slow, gravely voice combined with the unique manipulation of acoustic guitar and flawless song writing gives a really chilling effect. Just imagine it as a more personal, more direct version of Swans. That probably doesn’t do it justice, but it’s the first thing that came to my head.

Primavera Sound 2012: Barcelona – live reviewStrangely, my next show was in the same venue but due to the fact that it was Jeff Mangum (and it was extremely popular), I had to exit the Auditori and queue to get in again. I’m not too bothered though, I managed to get seated 10 rows from the front. The man behind Neutral Milk Hotel takes to the stage, sits on a lonely chair and beckons the audience to come closer. As soon as he utters this, the whole crowd rushes forward, sitting around him and his guitar reminding me of a campfire like situation. His songs are delicate, charming, witty and full of irony. They sound incredible live and it’s such an enthralling experience to hear a room full of people singing along with one man and his guitar. It was one of the best performances of the whole weekend. Seriously, seeing ”ËœHolland, 1945′ and ”ËœIn Aeroplanes Over The Sea’ live really ticked a few boxes on my ”Ëœlife’ checklist.

I saw a bit of Atlas Sound, who was extremely disappointing. It was unfortunate as I’d be looking forward to seeing him, but his self-indulgent set seemed too unstructured and too lax for me to get any real pleasure out of it. Beach House on the other hand, took me completely by surprise. Their warm, ethereal dream pop really shines when it’s played live. I was actually sat in Barcelona, surrounded by a large crowd of hipsters, but if I closed my eyes I wouldn’t feel out of place at The Roadhouse from Twin Peaks (you know, in the scene where Julee Cruise is playing). At times it’s mellow and uplifting but it always has a dark undercurrent and it sounds incredible live, especially tracks from their new album ”ËœBloom’ which sounded really fresh.

Primavera Sound 2012: Barcelona – live reviewAfter seeing the last track of ambient musician Demdike Stare, I got a space for Shellac. A staple for Primavera sound, or more so ATP, they always put on a live show and I’d be eagerly anticipating this moment. We see them setting up on stage, taping drum carpet down and tuning up before launching straight into ”ËœCanada’. There’s a dry, sarcastic wit that runs throughout their set whether it’s their hilarious, slow motion guitar strums or acting like aeroplanes, it’s clear that they enjoy what their doing. They play a brilliant set including my two favourite Shellac songs, ”ËœCopper’ and ”ËœPrayer to God’. They’re always a tight band, but never afraid of a bit of messy but delectable guitar shredding. One thing that sticks in my head though is just how good a drummer Todd Trainer is. He plays like every beat counts (which it does), and plays with such force and passion, which really brings the band together as a whole. Highlight of the set though may have to be the extended version of ”ËœThe End of Radio’ where Albini talks about his relationship with ”Ëœsnare drum’ but also tells us stories of taking mushrooms and listening to music with “big headphones on”. I never tire of seeing them play; I just wish I didn’t have to wait so long in between their gigs.

I managed to quickly run over to the Vice stage to catch a bit of Hype Williams set. The drugged out, toned down, lo fi, ”Ëœtrip hop’ sounds surprisingly good in person. I was sceptical as to how their recording would transfer to a live setting, but I really enjoyed it. Although, the constant strobe light that was on throughout their show got a bit tedious and nauseating. Still, I guess it adds to the mysterious image they’re so adamant on keeping.

I managed to run over to the Mini stage to catch Yo La Tengo, which I’m delighted about. Playing a fair few songs off 1997’s ”ËœI Can Hear the Heart Beating as One’ they sound great. It’s hard not to notice how good the musicianship is. You have to love Ira Kaplan’s out of control and unhinged guitar solos though. Usually this sort of wild guitar playing would sound out of place, but for whatever reason it just seems to fit perfectly in with Yo La Tengo. In the past, they’ve been referred to as a critic’s band and now I understand why, I think there’s two cover songs in the set and both played with the passion and dedication that you would have with your own material.

And, well, that’s it”¦over for another year. I’ve heard many people call it the best festival in the world and it’s no surprise why. It always has a brilliant line up, it’s in Barcelona and it’s just an experience like no other. I just wish I didn’t have to wait another year to go back. To help me pass the time, I’ve cheekily booked myself a place for the recently announced ATP Nightmare Before Christmas weekender, curated by the one and only Shellac (of North America). Hopefully it will quench my Primavera thirst and keep me going that little bit longer.

All words Craig Johnson. Craig blogs at Craigness & tweets as @_craigness

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