Live Review
PRIMAVERA SOUND 10, BARCELONA
Primavera Sound 10
Parc del Forum, Barcelona
Spain
27-29/05/10

In the human world, reaching the age of ten is an unwarranted milestone; a lifetime away from adulthood, lottery ticket purchases and even our teens that we’re so eager to reach. There’s nothing you can do when you’re ten that you couldn’t at nine, and yet turning the big 1 0 is a deal large enough to land you a TV in your bedroom and other more-lavish-than-usual gifts.

For a festival to beat the reaper for a whole decade is a far more impressive feat, especially with gigs-in-a-field on the rise and festival fatalities stratospheric, and yet Primavera Sound has made it look easy by consistently curating the kind of alt. lineups that make Reading & Leeds look like a second rate T4 on The Beach, while hosting their three consecutive all-nighters on Barcelona’s shoreline. It’s ATP in a holiday destination you actually want to go to, sprawled across the purpose-built, concrete-mad Parc Forum, which, although brand-spanking-new, looks as though it was previously inhabited by a 1950s world science fair, all ramps to nowhere in particular and occasional sprouting metal structures. There are six stages in all, five of which are open air, and it all begins (really) with The xx in Ray-Ban’s semi-amphitheatre.

Still as saucy as ever – despite Jeremy Paxman’s hawkish face now springing to mind whenever you hear ‘Intro’ – everything and nothing about the trio has changed with the success of their debut album. The crowd, for one, is ridiculously big, and they’ve also bought a couple of giant ‘X’ shaped light boxes with their mountains of BBC cash to complement their show with suitable, understated class. The dry ice bellows more than ever, tumbling over the front of the stage, and while the band are in trademark black, it certainly seems like a stylist has got their hands on them, armed with racks of designer clothes. And that’s exactly how it should be, because as their ever-spacious, touching performance proves in its similarity to the band’s earliest shows, The xx are a deserved sleeper success story. They’ve always been this good live, and now more people know it, the word spread with the added bonuses of a few bells and whistles, which really are as subtle and as ‘xx’ as you’d imagine. And as for the one new track that they air, it sounds as frail and as comfortable in silence as anything the band have already recorded, suggesting that Romy and Oliver remain fascinatingly shy and yet eager to bravely share their woes with anyone who’ll listen.

Over on the Vice stage – the festival’s furthest point and only ocean-facing stage – San Diego duo-come-five-piece Crocodiles show little interest in playing anything but new songs. They chuck out ‘Neon Jesus’ and ‘Summer of Hate’ before arriving at the closing ‘I Wanna Kill’, but with clued-up bodies in front of them they’re keen to brag their new, krauty wares, which have been produced by James Ford and recorded in the Joshua Tree Desert. Safe to say, it sounds more cosmic and psychedelic than ever, with added flashes of Manc baggy thrown in. New single ‘Sleep Forever’ could have been on ‘Definitely Maybe’, while ‘Hearts Of Love’ shows that a band who bonded over Phil Spector girl groups can never leave the romantic pop chimes of the west coast completely alone. And that’s a good thing – it’s possibly the best track they’ve ever written, and play tonight.

Over the remainder of the festival, Vice’s cove, with its falafel and hotdog stands (a rarity here as all other food stalls are tucked inside Pitchfork’s covered stage and outnumbered by record stands), plays host to a no-brain highlight, a nice surprise, the disappointment of the weekend and a festival-ending, 3am HEALTH performance plagued with sound problems early on and speakers that just aren’t loud enough for the abrasive noisecore we’ve fled from The Pet Shop Boys (who put on the best ‘show’ with some of the worst songs, plus ‘Heart’, which might just be the greatest song of the three days) to hear. (Despite this, HEALTH do play the lesser-heard ‘Glitter Pills’, an un-introduced track of ethereal zombie vocals and new thumper ‘USA Boys’, making it far from an epic fail).

The Drums are the surprise, who aren’t the stand-still-and-sing types we were expecting. Singer Jonathan Pierce juts around not to his hoppy, surfy rhythm section but to his own nasal-wheezing voice and the band’s Cure-esque arpeggios. It means that he twitches erratically like one of those camp, plastic flowers controlled by sounds, once found on stereo speakers in 1991. This – and an over-excitable guitarist – completes Drums’ package, as the songs are undeniably brilliant pop tracks, providing you don’t ask for more of them than that.

Yeasayer are more than a decent enough pop band playing decent yet simple pop songs. ‘Odd Blood’ has catapulted them to a whole new level that they’re revelling in. Bringing in their own fluorescent light-block stage set and slating the Ray-Ban banners either side of the Vice stage, somehow ‘2080’ and ‘Sunrise’ now seem a little lightweight compared to fresher cuts ‘O.N.E.’ and ‘Madder Red’. Even Ira Wolf Tuton’s unnecessary dig at UK crowds after triumphant closer ‘Ampling Alp’ can’t dismantle their liability.

It’s Panda Bear who spoils our one hundred percent strike rate of interesting, moving, brilliant and plain fun performances, by being none of the above. After a late arrival, caused by attempts to breath life into a malfunctioning laptop, he slopes behind a desk of wires and announces, “Sorry, we’re without visuals tonight.” It’s hard to imagine just how much a projections could make his sonic tinkering half as engulfing as Fuck Button’s nightmarish wall of static doese in the early hours of Friday morning, but with nothing but a stationary man to look at we soon slope off ourselves to Les Savvy Fav at the ATP stage, where we begin day two to the motorik thrum of Beak>, only for more of the same pulsing, stretching krautrock from Michael Rother performing Neu! classics the following evening. It’s a masterful trade.

Tim Harrington has been lying in wait to be one of the weekend’s highlights. Literally. As the rest of the NYC spike-rockers set up their kit, pre-set, he’s sat motionless, dressed on stage as the Abominable Snowman. He jumps up and the bowl of people shaped around the ATP stage break into utter pandemonium. Four or five brand new songs are debuted (the follow up to ‘Let’s Stay Friends’ will drop in the autumn) as berserk, reliable tracks like ‘Sweet Descends’ and ‘Patty Lee’ light up the night sky. The band dazzle and baffle courtesy of their usual madcap antics, while Pixies have a similar effect with a performance so perfect that it no doubt needs to be as mechanical as it definitely is.

They toss out the hits frequently and fast; ‘Wave Of Mutilation’ second, ‘Tame’ third, ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’ fourth and so on. It’s all superbly executed, and from far enough away from the San Miguel main stage (which undeniably proves to have the best sound of perhaps any other festival) Black Francis’ blood-curdling scream appears to be genuine. Move closer to the man who refuses to speak for the whole set though, and all of those accusations of the band doing it for the money seem as accurate as the rendition of greatest hits we’re hearing is. And it leaves you with an odd feeling. On one hand, this is Pixies playing what you want to hear, exactly how you want to hear it, but with their clocking-in cards tucked just off stage and dollar (or Euro) signs covered by Black’s sunglasses, rapped around his expressionless face, the sense of disappointment is hard to ignore. How did the most punk band of the festival become even more corporate than the bickering Pavement? Really, they’d be more at home in the only brand-heavy area of the site – the pokey Ray-Ban unplugged tent, where bands like Ganglians play sloppy acoustic sets while being photographed in this year’s Wayfarers.

Why Primavera Sound will make it to those lottery ticket-buying days and far, far beyond, though, is because matters like this, which could have you sulking home early from other festivals, are gripes almost too small to mention. There’s way too much going on that’s really worth seeing to be hung up on one ropey performance (or even ten) and an ex-hero or two making you question how you feel about the way they play too well. It’s every band you currently want to see, by the Mediterranean Sea. How can it not be close to the perfect festival?

By Stuart Stubbs, Phil Burt and Paul Griffiths