Live Review
PRIMAVERA SOUND 2011
Primavera Sound
Parc Del Forum
Barcelona, Spain
26-28/05/11

Primavera Sound isn’t the kind of festival where you spend all your time in the Healing Fields, maybe catching a band or two, but always later on. You don’t “head back to the tent” all the time, and not only because there is no tent. The deal is, from 6pm to 6am, for three consecutive nights, you don’t wander the concrete fields of Barcelona’s Parc del Forum dressed as a bumblebee and sampling the odd morsel of live music; you tear around it trying to ingest as many leftfield greats (and tipped-to-be-greats) as possible. It would make for an intensely stressful 36 hours were the bands not so worth it.

Guitars are very much the order of Primavera, with bedroom electronica a convincing enough second. Hip hop is represented less so, and yet Big Boi performing in the Ray-Ban amphitheatre at sunset on day one gives us an early and lasting highlight to the weekend. It’s not that we need a break from all the serious indie so soon (as is more the case by the time we see Odd Future virtually close (down) the Pitchfork stage on day three); more that he’s so loud and unquestionably up for a party where his closest peers are the much more silly Das Racists. It’s the festival’s ‘Jay-Z moment’, if you will, and while it appears that the crowd are voluntarily pigeon-bobbing their heads with enthusiasm, it might well be that the bass has broken their necks.

Interpol bring us down at the site’s furthest point, on a stage that is actually bigger than where the headliners play. Fortunately, it’s their icy gloom-wave that does the job, not their statuesque live show that is so often held to account. Yes, the band pretty much stand and play, and yes, now that Carlos D has left the group there is even less to look at, but the band’s greatest hits serve as a crystalline reminder of how good White Lies will never be, and – with ‘The Heinrich Manoeuvre’ being such a highlight – gives us a little hope that last year’s terribly dull self-titled album is something that the band would like to forget as quickly as we do.

Grinderman appear to be watched by everyone, including Jarvis Cocker who tells us he’s come down a day early to check out the sound of the San Miguel stage he’ll point his elbows on tomorrow night. He says he’s “very nervous”, in which case, Nick Cave’s assured performance is probably unlikely to settle his stomach.

The comparisons that Grinderman have often had lashed upon them to Cave’s anarchical previous outfit The Birthday Party have always been somewhat unfounded and lazy, but for the first time tonight it seems there may be some foundation to the claims. Cave is feral this evening – he lurches and hovers, back arched like an animal ready to pounce, and pounce he does. It’s the malevolent, improvised screeches of “tippy-toes, tippy-toes” that he unleashes that make the most unsettling, Birthday Party-esque moments come alive. They emit a ferocious degree of noise between them – Jim Sclavunos pounds the drums like a disgruntled giant, Warren Ellis twitches and exudes raw, weird angst from every pore and Martyn Casey’s bass lines rumble like the belly of a beast. Amalgamated, they are a wonderful onslaught.

Still cramming, we get fifteen minutes of Gold Panda time before Flaming Lips close the main stage from 2:15am to what feels like eternity. Gold Panda pulls a mighty crowd who infest the steep staircase beside the Pitchfolk stage and throb to his ambient electronics. We could have gotten away with watching all of his set before climbing those stairs for Flaming Lips – they play forever, and Wayne Coyne’s continual pleas of “Fucking c’mon!!!” between one forgotten song and the next sums up how bored we must all look. The fact that every song features a super slow outro doesn’t help matters. The whole thing just reminds us that we’re not really fans at all. We are of the closing ‘Do You Realise’, though – big, grown-men-crying fans. It’s remains extremely powerful stuff. Coyne could have held us hostage for two hours with only white noise for company and we would have forgiven him by the time we’re weeping to ‘Do Your Realise’.

On day two Pulp occupy the same top spot, and Jarvis Cocker’s nerve seems to have either been nothing but lip service, or he’s cunningly hiding his fright by acting exactly like he did when Pulp were at their height. Every twitch, every curly finger waggle, every acute vogue, every breathy sex-pest exhale on the forever naughty ‘Pencil Skirt’ and every seedy whisper through ‘I Spy’ – they’re all perfect, from the opening ‘Do You Remember The First Time’, which sees the band begin behind a semi-opaque curtain, to the closing ‘Razzmatazz’. In between, we get everything from ‘A Different Class’, bar ‘Mishapes’, surprisingly, plus the good stuff from ‘His’n’Hers’ and the title track from ‘This Is Hardcore’.

Jarvis helps a boy in the front row propose to his girlfriend after ‘I Spy’, saying “That is a lovely ring that!”, while he dedicates ‘Common People’ to protesters who were victims of police brutality earlier in the day in the middle of town. For the song itself, the biggest audience of the three nights by far go crazier than you can imagine. It’s this show that was a huge reason for us to go to Primavera this year, and it couldn’t have been more worth the trip.

Less hysterical, yet equally as appreciated, is what opens day two – one of two Sufjan Stevens performances in the onsite, indoor auditorium, Rockdelux. With a finite capacity, tickets were given away for this one on a lottery basis. Two thousand tickets were available, forty thousand applied for them, and if you’ve spent the last six years tantalising your army of ardent fans with promises of 50-album folk cycles and then releasing ambient operas about motorways and tepid pseudo-disco albums that are both long and boring, you better have something special in your locker when you tour. Thankfully, Stevens does. Performing with all the comfort and technical mastery that Rockdelux affords, he and his band – including dancers, funk brass section and two drummers – serve up two hours of 3D projections, 10-foot angel wings, UV raver costumers, balloon drops, confetti showers, synchronised dancing and, most crucially, utterly bewitching music that reveals ‘The Age of Adz’ to be simply poor recordings of brilliant songs.

Mid-way through, he issues a 15-minute lecture, complete with slides, on the delusional schizophrenic who inspired his latest records, as if to add further context to his change in sound. It works. Coupled with the mesmerising show, everything falls rather magically into place.

There’s something of the lecture about Pere Ubu plays the ‘Annotated Modern Dance’ too, David Lynn Thomas regaling us with wry wit tales from atop a stool and behind a stand of notes and lyrics, in his Truman Capote squeak. It’s really worth getting some context when you consider ‘Annotated Modern Dance’ as a retrospective performance, though. At first it may seem like the action of just another old post-punk band, but once you realise that this lot formed in 1975 and are playing songs off an album released in 1978 you realise how far ahead of just about everybody these guys were. ‘Non-Alignment Pact’ is a song that would blow you away no matter the year, and the modern music scene has a long-way to go before it catches up with where these guys were 35 years ago. And while age has slowed the frenetic onstage pace of Thomas, he can still pipe ‘em out when he’s not being the funniest frontman at the whole of the festival.

Stuart Murdoch of Belle And Sebastian has a far more British, twee charm to him. Of him and his band, sometimes you want to hold them close, as if you would defend them to the death (like when they play ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’). Other times you want to start indiscriminately punching people just so you can feel some testosterone pulsing through your bones (see ‘I’m a Cuckoo’  – surely one of the worst songs ever written). Tonight they are at their frustrating best, in that they played some of their better songs, but we could barely hear the bloody thing. Not wanting to be those moany tits who stand there shouting “louder”, we think it’s probably best to just leave them all to it.

By day three (or night three) we’d also soaked up Moon Duo (a band that clearly inspire far more movement than Ripley Johnson’s other drone act, Wooden Shjips), Male Bonding (shame there were no vocals), Tennis on ATP’s brilliant nook stage (nowhere near brilliant themselves) and The National, who also suffered from some poor sound issues. In need of a seat (to be fair, virtually all eight Primavera stages have seating of sorts), we head for John Cale performing ‘Paris 1919’ in the Rockdelux, 24-hours after Sufjan Steven’s unique show.

There is a smooth, seamless professionalism that greets us from the opening delights of ‘Child’s Christmas In Wales’, which continues throughout the remainder of the rendition. Cale’s voice is soft, mellow and warm in its subtle delivery, barley different from his voice of 1973. His orchestra is powerful without being overstating, and they blend harmoniously together to recreate an album of exquisite beauty, that by the time we have reached ‘Andalucia’, it becomes tear inducing. Cale’s new material then has us crying for another reason – it really is poor. ‘Don’t Get Sentimental On Me’ is devilish in its title but dire in its delivery, and it’s a highlight of the new stuff. It’s a rather foetid transition from old to new, but one that can be tolerated based on the sheer majesty of the ‘1919’ material.

Better with her most recent work is PJ Harvey, who stands spot lit in a long, flowing white dress with flowers in her hair, clutching her auto-harp with elegance. The tracks from ‘Let England Shake’ are beautifully orchestrated and float through the muggy Spanish air. The set itself is about as anti-festival as it’s possible to be, and yet Harvey and band achieve the almost impossible – they make playing outside to thousands of people feel like a very sacred, intimate moment, embracing the music instead of the environment.

For modern music’s most controversial, violently misogynistic and homophobic act, Odd Future are quite the likeable bunch. It could be because having skipped onstage in vests, shorts, knee-high sports socks and baseball caps, Tyler, The Creator and his bratty droogs are most audible when they’re gushing their thanks to the crowd for coming to watch them. Two things are for sure though – the collective’s raps are as tight as they are potty mouthed, and whether fuelled by hype or to raw talent, Odd Future’s live show is one of the most exciting things we’ve seen this year. The stage dives are impressively fearless, or stupid, or both, and reports of this NWA rehash feeling more like a hardcore punk show than a hip-hop half hour totally ring true.

The trashing energy notably sags in the middle – basically when Tyler buggers off to reek havoc somewhere else – but when he returns to perform ‘Yonkers’ from debut solo album ‘Goblin’, it rapidly peaks, and by the end, as more of the crowd find themselves onstage than off it, it feels like an important moment for new hip-hop, sure, but also for DIY music in general.

It makes Animal Collective all the more disappointing. They are clearly a band with stunning songs and moments that can take your breath away, it’s just a shame that they never want to do any of them live. In fact, they seem to consider this a badge of honour as they radically reinvent recorded material and twist it into something completely different. We’ve often sat and enjoyed this kind of thing in the past, but it’s 2am on the final day of one of the world’s best festivals and we want to dance so it’s time to head

elsewhere, like to DJ Shadow performing inside a globe of complex projections.

The cramming goes on to the last minute, because at Primavera Sound you’d feel like you’re missing something if you spent a second standing still.

By Daniel Dylan Wray, Olly Parker, Philippa Burt Sam Walton and Stuart Stubbs

Originally published in issue 29 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. June 2011