One of the most moving sets of the weekend, delivered by a woman dressed as Toad from Mario Kart
When the Moldy Peaches emerged at the turn of the millennium from the anti-folk movement centred around New York’s Sidewalk Cafe, you’d have got long odds on them being the act from that scene that ended up on the reunion-rock Big Festival circuit 20 years later. After all, despite their cult popularity, famous friends, and possession of a clutch of the kind of amusingly provocative songs that were memeable ahead of their time, their live incarnation required a measure of patience: lead singer Kimya Dawson’s paralysing stage fright often made performances as uncomfortable to witness as they clearly were to deliver, while co-leader Adam Green‘s seemingly insatiable (but endearing) desire to take the piss at all times meant that the band’s gigs acquired a certain notoriety. Chuck in a dress-up zaniness that didn’t always match the era’s cool nonchalance, and Moldy Peaches gigs frequently felt like a roll of the dice.
And yet here we are, two decades-plus and only a handful of gigs since the band’s only album, at the European festival that’s pioneered its reputation on reuniting long-lost much-loved acts, for the sunset slot on the site’s most picturesque stage – and on zips Dawson in her mobility scooter, dressed as Toad from Mario Kart, in full face paint, pursued by a zebra, a harlequin, a sailor, and Wee Willie Winkie. It’s intrinsically funny how little this band gives a shit about convention, but still, lord knows what’s about to go down.
“There’s a lot of you!” eeks Dawson by way of welcome, grinning but clearly overwhelmed, eliciting a crowd response among the warmest encountered at any festival: it serves as equal parts aural hug and a huge confidence booster, and with such support and goodwill bouncing around the arena, any nervousness about a potentially shambolic show is instantly laid to rest. What follows, instead, immediately ranks among the most entertaining sets of the weekend – perhaps of any weekend – where genuinely laugh-out-loud funny songs are paired with clean, lean, indie-rock tightness, and all involved, on stage and in front, appear to be having the times of their lives.
Accordingly, ‘Downloading Porn with Davo’ just goes off, the puerility of ‘Rainbows’ is a joy, and ‘Anyone Else But You’, a genuine hit song thanks to the Juno soundtrack, elicits a wholesome romantic sway that can stand alongside anything more earnestly lovelorn you might hear over the weekend. Perhaps most affecting, though, in an era of hyper-niche fandom and Cool Girls, is ‘Nothing Came Out’. With its wistful lyrics about cult cartoons, superficiality and performative taste, alongside an instant melody reproduced here gorgeously, it has aged quite perfectly; that Dawson cryptically dedicates the track to another unnamed performer onsite tonight only adds to its contemporary allure.
Later in the night, across Primavera‘s stages, all sorts of cosmic bollocks will be spouted between tunes by performers with wildly exaggerated senses of their own sophistication and desires to proselytise to their audience. Here, by contrast, Dawson, a middle-aged woman in a mobility scooter dressed as a video game character, who frequently speaks candidly about her menopause, dysmorphia and disability, is singing hilarious songs about shagging and drugs with a conversational and approachable tone that may not be as carefully focus-grouped as acts further up the bill, but whose low-key congeniality remains undeniably, irresistibly affecting, and frequently far more profound. It leaves the sense that for all the undeniable importance of the progressive messages Primavera makes central to its events every year, sometimes a more light-hearted approach can be just as effective.
They finish with ‘Who’s Got The Crack’, the band at their most raucous and daft, prompting a full-on mosh down the front and mile-wide smiles across everyone further back. It caps a triumph that, an hour earlier, was anything but a nailed-on cert, and offers proof, perhaps, that subtle insights into the human condition can be found in the funniest places.