Friday, June 11, 2010

Primavera Sound 2010: a review

On the occasion of its 10th anniversary, Primavera Sound has well and truly cemented its position as one of the finest music festivals in the world – there’s no need for quirky side-attractions in Barcelona’s Parc Del Forum: instead, it’s all about the music, and this year’s line-up was a venerable who’s-who of cutting-edge alternative music, as well as an opportunity to see some returning heroes.

This correspondent begins the long weekend at the Pitchfork stage, where Sic Alps are getting off to a decidedly less-than-impressive start: the music seems like plodding, undistinguished garage-rock to these ears; that’s until halfway through, when all of a sudden the guitarist starts unleashing malicious waves of feedback, and the tunes benefit immensely – Sic Alps should stick with the scuzz, it becomes them. Surfer Blood are next up on the same stage. Their unpretentious brand of surf/slacker-rock has resulted in one of the better guitar albums of 2010, and the songs translate well live, in particular ‘Harmonix’ and ‘Floating Vibes’. ‘Swim’ gets the loudest reception, although it’s still a little too bombastic to convince the sceptic in me.

One band who make bombast go a long way are Titus Andronicus. Their set on the Pitchfork stage provides the first true highlight of the weekend, with their raucous, Pogues-y punk-rock brewing up a perfect storm: the mosh-pit at stage-front is a melee of triumphant fist-pumping. Lead singer Patrick Stickles turns out to be one of the more ubiquitous faces of the weekend, being spotted all over the festival, and indeed it later transpires he’s staying in the same hostel as us.

Broken Social Scene’s set on the Ray-Ban stage turns out to be one of the disappointments of the weekend: I’m a massive fan of the band, but the substandard quality of their latest album was a concern, and it’s new material that the band are concentrating on here. ‘World Sick’ is a pandering, pointlessly stretched-out song, and it sets the tone: it’s strange how the same band who created the defiantly anti-commercial masterpiece that was their self-titled 2005 album have so willingly resorted to cheap, bland arena-rock. Even much-loved classics like ‘Stars and Sons’ and ‘KC Accidental’ and the onstage appearances of Owen Pallett and Spiral Stairs can’t save this one.

It’s over to the Main Stage then for arguably the biggest draw of the festival: reformed indie-rock heroes Pavement. When they visited Dublin’s Tripod a few weeks back, many people commented on the laconic, seemingly disinterested body language of mainman Stephen Malkmus, so it’s great to see him bounding gleefully across stage as the crowd roar their welcome. When the band launch into a wonderful ‘Cut Your Hair’, it’s not far short of being one of the most perfect festival moments this scribe has experienced: everyone is going for it, whether it’s on stage or in the thronged crowd. Malkmus remains hyper throughout the two-hour-plus set, swinging his guitar around, playing it behind his head and throwing all kinds of shapes, while Bob Nastanovich and co are as pumped-up as ever. BSS’s Kevin Drew returns the favour by taking the stage for a rousing ‘Kennel District’, while the classics just keep on coming: ‘Stereo’, ‘Shady Lane’, ‘Trigger Cut’, ’Silence Kit’’s all so ecstatic and nigh-on perfect it’s almost exhausting.

Friday begins in the Auditorium, a massive indoor theatre outside the Main Arena. Owen Pallett plays a rapturously-received set which, despite a pretty early start, pulls in a considerable crowd. Pallett is a fascinating live musician, utilising loops over which he wields his violin like a rock instrument, his songs ebbing and flowing even more so than on record. He’s joined by guitarist/percussionist Thomas Gill, who helps to flesh out the sound. ‘Lewis Takes Action’ and the slowly, ominously building ‘Keep the Dog Quiet’ stand out, while Pallett throws one of the curveballs of the festival with a playful version of Caribou’s ‘Odessa’. A standing ovation persuades him to return for an apparently unscripted encore of ‘The CN Tower Belongs to the Dead’.

A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s set on the Pitchfork stage starts off magically: ‘Failures’ and ‘Shy’ make for a stunningly gorgeous opening one-two. Put it down to a hangover or fatigue, but the attention starts to drift towards the middle of the set, and some of their more ethereal tunes are a bit lost in this environment, but overall it’s pretty impressive stuff.

From there it’s back to the Auditorium, where Low are performing their 2005 album The Great Destroyer. It’s one of their more underappreciated albums, and this amazing performance only rams home that point: from the ominous drones of opening tune ‘Monkey’ to a hushed version of ‘California’, and from the controlled ferocity of ‘Everybody’s Song’ to an epic ‘Broadway’, it’s alternately beautiful and intense – truly, a privilege to witness.

From there we move swiftly back to the Pitchfork stage to catch lo-fi psych-rockers Ganglians: their opening trio of tunes is sterling stuff (‘Hair’, ‘Blood on the Sand’ and a churning ‘Never Mind’), while bare-footed lead singer Ryan Grubbs is oddly reminiscent of Liars’ Angus Andrew. They play plenty of new material too, including the impressive ‘My House’ and another tune that sounds like the heaviest and fastest thing they’ve done yet.

Here We Go Magic are another band playing plenty of new material. Much of it sounds more direct and less loop-based than before, although recent single ‘Collector’ has that familiar hypnotic, layered sound. Material from last year’s self-titled LP is left to the end: ‘Only Pieces’ and ‘Fangela’ bring an otherworldly, spiritual atmosphere to the fray: seeing everyone swaying along, almost entranced, to the latter is a sight to behold.

Vancouver two-piece Japandroids are easily the loudest act this correspondent witnesses all festival, and their no-nonsense ‘we didn’t come all this way to fuck around’ approach galvanises an already ecstatic crowd. ‘Rockers East Vancouver’ and ‘Racer X’ bring the noise in fine style, while a superb one-two of ‘Sovereignty’ (apt lyric: “It’s raining in Vancouver/ but I don’t give a fuck/ ‘Cos I’m far from home tonight”) and ‘Young Hearts Spark Fire’ is a fine way to finish the set.

Yet another highlight from the Pitchfork stage is provided by Cold Cave. Moody and no-nonsense, the band barely utter a word all set, but the music does the talking, an exhilarating mix of New Order-influenced electro, sleek synth-lines and gothy atmosphere: tunes like ‘Youth and Lust’ and ‘Life Magazine’ provoke air-punching and uninhibited dancing in equal measure, while they have their own little MBV-style noise section towards the end of their set. Fantastic stuff.

On to Saturday, and Real Estate get the ball running with a mellow, highly enjoyable set that’s just the perfect tonic for the time of day that’s in it. ‘Basement’ is like a cooling balm to the senses, while final tune ‘Beach Comber’ breezes its way towards that delightful breakdown and infectious riff that closes the song out. Atlas Sound is less impressive, with Bradford Cox’s guitar-and-harmonica set up not really the best representation of his talents. Funnily enough, all four members of Real Estate are watching the set right in front of us.

Saturday is generally pretty anti-climactic: Florence and the Machine tries gamely on the Main Stage, but the sound is muddy, and all her theatrical flourishes can’t mask the sense that she’s been playing these songs for a very long time and it’s starting to show. Grizzly Bear’s set on the Ray-Ban Stage, meanwhile, seems to be a case of wrong band, wrong stage: the amphitheatre-like set up , framed by the sea, is picturesque, but their intricate arrangements seem to float away into the evening air; even ‘Two Weeks’ sounds strangley subdued.

It’s No Age who provide just the tonic with a set of highly-charged scuzz-rock at the ever-reliable Pitchfork stage: their numbers bolstered to three members, at times the vocals are so low in the mix that you struggle to make them out, but in the mosh-pit no-one seems to mind; ‘Eraser’, ‘Teen Creeps’ and ‘’Every Artist Needs a Tragedy’ are delivered furiously and received gleefully.

The rest of the night is spent sampling bits and pieces here and there: Liquid Liquid’s echoing, groove-based post-punk on the ATP Stage; Ben Frost’s fascinatingly abrasive electronics (also at ATP); and HEALTH’s tribalistic noise assaults on the Vice Stage. Spoilt for choice as ever: such is the quality of this festival, and no doubt the Irish contingent will increase even further next year. Roll on 2011.

1 comment:

  1. Good review. Definitely would have liked to have seen No Age, Japandroids, and Low if the timing had broken a little more kindly.

    Nice to see some love for Ganglians too. I am pretty sure that someone over the course of the weekend also reminded me of Angus Andrew. Cannot remember who that was at all now!

    Cold Cave were definitely an unexpected highlight for me.