The festival concert is an interesting beast. They beguile you with their attractive band list (which look oh-so-impressive on the back of a t-shirt), their free-spirited collective nature between music lovers (slash, mass gathering of musical hippies/hipsters), and the promise of an excellent juxtaposition of genres. Although, there’s always another side. Between ferocious heat, growling crowds, and overpriced couscous, the three-day festivals bite back with a vengeance. Perhaps after a few different festivals, one acquires a sense of what they want over the course of the musical extravaganza, and not all of these expectations can be met. A few quick notes about Primavera Sound:
The setting: Fórum, by the Mediterranean Sea in Barcelona, Spain. The gusts of salty breeze were refreshing, but didn’t compensate for the lack of luscious grass as at Coachella or the abundant shade at Chicago’s Lollapalooza. Pavement ground covered with empty beer cups and cigarette butts just isn’t the same. Although the side program held in Parc Joan Miró – in an oasis of palm trees and a more personal feel with the band – was a different story.
The timing: Aside from the side-program, the shows didn’t start until the late afternoon/early evening. Likely, this is to avoid the stifling heat of the midday. That, and the Spaniards do things late (DJ Medhi’s set started at 4:30am!). I have mixed feelings about this. While I prefer the nighthawk approach, I think it leads to a tighter schedule with very unfortunate show overlap. On that note…
The scheduling: Oh God, why? Why were The Pains of Being Pure of Heart playing the same time as Carsick Cars, who were cut short by My Bloody Valentine? Gang Gang Dance with Sonic Youth? (Sarah’s personal nightmare). Andrew Bird and Phoenix? Deerhunter with my only opportunity to eat during the night? Sigh. It happens every time.
The artists: In my opinion, one of the best collections of performers in a festival of this variety. Note: this makes the scheduling additionally difficult to bear.
For your reading pleasure, I’ll go into some of the shows in more detail along with some tracks and exclusive photos. Welcome to Primavera Sound.
With a shy confidence, Christopher Owens approached the mic. In the past, Girls have admitted to concert-related nerves owing to the baring honesty of their songs. Yet despite their slight nerves, the group held the audience in rapture with sentimental crooning and an ever-increasing stage presence in their short set.
Christopher Owens bites his nails – Photo by Sabrina Diemert
Chet J.R. White – Photo by Sabrina Diemert
Christopher Owens rocks the Rickenbacker – Photo by Sarah Wong
Paradoxically caught between naturally exuded coolness and restricting modesty, and tangled with jumbled calls-to-arms against traditional gender stereotypes, Girls rocked. Long well-kept hair thrown back during a more challenging guitar rift, pink nailpolished fingers marking the frets of his Rickenbacker, a flamingo-like pose while hitting higher notes… it all came together in their uncluttered pop performance. I would love to hear more from this band. Preferably, as Jan said, while frolicking in the mountains.
My fellow concert-going pal (and contributor of many photos to this post) Sarah Wong commented that Stern’s show was “musical masturbation”, and I agree. Between clearly rehearsed crude sexual jokes and indulgent guitar solos; the dichotomy of her relaxed feminine attire and her bassist’s punky power suit; shredding, extended sequences, spoken poetic lyrics and danceable choruses, it was easy to get caught up between the confusing awkwardness and rocking atmosphere.
Marnie Stern musically masturbates – Photo by Sarah Wong
Marnie Stern – Photo by Sabrina Diemert
Was it good? Yes. Is she a rising act to watch? I think so. Her repertoire could do with more crowd-engagement or accessible tracks, but I guess it all starts with self-love.
Danceable, excitable, exhilarating, and plain old fun. Exactly what I wanted from a Phoenix concert, complete with some throwbacks to early albums. If you have the chance to see these guys live, do it!
Thomas Mars of Phoenix – Photo by Sarah Wong
Yo La Tengo
Dios mio. It’s true, Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo. I saw the group at Lolla ’07, and while their set was impressive, it temporarily dulled my romance with the Hoboken trio. But when they struck up their first jam of the evening, the faded affair came back to full blazing glory.
A finely-tuned live performance machine, YLT were on fire. Audience members were left peeking to find the hidden sound engineer, due to the flawless transitions between songs. The occasionally-problematic nature of the hulking Estrella Damm stage sound didn’t plague the group. It’s not luck, but experience, talent, and I can only assume meticulous attention to detail.
Ira Kaplan in Blue – Photo by Sarah Wong
James McNew in Orange – Photo by Sarah Wong
In the past, I have noticed some of their idiosyncratic performance attitudes: James with his stoic stillness. Ira in his intense musical connection, resulting in a nearly-scoliosis-grade back curvature and eyes closed in ecstasy. Georgia, erect with concentration, so alert that she appears stony. While all of these mannerisms were in play on Thursday, their charisma was not compromised. Shout-outs were given to fellow performing bands The Bats, The Vaselines, and The Magik Markers, and they even dedicated a song to WFMU (the band’s favourite Jersey radio station). Pausing to pose for a picture for an adoring fan, we saw the first (and certainly not last) smile from Georgia. They undeniably love what they do, as evidenced in their euphoric closing numbers “Blue Line Swinger” (with a phenomenal extended jammed lead-in) and “Sugar Cube”.
I’ve Got It! assembled – Photo by Sarah Wong
No mention was made of their recent alter-egos, Condo Fucks. However, they broke the news of an upcoming album in the fall, and performed one of the impending tracks with zeal. I certainly can’t wait to hear the disc in its entirety. And I know that I won’t pass up another opportunity to hear “Tom Courtenay” live again, if I have the chance.
No fault to the band, who were delivering a spot-on performance with an impressive light show and many appreciative expressions to the crowd from frontman Kele Okereke. However, the intense drunkenness of the tightly-packed 2am crowd was difficult to bear.
Kele Okereke – Photo by Sabrina Diemert
Russell Lissack and Kele Okereke – Photo by Sabrina Diemert
Dan Deacon Ensemble
Talk about a surprising concert. Perhaps I was still skeptical from the Spiderman days, but I was expecting Deacon to come out, mix some songs, and shuffle off. Clearly I didn’t know anything about a live DD performance. With no less than 11 people – including a man dressed as a red spot whose sole purpose was dancing and clapping – the ensemble aimed to entertain and be entertained.
Starting off, Deacon approached his mixing station, decorated with a multicoloured stoplight and a green glowing skull. He proceeded to lead the crowd into an organized dance involving kneeling, raised hands, humming when cued and berating those who didn’t participate. Later, he ran into the crowd to organize a human tunnel. A dance party ensued.
Dan Deacon demonstrating the “hand raise” – Photo by Sabrina Diemert
Dan Deacon – Photo by Sabrina Diemert
He seemed like an unassuming character to lead hundreds of reluctant Spaniards into synchronized dancing, but the mission was successful. ¡Bailamos!
Chad Van Gaalen
Not a bad performance, but somehow Chad seems out of place in the Barcelona sun. Better enjoyed in a small intimate setting with a beer in hand, I think. Plus, Van Gaalen made an irking comment praising the large solar panel in the Fórum in contrast to Canada’s wastefulness, noting that we burn “fucking dinosaur bones”. Hmmm. Thanks Chad, but maybe comparing the energy needs of a country twenty times the size of the other with a far more extreme climate is neither fair nor accurate.
Big mouth Van Gaalen – Photo by Sarah Wong
Another pleasantly surprising performance from an up-and-coming NYC band. When I heard comparisons to Ian Curtis and Kurt Cobain, I was initially wary. Heavy-handed associations rarely work in the favour of the band. As it turns out, these claims are not necessarily misplaced; some listens to their disc Alight of Night imparts that the band, while early in their career, has potential.
Crystal Stilts in the Sun – Photo by Sarah Wong
Crystal Stilts – Photo by Sabrina Diemert
JB Townsend – Photo by Sarah Wong
While minimalist garage-rock doesn’t generally fit in an open-air park setting, the band thrived. The charismatic keyboardist Kyle Forester offered his instrument as a prize for the first person to climb one of the surrounding palm trees, and his banter was met by a zealous member of the crowd. A head-bopping, engaging show.
Kitty, Daisy and Lewis
Love precocious young bands bursting with talent, originality, and nostalgia? Meet Kitty, Daisy and Lewis Durham. With ages ranging from 16 to 21 years, the group is generally clad in outfits more fit for a 50’s hoe-down than a modern-day concert, yet surprise everyone with an unexpected foray into beatboxing. Drawing influences from decades of the past (as far back as the 20s, but generally closer to the 50s), they charm listeners with rockabilly country, Hawaiian luau soundtracks, swing and R&B-inspired gems. The multi-faceted performers switched between no less than 12 instruments during the show, with a highlight of Kitty’s harmonica work.
Kitty on Harmonica – Photo by Sarah Wong
Ingrid Weiss on double bass – Photo by Sarah Wong
Juicy tidbits: the double-bass player – Ingrid Weiss – is both the mother of the musicians and a former drummer of The Raincoats. Their guitar player/father Graeme Durham is a leading sound engineer. Perusing their stories on myspace regaling memories from their childhood – discovering records in their parents’ collection and creating their own jam session versions in varying keys – I can’t help but feel envious of their musical upbringing.
Lovely, lovely folk band. The accordion is far underused in conventional pop, and the Bowerbirds have brought it back and made it sexy. Ensnaring harmonizing and delicate arrangements leads to well-constructed music.
Side view Bowerbirds – Photo by Sarah Wong
Bowerbirds – Photo by Sarah Wong
I predicted a fiery performance from this quartet, and Ponytail didn’t let me down. As soon as Molly Siegel let out her first cathartic yelp, I was hooked. It only got better, as Dustin Wong joined the wordless singing and unabashed jumping and yelling followed. Guitarist Ken Seeno bopped his head enthusiastically, while Jeremy Hymen knelt further closer to his drum set as the show picked up steam, covering the back of his neck with his t-shirt (presumably to avoid sunburns).
Molly lets out her cathartic yelp – Photo by Sabrina Diemert
Jeremy Hymen protects his kneck – Photo by Sabrina Diemert
Ken Seeno bops his head enthusiastically – Photo by Sarah Wong
To be sure, most of the performers during Primavera Sound were appreciative of their audiences. But Ponytail took the cake for passion. Twisted faces, screeches, interpretive dancing, everything without reserve. To close the set, Molly took into the crowd and shimmied next to the sitting crowd. If only there were more room, Sarah and I would have been right up there dancing with her.
Another overwhelming concert. As I opted to stick near the front-left of the stage near a hole in the fence (which was aggressively covered with black canvas by angry security guards), I have no pictures to post. It was worth it to peek through the wire as Kim Gordon pushed her guitar in an encore trance into her speakers.
Another NYC group, Vivian girls brought an earnest performance to the Pitchfork stage. They gained popularity in the crowd by congratulating the locals on the recent football win (Visca Barça!) and by recognizing some hitchhikers they picked up in England. Happy, intense, and lacking pretension, everyone ended cheering for The Vivian Girls and their lo-fi punk.
Vivian Girls – Photo by Sarah Wong
Vivian Girls – Photo by Sabrina Diemert
Vivian Girls – Photo by Sabrina Diemert
My Bloody Valentine
In true excessiveness, I caught both of the colossal band’s shows during Primavera Sound: one outside, and the other in the closed Auditori. A press pass didn’t get me any closer to the band, as pictures were only allowed for the festival’s official photographers. Fine by me. Instead, I sat on a fake plastic decorative rock, surrounded by litter and a haze of cigarette smoke, beer in hand, lost in the 15-minute blaring instrumental drone of “You Made Me Realize”. One of the happiest moments of my life.
Kevin Shields – Photo by Inma Varandela
Bilinda Butcher – Photo by Inma Varandela
Neil Young. The man himself, plugging away at his classics on his electric and acoustic guitars, eager fans hanging on to every sung word. More than two hours of playing and two encores later, Young closed with his rendition of “A Day in the Life”. Neil Young covering the Beatles? I heard it live.
Neil Young – Photo by Cristina Del Barco