Primavera Sound Festival 2010

Day 1
The Wave Pictures
What a lovely start to the weekend, with some fey and witty English pop on the Ray Ban stage. There's a great reception from the Spanish crowd, which surprises me until I remember Jonathan Richman being greeted like a god in the auditorium here a few years ago. A certain strain of wry pop music is very popular around these parts.

Surfer Blood

I move on to meet friends at the Pitchfork stage to see a band I know nothing about. What I learn is they play a pleasing brand of balls-out indie guitar rock and boast a great singer, who can scream in tune as well as croon. And their guitarist looks about 12 years old - he looks delighted to be here really, just to be asked.

The Fall

No surprises here on the main stage (San Miguel) but as enjoyable as ever, in a seething, surly kind of way. In an unexpected gesture (of hospitality?) Mark E Smith has dispensed with the leather glove. Is this a sign of middle-age mellowing, I wonder? For the sake of the music, I hope not.

Titus Andronicus

More balls on the Pitchfork stage, this time balls to the floor punk folk, complete with stage diving and American Civil War beard. Definite shades of early E Street Band in their stage presence and overall a powerful performance. They also have a woman playing guitar in a white dress with flowers in her hair who executes inch-perfect scissor kicks. How cool is that.

the xx

Back to Ray Ban for the dour Londoners, as fat raindrops fall on a packed crowd. The sound is very good and the gig is enjoyable to a point, but this is not outdoor music we decide.


Next we join a few thousand others for our first visit of the weekend to the ATP stage. As this captivating gig unfolds, I realise that Tortoise manage a great trick - combining a great sense of restlessness (that'll be the two drumkits out front, says you), while keeping intact a certain languid quality in their music. One of the most memorable moments in my year occured as the intertwining marimba and guitar patterns of Suspension Bridge over Iguazu Falls fell gloriously into place. A special band.

Broken Social Scene

We walk back along the tree and urinal-lined avenue for the Toronto supergroup on the Ray Ban stage. What a contrast with the xx earlier - these are brash, shambling (not the drumming though, which was as tight as a duck's arse in water), BIG tunes and the perfect outdoor music. A certain smugness is evident at times (especially when Kevin Drew moves to the front of the stage, an impression confirmed by Grand Snr and Spinninghead who once met the great man), but when the horns kick in a few minutes into It's all gonna break those thoughts are washed away. John McEntire, fresh from the ATP stage, also joins them onstage, as does Owen Pallett. We leave with a glow and take up positions on the grassy knoll (otherwise known as the San Miguel stage).


Reports had been filtering through of recent onstage tensions between Stephen Malkmus and his bandmates. I'm happy to report that any tensions that did exist were chanelled constructively, into the performance of A-grade art-rock. First point of note: Malkmus plays those guitar parts with his bare fingers - not a plectrum in sight. Piling offbeat licks over his intricate and hilarious wordplay, his technique was staggering, and he came across more than ever like Tom Verlaine. To be honest, when he uttered the words "there is no castration fear" (officially the best ever opening line to an album), my day was made. During said We dance, Bob Nastanovich was seen dancing with someone onstage. Spiral Stairs crowd surfed momentarily. Kevin Drew joined them onstage briefly, paying homage. Malkmus stayed in his corner, glancing sideways at it all with a weathered eye and confined himself to his work, having fun in his own way - for example, playing his instrument behind his head. Note perfectly, I might add. My day already made, I still did not object to hearing such life-affirming anti-anthems as Rattled by the rush, Range life and Shady lane belted out. Having never seen the band live before, I'm open to correction, but I'd find it hard to believe they ever sounded this good. As Grand Snr commented, an important band. No nostalgia trip, this. Altogether now, "a redder shade of neck on a whiter shade of trash...".

Day 2

Today has a different dynamic as I'm attending with my wife and 7-year old daughter/critic. We arrive late for Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions and spend the first few minutes blinking in the pitch black auditorium (not a pencil torch in sight). Eventually seated, I find the music nothing but gorgeous - shimmering waves of guitar and organ, sumptuous malletted drums from Colm Ó Cíosóg and the voice of an angel on top. The sound is also immaculate (I hear later that their painstaking soundcheck left Owen Pallett with none, but at least their work wasn't in vain.) So far so good. Then after a couple of songs, my 7-year old whispers, "why is there not much to see?". Honestly, there's no pleasing some people. Unfortunately for me, my wife agrees, so no more dream pop in the dark for me.

We come back up to ground level into 30 degrees, and pass the immense queue for Low (I saw them here on the ATP stage 3 years ago, so I decide to go elsewhere today - they did put on another wondrous performance, I believe). We catch a few minutes of A Sunny Day in Glasgow on the Pitchfork stage, playing a very sprightly brand of shoegaze (having found their last album a bit flat, this makes me think I should go back and have another listen). They also have two female singers with flowers in their hair. This, the music and the lemon-coloured dress worn by one, makes quite an impression on one of my companions. More to see here.
Time for a few minutes of The New Pornographers on the San Miguel stage. This is a band I'm ambiguous about. On the basis of just a couple of songs, my bland impression is confirmed. Back to the food court for a delicious vegetarian Indian, during which Best Coast, on the adjacent Pitchfork stage, sounded interesting, in a West Coast US kinda way. We catch some of the next band on that stage, Ganglians, who ply a nice line in spacey drone pop. (Grand Snr and myself are both reminded a little of Wooden Shjips, who were one of the highlights of the festival last year.) The singer also looks like Neil from The Young Ones, which may or may not be relevant. And from her elevated vantage point (my shoulders), my 7-year old tells me that he has no shoes on.

Due to a cruel schedule clash, we have to decide between Beach House, Here We Go Magic and CocoRosie. As Teen Dream has been on heavy rotation all year at my house, Beach House get the vote. We go early to get a seat, high up on the right of the ATP stage - thousands of others soon follow into the long, narrow space. (As we arrive, the last moments of Beak> sound very promising, making us sorry we didn't hear more.) As darkness falls, with the sea in the background, this should be a magical experience, but the sound is poor (my wife describes it succinctly as like listening from the next room). The band look like they're aware of the fact and put off as a result, which seems to affect the atmosphere. (Friends of ours on the other side of the stage later say it sounded great from there.) Only some way into the set does a gear change in the lighting show seem to engage the crowd, coinciding with an improvement in the sound. Take care is my highlight, with added pounding drums. The suspicion forms that the band's beautifully intricate arrangements have not translated to an outdoor arena. Not that my 7-year old is complaining. She's in her element singing along to "anywhere you run, you run before us, black and white horse, arching among us".

We go for a look at Japandroids on the Pitchfork stage. They are exceedingly loud and shouty, to no apparent end, and we get bored after a few minutes. The word from Grand Snr at Wilco on the San Miguel stage is that there is a pedal steel involved and they are playing the hits. Having seen them play one of the best live performances ever of any band here three years ago, I would love to hear more, but decide for new pastures.

Instead I take my 7-year old for a stroll down to the Vice stage for a peek at Panda Bear (not to be confused with Grizzly Bear) - that's right, even with thousands of people it is still possible to take a stroll around this seaside site. Not surprisingly the gig itself is mobbed and, since the entrance has changed since last year, we're confined to a side view of Noah Lennox through a slit in the fence. Even from there, the music sounds suitably floaty and mightily impressive for just an acoustic guitar, voice and table of effects.

On the way back, Marc Almond is looking and sounding younger than ever on the Ray Ban stage and Barcelona's gay community is out in force.

Cold Cave on the Pitchfork stage are intriguing. They look like Joy Divsion but sound for all the world like Depeche Mode c. 1983. That's a good thing, obviously.

And so back to the grassy knoll at the San Miguel stage to get our spot for Pixies. From the first bars of Cecilia Ann, it feels like an exciting event. Even though Frank Black seems a bit ambiguous about the whole thing, he still sings his not inconsiderable guts out (particularly on Tame, which sounds wonderful). On the right, Kim Deal looks delighted with life and chats to the crowd between songs in her best guidebook Spanish. Meanwhile, Frank Black, fluent in Spanish, speaks not a word. There is a distinct air of a messy indie disco around the grassy knoll (perhaps the reason for Mr Black's ambiguousness?), but songs as good as Bone machine, Monkey gone to heaven, Velouria and Wave of Mutilation effortlessly rise above that. My favourite moment is Kim Deal smilingly explaining, "we've been practising you know". What a band. What a singer. What a lead guitarist. What a drummer. What a backing singer. We reluctantly leave early for the last metro, singing "I was talking to Peachy-Peach about Kissy-Kiss" all the way home.

Day 3

Family-less on the final day, I decide to begin with an entire gig from start to finish, in the shape of Brooklyn's Clare & the Reasons in the auditorium. I've been looking forward to this very much, You getting me from their last album having got completely under my skin in the last few weeks. And it shapes up in fantastic chamber pop style, with cello, violin, trombones, tuba (or was it flugelhorn?) and pristine multi-part harmonies. However, despite the gorgeous arrangements, the overall effect is a little twee for my taste (I must say though their cover of Genesis' That's all is genius, and elsewhere the moment with all the kazoos is very, very charming). They need something more playful to break the slightly staid atmosphere, I'm thinking. As if on cue, and to prove the point, the venerable Van Dyke Parks joins them on piano for their last song. Immediately proceedings are lifted. Coming back on for his own set, joined by three of the Reasons, he is magic, successfully managing to suggest Gershwin, The Beach Boys and Randy Newman, while retaining his own unique style. When he introduces the pieces he wrote for his children, music set to the Brer Rabbit tales, as "stories of black people in white America, of survival", I don't know whether to laugh or cry. What a legend. Even three of his songs amounted to a priceless experience.

Why only three songs? Because another heart-breaking schedule clash loomed. I took myself away from the auditorium to aim for some of Atlas Sound, followed by a bit of Michael Rother and friends. Unfortunately, I ran into a main-gate traffic jam of end-of-the-world proportions. Standing in the mocking Barcelona sun, I contemplated returning to the sublime Mr Parks. The queue moved. I stuck to my guns. I arrived at the ATP stage in time for a few minutes of the classic motorik Neu! groove, provided by Steve Shelley in this case. It was great to hear that at least. I felt consoled.

Back to the Pitchfork stage for the end of Atlas Sound, consisting of Brandon Cox, acoustic guitar, harmonica and bank of effects. Although the sound was very good and it was, justifiably, very well received by the big crowd, I left with the feeling that it was the wrong venue for this gig.

Grand Snr and myself take ourselves back to the ATP stage for the very short set of Sian Alice Group. This English band generate a fine, Jason Pierce-style drone with ethereal female vocals riding on top. They come across a bit like a Bat for Lashes with more intent. And they use brass and shakers, which is always a good sign. They also employ flute, to Grand Snr's chagrin.

We stop off briefly at the rammed San Miguel stage to catch the rapturous reception for Florence and the Machine, but our lukewarm feelings about Ms Welch are only confirmed.
Just enough time to catch a few minutes of The Bundles on the Vice stage, which appears to be Jeffrey Lewis and band by any other name. Which is to say, very enjoyable as always.
Leaving the others to The Antlers on the Pitchfork stage (a band I've tried to like but haven't managed yet), I go alone to watch Grizzly Bear on the Ray Ban stage. This is one of my main highlights of the whole weekend. They sucessfully transfer the delicate chamber arrangements of Veckatimest onto a large outdoor stage, without sacrificing any of the dynamics. In a wonderful set, Southern Point and Two weeks were particularly majestic and moving. I find the surreal elements downplayed if anything, for the sake of pure heartfelt delivery, which suits the songs down to the ground. And special mention for the lighting show, which is nothing short of breathtaking, acting like a fifth member of the band. Something very special is on the way to Cork on June 25th alright (appropriately Leagues O'Toole is spotted nearby nodding in appreciation).

Time for a quick burger before the wonderful Dum Dum Girls on the Pitchfork stage. Rejoined with the Cork crew, we decide we need to be closer to the front for this one. Dee-Dee and friends bring their matching black outfits and sweet, sweet harmonies, along with a fantastic sense of conviction, to these already great songs. Jail-la-la and I will be are standouts for me. Other notable features include the drummer leathering the pared-down kit, without putting a hair out of place. Grown men are seen to swoon at the end as Dee-Dee and her guitar-playing colleague leave the stage with arms around each other. This is a band very high on the COOL index, but with an endearing vulnerability at the same time.

dee dee and friends

Due to the conveniently short set (which could not have been improved however), we have time to catch the end of Liquid Liquid on the ATP stage. Hugely infectious punk funk with cowbells, even before the hilarious intervention of the Les Savy Fav frontman (I was reliably informed it was he), who careered across the stage during Optimo in a gushing show of appreciation. LOL, as they say. Punk funk indeed.

We stayed put for Ben Frost. By 2am the ATP crowd were getting giddy but they soon had their cough softened by the Australian. It was mostly high end sound for the first half an hour (shards of guitar feedback and growling dogs featured, among other things), but when the subterraneran bass dropped, passing ships were almost thrown off-course. Highly impressive, but not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for dancing (even if some people tried hard).

And so to the Vice stage for Health. My card was already marked by Grand Snr, who still talks about their 2008 Primavera show. Restless, frantic new rave and totally lacking in pretentions, they put on a great show. Time for another pint (which took way too long to order, one of my very few complaints about the festival, the bar staff need a bomb put under them), we bump into Leagues and compare notes on the weekend, while Boy 8-Bit provides the closing soundtrack. On the way back up the hill, we have the pleasure of witnessing two Spanish girls throwing themselves repeatedly at the feet of the the bass player from Health. Gas craic. Everything was, in fact. Another great musical spring in northern Spain.

Some random highlights from a week in the city:
-the Pyrenees, majestic and snowcapped
-the bin collector on the metro platform whistling America from West Side Story
-the takeover of the Irish at the festival, to the point of it being mentioned to us by one of the staff
-the graffiti'ed shutters next to the hotel which turned into teen disco bars at the weekend
-the smell of shit on every street corner
-shorter queues for beer tickets
-the amazing price of EU2.00 for a huge bag of fruit in the Boqueria market
-the surprising number of auto workshops around Bogatell
-how dowdy the Nou Camp looks from the outside
-the table of Spaniards next to us in the food court asking what "beetroots" are (The Bloody Beetroots, Ray Ban stage, Friday night)
-the much bigger festival presence around the city this year, white bracelets all over El Born and La Rambla (also Fall t-shirts)
-the fantastic Gaudi "Dragon" building
-the sweet smell of Spanish grass (reminds me of a Robert Forster song)
-the hair of Health's bass player swinging in time with the music
-the Irish-Spanish sing-off in the metro, Sunday 6am (Grand Snr leading the way)
-the nefarious/hilarious goings-on in the trees and bushes lining the approach to the ATP stage (I swear, they should put a stage in there, it'd be one of the most popular)


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