They’re a redoubtable people, the Spanish. If the hardy protesters camped out in squares across the country, including Barcelona’s Placa Del Catalunya, protesting public spending cuts and youth unemployment, weren’t enough to convince you of that, try keeping up with them at Primavera.
Things don’t really get going until about 10pm, with big-name sets carrying on until the first metros start running. It’s punishing stuff, but a brilliant sort of punishment. (And we’re not going to moan about the fact that the card-payment system for beer and food stopped working almost straight away, because there’s nothing worse than reading some journalist who’s got in to a festival for free and see loads of amazing bands whine about organisation, and frankly, we were too disorganized to remember to load our card up before we got onsite anyway).
A full report from the intrepid Luke Turner is coming in next week’s magazine, but in the meantime, here’s a first day-by-day verdict on the Spanish festival.
First up, Of Montreal, who are suitably festive, bouncing through their set with the aid of their usual Spandex performance outfits and wacky confetti-drenched happenings. It’s hard to argue with the effervescently tortured likes of ‘Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse’ on a festival stage, but they better watch it if they don’t want to turn into avant-garde indie panto.
Panto moments also slightly sour an otherwise triumphant set from the super-cool Big Boi, who dips into OutKast classics while also romping through last year’s brilliant ‘Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty’. Surely there's no need to get a crowd of laydeez up on the stage for ‘Tangerine’ so you can pretend that you’re their pimp? Whoo, yeah! Maybe you can get me hooked on crack and then beat me up. Anyway. Other than that, VERY GOOD.
There's no such sexual inappropriateness over at dignified old gents Grinderman. Oh hang on, they’re doing ‘No Pussy Blues’. Er… powerful, demented, and very fun, Nick Cave ruts Barcelona into the ground and leaves it without so much as an “I’ll call you, yeah?”.
And if you think he’s a scary old man, you will wilt like a dead flower before Suicide, whose set Cave imperiously directs us to next (“They’re why all of us are doing what we’re doing”). Alan Vega prowls the stage like black-shaded, child-scoffing witch from some no-wave fairytale as they mercilessly ravage their first album, giving horrifying new life (or is that death?) to the ever-chilling ‘Frankie Teardrop’.
Finally Flaming Lips close the day for us as Of Montreal opened it, with colour and spectacle and borderline unnerving psychy joy. And bouncy balls! Massive, shiny, bouncy balls. You can’t overestimate their power over a crowd.
Both Wolf People and Male Bonding do the UK proud in early evening sets of rich psych rock and scrappy lo-fi thrashings respectively. No Joy, who are better than your average blog-beloved noisy dreampoppers, show even more spine live, thrashing their abundant mops like it’s 1994 and throwing in satisfyingly weighty, Breeders-tinged tunes for good measure. Pere Ubu, also doing the old ‘album in full’ shtick with ‘The (Annotated) Modern Dance’ are much more fun than post-punk cult heroes should really be, David Thomas’ interminable in-song rambles funny, sharp and charming.
Friday is only really about one band though, and that band is Pulp. From the moment their name flashes up in sky-high retro neon across the back of the main stage, this crowd is history. Although, as Jarvis notes, “tonight is not about ancient history. Tonight we make history…”. From thee choice of songs (opening with ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’! What are they trying to do to us?) to the whipcrack energy with which they’re delivered, Jarvis’ dignified dedication of ‘Common People’ to the protestors in the square and the touching stage-front marriage proposal before ‘Underwear’, it’s all absolutely pitch-perfect. We’d forgotten exactly how much of a joyous, uniting force this band are live. Hell, we’d marry anyone right now too.
I’ll be honest here; I didn’t technically see Yuck, but I could hear them perfectly from the press area at the back of the ATP stage, and I can confirm that ‘Georgia’ makes an excellent soundtrack to swimming in the sea as the sun beats down.
Warpaint, too, seem energized by the weather and a view over the Med on the Llevant stage, grinning their way through a top-form set, and humbly thanking the crowd in halting Spanish. Tune-Yards hablas a bit better Espanyol, and she’s crowing and yelping like a mad, many-coloured Fury Of Fun on the Pitchfork stage. Many gobsmacked converts are to be heard stumbling away muttering “that was… SO GOOD”.
Kurt Vile casts a smokier, softer sort of spell, charming the crowd to a hush with his beautifully heartbroken American mumblings. A woman similarly aware of the power of hush and subtlety is the starkly monochrome PJ Harvey (white dress, black heart). Tonight she seems almost too quiet though: a bare-boned set (just PJ, band, autoharp, spotlights) that worked perfectly in London’s Troxy venue gets a little lost on a big festival stage. The more powerful moments such as ‘The Last Living Rose’ (surely she missed a trick not opening her set with the words “goddamn Europeans”) and ‘Meet Ze Monsta’ (the woman can still strut it when she wants) connect with raw force.
Raw force is a little lacking in Odd Future, although fun is not. For all the kerfuffle surrounding them, there’s nothing much scary about young boys in stupid socks goonishly scampering around a stage like they’ve just been let out of playschool, and their set would be highly enjoyable if we could just forget about all that homophobia business like the ‘check out my hip-hop dancing skills, yo’ crowd around us.
As a final aside, it turns out the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion are a pretty massive draw in Spain. Who knew?