Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A Purely Self-Indulgent & Rambolic Review of Primavera Sound Festival (Barcelona, May 28-31, 2009)

Primavera Sound Festival

Just to warn you, the following is a purely self-indulgent and rambolic review of my time at the Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona - I justed wanted to write down my recollections officially for posterity so if you're interested continue reading or else jump down to the bottom of the post and check out my photos (for brevity's sake, I only chose one photo for each act I saw, plus some scenery & miscellaneous shots). Although attendance had to have numbered in the tens of thousands and the main festival at Parc Del Forum was spread over 5 general stages (stages sponsored by Estrella Damm, Rockdelux, ATP, Pitchfork & Ray-Ban Vice), through some good scheduling by organizers, it was a fairly manageable experience in terms of catching a good selection of acts across stages. Crystal Stilts' keyboardist Kyle Forrester encapsulated the other main draw of the festival(besides the lineup) when he expressed his wonderment to the crowd about being able to see the ocean in the distance, although jokingly he remarked that it was the Pacific Ocean [it's the Mediterranean Sea]. With the sunny and warm weather, and fairly comfortably warm well into the night, it was near perfect conditions to experience the enthusiastic and friendly festival vibe. Of course the downside of most festivals is the hours of standing and trekking between stages, but in the end it was all worth it.

Day One featured the dense, though angular indie rock of Calgarian four-piece Women at the Pitchfork stage. I next sauntered over to the Rockdelux stage and caught indiepop Elefant Records Spanish act La Bien Querida. Over at the Ray-Ban Vice stage I caught and immensely enjoyed seminal New Zealand jangle-pop act The Bats. It was then back to the Rockdelux stage to catch Glasgow's The Vaselines [who I'd missed in Toronto recently only because I was too cheap to spring for the $30 ticket], another thoroughly enjoyable set of indiepop - the lineup featured founding members Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee (who punctuated the set with her comedic banter and barbs) plus hired guns, Sons and Daughters' drummer David Gow and Belle and Sebastian's Stevie Jackson [who coincidentally will be in Toronto this Thursday at Imperial Pub] and Bobby Kildea. I'd also realized that it was indeed The Vaselines that I'd passed on the street earlier that day when they checked into their hotel across the street from Parc Del Forum. As night finally arrived, Yo La Tengo took to the Estrella Damm stage to a rapturous reception playing a varied musical set encompassing pop melodies, noisy experimentalism and rhythmic jams. Phoenix perhaps were the most fun act of the night, playing a delectable set of their danceable pop music back over at the Rockdelux stage. I scooted back over to the Estrella Damm stage to catch part of My Bloody Valentine 's set even managing to make it somehow front row, albeit in front of the speakers but of course coming prepared with earplugs. I enjoyed a bunch MBV's songs but when they segued into the "Holocaust" part of their set, I bolted out of there - even with earplugs, I didn't think I was prepared to experience it again. My early exit from MBV's set afforded me the opportunity to get up close for The Horrors' set at the Ray-Ban Vice stage, a set straddling the band's earlier thrashy punk sounds and more current post-punk fixations. Horrors' frontman Faris Badwan was obviously not happy with the feedback he was getting in his monitor everytime he approached it with his mic, the soundman only shrugging his shoulders expressing was fine on his end, but Faris' displeasure did add a pissed-off vibe to his stage presence as he thrashed around on stage with abandon. UK's Ebony Bones next rocked the same stage adding a colourful presence and turning the late-night atmosphere into a dance party. With the time nearing 4 am, Squarepusher with live drummer and and a setup of pixelated video screens rocked the weary and it was one of the few sets that I really enjoyed seeing from way in the back, not to mention being able to sit down.

Day Two started for me with two Spanish pop acts, first the rythmic, melodic pop of Extraperlo at the Pitchfork stage, then Zahara and her intimate acoustic folk pop set at the MySpace lounge. Although daylight doesn't seem like the most appropriate atmosphere for Crystal Stilts' VU-ish garage pop, they still put on a good set back over at the Pitchfork stage. As Crystal Stilts launched into their last song I scooted over to the Estrella Damm stage to position myself up close for Bat For Lashes who incidentally thoroughly impressed the crowd with her emotive vocals and earthy pop melodies and acoustic / electronic instrumentation. I had the pleasure of seeing Spiritualized's extended set over at the Rockdelux stage bringing things to an awesome conclusion with "Come Together". A jog over to the Ray-Ban Vice stage it was for me to position myself for Jason Lytle's set, for me the sleeper set of the festival, impressing the crowd with his melodies and playful band instrumentation. I'd never really explored Throwing Muses catalog prior to their Primavera set (at the Rockdelux stage) but the trio's visceral pop-rock performance (most of lall Kristin Hersh's vocals) did make a strong argument that maybe I should. Jarvis Cocker at the Estrella Damm stage, bearded and bespectacled, performing songs from his debut and his recently released sophomore effort "Further Complications", was giddy to the bone, constantly dancing and posing. Saint Etienne 's dance-pop set(over at the Rockdelux stage) took a few songs to warm up the crowd before they hit their stride and had a good portion of the crowd, or at least those in front, moving incessantly. I bypassed Bloc Party to sample Joy Division contemporaries A Certain Ratio who were playing the Ray-Ban Vice stage, in the end quite rhythmic and danceable. Sauntering towards the direction of Bloc Party, I caught the tailend of their performance from a distance as their set concluded and my day two of the festival ended.

Day Three started out for me with afternoon performances from Bowerbirds, Crystal Stilts, and Sleepy Sun at Parc Joan Miro, a relaxed vibe with two stages set amongst the park's palm trees. Jumping onto the Metro and then transferring the tram, I head back over to Parc Del Forum for the evening portion of the festival, starting off with Shearwater at the Pitchfork Stage. With a song or two still to play, I rushed over to the Estrella Damm stage to set myself up for The Jayhawks, and while I've only ever been a casual fan of them, honestly they have some really meaty pop hooks within their country-rock presentation. Curiousity drew me to the ATP stage to catch 90's Too Pure act Th' Faith Healers, part of me appreciating the relatively demure female vocals against the more abrasive, experimental guitar punk sounds, but on the other hand it'd not be something I'd be drawn to on a regular basis. I practically ran back over to the Estrella Damm stage for Neil Young's set only to find it quite packed, and only to get more packed. I managed to find a relatively decent spot, and I quite enjoyed Neil's greatest hits set. And yes, the Spaniards really liked him. Back over to the ATP stage, again based more on curiosity than anything else, to see Liars - they reside in dance-punk territory with perhaps more experimental leanings than most in the genre, but as with my comments with Th' Faith Healers, they aren't really my cup of tea, although Liars vocalist Angus Andrew is a spirited frontman and a joy to watch. Closing out my night was Sonic Youth(joining them was Pavement's Mark Ibold) at the Estrella Damm stage, performing mainly an up-tempo rock set, and with the crowd getting a little too rambunctious around me(me with my camera and messenger bag which I was holding on) I had to retreat back just a tad. I'd hope for at least a sampling of their more ambient textures (actually, I think they played one slower song) but hey whatever. Officially, the end of the festival for me and an awesome one at that.

The following day a supplementary festival program happened over at Parc Joan Miro with an afternoon into early evening set of bands ranging from the B & S-ish Spanish act Sedaois, Spanish acoustic-electro pop act Klaus & Kinski, a K-records triple bill of Angelo Spencer, Karl Blau and Kimya Dawson(who ended the day and her set with a spiriteda, and not-at-all-vocally-perfect cover of Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love Of All") and a surprisingly enjoyable set from Montreal's Plants and Animals - I wasn't too keen on them previously, and maybe it was just the relaxed vibe of the park setting but the new songs they performed especially showed a succintness that really has me looking forward to checking out their new material and perhaps going back to their old songs.

Photos: Primavera Sound Festival (Barcelona, May 28-31, 2009)

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