San Miguel Primavera Sound 2010
aaamusic | On 04, Jun 2010
Another year has passed and another edition is over. I guess we will have to start counting 365 days between every Primavera Sound weekend as a friend fairly pointed out, won’t we? It always takes a while to get back to the weekly routine after the usual three day frenzy and this year makes no exception. At least we stick with the memories, sweet and precious once more. Memories of a sellout (Friday) as it was sure it would happen at some point, since the festival has been growing rapidly in recent years just to establish itself as the first & unmissable event kicking off Europe’s festivals summer. And it makes no surprise actually, seeing the response by the public and media, and getting to know deeper and deeper how the organisers care about every aspect of the experience. It really leaves a nice taste seeing the high grade of mutual respect between the festival and its artists, and seeing them enjoy the weekend watching bands just like every other person. It really is a special world in the end, and after being there for years you would not really imagine yourself being somewhere else on the last weekend of May.
Thursday, 26 May
The Forum area welcomed the festival’s 10th edition with a puzzling weather and the forecast for the days could not have been any worse. Yes, eventually we got some rain but nowhere near the northern latitudes, thankfully. My music weekend started at the Ray Ban stage with The Wave Pictures, as queues outside forced me to miss the brit pop act Bis. Cannot remember much about that so I suppose it was nothing unforgettable. I should have gone for the massive rockout coming from the Pitchfork stage, our own Haçienda (explications soon). Time to get a beer and reach the San Miguel main stage (sponsors change, spirits immaculate) to see one of the many classic acts, in this case Mark E. Smith‘s The Fall. Backed by an aggressive band the man mostly showcased new material with very little room for old numbers, but you could clearly see where it all came from, with an inclusion of some massive use of keyboard and synths.. even the frontman looked pretty happy: some strange news, innit? Speaking in general, however, a good rock show.
Next one on schedule was The XX‘s slot down at the amphitheater.. Well, this was pretty bad to say the least. One should not keep in mind what a band is on record since this could alter opinions regarding their live shows, that is why, judging by their gig, the brit band can only be criticised. Friends actually put this stright away but having never experienced them before I knew nothing about that. Turned out to be one of the dullest sets of the weekend, they even tried to build up some atmosphere but it just would not work. Despite the large audience attracted, the best moments would only be the ones close to the end, when they sneaked some of their influences in by chalking out excerpts from Bronski Beat‘s Smalltown Boy and then covering Candy Staton‘s club classic You Got The Love. Too little to justify the hype on this band anyway.
Better be back to the main stage to experience the fury of the indie cult Superchunk, whose gig was a raucous display of guitar pop gems with an attitude that seems lost nowadays. For the record (and archives), a few songs thrown in were Water Wings, Airplanes Over Germany, Slack Motherfuckers, Throwing Things and Learned To Surf. And of course the presence of Tim Harrington of Les Savy Fav onstage at some point needs a quote as well: the dude that clearly never misses a chance when it comes to be part of twisted madness. One of the highlights of the weekend for sure. Ray Ban stage was calling again for one of the other quality bands in the line up, Canada’s Broken Social Scene, doubtlessly another top live act. And indeed they proved to be, with a show in front of a large crowd that did not scare the collective, showcasing their new lp Forgiveness Rock Record. The performance went down great and new tunes sounded pretty damn good together with back catalogue renditions such as Fire Eye’d Boy, Stars & Sons, Cause=Time and 7/4 (Shoreline). No Feist or Emily Haines though, however Lisa – the blonde hair lady touring with them since 2005-06 – certainly did her best to forget those missings: All To All (which actually features her voice on record too) sounded like the best song to fall in love with in that very moment. Nothing lasts forever as they say so it was up the stairs to the Pitchfork to catch some of The Big Pink which, however, did not look like the best choice ever: packed like hell, our Haçienda felt cold and far from the usual good vibes experienced throughout the years. Why does this stage remind of the Mancunian club? The high ceilings, the pillars spread all over the area, the glass-roof up our heads leaving spots to see the sky.. god knows the great shows seen in past editions and the insane mood at dj sets.. That’s why. But this time it had little to do with the Londoners, whose name definitely promised to be one of the unmissable of the day. It was not for me, as after three songs I decided I had had enough of that indiscernible mess. No, I did not even catch Dominos. That’s life.
I walked back to the main stage to get a good spot for Pavement while BSS were still on downstairs. The reunion of the year was possibly meant to be THE show and I cannot really say it wasn’t. Still there was not much that grabbed me all the way, it could be the attitude on stage (or should I say Stephen‘s?), or the fact that they were actually very good at playing – way better than anyone would expect – or what else.. Yes, maybe cutting out Summer Babe from the selist played its part too, I won’t deny this (but come on, it’s like any band not playing their trademark song).. Anyway, it was a fantastic show and the audience loved every minute. You could really feel the happiness, people jumping around, smiles on their faces and all.. And indeed a setlist for fans too, which isn’t exactly something you would take for granted. Setting the tempo with kickoff classic Cut Your Hair, the band went on to pick songs from every record including the unexpected, and listening to their gems I couldn’t help thinking about the mass inspiration they’ve been to an intere generation of bands. And that the indie word still has some sense related to music when you are in front of stuff like Silence Kit, Stop Breathing, Elevate Me Later, Shady Lane and fuck know what else. Their catalogue, basically. No matter if I wasn’t into the show as I would have liked, it was one that the festival will remember in ages. Let’s just hope they won’t be around for the cash for years like some fat ones I’ll speak about.
The night was already starting to see defections and people running home in time to get up for work, but for the party animals (and the lazy) there was still more than a go. The mighty Fuck Buttons were already showcasing their brilliance in front of the cave and the kick drum under their experimental waves of noisy melodies from the finest recent Tarot Sport called a big crowd down. With blurry visuals helping the music sound even more grandious, the show never stopped for a single instant and all songs were lined up in sequence and came played live with terrific skills. We all loved it, it really was something big and given that 2 years ago they were on the smaller ATP stage, it wouldn’t be surprising if they landed main stage next time they visit. Let’s hope so. It was still far to the end but given the fact that Moderat sounded all but tempting to have some good dance, we slowly faded away and let day one reach the bed, which was actually at some time around 5.30 am due to the long queues at the underground. Not bad as a start.
Friday, 28 May
One thing that needs to be handled with care, or talked about with the maximum respect, is the Press area this year: I swear I have never seen anything like this at festivals all over Europe. Yes, there was a press area last years and for a while it even featured a free bar, which now is something for VIP only, but I can honestly say the lovely setting for press, prs, labels and all that was featured in our Primavera Pro area was a divine gift and free beer is not the same as this. Set next to the sea, with plenty of sofas, beach beds and all the comfort you can imagine (a bloody grill to have dinner, a restaurant and whatever else!), this felt like a festival within a festival. Jeez, the day should have lasted the double just to enjoy this area more properly! And from a more professional point of view, the philosophy behind it was another great achievement of the organisers and something that should be developed even more in the future. Getting managers and media to interact directly is what a festival should also be about and the variety of people you can meet through this is simply amazing. Hats off for this.
Switching back to music, the Friday opened with some scary queues at the Auditori for the gentle voice of Hope Sandoval with her band The Warm Inventions (including Colm O’Ciosoig of My Bloody Valentine). It’s no mistery to state we were all there for her voice (and beauty, yes, but she basically played in the dark as lights were kept at minimum and if you were not down to the front it would be quite crazy trying to focus on her). We went through the empty line for pro, ha, but the gig was delayed for a good 20 minutes or something so what was seen was something like three tunes. Good, indeed, and her voice still sound as fine as her Mazzy Star days, but with the large suppy of acts one could literally spend only a few minutes for each set. Not to forget the evertempting chill out areas for the press. That is exactly where we landed after seeing the always-boring-never-funny Scout Niblett. Hell, i hated her show two years ago and I’ll follow the wave this year too. I can’t stand it no more no no no.. Un aburrimiento. So it was ATP again, this time for Beak>, a project with Geoff Barrow of Portishead. Cannot really think of what went wrong, perhaps the fact that it was put during sunlight and the possible atmosphere was killed, but their mixture of new wave seemed not to do it for me. I decided it was time to move to Vice to catch some Condo Fucks who, despite the name could not sound any familiar, is the alter ego of Yo La Tengo themselves. The trio, more than usual faces on PS‘s stages, uses this name to play cover songs of 60’s and 70’s garage bands. No more than that seriously, and with the sound not exactly the best ever there was another chance to get some time to relax waiting for the big shows of the night. Not talking about Beach House, whose gig attracted possibly the largest crowd ever seen at ATP stage together with Modest Mouse in 2007. Another case of over-hyped band, at least for the live show that seemed to stimulate the sleep. So it was Wire catching the rightly devoted attention: the British heroes faced some difficulties onstage but after fixing them it was time to take the roof off the stage and show the kids what these boys in their fifties are still capable of. A genius act whose previous unplugged performance only featured a tune sung a cappella and that was it. Know what I mean? Class.
Next on were the equally ace Wilco. Jeff Tweedy and bandmates kicked off with a few troubles as well, so big that the first number Wilco The Song was something barely audible apart from the voice, that’s why he launched into an acoustic version of Jesus, Etc right after the second song, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. Meanwhile I moved left waiting for friends and could hardly pretend nothing was going on at Pitchfork, with waves of noise coming in my direction. I waited until the end of the sublime A Shot In The Arm before jumping to see Japandroids destroying anything on their path and rewriting the concept of a noise show. A duo playing at infernal volumes with a bloody great attitude: they won me instantly and, judging by the stadium reactions, I was not the only one. Hard to explain being not familiar with their productions but if I found a new name to put on my list, it is theirs for sure. Walked out to fly down to ATP and get a good spot for another act that plays the festival nearly every year now, and hell, at the fourth attempt I finally got to see them properly as they deserve. I’m talking about Steve Albini‘s Shellac: in one word, gods. Their live set is what r’n’r should alway be: dirty, punky, whatever. Can’t find anything better than Todd Trainer‘s celestial way to play the drums, with his stomp technique driving me insane. Best drummer around, no contest: he really has a touch and his approach to the instrument can be seen like a ritual reaching the climax as he walks around with his snare. Not to forget Bob Weston‘s impassible but always solid style. What a magnificent band, playing their very own, killing music. And THAT bloody perfect sound.. Well if you know what I’m on to then there is little left to be said; if you don’t, go live this trance experience. They simply play a different league.
After such an overwhelming set there was no need to go and see The Pixies, especially since the main stage area was absolutely paralyzed with what should have definitely been the largest crowd of a PS‘s headline slot, but I cannot say I learnt nothing from this. First, they should stop playing together as it’s damn clear they don’t enjoy it. They never looked happy, even back in 2004 when they first reunited. Is there a reason for this apart from the crappy money, boys? Second thing is they have never been that good of a live band: I never walked out of a show thinking I had seen something special. Third: their catalogue sounded dated as ever, apart from the evergreen classics which I cannot really complain for. Last but not least, they freaking killed The Jesus & Mary Chain‘s Head On: holy fuck, I saw the band three years ago on that same stage (different fest though, but not the point) and it was a personal classic.. you bunch of fat oldies made it sound like shit. I am never gonna give you another chance. Shellac put them to absolute shame, even though the crazy amount of people mostly seemed to be into it. At that point there was only two more stages to go through: Yeasaer played in front of another silly lot of people in a 10 times smaller area, which made us walk away in minutes despite what must have been fun. We headed back to the Pitchfork to dance some fifty minutes to the fat house beats provided by Diplo: ignorance at its peak, but all definitely helping close the night with some good moving. Plus that well known special light over the luxury hotels at dawn: that is when you feel like sublimating and you could be nowhere closer to the festival’s essence.
Saturday 29 May
All things come to an end and generally it is always too fast, however the festival still had some amazing shells ready and there was little time for being nostalgic in advance. We reached the Forum at 7pm and immediately walked down to ATP to catch Michael Rother & Friends Present: NEU! Music. There could be no better kick off as the magnificent tunes of the kraut rock classic act sounded immense with tons of distortions and the drums played by some guy called Steve Shelley… You could really tell how fresh this music still sounds nowadays and its evocative power intact after decades. We were even watching the gig next to amused members of Wire: simply a blast. We stayed until the end so we barely had no time to enjoy the New Zealand cult band The Clean as we reached their stage when they were already ending the show with waves of feedback: bad luck, but nevermind. We walked all the way up to Pitchfork to catch some of The Slits, the girl-only band. It was more like a cabaret show actually, with the singer often making sexual references and the band playing some silly reggae. Hell, it was not supposed to be like this, was it? We ran away to feed our mainstream hunger with Florence + The Machine, whose show was equally disappointing with no room for some fun under the last sun. As boring as a Cocorosie show, basically. Time to get back to ATP – the stage that clearly offered the best sets in terms of numbers – and get stunned to Polvo. The Touch&Go band played a short but full of power gig, with frequent time changes, long instrumental tails and sudden rockout explosions. This is another band that should be put on every year as it’s always a different experience. Let’s hope organisers sort this.
Next on it was The Charlatans on the main stage playing their classic debut lp Some Friendly. The crowd attracted was not the largest and the general atmosphere seemeed to lack the right vibes, despite singer Tim Burgess (with a voice amazingly close to Ride‘s Mark Gardener) looking well into putting up a good one. I would have seen this better on the Benicassim stage or as the final show of the night, however the first four songs on the tracklist (You’re Not Very Well, White Shirt, Opportunity and Then) were all pretty good. The only ‘bad’ thing was the contemporary show of the mighty Built To Spill, whose 2007’s slot was marked by horrible sounds so the story definitely had to be rewritten. This time it was all different and the crystal clear guitar melodies spread out to the large audience and even reached higher in the blue Catalan skies like a perfect romance. Beautiful (and pity about time clashes). The ATP would have us as well half an hour later but a quick jump at Sunny Day Real Estate was due: the post hardcore band was one to watch and for the large audience it must surely have been an highlight seeing them perform so well on a rare euro tour. However there was not much time to enjoy it since we had a duty at ATP again with New Yorkers Liquid Liquid. I could sum it like this: what we saw last year with A Certain Ratio, we experienced it double this this time. This is because their killing funky groove was a belter and, while the Mancunians have more of a soul component in their music, the Americans’ direction is much more focused on the dance element. I often turned around to see the audience’s reaction and clearly it was easy to see people getting more and more into the stellar, happy mood as each song went by. Me, I was won in three seconds. Legs and feet just could not stop moving and even between tunes most of us were still dancing: we should have had the bloody whistles. Total, absolute fun.
1.30 in the morning and we got back to the upper fields when Pet Shop Boys had already started their 360° pop celebration so we said goodbye to some friends leaving early before running like freaks to live the Go West magic as we heard the beginning on the speakers: boys, que pasada! Year after year the fact is the same: gay friendly shows always go down terrific in Spain, and it obviously had to with the mass pop icons. Their cover anthem was a moment everyone should live once in a lifetime: black dancers onstage, Neil Tennant going for it and the crowd almost in tears of joy: let’s have it! Other pop gems with the likes of Always On My Mind and New York City Boy spread some genuine madness as the duo onstage changed outfits and kept the bubble circus going. Too good. No time to rest but the spectacular ending round the corner (right after some Ben Frost). Orbital closed the Ray Ban and washed it all away under their old skool beats + kickass visuals. The Hartnoll bros behind their huge equipment gave us a brilliant hour of classics: from the opener Satan to Belfast via the eternal Chime, the gig was possibly the best electronic set seen in years (even because it is hard to see a proper act at Primavera Sound, given the time proximity with June’s other main event Sonar). And that was it. There was still some time to enjoy Fake Blood at the Haçienda before putting the word end on another glorious edition. The dj took 20 seconds to put Diplo to shame with proper techno: ok, they play different sounds and styles but objectively speaking quality was all tonight. As the morning was approaching and the stars were fading over the glass, that emotional vibe kicked in to the sound of a beat: lights on, the party’s over. But for a while it is natural thinking that it won’t fade away.
Author: Daniele Boselli
Photos: Primavera Sound Official