The day begins with a cycle by the sea, and on the way to Parc Del Forum we pass out one of The National‘s Desner brother’s taking in a run, before their Friday date with the festival. After some technological meltdowns at the festival, we steer clear of the confusion and wander to Emeralds on the Pitchfork stage, who were disappointing, perhaps because even though they have four strong records to their name, their sound did not translate as well as hoped in a festival context. There were many interesting sounds, but they couldn’t really compare with Moon Duo, though I heard some rave reviews about Sonny & The Sunsets. However Moon Duo’s last two performances in Ireland have been wonderful, and I was looking forward to seeing it compounded here, and they didn’t disappoint. Their kinship goes far beyond the romantic into a creative kind of powerhouse, and Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada raided their two records Escape and Mazes, with highlights as the hopping ‘When You Cut’, the hazily gristly ‘Mazes’, and the soft but menacing ‘Stumbling 22nd Street’ from their first record which has the most delightfully scuzzy guitar.
Of Montreal provided a stellar live performance, which brought to mind elements of Sufjan Stevens’ recent concerts, with Kevin Barnes mixing up the theatricality of Patrick Wolf and the elegance of Owen Pallett at times. They surveyed older material but mainly concentrated on last year’s False Priest, showcasing Barnes’ impressive voice and snake hips, bringing along dancers, feathers, red hot pants, and at one point some lucha libre wrestling set amidst a Parliament/Funkadelic context. Then it was over to Big Boi and his brilliant DJ Cut Master Swift (not the same as the legendary DMC champion), and in a set that lasted over an hour, he shimmied his way through solo work and Outkast work, with Andre 3000 never far from our minds. However, Big Boi’s old-fashioned approach to hip-hop was charming, in that he peppered his performance with some dance skills (he does a great two-step) and has a jazz sensibility; he scatted, riffed and freestyled along the way, with the heavy bass on several of the tracks threatening to blow the electricity out. At one point he asked the crowd for requests, and also provided the audience-friendly ‘Miss Jackson’ which resulted in a sunny singalong. Unusually, he came on for an encore, to the willing thousands, and when he shouted “it’s all about Atlanta!” there was an appreciative roar. His raucous, successful set also served to remind that one thing Primavera should do more of, and has fallen down on, is their lack of hip-hop artists, something which will hopefully be rectified in coming years.
While walking along to get a good position to see The Walkmen, I was struck by how relaxed and in good spirits everyone seemed to be, and it boded well for my favourite New York band. I remain surprised that The Walkmen are not this huge musical monolith by now but I am so glad they’re not. They have to be one of the most incredibly intelligent and authentic bands at work today, and put most others in the shade. When they came on stage, Hamilton Leithauser was decked out in a crumpled linen summer suit, as if he had stepped out of a Fitzgerald novel (also channelling seventies Robert Redford) and they covered many songs from last year’s Lisbon, such as ‘Canadian Girl’, and ‘Angela Surf City’ – and older songs such as ‘In the New Year’, and ‘We’ve Been Had’ – Hamilton’s voice has never sounded better, though he always strains as if spoiling for a fight, perhaps that is because so much of the content of their songs is about the struggle of life. They are so smart and old-fashioned, but renewing, and their music is extraordinary. The band itself have a great chemistry, born of years of lived-in friendship, culminating in a thrilling musical shorthand. At this festival performance there seemed to be a unifying acceptance that we were witnessing brilliance, and certainly one of the best bands in the world. Their humour is another reason to love them, at one point Hamilton sleepily looks around and recalls a tale of when they were over in Barcelona a few months previously, where they played in “er, what seemed like someone’s basement” where the promoter “invited a coupla friends over”, quipping that Primavera was something of a step up.
After the majestic Walkmen, I was unsure about whether to go on, but there were still four interesting acts to catch before bedtime. The odd, and intriguing Das Racist were a great addition. They tend to fly under the radar most of the time, but are provocative, theatrical, funny and have great beats, and often interesting lyrics. This Brooklyn-based outfit are ramshackle hip-hop, and have often been routinely dismissed as “joke rap”, but like comic Neil Hamburger, the joke tends to be on the audience who might not read between the lines. They mainly use obscure pop culture references, or obvious pop culture references put into their own madly psychedelic blender. At one point, their visuals were a continuous replaying of that controversial Kanye moment at the MTV Awards, which after twenty minutes became something of a comment on the bloated nature of fame and pointless ceremonies, it was quite clever (also illustrating why they are often described as “a multimedia project”). Himanshi Suri, a mesmerising presence, stumbled around on stage, causing chaos, mooning, and tripping over, and yet remained able to click in and out of verses with the rest of the group, becoming particularly impressive when freestyling, which lent a confusion to their set, are they really that messy? Or is it all just one big performance piece? One of the best things they have released is their 2010 mixtape Shut Up Dude which shows how serious-minded and able-bodied they are for the indie hip-hop world, and their festival set was completely mad, in a good way.
Then it was time for Gold Panda, and though he was dressed modestly, with his hoodie acting as a kind of defensive shield, his music evolved into something very immodest, taking the very best of nostalgia, his grandmother’s voice, and making it all sound so fresh and relevant. He packed in a huge amount to a forty minute set, mainly from his Lucky Shiner record, and there were reworkings and reimaginings of some of his better known material; it is testament to the quality of his work that something so aesthetically stationary can be so exciting. His table full of wires and technology resembled an inventors tools of the trade, and amidst two or three muffled “hello’s” to the crowd, he revealed his brand of shy, radiant and complex dance music. Will Wiesenfeld/Baths followed up only moments after, and though he shares some common ground with Derwin Panda, has more of a stage presence – sometimes it feels like Daedelus and Animal from The Muppets have combined forces. He has a ferocious kind of spirit, but a loveliness also, and his work is that of a brilliantly enthusiastic and overpopulated nerdy mind. Nearby Dan Snaith (Caribou), nodded and smiled appreciatively at Wiesenfeld’s deft talent, at one point laughing to the sky at the audacity of his showmanship. No-one seemed more surprised by the audiences warm reaction to his playing an extra song than Wiesenfeld who said “It’s 4am! You guys are crazy!” before shaking his head and running headfirst into another brilliant excerpt from Cerulean (check out this year’s Pop Music/False B-Sides for more greatness).
By this stage the hot coffee as well as Baths had given us a fourth wind, so we made our way over to see Greg Gillis aka Girl Talk who was playing in a land far, far away from the Pitchfork stage at Llevant. Not imagining it to be overpopulated we were stunned to come across what seemed like a homage to Manchester 1994 with people protesting against the Criminal Justice Bill, in that it was overwhelmingly packed full of people who were hoping to see the dawn amidst Gillis and his peculiarly unusual splicing, cut and pasting kind of DJ’ing, something which J-Rocc once appreciatively called “short attention span theatre” and it really is, Gillis routinely puts a call out before shows to recruit people to be on stage with him, and be part of something bigger, breaking down the barriers between artist and audience. He does this so well, huddled around his laptop, resembling a 21st century biblical figure, and has a cult following that inbetween throwing bathroom paper out into the audience, dance wildly, singing along to every familiar song Gillis throws their way. His talent is about knowing how to mix and mash styles together; there is always something for everyone, and there is a gleeful irreverence to the whole thing, so with Rihanna’s ‘Rude Boy’ ringing in our ears we cycle by the sea and onwards home.