Cellist Julia Kent (collaborator of Antony, Devendra Banhart and Angels of Light) set an ethereal feel for the day, with her unusual mixture of cello and experimental sounds that drew on her first record Delay and forthcoming record Green & Grey, evidencing something very special, and her performance nicely led up to the Fiery Furnaces, who with full band ripped and roared their way through a great set with siblings Friedberger providing often rearranged tracks from some of their records, and serving to remind what an unusually wonderful voice Eleanor has (listen also to her first solo LP Last Summer, recently released). She often brings to mind a goofier Patti Smith, and when the first bars of ‘Blueberry Boat’ are played, the crowd whoop with delight. Bypassing M. Ward (though from what I could tell, he sounded great) to get to James Blake, who although possessed of an interesting sound, seemed cruelly lost in the festival environment. The subtlety did not seem to translate amidst the squall of the crowd. Then it was on to The National who were playing the additional new stage for this year’s festival – Llevant, and their inclusion there made sense, since their sound can become so epic. You get the feeling that touring is taking a lot out of the band, especially Matt Berninger, who remains a commanding, intiguing presence, but seemed tired and careworn. However, this probably only added further to the sincere and haunting nature of his vocal which never tires, and they moved freely between older work and the mighty High Violet, with the brass sections sounding evermore interesting in a live context. They played for an hour and a half, even getting Sufjan Stevens on for ‘Afraid of Everyone’ at one point. From ‘Terrible Love’ to ‘Blood Buzz Ohio’, ‘Fake Empire’ (which will always go down well in Barcelona) and ‘Slow Show’, they have a certain indefinable quality that goes far beyond them being a good big band, there is a specialness at work.
So much clashed, and Ariel Pink became collateral damage (I heard good things), but instead it was on to Stuart Murdoch and his Merry Men and Women, for Belle & Sebastian. Disappointingly the sound let them down, and their inclusion on the main stage was perhaps a wrong choice, they deserved somewhere a little more intimate. Murdoch was on fine form, as ever, getting the crowd to apply his eye liner, and get involved, and though there were a few issues, they remain a wonderfully shiny pop band. Their set provided a warm, fuzzy feeling that was hard to tear away from, but necessary, and as we eschewed Low in order to see Twin Shadow, we weren’t disappointed. George Lewis Jr. and co were a pleasing change in pace, and his tight band is more than the sum of its parts. ‘Castles in the Snow’ was a highlight, though so many of the songs from album Forget work brilliantly live; later Lewis, resplendent in top to toe leather, told the crowd it was the band’s first time in Barcelona and that he “loved it”. Waving from afar at Bradley Cox and Deerhunter we made our way to Shellac, which was worth it if only to see Steve Albini and Bob Weston dismantle Todd Trainer’s drum kit as their parting glass. In truth their set, just like last year, was a masterclass in great musicianship, and Todd Trainer ably illustrated why he is regarded as one of the best drummers in the world. ‘The End of Radio’ is one of the greatest songs of all time, inspiring a rowdy singalong, and it was quite inspiring to see these older men show the younger generation how it is done.There was crowd surfing and moshing amidst a very dedicated audience, and they undoubtedly gained some new fans along the way.
Kode 9 and his Burial set was at times interesting, but watching a lone figure behind a desk can get quite tiresome, however Steve Goodman’s layering of sounds over one of his label’s (Hyperdub) greatest acts worked, creating some genuinely atmospheric moments, but it was hard to beat the brilliant back-to-back Gold Panda/Baths session of the previous evening. It was hard to avoid Pulp while walking elsewhere, and it would be unfair to comment too much except to say that they were as they always are, (not my cup of tea) but many people seemed to love the reappearance of Cocker and the rest of the band. By then it was all getting a bit too much, the tiredness was creeping in to weary bones, the concrete is particularly harsh on your legs (elderly alert!), but I hung on long enough for most of Battles set, which thrilled from the beginning; they were almost scientific in their approach and exposition of their last record, but it lacked a certain warmth that even the balmy weather couldn’t mask, and there was no reference to the crowd; instead they rampaged on, in spite of the audience, illustrating a band at the height of their creative powers, if not conversational ones. So on the back of music meeting science we headed off to let morpheus descend.