Primavera Sound 2011

Primavera Sound 2011 Roundup


Waking up with a good feeling about the musical aspect of the day ahead, we went straight to the magical Perfume Genius in the Auditori. Mike Hadreas has been one of my favourite musicians of the last couple of years, and having seen him previously, I knew that it would be very special. There is an obvious frailty to him, so it works well that his close friend and collaborator Alan Wyffels accompanies him on second piano and vocals. He showcased some new songs from his eagerly anticipated second LP which are further tales of severe melancholy, but also little documents of survival. From the last time I saw him, he has grown in confidence, which is ever pleasing to see, and his set was one of the most beautiful of the festival; moving, truthful, and poetic, and though the Auditori was half full, there was a hushed reverence when he played, and he was overcome when people recognised songs from his debut record Learning– it was a real treat.

Blinking at the early evening sun, we headed back out into the world, only to queue to get back in for John Cale performing 1919, and made new friends with two Polish and Russian super-fans, when we all realised we were stood in the wrong queue for ages (reiterating my general sense that Primavera is a very warm and friendly festival). Cale can be curmudgeonly at the best of times, which only adds to his charm, and for the festival he was on flying form. There wasn’t much banter, just a brilliant rendering of one of his most beloved records. Along with his kilt, he cut something of a dash, along with an astonishing string section, a bouncy conductor, brilliant lead guitarist, and a sea of other talented musicians who seemed more than happy to go along on Cale’s ride. His voice sounded impeccable and as he leant in for a great new song ‘Don’t Get Sentimental’, it was hard not to.

Then it was straight out to see Tune-Yards, and Merrill Garbus set the stage alive, wearing a pink feathery shrug and tribal face paint, she is like a grown up version of a female Max in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, and a live set from her leaves you wondering why everyone cannot be a little bit more free, and childlike. Her performance was playful and inventive,and she shone in a four piece band, with ‘Gangsta’ sounding so luminous that it might just be a modern classic. She feeds in so many influences; childlike conceits, folk music, tribal beats, and hip-hop – melding them into an extraordinary soundscape, and one that begs to be played outside, though it felt like we should all be surrounding her in a circle somehow, instead of separated by barriers.

In order to get a good position for Fleet Foxes we had to say farewell to Merrill. It wasn’t as hard to get a good spot, since the Champions League Final was also on, (ultimately good for Barcelona, bad for poor old Man U) and we stood and waited. Then, as if by sheer magic we were transported, into another world entirely by the Foxes breadth of vision and deeply felt sound, beginning with the glorious strains of ‘The Cascades’, and ‘Grown Ocean’ with ‘He Doesn’t Know Why’ as a particularly stirring highlight. At this point this was the third time I had seen them, and they have morphed into a superior live proposition. It was even more special for them, since Pecknold commented that they had never been to Spain before, and the soft wind added natures delicate touch to their spectral songs. In a very sweet move, Pecknold kept everyone up to date on the score, amidst soaring on something like ‘White Winter Hymnal’ that was the aural equivalent of a little bird floating on high. There is a freedom and looseness to their live set, where they take the best of old fashioned folk and rock, and translate that live into a heavier sound, aided by Morgan Henderson of post punk band The Blood Brothers, who changes instrument as quickly as a key change. It was really something to see them grow in stature and succeed in a festival environment, to a crowd that really appreciated them.

Wandering down to Gang Gang Dance, what proceeded was not very good, disappointingly. Their records have a spiky quality, which should lend itself well live, but it was a bit flat and samey – add in some bizarre dancers, one who seemed like he wandered in from a different decade, and one that appeared as if he had just woken up. It was a little like Happy-Mondays’-Bez-mixed-with-that-man-who-waves-a-flag-around-on-stage-at-Damian-Marley-concerts, and the experience was like a terrible house party that you long to leave but want to escape unnoticed so that you don’t offend the host, but escape we did to get a spot for the inimitable PJ Harvey. Her performance was a highlight of the few days, she has a sense of the exquisite, and was dressed like a Victorian doll; or a cross between a restrained Bertha from Jane Eyre, and a young, alluring Miss Havisham on her wedding day, and she astonished. The feathers in her hair could have alluded to a lightness of touch for this performance, where it often seemed as if she was smiling absent-mindedly at every word she sang. For someone so forthright in terms of vision and creativity, she is profoundly shy, and this makes a potent combination live. Set amidst her regular band, she moved through the musical fair, with a sense of contented formality, throwing out a few “muchas gracias-es” and “thank you’s” to the delighted crowd. Her ethereal but earthy set perfectly set off her new record Let England Shake, which sounded so vital, helped along by John Parish and Mick Harvey, and this vitality helped breathe new life into older classics, such as ‘C’Mon Billy’. Luckily she was so lost in the performance, that she appeared to have no idea that near the stage was an unhappy Dutch couple finally breaking up amidst shoulders of peach schnapps and vodka, which led to a punch-up with a neighbouring crowd. It was probably just as well.

We then ran to catch the last bit of Dean Wareham, and got the last two songs, including ‘Tugboat’, which sounded great, he has really settled into performing those songs again. We had seen Wareham a few days earlier, enjoying the sun and catching up on some reading, it seems that the musicians also like to have a holiday when performing at Primavera. We stayed a while as it was a lovely crowd, and waited for The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, who provided some straight up rocky blues, and for a three piece make an enormous sound. They are very amusing, also, and won us over amidst tiredness. With the dirty, punky blues restoring our energy, it was time to make our way to Odd Future. I felt a sense of trepidation, since over the last couple of years I have enjoyed some of Tyler the Creator‘s, MellowHype and Frank Ocean‘s individual sounds and beats, but am discouraged by the collectives mainly terrible lyrics, adolescent hi-jinks (though they are beyond adolescents now) and sense of perpetual arrested development. And yet, they often dress like 1950’s baseball players, and have a certain sweetness, but this jars with most of what they seem to be about. They are unlike Das Racist, because I am not sure they really know what they are doing, as one that that mainly communicates via something like Twitter can never truly know. Again, this is short attention span theatre – does it really mean anything? Some might argue – does it matter? When they come out, one of the collective instantly cannonballs into the crowd, an astonishing feat in itself, but there is little to back it up to make it anything more than temporarily exciting, and Goblin, Tyler’s latest solo record (which he performs some tracks from) doesn’t seem to stand up live, (just as Mellowhype’s records don’t). On stage, Tyler suggests that Pitchfork is “stupid” to ask them to perform, (they are on the Pitchfork-curated stage) since all they do is insult the website/publication, but that is part of the problem, they are part of a new generation that are so media savvy, that it becomes about the hype rather than the music, which becomes a horrible currency in itself. Beside us is a man in a balaclava which reads “Free Earl” (making reference to another of the groups’ comrades Earl Sweatshirt, who was shipped off to military school by his Mum), which seems quite sweet, until he later starts a fight with one of the group he is with.

Odd Future all look like they are fresh out of school, but they should perhaps take some more time, because their lyrics lack depth,and are mainly about smoking weed, rape, and not being gay – just awful. Though they claim that it is all in the spirit of being provocative, it is quite unseemly, and worse than that – unfunny, and their many cries of “F the Police” just beg unfavourable comparisons with the NWA of 1988, who really had something to rage against at the time of Straight Outta Compton. Various people mention the Wu-Tang in the context of Odd Future, which sees the younger collective coming off unfavourably once more, since Wu Tang, for all their flaws and idiosyncracies, are heavyweight, and someone like Ghostface Killah, Method Man, or Raekwon, have a lyrical dexterity that leave Odd Future blinking sleepily in the dust. And yet, they do intrigue a little with their adolescent male energy, potential and irreverence, though their testosterone-fuelled rants get tiring after two songs; even their constant cannonballing into the crowd eventually loses its edge. Tyler is the anchor, and can be quite something to watch, but it is all a bit messy; while taking issue with Pitchfork he then thanks them at the end, is this another class in performance art, as it seemed to be with Das Racist? Probably not. Perhaps their version of spontaneity is more contrived chaos, though at times it can be quite amusing, and when Tyler says “to know we can go to another country and have a fanbase is great”, he seems to really mean it. It is clear that a lot of people feel they signify a new movement in hip-hop, but it seems to be mindless rather than mindful hip-hop, although they did orchestrate a pretty good stage invasion that lasted well beyond the set up for the next act.

Then it was on to Animal Collective at the main stage, who were a good choice for the closing act of the festival, though perhaps the Ray-Ban stage would have been more of a natural home for them, as it was for Grizzly Bear last year. Some of their newer work didn’t sound as fresh, but there were moments of inspiration, though it is strange to think that such an expansive sound probably works better in a more contained space. In any case, they got lots of tired bodies moving before bedtime.

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