One way or another, Primavera has always managed to do two things for me. A), make sure that artists who, for some reason, have escaped me present their awesomeness to me. B), book not only the great acts, but also the smaller acts that I happen to find great.
So there is the vivid memory of Patti Smith announcing that, yes, Jesus might have died for somebody’s sins, but definitely not mine. And how about wily veteran John Carpenter doing his B movie synth schtick whilst the images of said movies roll in the backdrop.
And in the other category tons of memories to be found as well.
Like The Juan MacLean bringing their tight act to town, with everyone vehemently dancing at the Pitchfork stage to the fact that, if you open your mind to a slip of design, everything you need will fall to you. Closing out the festival to party act Cut Copy, too, is something that will forever stay with me (and the guy who, in explicitly, was behaving aggressively at, of all things, a synth-pop band).
This year, in both categories, we had to be happy with a bit less.
Not helping is that the two acts that would qualify for the latter grouping are conveniently programmed against the two juggernauts that I don’t regret seeing. So no cold electro sounds from Kelly Lee Owens, and no dancing guitars by Glass Animals.
Acts fitting in the former category don’t land with quite the oomph as some have done in earlier years. I’m not disqualifying anything that Arab Strap or Teenage Fanclub did during their sets. The singing was fine, the bands played it impeccably as far as I could tell for the 20 minutes I saw of each, but without being a major fan they didn’t draw me in or compel me to stay in the way Patti Smith did do, for instance.
Being further down the field certainly tainted my possible enjoyment of The XX and Arcade Fire. With so many people talking through the former it was neigh impossible to really get into the minimalist dance of the trio, with my doubts about them being a big podium act still lingering because of it. Arcade Fire started out strong, with the whole field singing along to an oldie-but-goldie. The new track, ‘Everything Now’, seems to specifically take the kitsch of disco, but little of disco’s real strengths. Having seen them at Primavera before on the Reflektor tour, I know the live force they can be. Further upfield, after the stronger opening, it fell kind of flat.
Wild Beasts, somehow, had always escaped me live. Boy King is a decent album, and they perform admirably. The vocals, especially, are strong from both singers, and many songs seem to get a little extra kick and a little extra guitar. The live act does enter a whiff of laddishness to the whole proceedings, which for many in the audience might be a draw (certainly for the muscled blokes in front of me it does), but, for me, slightly off-putting.
Also making me slightly queasy are two things during an otherwise fine set by Preoccupations. The first queasy moment is that apparently it is a thing to chant their previous name, Viet Cong, as a term of affection. The second one is that, at the end, the band start an outro that is so long it seems that they are daring the stage people to pull the plug. I, personally, pulled the plug myself and walked out. Not to say that the band didn’t play tight the rest of the set, with some parts really immersive and impressive. The shouty vocals lend a tad more aggressiveness to the music than on album, enticing people (and by that I do mean a whole throng of them) to crowd surf, mosh pit, and go all out. Energy aplenty this live performance.
Energy, too, with Fufanu, with the singer of the Icelandic band hopping, jumping, and posing through their post-punk tracks. The singing, at times, is barely audible, but with the energy of the frontman, and with the rhythm section and guitar doing their thing, it does make for an enjoyable act. One which, perhaps counterintuitively, shines when the songs take on slightly more structure, as with ‘Sports’ and ‘Bad Rockets’.
BadBadNotGood have no vocals, but try to keep the energy up with their jazzy rhythms and with the drummer calling things out to the audience as if at a carnival or market. Instrumentally gifted, sure, but the jazziness takes away more of the momentum than that it adds in sheer marvel, and some of the interludes by the band I could do without. Instrumentally gifted, too, is Ryley Walker on guitar. Also sans vocals, he and his band apparently are playing live for the first time, but you wouldn’t have known if he wouldn’t have told. The songs all have a nice atmosphere, and the guitar work (and interplay with the other two musicians) showcase the skill of a musician.
Sampha played the Ray-Ban stage and certainly pulled in the people. His voice is stellar, and he has a variety of songs that go over well, some with a bit more pace, others more in the piano ballad realm. The kind of beats he uses aren’t particularly my style, and there’s still some improvement to be made in the realm of podium entertainment. It’s solid, albeit not yet so spectacular I’m running to the ticket office for his next gig.
Primavera also tried some stuff out. On the Firestone Stage an act would perform an intimate set in the late afternoon. Jeremy Jay was on set on Saturday. I love the icy synthesizer sound that goes with the guitar and drumcomputer/pad. The vocals, on album, are finely attuned to that synth, giving it this dreamy, alienated feel that fits the songs so well. Live they don’t put that slant on the vocals, which causes it too lose some of that vibe. Not to say that the last song he played was a nice way to move to kickstart the final festival day.
On the Night Pro stage they did this nifty thing where they basically created a foreign band mini festival, with strings of bands from similar areas in the world performing. The two bands we managed to catch there were from South America, first the weird psychedelia circus of Marrakesh followed by the three-men-with-guitars rock of Astronaut Project. Both did little to start hyping up their local scenes as the new hotbed of creativity.
Luckily, there also were some real pleasantries to be had (see Part 3), but in earlier years that pool was bigger than the pool of bands/artists that were okay or, Oh horror, even a bit disappointing. Lack of personal favorites and artists that simply compelled me straight into fandom made it that more bands were, by lack of something snazzier, just a bit of all right.