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NOS Primavera Sound : An Appreciation Of Porto

  • Published in Live

A while ago this site contained a few city guides for a handful of places in the UK & what they had to offer for the live music fan. They weren't regularly updated so we dropped them. This piece is though intended, in part, to fulfil the same function for Porto, where the younger & smaller Primavera Sound (NOS being the main local sponsor) event takes place a week or so after the original in Barcelona.

Having popped my cherry at the Barcelona event in 2016 & being possessed of a wish to visit Porto for two or three years it seemed obvious upon the release of the earlybird tickets for 2017 that one be bought as the event must have the same line-up in each city, right? Wrong - the Porto event has only four stages & consequently gets mainly the middle tier acts so no underexposed newbies or headliners such as Arcade Fire. Still, 85€ for the event was fine with me.

The city itself offers a very cheap and enjoyable holiday experience. Given that Ryanair only fly there from Edinburgh on Tuesdays & Saturdays I naturally had to plump for a week of sunshine with temperatures around the 30 degrees centigrade mark, rather than mist the final day of the festival. There's more than enough to keep you occupied aside from the festival, whether it be the art collection of Serralves, visiting as many churches as possible, doing one or more of the tourist tours or just crawling the bars drinking either the very cheap Super Bock or sampling the local wares of the city's newer brewers, seeing as it's experiencing a growth of those the same as most other places. There's also the wine. And the coffee. And the 1€ cakes and sandwiches although full meals cost far less than at home too.

Travel is cheap too - an hour on the train south to picturesque Aveiro set me back 4€ each way and the Metro around the city & out to the park where the festival takes place is in the main under 2€ for a single journey. There's an Oyster-like system in place so once you have your smartcard from the machine at the airport you merely need to top it up with the right fare(s) and step on and off buses & Metros as your needs dictate.

As mentioned NOS Primavera Sound takes place in a park, which gives it the edge over the Barcelona event in terms of comfort. At no time are you walking across a dusty, concrete desert and the hillsides allow for clear views of the stages from a prone position. As the overall site is though smaller there are far fewer art, clothing etc. stalls (my poster tube was a redundant piece of luggage this year) but, particularly if you're female, you can get a good fix of second-hand clothes shopping done in the city and the quality of prints, badges, cards & other artwork for sale (particularly around Rua de Miguel Bombarda and at the Circus Network space) is very high.  

So who was actually any good at the festival? Swans were a revelation to be honest. Not a band I've ever given much time to and I opted to chat to a site contributor over seeing them at Le Guess Who? a couple of years ago but this weekend their two hour set held me for the duration. I'm pleased to say I've finally seen Arab Strap although they maybe want to give themselves a rest from 'The First Big Weekend Of The Summer' and Teenage Fanclub were a solid presence on the Friday evening. 

Shellac were better than in Barcelona last year, possibly down to the Palco stage being head height rather than half that again. Mitski was good fun, Hamilton Leithauser was emotive, Against Me! were rock and roll, The Make-Up were infectious although having Ian Sevonious stand all over you was probably not what many in the centre of the crowd had bargained on, Wand were a great blast of energy & infectious guitar work (what King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard failed to be) and the tail end of the Evols set gave a hint that I'd missed something epic by being a tad late that day. Metronomy, who I see in a new light following Joe Mount's recent dismissal of The Flaming Lips, Japandroids and Pond were also great crowd pleasers.

Elsewhere Aphex Twin was a slow burner which I left for more immediate pleasures, Cymbals Eat Guitars seemed either oddly placed in the bill or are virtually unknown in Portugal, Cigarettes After Sex were nothing special (& what's with that REO Speedwagon cover?), Sleaford Mods were as bombastic as expected but if you've seen five minutes of them you've seen the whole show (which kind of goes for Death Grips too), Songhoy Blues got a good reaction from the crowd and Royal Trux were as ramshackle as when I last saw them 20 or so years ago. Sure they walked off about 20 minutes earlier than they should have but fair play - for all the drivel spouted between songs they didn't forget any of their lyrics, much as that constantly seemed a possibility. The Growlers failed to live up to expectations, sounding oddly one dimensional compared to on record.

Homegrown acts Samuel Uria, Rodrigo Leao & Scott Matthew and Miguel unfortunately made little impression on me. On the whole though I'd say the event for me came out ahead of its bigger brother, not least for the better quality food on offer but transport away from the site (the closest Metro ceases at 22:00) was better organised & information about it more readily available.

NOS Primavera Sound is for a weekend, not for life though & the city's live music scene continues after it's all over. To that end I headed along to the Cave 45 venue on Monday night to see Cleveland's Archie & The Bunkers, ably supported by energetic & entertaining local garage punks The Magnets. Two rather unorthodox acts - the latter field a bass/drum/organ & singer formation whilst the youthful headlining duo share vocal duties and play just a drumkit and an organ, albeit with gobs of energy & passion. The venue itself has good sound and two decent bars so provided a fine location to see out the end of this Portuguese live music experience.

Cheers to Eduardo & Francisco for excellent Couchsurfing, Ana for driving and Chris for the banter.

Further event photographs here.


Japandroids - Near To The Wild Heart Of Life

  • Published in Albums

There’s a lot of people to whom Japandroids are at times the greatest Rock band on the planet. Few artists can generate the visceral Springsteen-esque feelings of hope and joy with the intensity and consistency of Japandroids. Post-Nothing and Celebration Rock were two perfectly imperfect albums that oozed raw power, completely deserving of the unbridled enthusiasm and excitement that isn’t thrown as readily to guitar bands as it used to be. And then, Japandroids went away for a few rumour filled years.

With the worst of the rumours proven false and the best of them proven true, Near To The Wild Heart Of Life sees them return with their third album in eight years. The title-track and leading single that appeared back in November was pretty exciting, playing like “Summer of ‘69” on fire. But as life affirming as it was, seemingly improving with every listen, it felt a little too polished to quite carry the last-dance-on-earth urgency of “Younger Us” or “Young Hearts Spark Fire” - songs which were so powerful both because of and in spite of the haste and fuzz that made them so unique.

For better or worse, the preview was telling. There’s no shortage of anger, joy and delirium in King’s writing but the delivery has taken a turn. The power is now in the details, whether it’s the delicious harmony in “No Known Drink or Drug,” the swaggering synth line that carries seven plus minute “Arc of Bar,” the ghostly strain that permeates “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)” or the shuddering ambience that smothers album closer “In A Body Like A Grave” - it’s the intricacies and layers that make this material special as much as chest beating of old. This isn’t a record that finds its strength in its volume.

Near To The Wild Heart Of Life is a very good album and time will likely prove it to be a truly great album. Though Japandroids have never felt like a band to be enjoyed on an academic level, there’s a maturity, musical sophistication and sense of detail that is largely absent from their previous output but it’s up to you to decide if that’s enough.

Rather than being dragged along for the ride, there’s an isolated appreciation of individual moments and elements, not just the wide-eyed appreciation of life, love, sex, youth and death. They have never sounded cleaner or more like ‘songwriters’ but all of the beauty of Japandroids is still here - you just have to dig to find it. The idealism and energy of 2009 exists here as an echo through memory and nostalgia. They told us we could keep tomorrow because they’re not gonna need it - but tomorrow came and they’re still here. But it sounds like they’re making the very best of it.

Near To The Wild Heart Of Life is available via Amazon and iTunes. 

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