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Primavera Sound Part 2: The Bands That Were, I Suppose, Okay

  • Published in Live

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.


Primavera Sound Part 1: Two Queens Rule Primavera Sound

  • Published in Live

A weekender in Barcelona always gives you fragments of memories you’ll be carrying around for a while. Maybe that snippet is a cultural thing. Like how people just wash the beach sand off their bare bodies in plain sight (exposing perhaps more our prudishness than their nakedness).

That little vignette might be that, during the heat of the day, young people still pay their dues on the soccer pitch or basketball court instead of evading heat and work inside.

And then we’re not even on the Primavera Sound site yet.

Primavera has treated me well over the years. Fragmented memories still linger in my brain. That of a boy waiting, by himself, for over thirty minutes, clinging to his multi-coloured rucksack at the front where Blood Orange will, momentarily, perform a fantastic set.

The snapshot of a completely enthralled crowd silently taking in the sounds of Radiohead. Even if, standing mid-field (at best), that’s more than anyone could expect.

Or ingrained in my memory the reunion tour of Slowdive, which saw two people faint right in front of me during a set that propelled me to get tickets for their upcoming European tour.

This year is sure to add a number of vivid recollections to that (although not as much as, perhaps, in past editions was the case).

One thing is for sure, Primavera this year turned into a monarchy, reigned by two Queens high and mighty. Both providing iconic moments that created everlasting memories.

How about Solange, whobreaks her calmness and serenity at the end of the set during ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’, punching the “What you say to me” lines whilst powering herself through some defiant dance moves.

While she freaks it out, the rest of the band (all dressed in similar orange hues) still do their calm, pre-meditated dance moves. Solange herself, when chorus moves to verse, returns to her cerebral aura, calmly, yet with poise, explaining that You don’t understand what it means to me.

Grace Jones, off-screen, mentions, during one of her many changes in clothing, that she’s eaten too much. And could the person buttoning her up please stop laughing and get it done.

All in good jest.

As are her comments that with the wind, she doesn’t need fans. Not the audience, of course. As the fans, they blow her good.

Continuing that trend, she fans the male dancer who dances around the stripping pole during one song, the both of them scarcely wearing more than body paint. In that same attire, but with different accessories, she tells us to Pull up to the bumper baby, inviting the voyeur in to make us complicit in her funky sex scene.

Both touch upon the essence of being oneself. Solange, mostly using material from her new album, walks us through life as an African-American woman in contemporary America. With the hardships and structural discrimination that takes place. She forgoes the angry woman spiel deliberately, instead she coolly, artfully states her case with understated poise.

Be weary, she sings, of the ways of the world. She sings that she has Got a lot to be mad about, but is never allowed to show. Or tell. Or explain. So she talks about how she tried to drink it away. Read it away. Run it away.

The album already is a superb vision of contemporary life for the African-American woman, and live she syncs it up by controlling the whole creative process. The choreography isn’t akin a pop choreography, but it is like theatre, like performance art. From when I saw her years ago in a small venue off the back of the fun True to this, it is clear the leaps she has made.

Grace Jones, meanwhile, goes back to her roots. Musically, with the rhythms, the genres, and the texts, and with her songs, singing about Jamaica, going back to Hurricane. Where Solange choose to express her pride in an understated manner, Grace Jones fills every corner of the festival with it. A Jamaican woman of a certain age, who is to tell her don’t do body paint, don’t talk about sex, don’t dance with younger men equally dressed in nothing. She too, is in complete control of the whole creative process, from the costumes to the set-up to her charisma on stage.

Her voice, too, still sublime.

These two women show power and pride in different ways, both hitting the mark exquisitely.

Both artists send out a specific message and vision, but through that also a broader theme. One of empowerment, of being oneself, and of being proud.

All hail the Queens of Primavera 2017.

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