Oh Barcelona, city of Picasso; or, at least a city in the country where he was born…and that architect guy whose name sounds like that white cheese, and whose churches they never seem to finish building. Sangria, ridiculously strong cocktails, up until the 2010 ban; bullfights, at least one good soccer team, and of course, what brings me over this time– the 14th edition of the Primavera Sounds Festival. Some years have passed since I last visited Barcelona, and I’m super stoked about being back. Well, not really super stoked, but it’s all good. Getting away from home is as always, never a bad thing.
The first day is spent checking into hotels, picking up accreditation, getting soaked in the rain and grabbing some really mediocre Asian food. Also, since it so happens to be my birthday, I decide that the best way to spend the evening is to get trashed on expensive cocktails at Boadas. A charming little bar that’s been around since 1933, with their bow tie and white shirt-wearing bartenders mixing classic cocktails like their life depended on it. Well, in a way I guess it does… Many drinks later we head back to the hotel hoping the pain won’t be too bad in the morning for the first day of the festival.
Next day arriving at Parc del Fòrum, and unfortunately, feeling the sting from last night all too well, I realize how huge the area is. Nothing like our puny little Øya Festival back home. Also (and this is a big plus) concrete as far as the eye can see. I guess that means aching backs, and sore feet but at least no swimming in mud, should the weather turn against us. We walk around for a while to get a feel of the place and figure out what is where. The prices of beer, what kind of food is available and what not, and as I run my eyes over the program one last time to check out what I’ve ticked off, I take note of what an old fart I’ve become. All bands are either at least twice my age, reformed bands from my early teens, bands influenced by bands from my early teens or influenced by bands at least twice my age. Oh well, I’m obviously not too interested in what’s going on these days it seems. I know, Arcade Fire, Disclosure, Blood Orange, St Vincent, Haim and all those bands are all playing, but you’ll probably find them reviewed tons of other places. Truth be told, this festival is filled to the brim with great bookings, there are plenty of acts I would like to see, but there is no way I’m going to be able to cover even half of it.
We grab cervezas and head over to the Pitchfork stage to find local Barcelonan heroes Wind Atlas opening their set with a lone guitar, gently strumming some chords, topped with some haunting female vocals. A rather lackluster intro to what turned out to be a less than impressive show. At least as far into it as I got. Their press release links them up with the likes of Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins, which seems about right, and it turns out their debut EP was released on 4AD. Unfortunately the performance leave a lot to be desired. I don’t know if it was one daiquiri too many yesterday, the early show start, a nervous band or what, but I gave these guys up after 3 songs. Unable to fill the stage with their sparse arrangements and oh, such haunting vocals, these kids might sound ok on record or at a small, dark club, but broad daylight and a big stage did not really do these guys any favors.
As we pass by the Addidas originals stage, we are exposed to Moveis Coloniais de Acaju from Brazil. This was not a band I had lined out in the program for stuff I wanted to check out, but still early on in the festival, and feeling adventurous, I stop for 2 minutes. The band is energetic, wielding their brass instruments and flutes and having a wonderful time on stage. The lead singer telling everyone where to put their hands at what times and saying something about Pavarotti to get the crowd to sing backing for the chorus and so on and so forth. The 60-70 people who were there looked to be really into whatever was going on, dancing, smiling and shouting, generally having a blast. Me, on the other hand, would rather drink a bucket of paint than having to listen to another note of this horrifying ska playing party act. I move on, trying to wipe away the memories of what I just witnessed, while I set out for the press area to drop of my bag.
Unfortunately the press area is located not too far from the Heineken stage and I, unwisely, try to step up my game, breaking out of my scheduled bands to catch up with the current times, since there is some time to kill before The Ex, and give Real Estate a listen. I must admit that at one point in my life, I found some of the early stuff by Matt Mondanile, under his Ducktails moniker, somewhat worthwhile (Yea, yea, yea. I know.) and while I haven’t been as impressed by his latest works or what little I’ve heard of Real Estate, I thought I’d give them a shot. These New Jersey kids have drawn quite a crowd, and the stage is filled to the brim with keen listeners, which is not a bad feat considering the relatively early show start. They turned out to be quite dull, generic American, white guy, fluffy-puffy, sunshine indie with no real memorable hooks. Which, after all, came as no surprise. The band spends 2 full minutes tuning their guitars in between songs. I’m about to fall asleep while standing up. From the stage they keep repeating how awesome it is to be in Barcelona and thanking us for showing up. I leave and decide to continue my quest for music elsewhere.
Finally something good comes around. The Ex is a band I’ve been told on several occasions to check out, something I never really got around to, other than the random track here and there, but tonight I’m finally about to experience them first hand. Entering the ATP stage at 19:30, the Dutch group, formed in 1979 and with 30 or so releases to their name, are absolutely are on fire! Katherina Bornefeld hammering her machine like, hypnotic beats. Terrie Hessels, (only remaining original member), keeping rock steady monotonic one note riffs and the occasional noise guitar explosion. Arnold de Boer, who has been handling the vocals since 2009, spitting lyrics and Andy Moor pumping the baritone guitar. It’s captivating and massive. Impressive, forcefully, efficient, mesmerizing and an absolute joy to behold. While this may not be my first choice to put on at my home stereo, I realize I’ve been an ass not getting around to check out these guys and gal earlier. They go through some songs that I for obvious reasons don`t know the titles of, taking a break to inform the light guy that they are going dizzy by the strobes pointed straight in their faces, one of said strobes, Mr. Moor tried to kick over during the first song, and ask him kindly to stop using them. The set continues and they deliver an impressive show. All in all a solid performance that made it the first proper highlight of the festival and left me filled with a new sense of hope for things to come.
With high spirits, we move towards the Auditori Rockdelux, that residents in the auditorium of the Forum Building also known as Museu Blau de les Ciències Naturals. A magnificent building right outside the main festival area, designed by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, costing no less than $144 000 000 to construct. The auditory with a 3200 seat capacity, is as the building itself, quite spectacular and definitely the spaceship fit for the trip we are about to embark. We are lucky and find some good seats pretty close to the stage and hope for the best, fearing the worst.
May 2014 is a big month for the Sun Ra Arkestra, marking 100 years since Sun Ra and 90 years since Marshall Allen´s arrival to this planet, or birthday if you like. The Arkestra enters the stage wearing their customary space ritual costumes, smiling and waving to the crowd and within seconds, before half the group is in place, they kick it off with “space is the place” and I already know this is going to be as good as I was hoping for. Marshall Allen, the man who’s taken Sun Ra´s role as band leader since the great Ra passed in 93, may at times seem slightly lost, but he´s still noodling around with his sax, shooting his trademark shrieks and picks up his EWI for a couple of numbers.
Knoel Scott is in place, and it seems much like he recently has replaced Allan as acting bandleader. Like a general on a space crafts bridge, strictly pointing out who’s playing what when, signaling left, right and center, then sitting down, listening with a stone face to check if everything sounds right, guiding the Arkestra steadily through a solid performance while serving sax lines from the other side of Jupiter. A couple of songs later we get to “Angels and Demons at Play” and Mr. Scott gets up to do his space dance routine, doing cartwheels across the stage, at times jumping around like a rabid pastor and at times looking all mystic and shit. The band outshines their sparkly garments, smiling and nodding, grooving along and seemingly having a great time. On the 4th or 5th number, Allen literally commands the band off stage, and the Arkestra starts moving, looming through the rows of the Auditori, still playing, high-fiving people in the crowd and spreading the music throughout the entire room.
Well back on stage they embark on the classic Disney number, “When you wish upon star”, with a lengthy and absolutely beautiful sax intro by Marshall. Considering the vast material and back catalog they have to work with, I honestly don’t know all their tracks, but they went on to “Look at the sun” or “Look to the sun” or something, it probably has a different title, cause I couldn’t find it anywhere online, and being a journalist novice, I forgot taking notes, as I was too busy enjoying the show. I can’t really remember what track the set ended with, but as the band left the stage, for what appeared to be an unplanned extra number, Allan obviously still had more to share and starts an a cappella version of an other tune I hadn’t heard, guessing from the lyrics, id say it could be called “magic is eternal”.
Tara Middelton, the female singer and violinist of the group caught on, Knoel joined in on vocals and Craig Haynes reentered the stage to add some beats. A pleasant ending to an amazing show. Other than some minor technical problems and a sound guy who did not always payi enough attention, the Arkestra delivered a absolute stellar performance, easily the highlight of the day.
After the Sun Ra Arkestra show we went back to the main area to see Chrome at the VICE stage, but I simply had no chance to get into it. Chromes massive output has some great albums and tracks, but tonight they were playing from the other part of that catalogue it seemed. It was loud, cheesy and not very exciting to be honest. We found our way back to the beer stands and sat for a while.
Shellac sounded really, really good! Albini was sporting snuggly fight blue jeans, his round glasses, looking like he was well on top of things, cracking jokes at the crowd and a guitar sound to die for. Unfortunately I didn´t catch a whole lot of it as I was still high on the Sun Ra Arkestra show and I needed some time for that to sink in. Reliable sources who saw the whole thing said it was pretty damn amazing.
We went back to the VICE stage hoping to get our faces melted by Bo Nigen, but after Shellac, my face didn´t even get a slight tan. A bunch of long haired Japanese guys in dresses jumping around on stage, tossing their hair around, doing mystical arm movements… The vocals were not much to my liking either. I don´t know… The whole thing just seemed a bit silly. I gave up after 3 songs.
CHVRCHES pulled a massive crowd. We went over to see what the kids are into these days and stood there for a couple of songs. Flashing lights, keyboards, computers and some girl singing. My company said it sounded like a less interesting The Knife. I wouldn’t know. I guess it was good if you like that kind of thing, but it was getting cold and we decided to go grab some coffee instead.
On the way to the coffee stand, these guys, were playing their own private little show by the merch booths. Like a poor man’s Black Pus, 3 guys being somewhat less impressive than Mr. Chippendale manages to be single-handedly. Still, it was definitely a fun little gig, compared to a lot of the pretentious mediocre stuff we had witnessed so far on the festival, until it was abruptly ended by some guy telling them they had to stop. Good clean fun.
The former James Brown impersonator and late bloomer Charles Bradley was up next at the Ray-Ban stage. The band enters starting of some kind of cheesy instrumental tune and keeps that going for a while. After what seems like 10 minutes the organ player gets up, looking like a circus director, smiling fanatically and starts introducing the main man. Letting us all know how Charles is a man who’s a victim of love, and that tonight, he hopes that he will be a victim of our love. It’s all kind of embarrassing and tacky, and it feels somewhat more like we are invited to see the bearded lady than a great singer. Finally Charles enters the stage wearing a big, fat, charming smile cutting all the way from one ear to another, a white suit with silver sparkly shiny stuff on it, and a too short black shirt showing too much skin every time he raises his arms. Something he does a lot. As he open his mouth and starts to sing , there is no denying the man definitely has a lot of soul and a voice worthy of classic hall of fame, but some what it all seems a bit off with his all white, Brooklyn hipster backing band, the giant disco ball, the suit changes and the James Brown moves. The songs were generally about making things right, threading me right, threading you right, I was crying, you were crying, the world is though, let’s make this world right etc etc. In the end, the sweet loveable man, which definitely had a lot to give, ended up being more a victim of a weird setting, a victim of loving the wrong backing band and being trapped in to much of a pastiche than anything else.