Sunday, June 10, 2007


Primavera Sound 2007

So it's now a week since I've got back from Barcelona, and as they say the dust has settled, I've almost caught up with the enormous backlog at work and as far as sleep goes let's just say that I'm used to missing it, though this seldom leads to me being in a good mood!
My first thought is more of an observation, at my tender age, 46, this is the first time that I have attended more than one day at a festival, not everyone likes wallowing in mud, queuing hours for the toilets, paying inflated prices for a beer that is more often than not too hot or too cold and not your beer of choice. True these last two points are probably also true for most non bar concerts the difference being this negative side lasts for a few hours as opposed to god forbid a whole week end. Part of the problem with festivals is the sensory over load, I mean who really wants to see 30/40 bands over two or three days? Personally I get much more pleasure from a traditional concert where there is a headliner and one or two support bands, lets just say the rush is much more intense. The other problem with these multi stage mega line up festivals is more logistic, who should we go to see? And who will be sacrificed because of lack of time, tiredness, queuing to buy food..............? Despite these little moans me and my other half did enjoy ourselves and got to see some great sets and bands that I very much doubt will be playing our cultural backwater here in the south of France in the foreseeable future, we also got to discover some great new bands and for me that is what it should all be about.

Day 1: Thursday May, 31
Having already attended Prmavera Sound for just one day the previous year, we knew how to find the site and so were in no rush and the first artist of interest to us was programed for 20h, in Spain festivals start late afternoon and with the case of Primavera go on till 4 or 5am. Having been a long time fan of Nick Cave I have also followed the careers of those that form or formed the Bad Seeds with interest, it goes without saying that the music must be up to scratch. One such band is Warren Ellis's violin led The Dirty Three, in musical terms their set did not disappoint, they played 'Ocean Songs', a powerful, majestic performance proving that you don't need a vocalist to keep the audience's attention. What was a distraction was Ellis's habit of playing with his back to the public or if you prefer playing 90% of the set to his drummer, were we really that ugly?
I was looking forward to seeing new sensation Elvis Perkins who in case you are unaware is the son of Psycho actor Anthony Perkins. Musically we can situate him as occupying the space between traditional singer song writers and country tinged Americana. He has some very fine songs and a singing voice that totally suits his dandy persona, it was just a shame that their delicate songs were mired by feedback and other sound problems, I did get the impression that they were to fussy, maybe it was his son of a film star upbringing?
I know I've previously said that band names are important and to bear out this point were it not for their name I rather doubt that I would of made my way over to the CD Drome stage and this was where I was captivated by the stage presence of the Parenthetical Girls. Both in dress sense and in musical terms they came over as a relic from the Wiemar republic very cabaret very mechanical though despite this they manged to warm the audience to them. According to their press they were influenced by such divergent elements as post punk, Phil Spector and Brian Eno, and this makes for a fine mix. They finished their set with a blinding cover version of OMD's 'Joan Of Arc'. Those wishing to listen before taking the plunge can check out four down loadable tracks here including a remodeling of Wham's 'Last Christmas'.
We caught the tail end of the Comets On Fire, and I rather regret that I saw so little of them as the finale was a wonderful 101% sonic rock out. The Smashing Pumpkins were due on the main stage and we were able to get a good position, meaning we did not need the video projection screen to see what was happening on stage. Back in the early 90's I really liked the music that they produced, though since the band spilt I have got the impression that one time darling of US indie Billy Corgan has lost his direction, well this was very much confirmed by his bombastic over blown set even the older songs failed to impress. It is just possible as the gig was intended as a parody above all considering the ridiculous science fiction costumes they were wearing, reminding me of the excellent Brain DePalma film Phantom Of The Paradise, though sadly I rather doubt this was the case and the band came over as a bad relic of the worst of the pre punk 70's. Another disappointment was Mike Patton's new project Fennesz which despite being interesting on paper proved to be nothing more that noise without reason and totally lacking in any perceptible structure, tellingly enough the majority of those in front of the stage had their hands over their ears, strange behaviour for a concert!
We had to wait until 1.15am, the scheduled time to see the White Stripes, and well worth it was! I've never been a great fan, there have been isolated songs that yes I consider to be classics, but after seeing them live everything makes sense. In fact what they have done is very clever indeed instead of taking the accepted route and continuing from where the previous generation of artists left off they have gone back to the original source of rock, the blues and are taking us on their own voyage of discovery. I would go as far as to dare to compare them with another band that was influenced by the same music, Led Zeppelin, the difference being that the White Stripes stay very much down to earth being almost primal and thankfully have not taken the highway to pretentiousness. It amazed me through the length of their set how just two people could deliver such a full sound, Meg really is an accomplished and inventive drummer and as far as Jack is concerned a true guitar hero who also has a very varied and soulful singing voice. The sole down point was from Jack's voice that seemed to loose it's power as the evening drew on. Visually they managed fill the large stage with an imaginative use of lighting and Jacks very energetic stage presence, anyone know how many vocal microphones he uses on stage? The set was heavy in older songs though there were honorable outings for newer numbers including the nitro charged new single 'Icky Thump'. They encored with crowd pleasers such as the Burt Bacharach 'Don't Know What To Do With Myself' which induced a mass crowd sing a long before finishing with that song, 'Seven Nation Army'. A very good and very uplifting set that despite the late hour charged my batteries enough that the walk back to my hotel did not bother me.

Day 2: Friday June, 1
God! Were we tired, by now after too much beer, too much walking and not enough sleep conjugated with my advancing years, talk about recipe for disaster. Luckily enough there was a surprise band that had just what was needed to get me literally on my feet. How Dare You are a three piece, two girls and a boy from Barcelona. Heavily influenced by post punk and with their influences, Slits, raincoats, P.I.L. worn firmly on their sleeve, what they lacked in originality they more than made up for with youthful enthusiasm. They managed to do the trick and I stayed for the lions part of their set as they won me over and even got me tapping my feet. Currently unsigned, the only place to listen to anything by them would be on their my space. definitely one to watch out for.
One of the particularities of Primavera is that it is held on a urban site, bordering the Mediterranean, that includes an inside conference centre. This is used during the festival as an inside stage for quieter more intimate artists. Much to his surprise Billy Bragg was considered as such by the organisers, I got the impression that in his mind festivals meant a field and the big blue sky. Not to worry Billy adapted well to the situation. He is an artist that I feel a close affinity to, having my own roots in the same part of the world as him, I was born in Forest Gate and later spent mt adolescence in Barkingside. Seeing that his fan base is rather weak in France it is a good twenty years since I've seen him live, so my expectations were high, I guess you could almost say that I had stage fright! Billy was solo with his trusty guitar and cups of tea. He certainly has come on a long way as today he provides a very varied and interesting show, part music part talk, sure he is not the worlds best best guitarist and barking at times could describe his voice, but during his hour long set he made us cry, laugh, smile, frown and even sing along with him, if only all politicians could be this entertaining. His set included rants or storytelling that took in nuns, penguins, football, book writing and SxSW where this rare acoustic guitar backed version of 'New England' comes from. I'm not quite sure the percentage of native English speakers in the audience but despite the language barrier he went down a storm. We were treated to reworked versions of many songs, highlights including a radially reworked 'Great Leap Forward', there were strange cover versions; the Carpenters 'Superstar', hidden guitar riffs; 'Smoke On The Water', whistling solos and the Clash fueled name checking song inspired in part by his Johnny Clash persona. It was a real pleasure to see him again and I got the impression he enjoyed himself as much as we did. Politics and love have never gone down so well together, I just hope I don't have to wait 20 years to see him again.
This undeniable personal highlight was unsurprisingly difficult to follow and so fine as they were Blonde Red Head but failed to inspire and I got the feeling I was not the only one. Despite my age and my geographical origins I've never had the pleasure of seeing the Fall live and as such was looking forward to it. I got the impression that Mark E Smith has stopped smoking as he was not to be seen with a cigarette through the whole set, and seemed to be mashing chewing gum the whole time, so was it for this reason that he spent half of his set staring so aggressively at his audience? It was loud to say the least and exaggerated by the presence of two bass players and Mark E's fiddling with the volume controls on the amps. I'm glad I've seen them but won't be too disappointed if this is the only time. Another band that I was looking forward to seeing was Beirut, but was somewhat disappointed, not I might add the bands fault. The problem is that their music is so delicate and of an acoustic nature that it did not come over too well performed on an outdoor stage what with other, noisier bands playing on neighboring stages and the wind playing havoc with their fragile sound.
After all of this I was in need of a little pick me up that came in the form of Canadian duo, Chromeo, another discovery. Nothing too original with these boys as they take you back to the eighties NYC club scene, as my other half said "it's disco isn't it?". Good fun was had my me and it even got my butt moving! There are a couple of down loadable songs on their site, and they are currently touring Europe. As I have already stated we were rather tired and so we found ourselves a place on the grass hill looking down on the main stage and finished our evening off with the efficient set from Maximo Park, I must say that the new songs 'Girls That Play Guitars' and 'Russian Literature' make for strong addition to their repertoire. Still hardly the most original band in the world but they do what the do well.

Day 3: Saturday June, 2
Must have slept well or maybe it was the copious breakfast at the hotel as we started the day with an amazing amount of energy. 18h30 was maybe a little bit early in the day and the Mediterranean sun bearing down on backs was not the only thing hot as before us was that most English of American combos, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists rocking away like a good old V8 engine. They certainly are not the most visual of bands, the bassist is pure eighties hair metal but they have serious attitude and that counts. I couldn't help thinking of the Clash while they were playing, such was their intensity. Taking this line of thought even further, Billy Bragg is great solo, but his backing band the Blokes are from their name through to their musical backing of him, pedestrian, and personally I'd say that's rather kind. So I started imagining Ted Leo and the Pharmacists backing Bragg, not as silly as it sounds both of them share a split personality, Political / love songs as well as both of them sharing a liking for the best of late 70's punk. I couldn't get enough of them and their set was too short full of inspired anthem like tunes such as 'Where Have All The Rudeboys Gone', that reminds me of Thin Lizzy itself not such a bad thing, and 'Never Give Up' these two recordings come courtesy of NPR from Washington DC's 9:30 club earlier this year. They couldn't resist it and dedicated a blinding version of 'Costa Brava' as an appreciated set closer.
The Long Blondes were next on our shopping list. True they are visually pleasing but singer, Kate Jackson, is so loud mouthed that after a while her in between song banter becomes a pain in the arse. Musically I found them rather superficial and they got me all nostalgic for the band that is such an obvious inspiration for them, Blondie. We hopped over to one of the smaller stages to catch a band from Montpellier, Koacha. This was the first time that I had seen them and they did not disappoint, delivering their well crafted angular pop songs with precision and humour. Nice to see a young band so at ease on stage and playfully teasing the audience with the vocalists beer borrowing antics and crowd walkabout. Another one to watch out for.
Last year Saturday night featured Lou Reed and this year the old school NYC connection was also present with Patti Smith, who after a shaky start, we were almost stage front and the volume was rather lacking for the first two numbers, soon got into her stride and the high priestess of rock 'n' roll rebellion held spiritual communion with her followers. A real crowd pleasing set that included three numbers from her latest album the highlight being the dirge like cover of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit', personally I was not to hot on the acoustic guitar led numbers, Lenny Kaye after all was was born with a Fender Stratocaster in is hand, wasn't he? A set rich in jewels from Patti's past including 'Free Money', 'Pissing In A River' and 'Because The Night' before rounding of with the orgasm inciting pair of 'Gloria' and 'Rock 'n' Roll Nigger. Talk about making an old man happy!
The Good The Bad And The Queen were next, and to be honest I was apprehensive as press reports have not always been good and I've always found that seeing living legends is not always rewarding. My first impression was how Damon Albarn, the man that challenged Oasis, has really turned into the anti thesis of a star, with his timid almost apologetic stage personality which is totally opposed to that of gun slinger Paul Simonon who comes over as a right cocky bastard with some great stage moves. Again the sound was rather pale and appeared to be lost a little bit in the open air, they are playing with a four piece string section. Gradually we made our way to the front arriving there for the last three number and both the sound and atmosphere was indeed a lot hotter.
The last band that were were to catch before returning wearily to our hotel was Sonic Youth, who were treating us to their first ever recital of 'Daydream Nation'. Now I will be the first to claim the album as a classic, though whether it is best heard in the comfort of your own home, personal stereo or performed as an opera in it's entirety on stage is very much open to debate. The album concept does loose a lot with between song chat and the ever present extended pauses be it for technical or personal reasons. Also the pacing for an album does not necessarily correspond to that of a gig and so the chronological reading of an album leads a lot to be desired. Even Thurston Moore said that they had never before played the whole of the album even when they were teenagers, the whole concept smells a bit too much like treating rock as high art, sorry but for me it doesn't work! Still it was nice to see them on stage again though they did give me the impression to have mellowed a little, shame!

There was of course a whole load of bands that we missed due to scheduling problems, toilet queues, tiredness or just down and out laziness these include; Portastatic, Black Mountain, Spititualised, DJ Yoda, Shannon Wright, The Apples in Stereo, Wilco, The Klaxons, Slint.........
So was it worth it? After all what with tickets, hotel, restaurants, drink and travel it must have cost me about a months salary. Well the answer is yes, it's a great festival set on an original site in one of the worlds best towns and with a really good atmosphere, if next years line up is anywhere near as tempting I'll be back.

P.S. I have a little confession to make, I had decided to provide Sound Of The Suburbs with original photos from Primavera 2007 and so had taken my trusty camera along with me. And believe me I had taken some more than decent snaps, the problem was that Saturday morning I was fiddling arround with the camera deleting images that wer obviouly no good when by error or pure stupidity I reformated the disc which is the same a deleting everything. Immediatley I realised what I had done, so gutted was I left my camera in the hotel room Saturday night. This means that the photos here come from different sources you can look at the rest of their galleries here and here. I would have asked for permision, honest, but my Spanish is terrible, anyway thanks for the immages guys!

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