The National (Llevant Stage, Friday)
We’re already on annoying namedrop terms with The National by the time Friday comes round, after sweet-talking ourselves into a party on Wednesday at the Hotel ME, where they were staying. After a few generous mojitos and the tail-end of Andy Votel’s B-Music set in the hotel’s club, we were bullshitting on to the Devendorf brothers Bryan and Scott about Obama’s visit to Dublin, Barcelona FC and the obligatory Bush-bashing, well into the morning. Everyone I meet at Primavera seems to have a chance stop’n’chat story with some band or other. Even queuing for passes on the first day, a mate whistled over to point out Jarvis Cocker sauntering past, checking the place out as a punter instead of the festival’s biggest draw.
But if Pulp are the biggest highlighter tick on most timetables this year, The National are definitely a close second. James Blake’s got a half-hour head-start on the Ohio natives, but there’s a flood of indifferent feet trampling past the Pitchfork Stage for an idyllic stroll along the waterfront to the Llevant Stage. Blake’s mournful keys, treated croon and subtle electronic effects evaporate into the evening air without stopping anyone in their tracks, even with the aid of a drummer and guitarist.
The National have no such trouble reaching out to a cast of thousands of pissed festival heads though – their finely-honed anthems are perfect for that 9pm slot that has all hands aloft mouthing the words, while couples hold hands and the live TV crew go for the sunset money shot. The set is heavily steered towards the albums Boxer and their 2010 ‘breakthrough’ record High Violet, and I’m still at the bar watching eight barmen round one tap when they kick off with the call to arms ‘Start a War’ and ‘Anyone’s Ghost’. One thing’s for sure – those Catalans don’t stress themselves out. We end up watching from the back as it’s pandemonium trying to get past uber-fans who are all elbows, you know the type. We end up behind a couple swaying their arms wearing Barack and Michelle masks, and they’re enjoying it a bit more – even though it’s a bit surreal to see America’s first Lady scream “I was afraid I’d eat your brains” during ‘Conversation 16’, while singer Matt Berninger loses the plot onstage. A few heads I’m with reckon he’s pissed but you get the impression he’s just, y’know, feeling it. Maybe it’s because they break into ‘All the Wine’ soon after. One thing we all agree on though, the National are equally as home here as they were in the Olympia just before last Christmas – for many the gig of the year. And after missing Sufjan Stevens in the ticketed Auditori a few hours previous (five minutes late), at least I got to see him join The National for ‘Afraid of Everyone’ and a rousing ‘Terrible Love’, that makes me forget all about the 50-times a day Vodafone ad it’s currently soundtracking.
Pulp (San Miguel Stage, Friday)
“This isn’t about ancient history. Tonight, we’re gonna make history, ” Jarvis Cocker proclaims from the stage, and Pulp launch into a performance that’ll be talked about for years. They already played a ‘warm-up’ gig in France two days previously, but the way things are going, they hardly needed it, even though they hadn’t played live since 2002. It may be the most hyped reunion in years, and the reason why many took the plunge and booked flights to Barcelona, but Jarvis may as well be saying, “We haven’t gone away you know.” During the laser show that counts down the band’s entrance, everyone’s treating it like the real second coming – and when the 50ft neon letters slowly spell out P-U-L-P, it’s the starting pistol for everyone to go bananas for 90 minutes, egged on by Jarvis’s arch dance moves, all high kicks and Oscar-winning fey swoons. I’m kinda getting goosebumps even writing this and I’m not even a proper fan (well, I wasn’t til last Friday).
Half the set is from 1995’s Different Class, and the rest is mostly from His ’N’ Hers, with a few gems for the ‘real’ fans, without alienating the rest of us who are here to see what all the fuss is about. Hearing the sleazy glam stomp of ‘Disco 2000’ and ‘I Spy’, or the tender ‘Sorted For E’s and Wizz’, you wonder how Pulp were ever lumped in with the meat-head Britpop crews back in the day. Their set is brimming with poignancy for fans: ‘Do You Remember the First Time’, ‘Babies’ and ‘Something’s Changed’, even though nothing has.
Earlier in the day, cops broke up an anti-government camp a few metres from my hotel in Placa de Catalunya, beating 100 students into the nearest hospital in the process. The biggest cheer of the night, of the whole festival, is when Jarvis dedicates ‘Common People’ to the “Indignados” (protesters), saying, “I know some shit went down in the main square today.” Then we get that synth intro, that build-up and that chorus and it’s just another classic moment. The thousands of Irish heads at Primavera will be straight home to nab their Picnic tickets to catch this show again. Now, if only I wasn’t a wee heavy metaller in 1995, this would’ve been even more special, if that’s possible.
Photos: Alan Moore.
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