Primavera Sound has become something of a pilgrimage to Irish music fans over the past few years. Perhaps that’s because the Catalonian festival offers something that our own Irish festivals just can’t, namely guaranteed sun and a distinct lack of mud. Despite So Cow being the only musical representation from our shores, it seemed that just about every second person you ran into (usually at the bar) was working for some Irish publication or other, or just a regular ticket-buying holidaymaker called Micko or Sinead complaining loudly about last night’s hangover while chain-smoking and drinking their way towards tomorrow’s headache.
The first band of note on Thursday evening was The Fall. To the odd delight of the crowd, Mark E. Smith delivered a tired and stagnant performance. His wrinkled, lived-in face displays every one of his 53 years – but perhaps that’s part of the allure. Post-punk, if that’s what you can still call it nowadays, was never supposed to be pristine and shiny. This certainly wasn’t either of those things, but no one there was any less happy for it.
Shortly thereafter, The xx, who conquered some early sound problems which rendered -Intro’ practically inaudible, delivered essentially the same set they’ve been playing for the past 12 months. -Crystalised’ and -Islands’ are terrific songs though and very difficult to tire of no matter how many times you hear them.
Wild Beasts then took their turn to overcome some bass-heavy sound problems of their own on the Pitchfork Stage to show just why they are one of the most critically acclaimed UK bands of the last couple of years. -The Devils Crayon’ and -Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyant’, with their surging vocals and tidy orchestrations, show that, at least in their case, the hype is well and truly justified. After a quick detour to Superchunk, it was back to the Pitchfork Stage where Brooklyn’s Sleigh Bells pretty much stole the show with a delicious frenzy of dance-punk, hip-shaking noise.
The next morning’s inevitable hangover necessitated the skipping of Owen Pallett who was on stage at the crack of 4pm. A ridiculously early time given the circumstances. Beach House, it was decided, was a much more appropriate way to begin the day a few hours later. Their dreamy, ambient brand of shoegazey pop was the perfect antidote to any residual effects from the previous day, like some sort of musical paracetamol. The Baltimore duo was one of the highlights of the entire festival. The sheer number of people at this gig was impressive, showing just how much the excellent Teen Dream album has raised their international profile. They opened their set with -Walk In The Park’ and never looked back from there, despite oddly omitting -Lover of Mine’ from their set list.
Before long it was time for the principal draw of the festival – Pixies. Let’s face it, Black Francis and co. probably aren’t touring for any love of the music (or of each other, for that matter) and while it was sometimes difficult to divorce yourself from the idea that you’re watching a bunch of musicians who are showing up purely to get paid, it was still an amazing, if workmanlike, set. All the hits were there: -Monkey Gone To Heaven’, -Debaser’, -Where Is My Mind?’, and even rarer numbers like -River Euphrates’ were churned into life to satisfy the more hardcore fans. It’s difficult to deny that 20 years has removed some of the lustre from the band. None of the vibrancy of the legendary shows from the late 1980s was apparent. But once you get past that fact, there were no other complaints. It seems everyone (both audience and band) got exactly what they showed up for.
The next (and final) afternoon could begin no other way than by showing up and at least paying some respects to The Slits, even if lead singer Ari Up does now just resemble Christina Aguilera’s mother all dolled up for a Saturday night on the town.
A quick detour was then made to The Drums, who were halfway through their blistering set. Lead singer Jonathan Pierce is both hyperactive and suave-cool, an odd juxtaposition. Just as odd, in fact, as the blend of surf-pop and 1980s Manchester gloom his band were roaring through the PA system.
Once The Drums were done, and after a cursory glance towards the excellent So Cow, it came down to a direct choice between Lee -Scratch’ Perry and The Pet Shop Boys, two of the most oddly dressed acts of the entire festival. I eventually plumped for Perry who, incidentally, was dressed like how they imagined people from the future would dress in old black and white 1950’s sci-fi movies. The reggae legend patrolled the stage spitting out mostly inaudible lyrics, as the audience bobbed and swayed to the music. There was a warm, inclusive atmosphere in the crowd (especially during a cover of Marley’s -Exodus’) but whether that was exclusively down to Lee -Scratch’ Perry or the distinct odour wafting through the air that you come to expect at outdoor reggae gigs is another question.
By now it was 3am. Yes, the perfect time for an Orbital gig. The last men and women standing at Primavera Sound 2010 all converged to the Ray-Ban stage where, with the help of the Hartnoll brothers, they danced every last ounce of energy reserves from their bodies. And as the sun rose over Barcelona 90 minutes later, they retreated to the Metro station like a horde of indie zombies, talking shite and swearing to anyone who’d listen that they were returning next year.