Tuesday, May 31st, 2011
The Flaming Lips, Grinderman, Girl Talk and more at Primavera Sound
Frank YangI’m not sure what purpose Barcelona’s Parc del Forum, a fairly massive, considerably paved waterfront park on the edge of the city, is used for the rest of the year – it seems to built up and out of the way for just hanging out in – but for one weekend in May, at least, it’s a pretty terrific spot to hold a music festival. Some more grassy spaces would be welcome and being long and narrow, it can be a haul from one stage to the next, but when you realize you’re seeing a fantastically well-curated lineup of artists right on the shores of the Mediterranean, then a little bit of walking doesn’t seem like such a big deal.
As a North American festival-goer used to things kicking off at the crack of noon, it was odd to see Primavera Sound’s schedule not getting underway until late afternoon each day and going until almost the crack of dawn. But as it turned out, this was a pretty sweet arrangement – assuming you didn’t have to work in the morning – as it saved you from being in a wide open space during the hottest part of the day and let you do touristy things while still packing in a full slate of acts.
My Thursday began at the San Miguel mainstage for Of Montreal and though it had been a few years since I last saw them live, it was good to see that they hadn’t tamed things down at all in the interim. Quite the opposite, actually, as in addition to the psychedelic electro-funk that you find on their records, the show was crammed with such curiosities as costume changes, balloon acrobats, Mexican wrestlers and epic man versus she-pig battle re-enactment. For any other band, these technicolor shenanigans would probably constituted doing something special for the festival but for Of Montreal? Just another day at the office.
Post-Of Montreal, it was time to wander the grounds a bit and get the lay of the land and coming across the ATP Stage, I stopped to listen to London’s Seefeel for a bit, having read something about them on the Twitters. I caught about 10 minutes of their set but apparently this was just the outro of their final song, consisting of a pulsing, groovy bit of drone-dub that played quite nicely against the backdrop of the sea. Might have been nice to have actually heard a song, but what can you do.
By this time, night had fallen and ater verifying that none of the festival’s wifi points were working – no surprise but really, why even pretend they’ll work? – it was over to the Ray-Ban Stage where I was susprised to find Big Boi on stage and punctual. Maybe he was jet-lagged and thought he was two hours late. Either way, his crew had been hard at work pre-set to round up pretty girls from the audience – and this being Spain there were a lot of them – and had them on-stage as dancers. Fun to watch for a bit but after hearing the couple of Big Boi/Outkast songs I knew, it was time to move on.
The first can’t-miss act of the festival, for me at least, as Grinderman. Yes, I’d seen Nick Cave and company’s alter ego at their North American debut last Fall but whereas some acts excel in a club-sized environ, I posit that the potency of Grinderman actually comes across better in a big outdoor setting. With the extra stage and pit space to move around in, Cave seemed extra unhinged as though he amped up his intensity to make sure all the thousands in attendance got their fair share. In particular, the camera shots of Cave stalking the pit between audience invasions during “Kitchenette” reminded of ringside footage from a prize fight and in “Honey Bee”, he proved that he may be the only man on earth who can make bee noises and arm flapping come across sinisterly. Grinderman were loud, raw and exhilarating and it’s a good thing that at set’s close when Cave encouraged everyone to Suicide, he specified the band playing the next stage over and not the act. Because after their performance, this was not a man you wanted to say no to.
Circa their latest self-titled album, there’s been much talk about how Interpol’s time is past, how they’re on the decline – that’s not a position that would have gotten much traction with the thousands who showed up for their 1AM set on the Llevant Stage. And for as much as you can complain that Interpol does the same thing over and over again, there were a few new things to come out of their set. For instance, Daniel Kessler speaks Spanish – at least I think it was Kessler who addressed the audience fluently in their native tongue, I suppose it could have been Paul Banks. I couldn’t tell from way back in the field. And also different was the speed at which they plowed through their songs – tempos on most numbers were ratcheted up from the norm, perhaps for a more efficient set. It wasn’t necessarily better, but it was different. But otherwise, Interpol was Interpol. And I have no idea who’s playing bass for them now.
I left their set early so as to stake out prime bubble walk/confetti cannon position for The Flaming lips. There was some ambiguity about exactly which show they were going to be performing and I was mildly disappointed this didn’t turn out to be a Soft Bulletin show as I’m one of those who hold that album up as their masterpiece and material from it doesn’t get aired out in regular sets nearly as much as it should. But if it being otherwise meant that I’d get a repeat of last year’s stellar Molson Amphitheater show, then okay – I can deal. And a lot of it was the same, but that didn’t diminish the fun of it, particularly when you’re surrounded by people who’re witnessing the spectacle for probably the first time. Because it remains a hell of a thing. Twists on this particular show included bringing out a translator to greet and advise the audience of the opening space bubble walk, a Wizard Of Oz theme for the dancers with dozens of cute Dorothys whooping it up on either side of the stage, the giant exploding confetti balloons were new, the firing of laser hands at a giant disco ball was an inspired move and there was even a new song in the set with Steve Drozdt showing off some manner of iPhone app that he used to generate noises Kaos Pad-style. It’s nice to see their show continue to evolve with new material while maintaining the elements that are now basically trademarks of the Lips’ shows. Always a blast and you would hear people singing “Race For The Prize” into the night, long after the show was done.
I should note that I started to fade at 4am. I am allowed to fade at 4am. But it wasn’t done. The evening/morning closer was back at the Llevant Stage where Greg Gillis – aka Girl Talk – was flown in from Pittsburgh specifically for this show and when you only have to work for one hour, I imagine you give it your all. Of course as a mash-up artist/DJ, “giving it your all” is more just a figure of speech but for a guy with a laptop, Girl Talk live was a lot of fun. He also filled the stage with dancers and would periodically step out in front of or on top of his desk to dance it up himself, and then there were the thousands of partygoers getting down in sea of feathers, presumably left over from El Guincho’s set beforehand. Yes, it was a sight. Musically I only knew about half of the stuff he played – typically the Top 40/pop half, not the hip-hop half – but I can see why people enjoy his stuff so much. I stuck around for a while but eventually the rising sun and falling stamina forced an end to the day.
And in other news.
Last night’s Friendly Fires show at The Phoenix has been rescheduled for October 23 at The Phoenix after drummer Jack Savidge was hospitalized “due to exhaustion”. Details at Exclaim. There’s a pre-exhaustion interview with the band at Interview.
White Lies are back for a show at The Phoneix on August 3, tickets $27.50 in advance.
Fucked Up’s new opus David Comes To Life is now streaming in whole at NPR, in advance of its release on June 7. They’re playing Yonge-Dundas Square and Wrongbar on June 16 for NXNE and the Air Canada Centre on August 9. Tourdates UK has an interview with Damian Abraham.
Stream: Fucked Up / David Comes To Life
Dan Mangan has cobbled together some tour footage into a new video, presumably the last from Nice, Nice, Very Nice before his third album Oh, Fortune arrives in September. You can also stream his set this weekend at Sasquatch over at NPR.
Video: Dan Mangan – “Sold”