Primavera Sound 2009: Part 1
Towards the end of their set there are at least 16 members of The Dan Deacon Ensemble upon the Pitchfork stage. Surely there must be more cost-effective ways of making that much noise: certainly it’s a formidable, even exhausting barrage, but when they seem to be having more fun than the audience it’s hinting at a slight problem.
We only make it to Shellac for one track, but it’s still the single best part of the whole weekend – a colossal End Of Radio shattering all expectations as to what a song should do, Steve Albini’s disjointed narrative building to howls of rage as drumbeats ebb and flow with liquid pace.
In spite of the negativity that initially surrounded Bloc Party‘s Friday night headline slot, they quickly show themselves to have been a remarkably sage billing, their jagged riffs and urban themes the perfect fit for the jutting concrete angles of the Parc del Fórum. This being a festival show there’s little let-up in a set that takes in all three of their albums, although the biggest response is predictably reserved for Helicopter and Banquet, the latter charged with an urgency to silence any critic.
Texan four-piece Shearwater provide an early Saturday high-point, their varied instrumentation taking in double bass, trumpets and glockenspiels to provide backing to Jonathan Meiburg’s eerie, near-orchestral vocals. On record they can seem a touch overblown, even contrived, but live they strike an altogether more invigorating note.
Largely in a bid to convince ourselves of how cultured we are, we clutch our reserved tickets (a ‘brilliant’ feature of Primavera Sound being the additional tickets required for the highest-profile indoor shows…) and head to see Michael Nyman. Here playing with an eleven-piece orchestra the veteran composer runs through a performance of intricate if slightly soporific classical pieces, his deft piano work commingling with sweeping strings and brass to form a fine counterpoint to the weekend’s more raucous extremes. It’s inspiring stuff, although the cocooning darkness isn’t the best environment for the already sleep-deprived, as the drool lining my headrest attests.
Everyone in the festival seems to have turned out to see Neil Young, although that might be as much down to the scheduling as conscious decision: every other stage – bar Oneida at the Ray-Ban Vice stage – has closed down for his set. To be fair such deference is deserved: Neil Young’s influence upon music is hard to overstate, as he demonstrates here with a set testifying as to just how strong that back catalogue is. He might be nearing retirement age but his songs aren’t showing any sign of wear, a striking The Needle And The Damage Done and a rousing Rocking In The Free World more than standing up to anything else played out at Primavera. When Young closes with a cover of The Beatles‘ A Day In The Life it’s a pertinent reminder that, even surrounded as we are by the cutting edge of new music, the old guard are yet to be replaced.
It’s easy to dismiss Liars on first listen: twice passing their performance they sounded little more than landfill fodder, all predictable chord progressions and uninspiring vocals. And then suddenly they got interesting, ever-building layers of percussion taking centre ground over vocals stripped back to mere barks, a punctuation for the seismic drums and ragged loops of guitar. Either that or we just got more drunk.
Back at the Rockdelux stage Deerhunter make the mistake of peaking too early, a perfect rendition of album highlight Nothing Ever Happened – a masterclass in how to infuse shoegaze ponderings with barbed, danceable rhythms – succeeded by a slow exodus away to the Estrella Damm stage to await the evening’s key draw.
If T-Shirt slogans constituted votes then Sonic Youth would rule the Parc del Fórum by a landslide, the shuffling, undead gait of their acolytes omnipresent until just a few minutes before 1am when, as though responding to siren song, they converge as one before the main stage. Ninety minutes later they shuffle away again, and it’s difficult to tell whether the anticipation outweighed the performance itself. For those on the outside the set seems impressive enough, some admirable musicianship piquing our attention at key points, but as the band don’t so much burn out as fade away on closer Expressway To Yr Skull, the overwhelming sense is one of unfulfilment, the last peals of feedback drifting out to sea in search of our interest which headed that way sometime before.
There’s no such problems for New Yorkers Gang Gang Dance, their music a largely wordless squall of near-primal energy and rhythm, drums layered like stickle bricks as singer Liz Bougatsos vies with a stage-invading audience member for sheer presence. She wins, of course, as she would on any stage, anywhere: it’s difficult to conceive of there being many bands more entertaining.
Simian Mobile Disco emerge to a stage shrouded in smoke and the air rent with the bass from the Pitchfork stage, a goading note that the pair are quick to respond to, chasing a plaintive, yearning vocal loop with a barrage of beats more artillery than sound. Returning to the vocal loop the Pitchfork stage seems to have gotten louder still: Simian Mobile Disco’s retort swiftly follows suit, bodies flying in its wake. We, of course, are right in the middle, cowering in that no-man’s land near to Black Lips’ earlier defeat: after 10 minutes we’re hunting for something white to wave and running for the Metro.
A final glimpse back from the entrance sees the night lit up like war, the bass from every stage meshing into a single terrifying growl, essentially the sound of the festival itself, its raw eclecticism a formidable broadside against the complacency of our bloated English festivals with their tired lineups yawning into their early curfews and leaking tents.