“What’s with all the concrete? Huh? Was this place built for the Olympics or what?”
Barcelona’s Parc del Fórum, as Jarvis Cocker would point out on Summercase’s second night here, is not a place to remind of Worthy Farm. The only concession to greenery is a patch of grass – with a power station as a backdrop. But the concrete means there’s no mud and, when the temperature is balmy, the Mediterranean Sea is literally a stone’s throw away and Summercase 2007’s bill, spread between four venues of varying sizes on site, is chock full of top-notch acts from the UK, the USA and beyond, are we moaning? Of course we’re not. Add to that bouncers straight from the eau de toilette ads of Vanity Fair sporting Armani shades and casually perfect hairstyles and you have something that might have been soulless but instead is, for a festival, astonishingly stylish.
Summercase is a two-day, two-leg festival held at the height of Spain’s July heat, but the sauntering classes of Barcelona (and, we presume, Madrid) are happy to sashay out late and party till early, the cooler night-time temperatures allowing for closedown at about dawn. Thus it was that, as newly Mercury Music Prize-nominated Fionn Regan‘s set closed just after 7pm, the place still resembled a giant car park and human beings were thin on the concrete. A smattering of earlybirds had chanced on a bunch of English boys by the collective name of Bromheads Jacket getting the evening going, but they were done almost as soon as they’d started.
Down vertiginous flights of steps into what looked like a ginormodromic update on a Roman ampitheatre, the first full set of the day from Canada’s The Hidden Cameras was getting started. A band once described as purveyors of “gay church folk music” by their main songwriter, they took to the stage in cut-off black hoods, part Jawa cowls, part burkhas – lead singer Joel Gibb adding an anorak-balaclava layer too. By the title track of their album Awoo, the cowl-burkhas were off, the audience was expanding and the violinist was bouncing about the stage, scattering droplets of sweat from his bald pate and grinning like he’d just left cold weather behind. Sparring with the troupe’s only female, who twinkled glocks in response to his fiddle sawing, he was the energetic visual cue for the audience to pick up and bounce to. That was, until a ninth member appeared in tight shiny blue gym shorts and that anorak-and-burkha ensemble and proceeded to striptease and cavort in a generally suggestive go-go fashion. The band set earnest expressions and wheeled their way through a major chord dominated set of uplifting bliss and, by the end, a respectably sized audience had developed.
Back up the stairs to the other big stage, Editors were to be found – on rather early. Are they better than Interpol? Can you tell them apart? Do we care? Predictably for a band in only their second album stage, songs from their first, The Back Room, had the crowd singing along, an early airing of Blood getting juices pumping, while newer material from the recently released An End Has A Start was greeted with rather more politeness than ecstasy as the venue filled up and the sun sank down behind Barcelona’s bordering hills. What seemed like just about as many people had crammed in to the smaller of the two tents to watch local hero Sr Ginarro warble his baritone way through a set of balladeering acoustica. He was greeted as a hero – someone in Spain actually singing in Spanish seemingly a rarity at this festival.
Fyfe Dangerfield’s Guillemots have had their live wings clipped, or so it seemed, as the Londoners took to the stage of a big tent with no audience entrance and no ornate wooden throne for their front man. Indeed, even their dress sense seems to have gone casual. Opening with the thrown-down-gauntlet that is Trains To Brazil, they otherwise did what they’ve been doing for just about 18 months now: played plaudit-festooned debut Through The Windowpane with passion. Well and good if you’d somehow missed them live, but what they need to do is go away and write some new songs before the world begins to yawn at them.
The same might also be said of the next act to take to the downstairs ginormodrome stage.
“No more small penises! We’ll have no more of those,” announced Lily Allen, sporting oodles more confidence than when we saw her at her debut gig at London’s Notting Hill Arts Club just over a year ago. As ever making up for a lack of new material with tragi-comic between-songs banter, she looked small and a little lost on the huge stage. American stars at this festival – Scissor Sisters‘ Ana Matronic and The Flaming Lips‘ Wayne Coyne chief amongst them – would later sing songs and make comments about the cretinous George W Bush. Lily, however, headed up the Englanders (should that be Easyjetters) who had something else to say. In a white ballgown-cum-maternity dress, Jaegermeister in hand, fag in face, Lil wanted it to be known that in this world there are no reasons for chippolatas (presumably she prefers unsliced chorizo in these parts) as she launched into – what else? – Not Big. Knowing full well that a sizeable portion of her audience were English, she offered a chorus of Eng-er-land to the bemusement of the locals, for whom she had a question. “Why haven’t I sold many records in Spain?” she pondered, looking out at a significant number of people looking back at her. Maybe MySpaz isn’t as popular here, Lil. Never mind. She ended on her reggae/ska-tinged reworking of Heart of Glass, minus her “lazy horns” section, who otherwise had provided solid backing through her wheeling-out of Smile, LDN and the rest. “I’m not in it for the money. I’m in it for the music,” she quipped, then burst out laughing. “And the free booze. I’m fucking pissed!”
Also dressed in white, but rather more elaborately, PJ Harvey took to the stage of the tent earlier partially occupied by Guillemots. It was now absolutely rammed. Frankenstein’s bride offered a solo set of piano, guitars, electro backing tracks and that voice as necks craned to drink in views of her. Crib sheets to hand, she fired up Oh My Lover, the first of a set of songs to be greeted with reverential silence during its course and delighted applause at its end. Several new tracks, including the appropriately titled Song For The Devil, sprinkled a retrospective set that featured just one track from her Mercury-grabbing album Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea – Big Exit. For those trying to make sense of the set by watching the video screens, atrocious directing meant a collage of three crossfading images layered over each other was frequently what passed for the coverage. Polly Jean wasn’t caring about that though as her devotees whooped for more and were rewarded with the first encore we’d witnessed at Summercase.
In the giant green balloon covered ginormodrome stage, The Flaming Lips had started. This lot must surely bring an extra truck just for their paraphernalia. Wayne Coyne, artist, singer, songwriter and Republican Party botherer, had a camera on his microphone that offered close ups of his nasal hair projected onto a stage-wide screen behind him. To each side of the stage gathered dancers, one lot dressed as unseasonal Santas and the other as elves. With each bounced an alien. Somewhere in the middle, during a hushed, wonderful Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, the big hands came out to hug Wayne, the barking mad genius master of ceremonies at the helm of his very own decidedly fun circus. Dressed in white linen threads, luxuriant greying curls tossed about his head, his expression saturnine and generous, he looked every bit the colonial writer marooned in the tropics, a latter-day Greene, Hemingway or Burgess. This man of the world first played Barcelona 12 years ago, he announced, celebrating subliminally with a 12-string guitar, a flying beer can-cum-dove and a fake bugle containing a speaker which he pretended to play before posing like a hero, brandishing the device as it parped sonorously for the fallen soldiers of all America’s wars. As the protest song With All Your Power produced a singalong moment, somewhere behind his gong there was probably a kitchen sink too. Vocally Coyne is a tribute to everybody, from AC/DC to Leonard Cohen, a true chameleon. It’s no wonder fans of this band are so devoted – it’s hard to believe so much can be crammed in to a single set as green light beams refracted off a gently rotating glitter ball high over the stage and confetti blew across the sated audience.
Arcade Fire eschewed the frivolity of a Coynesque set for serious-looking red strip lights and round, obsidian “black mirrors” that displayed the Montrealers’ second album’s logo, a red Neon Bible. Their extra truck would’ve been for the ornate pipe organ they’d somehow hoisted on to the main stage. Win Butler looked as serious as his stage with a respectable short new hairdo. On a sleb rostrum behind the audience, Lily Allen, LCD Soundsystem‘s James Murphy and various members of The Hidden Cameras groove to the Funeral songs Power Out and Rebellion (Lies), the tracks that predictably get the biggest cheers, but the Arcaders end on a new one, Windowsill. They’ve drawn the biggest crowd of any stage yet, but Bloc Party are about to run them close on the downstairs stage with an audience so vast that, from its rear, Kele Okereke looks like a strutting soldier ant. We push on back where we came for a couple of numbers from The Pigeon Detectives in the smaller tent. The five-piece wield guitars like they’d never heard of electro, but it’s electro on the bill in the bigger tent as James Murphy has somehow found his way to his own stage.
Dressed in loose fitting white, the DFA Records boss resembled a giant baby as he cranked up LCD Soundsystem’s party with the thumping Us V Them (The Time Has Come). Immediately the audience were bouncing along. They’ve had no sound check, but they rock the house as the insistent bass and driving drums push the song through the five-minute barrier. The better-known oldies – Daft Punk Is Playing In My House, Movement, Tribulations – are lashed down like statements of genius and Get Innocuous and All My Friends made the audience grin from ear to ear. Even odder than when they played it in London, North American Scum gets a bunch of Spaniards squealing along to the chorus. This is not the same North American scum as Ana Matronic and Wayne Coyne had in mind, clearly. As the Lou Reed-like New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down closes the set, the tent empties hundreds of grinning faces.
Those that can still stand after all that find it’s not over yet as, just after 3:30am, Scissor Sisters take to the main stage. Their set already feels rather samey, despite second album Ta Dah appearing less than a year ago, but Jake Shears is still a dynamo of energy as he sets about getting his tits out. Comfortably Numb could be played in autopilot and would still be superb, yet the band without doubt still enjoy playing it. The Pink Floyd cover follows Take Your Mama and precedes I Don’t Feel Like Dancing and Kiss You Off, with the set finishing Summercase Day One at 5am on a Filthy/Gorgeous note.
Free buses take us back like so many sardines to Plaa Catalunya and a comfortable bed – just as well, as tomorrow night is just hours away.