Festival moments sometimes come at surprising times. Tonight’s bill, replete with no less than three reformed headliner-standard acts, offered a range of possibilities to see sets that might well produce them. Quite a few of these sets, as is the way with festivals the world over, crossed each other. Still, whatever we would see we’d be assured it was top notch. Summercase doesn’t really do new and untried acts – everyone on stage here had earned their places.
Day two at the Barcelona leg began with acoustic acts once again. Last night it was poor Fionn Regan who was missed by just about everybody. Tonight it’s the turn of Perry Blake, the very end of whose tent set we catch. He and his guitarist and bassist are all seated. We’re shuffling. As warm-ups go, this is rather tepid.
At the main stage The Sunday Drivers were giving their plod-rock up to an indifferent early evening audience still congregating before them. A short distance behind them, little sailboats serenely come and go.
In that general direction was Badly Drawn Boy, whom we’d last caught at a shambolic headline set at London’s Get Loaded In The Park last year. Damon Gough, even in this heat, sported his trademark teacosy and a jacket as he set out with a tuneful rendering of Born In The UK, running straight on in to Six Degrees Of Seperation. Later he jumped down to sing to the audience at close quarters and then comically bellyflopped and floundered his way back on to the stage.
The charm offensive continued in a totally professional set that proved what a star Gough can still be when he chooses to be. Next up he juggled a cigarette while singing and had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. That was before the classic Once Around The Block, from his Mercury-snagging debut The Hour of the Bewilderbeast. The full band was wheeled out after this spell of solo acoustica for The Way We Were, and then he fired up his electric piano for Promises and well-received set closer Silent Sigh. Gough was beginning to remind us of why he was so hyped for his live shows once upon a time. Those halcyon days may be gone, but at least he’s still able to take us back there with him when he feels the notion to.
Back at the main stage a gigantic crowd lapped up the first of the reformed bands of the evening. James front man Tim Booth probably thought his days playing to audiences of this size were long gone, but when they launched into student-pleasing anthem Sit Down they’re treated as returning heroes. Booth, now a baldie, these days somewhat resembles Michael Stipe, but he still spins about the stage as though impersonating a Zanussi at final cycle was the only way to be. And while Sit Down has kept the band in the public consciousness for these barren years, they remind that they have plenty of other songs too, including the laconic What I Need and a bevy of new material that made their set one of the festival’s longest.
Despite James’ robust performance, the smallest tent’s booming bassline was proving to be irresistable. Three-piece My Brightest Diamond were giving it some, front lady Shara Worden alternating between guitar and, of all things, a harmonium as she announced the name “Edith Piaf“. She’s back from the dead? She’s in the house? Oh – that was the name of the song. Maybe. Next up came a piece called Disappear, which the audience resolutely do not – quite right too, as Shara has a voice of bigness. Her stripey top and stylishly messy hair suggest a Celine Dion-obsessed cat burglar gone wild in a Versace shop. Her harmonium playing produces dark moods that sit somewhere between Portishead and Diamanda Galas for drama and intensity. As for the harmonium, it’s a safe bet to say the late harmonium nut Simon Jeffes would approve. And then they take a big drum’n’bass swipe at Tainted Love and make Marc Almond‘s original efforts look amateur.
One of several unfortunate clashes leaves us bereft of Dragonette but in thrall to one of the festival’s best performers, Mr Jarvis Cocker. Opening with the perplexing Fat Children, he showcased his eponymous debut album while throwing the gangly geek shapes we’ve loved him for since first seeing Pulp in another lifetime. The hair’s longer, sure, but if anything Jarvis is even more mesmerising to watch than he was then. He introduced Heavy Weather thus: “Even if it does rain, we’re underneath a tent.” And it really was the case that nothing could go wrong while the Jarv was in the house. There’s a line in Heavy Weather that sums the man up: “I’ve got nothing to prove.” Quite so. Gibbers about what’s Spanish for ‘mic stand’ followed as he then, to drumrolls, performed a magic show involving his microphone. One Man Show was next up, dedicated to people looking forward to “a hot date with a baked potato”. He jerked and spasmed about like a ragdoll attempting flamenco and then demanded to know what this venue’s concrete is all about. Someone threw a Catalan flag at him. He donned it, singing veiled as he ratcheted through Tonite and Big Julie to muted response. Things picked up for the strutting Black Magic and Big Stuff, Jarvis dangling his microphone suggestively and licking at it as the mood takes. Wayne Coyne may be the exemplar of props, but who needs them if you have Jarvis?
(Cunts Are Still) Running The World ends the main set, but he chooses not to waste time going off and returning, as he has one more number to do. And there’s something sublimely absurd about this tall, middle-aged stick insect of a man, all knees, elbows and gawkyness, ending his set by nailing – of all songs – the theme tune from Rocky. One hit wonder Survivor‘s Eye Of The Tiger features lyrics about being “born to survive” – and as we watched this national institution winning over Barcelona with more energy than bands half his age can produce, we can only be delighted that he has survived. It’s a performance that goes down as A Festival Moment.
Further proof that it’s okay to rock in your 40s came from the second of tonight’s reunited outfits, The Jesus And Mary Chain, who played to a main stage crowd at least as big as that assembled for Arcade Fire the previous night. With a sound running the gamut between new wave and baggy, the Scots band proved immensely popular by wheeling out long-forgotten songs to an audience young enough to be won over by them for the first time. In looks they can’t match Jarvis – there’s a distinct look of weathering around front man Jim Reid’s eyes and his forehead is lined. There’s no new album – yet – but the band are all but certain to record one, having seen their potential audience.
Meanwhile, in the big tent, a big lady is shouting. Beth Ditto, who looks nothing like any of her audience, dedicates Yr Mangled Heart “to all the faggots, and you know who you are”. We’re in the world of The Gossip, as Beth bounced across the stage, bosum heaving every which way but hemmed in by a figure-hugging dress that looked, from a distance, to be made of lam. She’s a porn subgenre unto herself. Her guitarist repeatedly started and stopped the opening riff of Standing In The Way Of Control between the rest of their songs, leaving a palpable sense of one-hit-wonderness about them. Beth gets hot, and off comes the dress, leaving the audience with a view of tight-fitting underwear and typhoon thighs.
When their biggest hit does finally come on, what a wonder it is. Beth’s jumped down to the barriers, touching the audience, screeching in their ears, generally causing bedlam. Somehow she flounders back onto the stage with slightly more dignity than Badly Drawn Boy had earlier mustered and, by the end of the song, she’s so out of breath she can’t finish it. But the audience know she’s put every ounce of her considerable being into entertaining them, and they love her for it. The Gossip left to thunderous applause and howls of “Ol” – the first time that had been heard all festival. They might never top that song, but even if they don’t, it is a gilt-plated classic.
Electrelane used to be quite weighty too, but Verity in particular seems to have shed stones since these eyes last saw her – admittedly that was last century. Now the Brighton-based girlies resembled a bunch of paleontologists with a tea party to throw. They’ve been on the up since No Shouts No Calls and an Arcade Fire support tour, and their formerly synth-dominated sound has made way for a collection of guitars, which they make sing like a squall in a largely instrumental set. The crowd seem to love such a demure-looking bunch making such an almighty racket, and for their part Electrelane seem terribly pleased about everything.
The third of the reformed groups – all from the UK, incidentally – were getting started in the bigger tent. Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark abbreviate their name to OMD, which this website quite likes. Andy McCluskey’s fashion sense stopped developing in their 1980s heyday, when Thatcher was still somewhere near her zenith and Britain still made things. He’s still swinging his bass about in a floppy white shirt and tight jeans – and looking okay for his age. Twice, three times he squats to admire the crowd’s euphoric reaction to a collection of battered old synthpop numbers. One even features a sax. Actually a SAX! They sound dated, which of course they are, and familiar.
OMD were never quite in the league of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, The Pet Shop Boys or Erasure but, as Sailing On The Seven Seas gets a big crowd response, there’s enough love in the room to suggest that if OMD want to make a serious comeback, there’ll be people forking out for their records. As with The Jesus And Mary Chain, their new audience would have missed them first time round, so perhaps we shouldn’t begrudge them a share of the 2007 pot of music gold. But are their hearts in it? Time will tell.
Apparently the Kaiser Chiefs belted out their never-changing brand of pub hollering, which indeed would’ve accounted for the huge crowd at the main stage. But in the other tent were Ratatat, a band who make something of an emotronica racket and flap hair about nonchalently. Obviously, they’re French. They play a new song, but to these ears all their material was new. And rather ace. More would have been good, but it was time to make a beeline for the big tent once more for the funktastic !!!.
Must Be The Moon got the crowd bouncing early on as Nic Offer cut funkmonster shapes and flapped his arms, modelling gym shorts and looking like the long lost brother of Simon Amstell. A backing vocalist added ooooohs to Heart Of Hearts as the pace ratcheted up and !!! took on LCD Soundsystem for the title of most funktastic band of the festival. !!! were, not for the first time, a riot.
It was left to The Chemical Brothers to battle on through to dawn with a ginormodrome-filling set dominated by the stage’s huge screen and an elaborate visuals-and-lights show. Of the Brothers themselves little could be seen, as hit after hit was wheeled out to cheers and moshing. Bereft of guest vocalists, it became much of a muchness to look at, but the music, in a live setting, was top notch stuff that pummeled out the last vestiges of energy from the crowd.
And with that, Summercase was done with for another year. There was still Sunday to recover as, very soon after, the sun rose on another day in this most picturesque and beguilling of cities, ready to shed light on what new treats lay in store.