Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Guest post – Leagues O’Toole on Primavera Sound 2010 – Thursday

When OTR heard that Leagues O’Toole was heading to Barcelona for Primavera Sound 2010 and when he said he was up for doing some reviewing, we were only happy to say yes (hell yes, in fact). I’ve always been a …

Mon, May 31, 2010, 13:39


When OTR heard that Leagues O’Toole was heading to Barcelona for Primavera Sound 2010 and when he said he was up for doing some reviewing, we were only happy to say yes (hell yes, in fact). I’ve always been a huge fan of the writer behind the much missed Foggy Notions magazine (and that awesome Planxty biography, “The Humours of Planxty“) so it’s a delight to feature his day by day reviews from the best festival in Europe. You can take it that he’s back in the game.

Barcelona’s Primavera Sound is the European festival everyone wants to play right now. The prestige of performing on a banquet bill of the world’s most exciting new music, with no small amount of indie-rock icons at the head of the table, is a key selling point. The prospect of performing in a beautiful, cultural and very relaxed atmosphere by the edge of the Mediteranean, not to mention the generous fees offered to touring bands trying to break even on the road, are the clinchers.

This is the festival’s tenth anniversary and it boasts a suitably snazzy line-up, although I’m assured by PS veterans that it is no more spectacular than any other year. Some 200 plus artists perform over three days on seven keys stages, incorporating every modern take on rock’n'roll and electronic music as you can imagine.

The line-up includes current heavy-hitters, as many blogger-grapevine artists as they can get their hands on and a few interesting curveballs to alleviate the sensation of hipster overload syndrome. What’s also very noticeable this year is the top-heavy number of (what industry types refer to as) ¨heritage artists¨, which basically means the nostalgia train has pulled into town and off-loaded Pixies, Pavement, Superchunk, Sunny Day Real Estate, Polvo and numerous other ghosts of indie-rock past.

The corporate sponsorship (Adidas, San Miguel, Ray Bans) is counteracted by key leftfield global brands such as ATP and Pitchfork, thus providing the funding to sustain an excellent value ticket and simultaneously keeping a credible aesthetic intact. Either way, the line-up really speaks for itself, stuffed with unmissable performances across the board. As much as you try to execute a military-style operation to see everyone you want to see, you soon realises it literally is mission impossible trying to navigate your way around the inevitable schedule clashes. That said, this Primavera newbie did his best.

Thursday 6pm and its all about finding your bearings and getting a feel for each stage. Bis, a band who once traded off youthful indie tweeness, take the opening slot on the massive San Miguel stage. They’re obviously older now. No older than me, mind you, but perhaps too old to be still peddling bubblegum disco-pop. We move onto the more palatable slackjaw riffs of Sic Alps on the Pitchfork stage, catch a few moments of Galacian hero Emilio Jose amuse the crowd on the Vice stage with synthesiser pop laced with jokey samples and presented with the demeanour of a kids entertainer, and relax for awhile with the impressive indie-pop tunes of The Wave Pictures who claim the first drum solo of PS10 on the picturesque Ray Ban stage.

Surfer Blood exploit their Pitchfork-favoured credentials by blasting out potential future indie-rock anthems with bruising gusto, albeit somewhat generic sounding. Getting The Fall’s Mark E. Smith onstage on time for a regular show is a feat in itself, so the task of getting him onstage for an 8pm slot, on a tightly scheduled festival line-up, is a minor miracle. Nonetheless, there he is in business mode, scowling and gurning his way through a set of furious rockabilly discord, including a bruising version of The Sonics’ ¨Strychnine¨.

The first real highlight of PS10, though, are New Jersey rockers Titus Andronicus; incredible stage-presence, pounding punk-rock songs with a delicious folk twist, like some weird compound of The Pogues, Billy Bragg, The Sex Pistols and Arcade Fire. A big, big hit. Beats the Dropkick Murphys anyday. Just after 9pm a liquidy darkness descends over the concrete jungle that is Parc del Forum as The xx take to the stage. The xx are a perplexing entity, armed with just a few interesting pop songs, produced like lo-fi Cocteau Twins demos, expressionless and entirely unemotional onstage. Some of us struggle with the appeal, others will claim its the art of minimalism. But as you take in the large illuminated logo onstage, the cleverly placed posters plastered on site, the mass of t-shirts, the black laquered haircuts replicated by fans, the viral aesthetic that has somehow creeped into the air we´re breathing, the penny drops; the whole thing is brilliantly branded, perfectly marketed.

Sadly, returning ambient legends Seefeel cancelled their appearance today but, on the upside, it means experimental audio-visual duo The Books have been moved to the later slot of 12.30am. How anyone imagined the visual aspect would work in daylight time-slot is anyone’s guess. The Books are teriffic, relentlessly clever and so full of humour and fun, though it was a missed opportunity not to schedule these guys in the indoor Auditori venue.

Instrumental jazz-rockers Tortoise score one of the biggest crowds of the day as musos flood the grassy slopes and concrete steps of the ATP stage. The Chicago ensemble don’t disappoint, a perfectly mellow antidote to the sounds of the try-hard hipsters that resound around us. Back at the P-fork stage, The Smith Westerns are somewhat dull despite having some really good songs, while Broken Social Scene, occasionally aided by Owen Pallett, appear to have become Lynard Skynard somewhere along the line.

As we take our position on the hill overlooking the San Miguel stage we run into a hedonistic Irish duo nicknamed the Chemical Brothers who are raving excitedly over The Big Pink’s set. But my mind is on Pavement. I’m a massive fan of their entire back catalogue, but have never seen them play a good show. What makes this comeback work is that Pavement are better musicians now, surprisingly tight and performing a set of songs, all the way from “Slanted and Enchanted” to “Terror Twilight”. Malkmus detached but on fire, Nastanovich having the craic as always, and talking about being in a lift with Mark E. Smith, an actor from the Wire and two members of Mission of Burma, which he describes as ¨the indie wet-dream¨. Kevin Drew and Monotonix also get in on the act. There is some sort of brilliant party emanating from the stage. I have every intention of catching fantastic electro-rock duo Sleigh Bells over at P-Fork but I can´t drag myself away from Pavement´s hit after hit. I also have a funny feeling Jim Carroll is over there and not here (yep, I was – JC). As the vast crowd disperses the San Miguel stage high on indie-rock I meet two sane people who tell me The Big Pink were shit.

I search the site for a big closing set to send me off. Fuck Buttons take the 2.30am mad-out-of-it slot on the Ray Ban stage, but it all seems like smoke and mirrors to me. Delorean´s upbeat indie electronica can’t keep my attention for more than five minutes and, by the time I reach the much more appealing Moderat on the Vice stage, it’s well after 4am and I am fading fast.