It’s bright, if not quite early as the sun-dappled trudge out toward the Parc del Fòrum begins. The streets immoderately luminous, I’ve consistently been left perplexed by the Catalans’ natural adaption to debauchery, as well as by their seemingly regenerative recuperation techniques. They party hard as Andrew W.K. on the WKD, and yet forever come up smiling the following morning. It’s impressive, and this eternality factor is lucidly reflected in the generation-spanning audience the festival itself attracts.
Down beside the l’Auditori, a girly boy smoulders smoking outside the lobby of the nearby Hotel Barcelona Princess. Truth be known, Christopher Owens looks how I now feel though that said, I feel considerably more spry with a ticket to Daniel Johnston’s showing this evening in that same venue aforesaid in hand. The auxiliary charge of €2 seems a slight con, not least as it later affords an only ostensibly preferable positioning in one of an infinity of seemingly unnecessary queueing systems and, judging by the moaning, groaning and band garb on exhibition, there are yet more Brits in attendance today in anticipation of the quintessential Britpop stalwarts topping tonight’s billing.
It at first feels as though I probably oughtn’t have bothered with the undesirably early start, as it’s all too easy to amble past the atrociously vigilant security ahead of Ethio-jazz progenitor Mulatu Astatke’s understated spectacular. Distant magic shimmies clean off his iconic vibraphone, dextrously manoeuvred furry blobs gliding stylishly across its surface. He’s at his most endearing when he can be heard mumbling along to his idiosyncratic melodies in his best Dana Snyder impression although as ever, he’s darn impressive whenever with deluges of applause meeting with his every extempore rendition and rightly so, for although his music pertains to a narcoleptic quality Astatke brings a vivifying beginning to the day’s proceedings. Bravo, indeed.
Nonetheless there’s a niggling sense that, despite his timeless magnificence, Astatke draws a significantly more sizeable crowd than he otherwise would, due to the imminence of another. For inside l’Auditori – a sort of sci-fi Barbican Centre in appearance – a sense of hope and optimism, along with a touch of impatience simmers. It’s an unapologetically sterile setting, not least as no food nor drink is permitted inside and there’s not one solitary bar to be sniffed out. It’s also a bizarrely triangular space, its stage positioned at the keen vertex of the room and, in all honesty, it’s a discombobulating environment in which to witness the inimitable Johnston. His are a couple Coca-Cola’s and some water, and he’s as antithetical a being to this queer building as such an unintended motion of sedition may well suggest. He’s so human, and so adorably so, that this strangely futuristic setting fails to do him all that many favours. Though whether or not he’d want for all of Spain to see him I’m unsure, and it ain’t possible for even an entire festival capacity to creep in as the venue is violently evacuated prior to, only to then again be replenished with his diehardest of acolytes – Hi, How Are You tees as standard. Thus it seems that the whole ticket debacle wasn’t quite so futile after all, as those that seek refuge in the loos are gradually found and duly flushed out.
But more than mere cult figurehead, Johnston tonight appears a rejuvenated punk-rock icon as he and his slipshod band blaze through a fiery Love Not Dead. Drenched in the blues and yellows of The Simpsons and covered up by a Superman tee, he’s just that to many and remains true to his infantile roots in keeping ahold of these, his closest comic book affiliations. “Abraham Lincoln once walked five miles to return a nickel to a whore” he informs somewhat extraneously, and as such the tone is set: the show itself is sketched out in a comedic fashion, with these prescribed sallies punctuating most songs. He tells of a touring reluctance in another strained moment’s respite, rubbing his belly impulsively when another falls flat. It’s an intensely disquieting experience is the witnessing of Johnston live, and this one’s no exception though Sweetheart brings with it a saccharine shine. A beautifully rickety, unrequitedly loved-up number, it’s real swell yet set beside an a cappella Funeral Home, the effect is again baffling as bipolar shifts in tone predominate proceedings. It’s a sporadically distressing, if ultimately victorious performance with his vocal occasionally lost against this distortional backdrop though it should be said that whereas he’s once been backed by the likes of The Wave Pictures and Norman Blake, this current troupe are pretty hapless by comparison. There’s an air of recitation to it, Johnston at times joshing as to their pretty questionable proficiency and the legs threaten to fall off Walking The Cow as a direct consequence. Though when they get things about right, it’s a genuinely affecting show they put on as True Love Will Find You In The End resonates a right treat: an ostensible “Christmas wish” so out of season it’s impossible to discern whether ludicrously early or risibly late, if this is what becomes of the broken hearted then hammer away at my insides posthaste, for this is heartbreaking stuff of the highest order.
If Chris Cohen proved the outstanding moment of the Thursday, then the same can’t quite be said of his namesake Owens today for although back among the pastoral bouquets and wannabe dandies, if effete as ever then as he sits down to the lukewarm fiddle-de-dee feels of Lysandre, he leaves the room feeling cold. Replete with flutes and all, that he’s seated, his face obscured by the flowery only heightens the disenchantment of an already drowsy room. He appears a Yank Patrick Wolf these days and with the bucolic Here We Go proceeded by the bustle of New York City, he seems commensurately schizophrenic to a considerably less impressive effect. Take us all away!
To PAUS, no doubt, for as Primavera Sound prepares to whisk itself away toward Porto the following weekend, the fellow Iberians prove the find of the weekend over on what is by now an unreasonably picturesque Ray-Ban stage. They’re something of a revelation, their squawky hybridity an unexpected blast of ingenuity among the increasingly blustery climes of a picturesque tequila sunrise cooled by an ice cube-like full moon. Clustered about two kits, they channel a compellingly glorious raucousness, before they’re headed for more familiar territories. Godspeed!
From the unfamiliar therefore to the rather well-known, the Breeders then run through Last Splash with unerring aplomb. It’s in many respects weird to see Kim Deal back on this very stage, not least as some three years ago she slaughtered the thing with the Pixies though as wondrous as they then were, the ’93 LP “de todo” ain’t half bad either. Nor is Deal’s español, although the wind is, alas, at times more forceful than her vocal and it’s thus that New Year is lost. Though I guess the issue with the album retrospective is that, in this instance, Cannonball is fired off all too prematurely for our liking, and must be by default. It’s bloody rad right through though, the sound as cruddy as we could hope for as I wonder as to why they’re not that bit more revered now, nor indeed then. For all Ohio wind chimes and violins, it’s an all mod cons recital with a wonderfully longing Invisible Man lamentably seen by significantly fewer. It’s all equivalently scatty and informal, and yet you sense that it’s absolutely as they would want for it to be. This ensures No Aloha never quite sounds as it once did on record some twenty years ago, although that said that’s no bad thing – not least as the format is already innately faithful enough. For the transatlantic troupe tonight freshen up one of the most gravely undervalued recordings of its time, Do You Love Me Now? a swoony dream while on the flipside, I Just Wanna Get Along with its speak-sing chorus, comes across a sultry convulsion. “Thank you! I didn’t mean that” sneers Kelley Deal in a flagrant affirmation of the times having changed, yet the music itself has remained reliably ideal even to this day, for proof of which listen no further than Divine Hammer. For with its latest expiration and the ensuing silence it brings, the standouts have only become that bit better embossed and indeed the Breeders stick out in mind throughout the remainder of the weekend.
Moments later, grotesque as the Heineken stage may be, needs once more must as set against a crucifix composed exclusively of spotlights, The Jesus and Mary Chain perform their first European show in comparative aeons. Now, if you’ll excuse the blasphemy, this is The fucking Jesus and Mary Chain we’re talking, here. I swig at a smuggled Scotch in their honour, while passively smoking what this morning felt a thousand fags. Sacrilege abounds as talk plasters Jim Reid’s perfunctory “Hello, we’re The Jesus and Mary Chain” with a squall of trademark feedback preceding a dream becoming an audible reality. And realistically speaking, although far from their finest, the commanding sneer of Snakedriver tonight sounds positively Godly. I wasn’t around for the first coming – I’d not been born – though I couldn’t possibly imagine it being any less spectacular than this, the umpteenth. For as all the “photographs of God I bought have almost fade away” those depicting the brothers Reid haven’t even the one iota. You might well expect them to sound that bit oxidised, though they shake off the rust utterly immediately and as Jim slurs during Head On, “And the way I feel tonight/ I could die and I wouldn’t mind” we come one. From the harmonic chinking of Sidewalking, to the louche drollery of Teenage Lust it’s a revelatory set seen by so, so many sunglasses at night that the oxymoronic (or perhaps merely moronic) convention almost makes sense. For this is an incontrovertible exemplar of the oldest always being the bestest, though obdurate curmudgeons are we and we want Psychocandy. Thus indestructible as some grotty hardboiled sweet suckled up in an aeroplane over the sea and bolstered by Bilinda Butcher, we go on to rejoice in Just Like Honey. Reid performs the thing in an unmistakably self-centred vein of form, though the song itself is so soft-centred that he just about gets away with the subsidiary impact of his ephemeral foil. We’re then treated to a delectably rambunctious The Hardest Walk, Reid’s cleverly inverted confirmation of “Don’t want you to need me/ Don’t need you to want me” never sounding more inaccurate. For this is indispensable stuff, and with the stage bathed in Psychocandy colours they roar through Taste Of Cindy, ratcheting the thing up in its essential latter moments before bringing the place down with an accelerative Never Understand. For all the religious symbolism, it’s this blistering last salvo which is their most iconic element and it’s one which sticks long after they’ve gone. It’ll stick with the abidance of Scot dotted about the place as well, and that this serves as some twisted pilgrimage tells of how recherché this one might well have been. Hallelujah!
How ATP ended up with absolutely all of the weekend’s doom and gloom is anyone’s guess, although Neurosis then really sludge it out with the subtle tenderness of a blooded cleaver to an earlobe, before another unfeasibly foolhardy bit of booking ensures Doldrums’ box of grim tricks pukes up all over Daughter’s plaintive confessional fare.
Though this evening has all to do with another London troupe, and that’ll be Blur. It really, really felt as though it could’ve happened – that as Albarn bellowed them there immortal words in the leafy surrounds of Hyde Park last year, they really could’ve drawn a line in the sand under the erratically scrawled epithet that was, or rather even these days still is. Though here we are some nine months later, all we fellow Brits with a smattering of Spaniard swizzled in for extra hedonistic measure, and it feels as though they’ve not only never been away but that they similarly never will be. A heart-shaped balloon rather aptly floats overhead, for whatever we presupposed failed musicians may scribe, ours is an undying and indeed eternal infatuation for they.
With a rebuilt Westway this year plastered across canvas, it’s not as though the funds will have yet run dry as my mouth currently tastes to the tongue, but to cart the full-blown reconstruction of yesteryear would’ve surely cost them well over the annual charge to motor an automobile over the elevated section and on into Zone 1. And it’s here where the Spanish obsession with the exotic external finds itself at its most explicit for among the instantly disenchanting chants of “Oh my baby”, if they’ve little hope of comprehending the hackneyed cockney of Albarn then their phonetic blare makes light of this linguistic stumbling block.
Though given the disconcerting lack of UK date, this one’s a bit special. That’s not to say that The Wedding Present’s unanticipated appearance on the Heineken Balcony in what is a pretty weird prelude is anything extra to the ordinary, other than to fuel thoughts of whether Damon is to finally wed amid the debauchery of Barça. Or maybe Alex James is to engage a blue cheese? He’s certainly enough swagger about him to punch holes in Edam, although it’s Albarn who sustains this one. “Bonnos noches!” he yells before launching into Girls & Boys and irrespective of gender, it’s a stone-cold killer. Having followed the herds down to the supposedly sunny beaches of Spain, I feel unduly proud. For they’re met with similar hysteria to home, even though that lyric of “avoiding all work” may ring slightly more true around these parts: Cataluña concluded 2012 with an unemployment rate of some 23.94%, which equates to an approximated 885,000 jobseekers. An astounding figure and whereas daytime TV may be the everyday meal of the average shirker, this is Blur’s bread and butter. They were fucking invented for these sorts of heartened hoedowns, as they deliver a couple immaculate hours with all the conviction Phoenix still lack a little. For once tuned into Popscene, it’s as though we’re back at Parklive. It may be “Hola to la luna” but it’s that same one which tonight smiles over London, and the set breeds a sense of Brit supremacy as There’s No Other Way is bellowed back wholesomely. Beetlebum meanwhile, concerning past times previously seen on the deplorably impure streets of this fairly gritty city, shines like a golden stag or a glinting tooth. There’s still a sense of subordination equivalent to that at play within Deerhunter as Coxon turns away to deliver his solo, although elsewhere they appear the consummate pop group. Rowntree, a positive hoot for an MP, doesn’t so much power as he does softly push the set along while James struts as though his farm were Worthy. But it must be said that no matter how much Albarn may attempt to rile, or maybe even rule, they seem forever more stark individuals year upon year. And within the context of this year’s Primavera Sound, there’s certainly a case for validation of the Out Of Time lyric of “too many people down/ Everything turning the wrong way round.” It’s crowded as the buzzing markets of that native Morocco where it was first writ this evening, though it feels as though it may well prove one of those moments regardless.
For Coffee & TV is as becomingly homely as the sight and sound of English tourists trawling La Rambla, even if Tender couldn’t conversely sound more closely assimilated to Cumbayá were it belted from the apex of the Ilaló volcano. It’s that flatulent brass of Country House, however, which again brings us home: it might have fallen into a state of moderate disrepair, which is perhaps unsurprising given the fact that it’s now wheeled out on most supposedly summery weekends though it too engenders a sense of great British belonging, before Parklife works similarly cozy wonders even when here devoid of Phil Daniels. Without the involvement of the Islington native, it doesn’t quite cut the mustard with Albarn’s delivery rusty as the oxidised entrance to Hyde Park although that said, that it’s smothered in inordinate amounts of parp ensures it just about smears it. Though it’s This Is a Low which steals it: this ain’t Land’s End nor the Bay of Biscay, but by Jove is it a beauty. Damon soothes of “finding ways to stay so low” though that last part should read solo for he has been for some time. Sometimes for better; others for worse, though he’s always been reliably high and the same can be said of this evening. But with Coxon’s loops considerably more intricate, a moving Under The Westway recalls the noodling of Brian May in a remote way as Albarn informs of bright, in place of “blue skies” over his city today though as he does so, never have I ever felt closer to the place he and I alike know as home. It’s a case of time apart only making the old ticker grow fonder, for it sounds so vividly, and indeed incredibly British this evening – so much so that it only seems as such once experienced from abroad. His lament of “men in yellow jackets putting adverts inside my dreams” may again ring worrisomely true in such a commercialised environment, but here we’ve a lucid case of a song to which “we like to sing along, though the words are wrong” and the deafening quiet which concludes The Universal is quite unlike any other. It’s an inspiratory set which doesn’t exactly deserve to be polished off by the boorish idiocy of Song 2, but that’s the way these things are I suppose. And for all the pretence of the weekend, it seems somewhat ironic that a pogoing phonetic-along like this should prove one of its true peaks. However most pertinently, it makes for a strangely consummate experience seeing Blur anywhere outside of the UK for although abridged and somehow a bit of a weird one, never have I ever so discernibly sensed the Brit in their Britpop.
Thus it’s in a way telling that, for all the avant-garde on offer elsewhere and the infatuation it reputedly entails, the sheer numbers here insinuate toward there being nobody anywhere else. Though as irises begin to bulge away from the bright lights of the Heineken stage, so too does an agitated crowd awaiting The Knife. Following on from the Roundhouse fiasco of earlier on in the month, to say my expectations are low would be a grave understatement, given that they can currently be charted somewhere or other about ground zero. I got told to drink more in anticipation of a second showing, and did just that but it’s a total ditto. Determinedly refusing to fall for this yet again, the screens only seem to exacerbate the fraudulence of it all. I mean sure, fake the whole thing, though there will of course be visual magnification on a stage of such magnitude, so you’d expect them to fabric visuals of some sort to superficially conceal the lie even if they were to be as shoddily composed as the set itself. There’s nothing of the sort, and for once in my life The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again springs to my drained mind with the inactivity of some haggard riff from Pete Townshend’s withered Stratocaster. There’s something strangely mesmeric about it all, but I’m off. I should’ve done this if not long ago, then last time and the constant stream of being trickling away from the Primavera stage seems to suggest that people have now gotten smart to the farce. And with that cutting piece of critique, Friday so too comes to a twilit close.