For those of you who don’t know, the Primavera Club Festival of Barcelona (PC) is the small brother of the well-known Primavera Sound, the biggest indie music festival in Spain, always hold at the end of May. The main preference of the organizers is to offer a line-up of indie artists that either are not known in Spain, or, at least, that they hardly come to play to the country. As its name reveals, the PC is done in small venues -whereas the Sound is always an outdoor festival – so it gives the chance to see up-close some of the most interesting musicians in the world (well, like every other indie fest, actually), Wednesday-Sunday, November 24th-28th, 2010.
In arguably its longest edition since it was created in 2006, this year the PC began at the Apolo’s second stage (La ) with Wild Nothing. The Jack Tatum solo project of dream pop and ‘80s synth-pop develops into a full live band onstage, with three other members. The textures heard on record change substantially when played live, with an approach that is reminiscent of the great British bands of the eighties such as The Smiths. Things run smoothly for Tatum and co. but perhaps the live treatment of melodies such as “Confirmation” or “Summer Holiday” makes them too similar so the gig is like a block of tunes that are difficult to differentiate. But the audience is ecstatic, so it doesn’t matter in the end.
Frankie Rose & The Outs
New Yorker Frankie Rose, who played drums in Vivian Girls (QRO album review), Crystal Stilts (QRO album review), and Dum Dum Girls, and who debuted this year leading The Outs, a band very much in the same line as those mentioned above, played at the main Apolo stage some of the fresh pop-punk songs of her eponymous debut record such as “Candy” and “Must Be Nice”, numbers that look at the immediacy of the ‘60s bands, even if with some more noise and electricity. A couple of new tunes suggested that for her new record Rose could expand the range of her music, so she should be followed closely.
Wednesday night ended with local band Der Ventilator. Playing a mix of noise/death metal/indie rock/trash/punk/ramma-lamma-dindon (all stirred, not shaken), their live show looks like nothing heard on record. Songs like “Black Forest” would not be out of place in an A Place To Bury Strangers (QRO spotlight on) record but others such as “Wolves Around Us” or “Supernova” sound too thick and heavy onstage. Either they put some order in their performances or they will be drowned by their own over-elaborated style.
Timetable clashes force a choice between the different acts of the day. Not a very difficult choice, as it turned out. Scottish pop legend Edwyn Collins came to Barcelona to promote his latest record Losing Sleep in a concert held at Bikini. The show began with the title song of this 2010 album and followed with a mix of old tunes like “Don’t Shilly Shally”, Orange Juice’s “Rip It Up”, the inevitable “A Girl Like You”, and new songs such as “Do It Again”, “What Is My Role”, and “In Your Eyes”, this last one with the special contribution of Collins’ son, William, in backup vocals and the chorus section. Visibly happy to be welcomed by a very warm audience, Edwyn Collins ended an hour-long gig with another OJ classic tune “Blue Boy”, released as a single in 1980. Collins’ physical condition after his brain hemorrhage in 2005 has significantly improved as shown by a voice in very good shape, a sharp sense of humour and the evident joy of still being able to be onstage.
Bikini, in the upper side of Barcelona, has become one of the classic clubs of the city, with a quiet, non-smoking and non-talking atmosphere, ideal for gigs like Lou Barlow’s. The returned-to-Dinosaur Jr. (QRO live review) bassist (and also from Sebadoh – QRO live review – and the Folk Implosion) offered an acoustic solo gig that ranged between the melancholy of Sebadoh’s “Love is Stronger”, “Brand New Love” and “Soul and Fire”, the reflection on his own solo tunes – “I Have Too Much Freedom” – and the subtle irony of Smog’s “A Hit”. The jetlag he was suffering didn’t stop him from making jokes at his own expense, chatting with the audience and use all of his skill to express all the beauty and misery of his songs. All in all, a day after the electric display of Edwyn Collins, Barlow reminded the crowd that an acoustic set can be as powerful.
When a band features a drummer who could be a member of Linkin Park, a Robert Smith look-alike on guitar, a bassist that could be mistaken for Kenneth Hutchinson (‘Hutch’ from Starsky and Hutch), and a female vocalist who seems to be a fan of the aforementioned guitarist, it’s easy to panic. But that’s not the case with San Francisco’s Tamaryn. Back at La , the quartet displayed an atmospheric set based on their debut record The Waves, where tunes like the title one or “Sandstone” evoke landscapes heard in Lush or Mazzy Star. But, though the playing is solid and with no mistakes, they lack a bit of passion, overall.
Jack White’s protégées Smoke Fairies opened the night at the Apolo’s main stage. Their ethereal mix of folk, electricity and the vocal harmonies displayed by lead singers Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies suggest they have a long way to go and that their autumn vibes can be addictive. It wasn’t a gig for the Apolo, as its audience can be very noisy and disrespectful, but those who paid attention were not disappointed at all.
Festival headliners Teenage Fanclub came to Barcelona with the confidence of being able to make a set based on a bunch of well-constructed pop songs during a twenty-year career, and the audience was hooked from the very beginning, when Norman Blake and co. began the gig with “Start Again”. From then on, the Scottish played several numbers of their latest record Shadows and mixed them with old songs such as “Don’t Look Back”, and always had an extra backup vocal section in the Spaniards who didn’t want to miss the chance to see live one of the best bands of the ’90s. It actually wasn’t a memorable gig for the guy writing this but, at least, they earned his respect.
The 1928-built Casino de l’Aliança del Poblenou, where the cultural work of the influential l’Aliança association was based in the short years before the Spanish Civil War, was the venue where the most interesting gigs of the festival took place. Tamaryn played their second Barcelonan gig of the PC 2010 in a much more relaxed and fluid way compared to their debut of the night before. In a bigger stage, the Americans played the very same set of the first gig, but the guitar and bass effects sounded less contrived, and that made for a better overall performance.
In only his second trip to Barcelona (the first was in the Primavera Sound 2006) Robin Proper-Sheppard played an acoustic solo set based on some of the timeless songs by his band Sophia, like “If Only”, “So Slow” or “I Left You”. With enough perspective to be able to laugh at himself due to his own ‘dubious’ way of being and dealing with things, the poignancy he showed while singing songs about death, denial, giving up, nostalgia and sentimental breakups and the conviction with which he played them were genuine, as they are in records like Malcolm Middleton’s “Crappo the Clown”, where the songs are not fake but complete and utterly true. The best gig of the festival by a mile, a town, a city, or whatever you want, but the best in any case.
Lou Barlow followed Proper-Sheppard at the Casino de l’Aliança. Much recovered from the jetlag mentioned before, he played a very similar set to the one of the day before but was even more talkative in between numbers and the audience really appreciated that.
The Hundred In The Hands
Back at the main stage of Apolo, New York duo The Hundred In The Hands set the house on fire with their mix of synth-pop, dub and techno. Driven by the guitar of Jason Friedman and the sensual voice of Eleanore Everdel, the precise programming of the tracks and the combination of analog and electronic sounds make for a wall of sound that gives no time to rest. But the best thing of the New Yorkers is that they try to avoid pastiche as much as possible so the songs sound expansive but tight at the same time.
And to calm the euphoria of the audience, another duo, Mount Kimbie, provided a set of ambient, dub-step or whatever you want to call it. Promoting their first record Crooks and Lovers, the London chaps gave a lesson on disjointed rhythms, minimalism and imagination. Perfect to deflate the excitement brought by The Hundred In The Hands and enjoy the night with a smile.
The Rural Alberta Advantage
Last day, end of the party at the Apolo. Canadians The Rural Alberta Advantage may be a band with only one record (and a second in the making) but their expertise and clarity of ideas is mesmerizing. Labeled as ‘folk’ (oh, the absurdity of labels…), they’re a band made for playing live, with a strong rhythm section in the hands of Nils Edenloff, the skill of Amy Cole to add details and fill the blanks in the songs and the energy of lead singer, guitarist and keyboarder Paul Banwatt. Direct and dense, it really doesn’t seem they sometimes sing about heartbreaks and depression, as very few bands can be as uplifting as they are onstage.
Zola Jesus has made an impact this year with her Stridulum EP and the Stridulum record. Her Siouxsie Sioux antics when she sings, the mix of electronic, industrial, pop and rock sounds and a powerful voice, have caught the attention of media and fans alike all over the world. In a minimalist gig with the sole help of Alex Degroot – a member of her full live band, on keys, samples, and backup vocals – Jesus moved all around La ’s stage with energy and decision, her petite body shaking and pulsating non-stop during the whole set which ended with Jesus jumping offstage and giving the impression of an animal released from its cage. She left after 45 minutes leaving the fans wanting for more but otherwise that could be a wise strategy: to leave the stage in the best moment and not allow the gig to degenerate and become boring.
And, finally, Holy Fuck was the icing on the cake of the Primavera Club 2010. The Canadians played a very lively set based on their extreme skill to mix funk drumbeats and bass guitar with electronic, dub and electric sound. The audience wanted a party, Holy Fuck wanted a party and a party is what everybody had at the Apolo’s main stage. Jumps, sweat, screams and joy were the ingredients of a gig that ended with their classic hit “Lovely Allen”, where the quartet seemed to trail the best Death in Vegas.
And this is what the Primavera Club 2010 offered in Barcelona. The festival keeps intact the innovating approach and the will to let the Barcelonan audience know about new and interesting bands, something its big brother, the Primavera Sound, seemed to lose in its last edition.
-words & photos: Abel Cruz