Primavera doesn’t start until 5 or 6pm each evening, which frees up the daytime to sleep, lie on the beach, or explore the city. On Friday I decided to visit La Sagrada Familia, a ludicrously extravagant cathedral of Gaudi’s that’s been under construction since 1882, and is expected to need at least another 17 years to complete. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit a lot of European cities, and each one is guaranteed to offer its tourists a massive church as one of the main attractions. So now I’ve got Huge Church Fatigue. It’s like each city at one point had a top architect who jealously eyed another city’s massive church and resolved to bequeath a bigger one for his own city.
Alongside La Sagrada Familia’s massive grey arches, stone-engraved bible scenes and statues are appended skips, bright yellow cranes, and hard-hat warning signs. Like the size of a building, the volume of a show seems to me to be an easy feature to amplify to win admiring gapes from viewers—or at least, it seems to be a technical achievement, one of mathematics or engineering, rather than an artistic one. The buzz in my ears as I circle La Sagrada Familia on Friday afternoon is an unwelcome but inevitable consequence of the loudness wars of the previous night. It’s almost as if each stage had an artist who jealously heard another stage’s massive volume across the festival grounds and resolved to beat it for his own crowd. Only Andrew Bird stayed out of it. And I know that churches are supposed to be big, and that live music is supposed to be loud; but when competitiveness of scale causes a building to take over 130 years to complete, or a crowd to suffer nausea and tinnitus, then perhaps someone needs to take a step back.
Photo: Inma Varandela
BAT FOR LASHES @ Estrella Damm Stage, 7:10pm
A girl in the crowd spies my notepad and tells me all I need to write down is that Natasha Khan has a perfect bum. But I’m a serious journalist, don’t you know, so I tend not to mention that kind of thing. She does look rather fabulous in a stripy black-and-white bodysuit, prowling around the stage waving bunches of golden bells, and though she’s been emphasising in recent interviews that she’s not just a singer, she is a great singer. The first few songs—“Glass”, “Sleep Alone”, and “Horse and I”—showcase her falsetto, each one reminiscent in spots of Bjork, Portishead, and St. Vincent. Her set’s a roughly equal mix of songs from both her albums, and while I prefer debut Fur and Gold for its minimalism, the songs from Two Suns sound great live, stripped of their production sheen. Also, it’s a nice change to have a show that doesn’t barrage its audience with noise.
Photo: Dani Canto
THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART @ Pitchfork Stage, 9pm
It’s temping to be principled when it comes to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, to take a stance against their shameless pilfering of mid-‘80s C86 indie-pop. But while I’d be standing in the corner with my arms folded and my lip petted, everyone else would be having a really good time. Even at a festival like this, which is overrun with opinionated indie music geeks, the majority of folk don’t know enough C86 to be bored of it yet; and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart do it really well. They’re not messing about—no between-song banter or breaks to swap guitars or re-tune—they burst straight from one song to the next, building momentum, getting girls dancing. Actually, everybody’s dancing. It’d be no fun being a po-faced wallflower.
DAN DEACON @ Pitchfork Stage, 01:00am
Call it the Susan Boyle Reflex, but there’s an incongruence between the appearance of Dan Deacon—fat balding guy in a white jumpsuit—and his expected ability to rile a crowd full of art students and fashionable creative types. But he did, he really did, through yelled instructions to the crowd: To crouch and stand and “aaah” according to his hand signals; to form a huge circle so we can have a dance contest; to get everyone to step back three steps; and to get us all to form a tunnel with our hands and run through it, snaking all through the crowd. Of course, at a festival, a foreign festival in this case, it’s a logistical nightmare—he doesn’t speak Spanish—but most of it comes off, to some extent. Meanwhile, there’s the music—his ensemble features two, three, then four drummers, three keyboardists, and lots of others I can’t quite see—and his hyperactive electro-pop, almost gabba-like in attitude, rises and crashes and builds and holds and retreats and explodes. Did I mention that we made a tunnel and everyone ran through it and formed a longer tunnel for everyone else? It was like a giant kid’s party, and it turned us all into hysterical toddlers. Incredible.
BLOC PARTY @ Estrella Damm Stage, 2am
This is where my notes fail me, because I’m far too giddy to write anything more helpful than “AMAZING!!!” Much to my surprise, Bloc Party sound fantastic. I wasn’t even planning to see them initially, because their two latest albums weren’t very good. But “Song for Clay”, from A Weekend in the City, is actually pretty powerful here, and like The Pains of Being Pure at Heart earlier, they’re not giving anyone the time to get bored—it’s straight into the next song, and the next, and the next. “Mercury”, which I hated on record, captivates me now, and there’s huge momentum within the crowd. Of course, the Silent Alarm songs—“This Modern Love”, “Like Eating Glass”, “Helicopter”—get the biggest responses. But for the first time, I’m able to hear the more recent songs in the same set, and not think of them as weak links. More than that, it was one of the most rip-roaring sets of the weekend.