Primavera Sound

On the Beach

by Ally Brown

18 June 2009

Photo: Inma Varandela 



BOWERBIRDS @ Joan Miro Park, 2:15pm

Joan Miro Park is a tiny park near the centre of the city, which hosts a few low-key gigs on Saturday afternoon for any member of the public to watch. But it’s not filled with curious taxi drivers and shop workers—it’s pretty much just a small crowd from the festival again. A small, sandy section is cornered off for Bowerbirds, who play for us among palm trees under another hot, clear blue sky. They’re perfect for the setting, playing gentle acoustic-based indie with just enough brightness to keep us awake, but no more. Everyone is hungover (by which I mean I’m hungover, and assume others are too), and combined with a gentle breeze, it’s very soothing.

SHEARWATER @ Pitchfork Stage, 6:15pm

When last I saw Shearwater, in a tiny basement in Glasgow around six months ago, they seemed unsure of how to translate their ornate, exquisitely produced albums into a live setting, where atmospheric noise and the energy required when playing onstage hinder any attempts at delicacy. Now, on this Pitchfork stage, which dwarfs their usual European stages, they appear a fully-fledged rock band, less concerned with preserving details, happier to put a bit of bluster into it. Jonathan Meiburg has even developed a bit of a swagger, and impresses the crowd by speaking (what seems to me like) fluent Spanish in between each song. It’s left to the songs to impress the non-Spanish speakers, and they have no problem winning me over. A mix of tunes from last year’s Rook and 2006’s slept-on Palo Santo, Shearwater excel at contrasting bombast with tenderness, and Meiberg sings with an alternating roar and falsetto croon, just short of Scott Walker’s. In a word: Superb.

Photo: Inma Varandela

Photo: Inma Varandela

NEIL YOUNG @ Estrella Damm Stage, 9:15pm

Primavera’s organisers are sensible enough to clear the other stages while Neil Young is on; they know it’d be unfair to other bands to have them clash with a musician who’s probably inspired everyone here. But this was widely reported to be a two-and-a-half hour set, and it wasn’t. He came on 15 minutes late, and left the stage at ten past eleven—I make that one-hour-forty, which is quite a shortfall.

But it was a brilliant 100 minutes. Any fears about him hawking his subpar new album were unfounded, as he only played one song from it in a seventeen-song set. “Hey Hey, My My”, “Pocahontas”, and “Cortez the Killer” featured really crunchy, overdriven guitars, reinforcing his “Godfather of Grunge” reputation, and the latter in particular struck a real emotional chord when Young yelled “he was a killer!” while leaning away from the mic. “Cinnamon Girl” went down a storm, and when he played three songs from Harvest in close proximity—“The Needle and the Damage Done”, “Heart of Gold”, and “Old Man”—the audience went wild, and I was a little teary-eyed myself. After “Rocking in the Free World”, which seemed to get the biggest reception of any song, the band took a bow while Young waved an FC Barcelona scarf. But the inevitable return produced only one more song—a cover of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”—before Young walked off again and the stagehands began the clear up. At Coachella last year, the similarly aged Roger Waters took a half-hour break midway through his epic set. It’s understandable that a 63 year old would need a rest after 100 energetic minutes, but then it perhaps shouldn’t have been billed beforehand as a special, extended set.

Photo: Inma Varandela

Photo: Inma Varandela

LIARS @ ATP Stage, 11:30pm

“Thanks to Neil Young for opening for us”, Angus Andrew says, as his set starts immediately as crowds swarm in from the Estrella Damm stage. Generally I’m a Liars sceptic, but here in the darkness, with a smoky stage and lots of very drunk and happy people, they have more appeal. The tribal drums are causing a kind of trance in people, especially on “Be Quiet Mt. Heart Attack!”, which reels my sober self in to dance and should really have been extended longer than its three or four minutes-long duration. All we need now is a giant fire to dance around.

Photo: Valeria Giampietro

Photo: Valeria Giampietro

SONIC YOUTH @ Estrella Damm Stage, 1am

Two years ago, Sonic Youth performed Daydream Nation in full here. Tonight it’s a mixed set, including a handful of songs from new album The Eternal, and at least three from that aforementioned highpoint. Like the new album, they’re pretty good, but they’re not revolutionary any more. They’ve become a fairly reliable albums band and a reliable live band too. “Hey Joni” is a thrill, and “Tom Violence”‘s epic sprawling drums reverberate for miles, before an encore of “Bull in the Heather” and “Expressway to Yr Skull”. It’s a fittingly loud and cacophonous ending to Primavera’s rock band line up, which emphasises how much Sonic Youth have influenced almost every other band on the bill.

But it’s only 2am, with Simian Mobile Disco, A-Trak, DJ Mehdi, Zombie Zombie and more to keep the party going through the night. I don’t remember much of it, except that I had a great time. I’ll definitely be back next year.

Ally—as in McCoist, not McBeal—graduated with a degree in Scottish Law in 2007, but foolishly cast that aside to pursue music instead. He’s a bad guitarist, a rudimentary DJ, and an “enthusiastic” singer if you’re feeling kind, so what “pursuing music” ever meant is anyone’s guess. Instead he lives by the mantra “those who can’t, criticize”, because it’s very, very true. Ally has previously written for Stylus Magazine, The Skinny, Clash and others.


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