Reviews

Primavera Sound 2013: Days 3 and 4, Barcelona

James Ziegenfus
Photo Credit: Rory O'Connor

Primavera's certainly evolved from where it started out early last decade, but it hasn't lost its special vibe that's unmatched by most of its competition.

Primavera Sound 2013

City: Barcelona, Spain
Date: 2013-05-24

One unfortunate theme during Primavera Sound this year was the unseasonably cool weather. Days topped out around 68ºF/20ºC. But once the sun went down and the festival got into its groove, it was around 50ºF/10ºC with winds on the stages closest to the sea. I won't go so far as to say the weather affected attendance on stages most susceptible to wind, but crowds did remind me of how penguins huddle in the Antarctic to shield themselves from harsh conditions. With that in mind, attendee attire hit both extremes from people who went all night in shorts and a t-shirt to those who apparently just came off the Matterhorn in parkas and wool hats. Friday kicked off with Kurt Vile & the Violators punching in an hour of lo-fi rock 'n' roll. The wind swept Vile's hair all around, but it was his fingers doing the serious work with all-out shredding to an attentive crowd. Across the way, Merchandise turned in a very impressive set aided by a live drummer instead of relying on a machine. With singer Carson Cox playing a 2nd guitar, the band was full and vibrant on songs new and old, even if the bass was far too loud. The first half of their set consisted of their shorter tunes and the second half let them breathe with the 10-minute grinders that pull their most abstract influences (jazz, dub, etc.) into their rock music shells.

But for a really frenzied performance, we go to Dope Body, whose pummeling noise-rock recalls the Jesus Lizard or Lightning Bolt. Singer Andrew Laumann was shirtless and chaotic while screaming and jumping all over, yet very gracious since he figured no one would see them. As their set continued, the Baltimore band grew on the crowd, but it's easy to believe that warmer weather or just less wind would've helped people not be so distracted. Competing with Savages for largest crowds at a small stage was Solange, who seems to be the darling of the moment. Every move she made (clad in a blindingly bright green jacket) elicited cheers. Some feedback through the first few songs kept the crowd tempered, but soon enough the issues were fixed, her R&B band was tight as any over the weekend and the choreographed dance moves endeared her to the crowd. Before getting to her hit "Losing You", she implored the crowd to put away their phones and enjoy the moment. Most seemed to take the advice and she rewarded them with a big closing, hitting the high notes and showing that she's worth the hype.

The Jesus & Mary Chain's reputation as a statuesque live band was appropriate, but they managed to sound dynamic in a set more indebted to deep cuts than 21 Singles. However, when they got to a hit, they made it count, from the electric "Head On" to My Bloody Valentine's Bilinda Butcher guesting on "Just Like Honey" and closing with "Never Understand". In yet another example of a band's popularity skyrocketing after schedules were made, Daughter drew an enormous crowd to one of the smallest stages of the festival, so much that it blocked a major artery and most people on the fringes were closer to Doldrums on a nearby stage. But for an hour, the London band charmed and then ended on "Home" to a rousing applause. Probably the biggest surprise for most attendees was the Wedding Present playing a 3-song set capped by "My Favourite Dress" minutes before Blur's set. Singer David Gedge commented that it was as much of a surprise to them as us, since they weren't listed on the lineup.

Shortly after, Blur started up with "Girls & Boys" and got the whole crowd dancing immediately. Through a set of mostly hits, Damon Albarn was animated and jumpy. His voice has aged considerably, but it didn't matter to most of the crowd that responded with spontaneous clapping in time and continuing choruses once songs were over. Albarn went down to the crowd barrier for "Country House" and then led a triumphant sing-along for "Parklife". Up close, the crowd was very heavy on British travelers eager to show that they were big Blur fans. Farther back, people were much more calm and respectful. As Blur came to an end, Goat's garb and psychedelic guitars woven into tribal drumming hypnotized people looking for something far from Britpop. But to get even further from it, the Knife closed out Friday with an interesting set high on dance performance and low on actual live music. Based on reviews of their shows before Primavera Sound, it was obvious there'd be some strange things as they challenged people's thoughts on live music by not doing much of it. To their credit, though, it had tremendous moments that you couldn't tear yourself from watching. Yet it was completely polarizing with steady streams of festivalgoers leaving against those pushing their way forward toward the stage through the entire set.

The final day began with Spanish rockabilly band Guadalupe Plata playing to a very adoring crowd and even getting an encore out of the first set of the day, something not seen a lot at a festival where even headliners have a schedule to keep. Valencia's Betunizer followed them with a roaring punk set. One of the weekend's breakthroughs was Melody's Echo Chamber, whose self-titled album's shoegaze/dream pop came off much more electropop live, and whose singer, Melody Prochet, showed off all the makings of a future star with her charisma and voice. Near the end of the set, Prochet thanked everyone for coming early to see the band, reminding everyone that Primavera Sound's one of the few outdoor music festivals where a band that plays at 8 PM can actually say that.

After their set was one of my biggest surprises of the weekend, mostly because I had no idea what to expect. Let's just say Dexys is alive and well. The Irish band played their new album One Day I'm Going to Soar in full, going from soul to R&B to disco and funk to jazzy cuts, all the while roughly acting out the narrative amongst the band members to create a theatrical atmosphere. An encore of older songs got the auditorium crowd up to dance in the aisles, something that some people had been itching to do since early in the show. On the opposite end of the forum grounds, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds turned in an abbreviated set of their current show. A few songs from the new Push the Sky Away set the table, especially an amped up "Jubilee Street", before leading into old favorites like "Red Right Hand" where Warren Ellis' flute wove perfectly with Cave's forceful vocals as he trekked into the crowd. To keep warm in the brisk weather that Cave did not appear to be enjoying ("It's fucking freezing!"), he bounded around the stage and in the pit with the crowd. On stage, he'd toss his microphone to the floor before pounding on the piano. In the crowd, he'd rely on anyone's hands to hold him up as he tried staring contests with admirers. His powerful back-to-back of "The Mercy Seat" and "Stagger Lee" revved up the crowd and inspired some back-and-forth with the band, mostly pianist Conway Savage, who was humorously called out by Cave during the latter song's climax.

A festival favorite ahead of time, Los Planetas played their Una semana en el motor de un autobús album to a large crowd that wasn't very populated with anyone from abroad. Unfortunately, it was a tame performance not helped by its predictability. But things turned around nicely once they finished the album and got to other songs, each drawing huge applause at the first recognizable notes, which seemed to put a jolt into the band for the finale. Maybe it was due to the 2:30 AM start-time on the final day of the festival that My Bloody Valentine's set came off almost more like background music than entertainment. They were perfectly shoegazy, but didn't do much to give anyone that early morning second wind. However, that's where the Magician stepped in. The Belgian DJ spun a manic set heavy on disco that got people who were bundled up to take off the hats, unwrap the scarves and unzip the hoodies. Around quarter after 4 when he dropped in Daft Punk's "Get Lucky", everyone there was on cloud nine. And it may have resulted in some of the best dancing of the entire festival with nobody wanting to leave anything on the table before walking out. Although, some people did migrate over to Hot Chip's dance party.

Despite a handful of cancellations (Fiona Apple, Rodriguez, Band of Horses, Foxygen, Diiv), this year's Primavera Sound still delivered a solid array of up-and-comers, local favorites, contemporary standards and the big names that move tickets. The festival's certainly evolved from where it started out early last decade, but it hasn't lost its special vibe that's unmatched by most of its competition. Even if this year's lineup looked a little ordinary on a first glance, it wasn't hard to find a good time seeing some lesser-known bands or even to be impressed with a bigger name not going down the beaten path. It's just something that this festival brings out in the talent and the audience every year.

Visit PopMatters' Facebook page to see an extensive gallery of images by Rory O'Connor from Primavera.

Kurt Vile

Merchandise

Django Django

The Breeders

Blur

Goat

Binki Shapiro

Melodys Echo Chamber

Mac DeMarco

Thee Oh Sees

The Babies

Hot Chip

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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