Primavera Sound Festival, Day 2, May 24, 2013
Words by Jakob Ross, Pictures/Videos by Scott Ross
I woke up at noon. I ate breakfast. I showered. I brushed my teeth. I was dressed. My morning routine was not necessarily in that order, but who cares? You just want to hear about all the cool bands I saw on Day 2 of Spain’s preeminent music festival.
Bands I’d seen so far: 8
Hours of sleep since festival started: 6
Now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get this show on the road.
Kurt Vile and the Violators
At this point in his career, Kurt Vile is pretty much a festival staple. He’s been playing Sasquatch, Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lollapalooza, etc. for the past few years, so it’s natural that he’d play Primavera, especially since it’s been a month since the release of his critically adored new album “Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze.”
I first fell in love with the music of the long-haired singer/songwriter when he released “Smoke Ring For My Halo” in 2011, and although I didn’t LOVE love his brand new album, I knew that he’d play a relaxing, hazy set that was perfect for a sunny Friday afternoon.
Kurt Vile’s dreamy set would be the first one I catch at Primavera’s main stage, the Heineken Stage, and he opened up his show with the 9-minute psychedelic behemoth “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day.” He played some brand new songs like “KV Crimes,” “Was All Talk,” and “Shame Chamber.” He also played some tracks from the aforementioned “Smoke Ring For My Halo” like “Jesus Fever,” “Peeping Tomboy,” and “Ghost Town.” He ended the set with two deeper cuts “Hunchback” and “Freak Train.”
Kurt Vile’s care free attitude and singing style reminded me of a really really cool mix of Lou Reed, J Mascis, and Bob Dylan. In fact, if Kurt dyed his hair grey and put on some glasses he could easily pass for J Mascis. Although he wasn’t my favorite show and he’s not my favorite singer of all time, his set was fun to watch, and unexpectedly loud at times. I mean, when you rub violently on the strings with your own distortion pedal, the resulting sound is bound to be loud.
If you’ve never listened to or heard of Daniel Johnston, then I highly recommend you watch the documentary “The Devil and Daniel Johnston” before forming your opinion. It really gives some insight into the mind of one of independent music’s most fascinating and skilled outsiders. But, for those who don’t care to watch, here’s the tl;dr version:
Daniel Johnston is a singer/songwriter from West Virginia. He suffers from bipolar disorder which has transformed into demonic self-obsession and perhaps even schizophrenia. Throughout the 80s he recorded lo-fi cassettes and passed them around, hoping to one day become as famous as The Beatles. His cassettes received very high praise from the few journalists who bothered to listen to them, and soon enough Daniel was building quite the following in the mid-to-late 80s, despite having not much actual skill when it comes to singing or playing the guitar. What attracted people to Dan was his childlike voice, honest and sometimes very dark lyrics, and life story. He spent the 90s in and out of mental hospitals, in between hanging out with Sonic Youth and Half Japanese, as well as being famously co-signed by Kurt Cobain. He still writes music and performs to this day, and he’s known for his odd demeanor and brilliant live shows.
Daniel would be performing at the one inside venue in the entire festival, which requires a ticket to get into (the tickets each cost 2 euro). And although the extremely long line would prevent me from catching the first half of his set, I did see what I wanted to see and hear what I wanted to hear of indie rock’s most polarizing singer.
I was able to hear some of Daniel Johnston’s most well known songs, which he performed with a backing band that seemed less than half his age. With his lyrics in front of him on a music stand and complete control over his band, Daniel performed songs like “Speeding Motorcycle,” “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” “Devil Town,” and the show closing fan favorite “True Love Will Find You In The End.” One of the coolest things about his show was not only the massive audience gathered to watch him, but also the complete silence of the audience while he was singing. If there’s one thing people at the festival liked to do, it was talk, especially when there’s a musician on stage. But for Daniel Johnston, all eyes and ears were on him. There wasn’t a peep until the explosive rounds of applause that followed each song. It’s easy to see why his live shows are so highly regarded; he performs with the same childlike innocence and emotion that he’s performed with for the past 30 years. Soon enough, his set was over and Daniel walked off the stage with his lyric notebook in hand. We were thanked and we left the crowded auditorium to make our way back to the ATP Stage.
Al Cisneros has a long history in the genre of heavy metal, specifically the doom metal genre, specifically the stoner doom metal genre. In the 90s he was in a band called Sleep with guitar player Matt Pike and drummer Chris Hakius, and they helped to pioneer this specific subgenre of heavy metal with the release of “Sleep’s Holy Mountain” in 1992, and the hour long song “Dopesmoker” a few years later. Well Sleep broke up, as bands usually do. Al and Chris took the “stoner doom” out of stoner doom metal to play spiritually inspired slow songs that usually stretch past the 10-minute mark under the name Om, while Matt took the “metal” out of stoner doom metal to play loudly and quickly in the band High on Fire. Om has become a festival favorite in recent years, and just last year they turned from powerful duo (Al Cisneros on bass and vocals with current drummer Emil Amos) into a power trio, adding singer/guitarist/synthesizer player Robert Lowe to the mix. And Robert’s cathartic vocals fit perfectly with Om’s sound.
I didn’t get to see all of Om’s set, but I did get to witness Al’s powerful and repetitive bass playing that I bet was perfect for meditation. Om took their name from the Hindu concept that the sound “Ommmmmmm” represents the natural vibration of the universe, as well as the true name of God. It sounds weird and certainly is, but there’s no one out there like Om. They’re the slow-burning Tibetan monks of heavy metal music. The bass notes rise like smoke from an incense stick, and the drums groove on the ride cymbal like the rhythmic bare feet of monks on cut lotus flowers. I didn’t notice any particular universal vibration, and God didn’t come down from heaven to praise Al’s bass playing, but I imagine that seeing Om in a more intimate venue allows for the full experience. Especially when you see the entire show, which I didn’t.
Yet another legend. For those of you who have no idea who Steve Albini is: first of all stop lying. He produced Nirvana’s best album. Second of all, go listen to Big Black. Let me remind you that this music was written and performed in the late 80s.
All good? Okay. Well, after the breakup of Big Black as well as the short-lived Rapeman, Steve Albini formed Shellac, a post-hardcore/math rock group that he performed with when he wasn’t busy producing some incredible albums by the likes of Pixies, The Jesus Lizard, Slint, The Breeders, Superchunk, Helmet, PJ Harvey, Don Caballero, Jawbreaker, Man or Astro-man?, Bush, Nirvana, Dirty Three, Neurosis, Flogging Molly, Owls, Mogwai, mclusky; the list goes on. Basically, Steve has had a huge impact on post-rock, heavy metal, punk, noise rock, post-hardcore, emo, math rock, alternative rock, grunge, you name it. But his longest running musical venture has been with his musical trio Shellac, which includes Steve on vocals and guitar, Bob Weston on bass, and Todd Trainer on drums. Together they play mean spirited and very cynical post-hardcore in unorthodox tunings and time signatures.
Although Shellac haven’t released an album in 6 years (they supposedly have one on the way), they’re a festival staple as well, and the fact that they’re playing the ATP Stage makes a ton of sense considering they’ve helped curate numerous All Tomorrow’s Parties lineups in the past.
Shellac sped through a fun and at times humorous set of complex riffs and the loud screams of Steve Albini. But one of the best things about any Shellac show is Steve’s banter and little bits of comedy. At one point he decided that the most offensive hand gesture is pulling your middle finger out of your mouth, producing a popping sound, and showing it off to whoever would look. He also complimented Spain on having the most attractive population of human beings. Shellac ended their show with their usual gag of taking apart Todd Trainer’s drum set piece by piece as he attempts to solo on whatever drums remain in front of him. Another bucket list act finally crossed off the list, and who knows, maybe Steve will reunite Big Black for a full on tour and then I can cross them off my list.
The Jesus and Mary Chain
If you happen to trace noise pop and shoegaze back to their roots, you’ll likely find them at Scottish band The Jesus and Mary Chain’s debut album “Psychocandy.” The Jesus and Mary Chain were one of the first bands to combine noisy feedback with pop songs, and they’d go on to inspire a legion of musicians to turn up the volume and use as many effects as possible.
Although they’d turn down the volume considerably with the release of their second album “Darklands,” J&MC would still always be the pop band with the really loud guitars. And although not all their albums featured this loud guitar, they certainly made sure it was heard on stage. The Scots hit the stage at around 10:45 with a giant illuminated cross on the stage, and launched right into “Snakedriver” from one of their lesser known 90s releases before playing “Head On,” off their 3rd LP “Automatic.” Pixies are also known for performing an incredible cover of this song.
The Jesus and Mary Chain played for a little over an hour (although it felt longer considering the fact that they played 17 songs), filling their setlist with mostly songs from their first four albums. But the most talked about moment of the night was when they invited Bilinda Butcher of My Bloody Valentine to sing the female part of “Just Like Honey.” They played for a little longer afterward, eventually ending their setlist with “Never Understand,” another song from their excellent debut album.
The Jesus and Mary Chain certainly are not my favorite band of the 80s, or of all time, but they put on a fairly fun show and I got to hear some of my favorite songs by them.
British singer/songwriter/post-dubstep producing wunderkind is as talented as it gets. He’s got one of the best singing voices I’ve ever heard in my life, he’s very knowledgeable when it comes to electronic equipment, and he knows how to take his complicated songs and successfully turn them into live songs with a full band. Although his new album “Overgrown” hasn’t been reviewed as highly as his self titled debut was in 2011, I think that both albums are incredibly well written and well performed.
I made my way through the massive crowd (James said it was probably the biggest group of people he’d ever played for) just as he and his two bandmates started right into the track “Air & Lack Thereof.” I was unfamiliar with the song so I assumed it was on one of his earlier EPs. They then played “I Never Learnt to Share,” a track off his debut album that goes from multi-layered vocal loops and 5 part harmonies to what is as close to a bass drop as you’ll find in a James Blake song. Suddenly the entire crowd was a dance party. I did not at all expect James Blake’s show to be so full of dance worthy moments, but I couldn’t help myself. They then went into the sample-heavy track “CMYK,” and then a few songs from “Overgrown,” including “I Am Sold,” “Our Love Comes Back,” and the Brian Eno-produced “Digital Lion.” James then led his group into the confusingly off-beat “Unluck,” which went into his famous Feist cover “Limit To Your Love.”
James would later end his set with the triple threat of recent material that was “Overgrown,” “Voyeur,” and “Retrograde,” but by the time James was humming the opening to “Retrograde,” my dad had left to go catch Blur, and I’d left to go catch Swans. James Blake’s live show is one that should not be missed, whether you like Skrillex or Fiona Apple or anything in between.
I didn’t see Blur, but my dad did. He said they were alright. He didn’t stick around for the full show.
There are two types of people in this world: those who have seen Swans live, and those who haven’t. And after hearing their magnificent 2012 album “The Seer” and hearing all the amazing things people have to say about their live shows, I decided to join the minority.
Swans formed in the early 80s as a musical project that defied specific genre terms. They were part of the “No Wave” scene in New York, but they incorporated post-punk, industrial metal, and noise music into their sound, creating an ugly blend slow burning powerful anger that was only uglier and angrier when performed live. According to firsthand accounts, numerous early Swans shows resulted in bleeding ears, vomiting concertgoers, and police shutting down multiple concerts. Soon, bandleader Michael Gira added Louisiana artist Jarboe to the mix, which softened their sound significantly. Swans headed almost into alternative country and neo-folk territory, before amping up the creepiness for their mid-90s magnum opus “Soundtracks for the Blind.” They broke up after releasing that album, but reunited in 2010 (sans Jarboe) to release “My Father Will Guide Up A Rope To The Sky,” which generated widespread acclaim among critics, but it wasn’t until last year’s release of “The Seer” and reviews of Swans’ new live shows started pouring in that I truly fell in love with this band. And as soon as I saw them on this year’s Primavera lineup, I knew I’d have to see them live. I was only a little bit scared.
Although Swans were originally supposed to go on at around 8:00 PM, their set was moved to 1:30 AM. The goth looking crowd started to pile in at around that time, and the 6-piece band (including Michael Gira on vocals and guitar, a guitarist, a bassist, a drummer, a percussionist named Thor, and a lapsteel player) made their way on stage and let their instruments produce drone and feedback before heading into the loud, heavy territory of their catalogue.
For a band who’ve just come off the release of a new album less than a year ago, they did not play much material from that album. See, Swans have always been about the brand new. I imagine that most of the stuff that they’re playing on tour now is stuff that they’re thinking of putting on whatever album they put out next. They’re trying to craft long, ugly pieces of noisy slowcore and doing a very good job at it.
Out of the 7 songs they played, only two of them are actually on known albums by Swans. “Coward” is from one of their first albums “Holy Money,” and “The Seer” is the eponymous track from their most recent album. Otherwise, everything on the setlist was either a rarity or a work in progress.
Swans played loudly, let me get that out of the way. Very loudly. Like, if I saw them in an inside venue I’d want to wear earplugs. And Michael Gira only wanted it to get louder. As they slowly moved from song to song, Michael Gira directed pretty much everyone. He was the composer as well as the lyricist, lead singer, and guitar player. He even told camera men where to go. He would decide how long a note would go on for, how loud it would get, and when the next note would happen. It’s the best example of cult-like behavior that I’ve ever seen at a concert in my life. And I loved every second of it.
As the show got louder and more and more insane, I felt my jaw drop as my brain tried to comprehend everything. Explaining a Swans show is a difficult task, and there’s no way I could use words to explain what was so great about it, why I was so moved, or what exactly happened during it. I left right before they played the final song of the night “Toussant Louverture Song” so I could join my dad in the already sizable crowd that was gathered at the Primavera Stage to see The Knife.
You might not like The Knife. Whatever, it’s cool. We’re all entitled to our own opinion. But seriously though, The Knife are incredible.
After pretty much dropping off the face of the earth for a few years (they briefly came back in 2010 for a collaborative album with some similar artists), they’ve resurfaced for their first album in seven years, “Shaking the Habitual.” And with this 96-minute monster of a record (which is also the best album of the year so far) comes The Knife’s second ever tour, and for this tour they promised to do a show unlike any other live event in the history of concerts, and I can safely say that what I saw The Knife do has not yet been attempted by any other act, and probably couldn’t be pulled off by any other act either. The Knife are currently touring with at least 8 people on stage, with a good portion of them stepping up to the mic to sing. So if you have no idea what the members of The Knife (Karin Dreijer Andersson and her brother Olof Dreijer) look like, then you’re probably out of luck here.
One main criticism of The Knife’s 2006 tour in support of the album “Silent Shout” is that they didn’t really actually play the music live. Well I feel like all those critics would lose their minds with anger if they found out what The Knife were doing for this tour. The show would consist of some very well done lip syncing by members of the group that were not the actual lead singer, as well as the use of fake instruments that look like they were designed by Dr. Seuss during an acid trip. So, no, The Knife didn’t ACTUALLY perform any of the music live. And that may have angered a few in the crowd, but the majority were impressed by the insane difficulty of some of these dance moves, and one can only imagine how tough it was to choreograph.
The Knife “played” mostly songs from their new album, but did do songs such as “One Hit” and “Silent Shout” from their 3rd album “Silent Shout.” The music was a ton of fun to dance to, and the dances that the members were doing on stage were disturbing at times, and The Knife were able to pull off one of the most ambitious live shows ever attempted, without ever actually playing a real instrument or singing into a microphone.
Despite the slight backlash from a few crowd members, the reaction was almost unanimously positive, and The Knife received a standing ovation that lasted at least 5 minutes. The man who I believe was Olof took the mic and thanked us. Smiles adorned all 8 faces on the stage, and we left, feeling very satisfied with the day. Again the subway didn’t open till 5 in the morning, so we had to wait a bit. But overall, Day 2 was a success and a ton of fun for everyone.