By Álvaro García Montoliu
The first day of the Festival Internacional de Benicàssim always serves, in a way, as an initial contact. That used to be the case, when the first day was called FIB Start, and it still is now, when it’s considered “just” another day. It’s a good time to position yourself, to check out the mood, to find out if the Spanish are still in the minority at the event (which yes, they are, once again), to see what improvements have been made on the festival site (the Maravillas Stage, for example, has taken up some part of the VIP zone, causing the mythical VIP pool disappear) and other things.
But all that is maximised on the Thursday of FIB 2011, for two fundamental reasons: first, because it clearly is the weakest day, musically speaking – the best stuff starts today and goes on until Sunday. There wasn’t really a headliner for the day (although, to yours truly, Mike Skinner is a god) and the cancellation of Violens was a blow. But also because, until yesterday, the official time schedule was unknown, it was a bit of a gamble for the audiences. Before consulting the schedules they crossed their fingers, but the gods of luck didn’t respond the way most of them would have liked. The two minor divas of the day, Anna Calvi and Russian Red, were playing almost at the same time, and even though the latter plays in Spain all the time, many people wanted to hear what the tracks form her surprising album “Fuerteventura” sound like live. For our electronic needs, Crystal Fighters were the best option, as the big names (Chase & Status and Pendulum) were mediocre at best. It was impossible to see the Londoners if you wanted to get a good spot to see The Streets.
However, you can’t really complain at six in the afternoon in Benicàssim when you’re in such an indie amusement park. If you look hard enough you can find a positive side to the most clashing timetables, reacting quickly to realise that you can see the attractive and bizarre performance of Congotronics vs Rockers and the controversial gig by Julieta Venegas, who, like it or not, is one of those artists who, if you don’t see them here and now, you probably won’t see live ever again.
The afternoon couldn’t start any better. Anna Calvi appeared on the scene with her usual look: her long blonde hair in a bun, red blouse, fire-red lips and huge heels. She started just like on her album, with “Rider To The Sea”, with that guitar solo that sends chills down your spine. It was a pity she didn’t complete that devastating intro with “No More Words”. She leaned on her powerful voice, reminiscent of Siouxie, and the notes of her defiant guitar. On stage she displayed the PJ Harvey-like femme fatale attitude that captured us on her debut album. Calvi played most of that album, plus two great covers, Elvis Presley’s “Surrender” and Edith Piaf’s “Jezebel”, at the end of the gig, which is when she finally spoke to the public, shyly. She ended her short set with a long version of “Love Won’t Be Leaving” where, once again, the guitar riffs were boss. You have to believe in her.
The 40 minutes of Anna Calvi’s performance made it possible to see almost all of Russian Red’s gig, pretty as always. Her name in neon light, and a band described by the songstress as “a bunch of fantastic guys in suits”. The tracks from “Fuerteventura” formed the better part of the concert. She played her best songs early, “Everyday, Everynight” and “I Hate You But I Love You”. “The Sun, The Trees” even got a round of applause from the foreign part of the crowd who were only in the front rows waiting for the British marathon at the Maravillas Stage to start. She was aware of this, which is why she introduced herself in English. They were shouting her name when she played her biggest hit, “Cigarettes”. It wasn’t the only song from her first album, she also played “They Don’t Believe”, among others.
The controversial booking of Julieta Venegas made her concert on the Fiberfib.com Stage a must-see, if only to see the crowd’s reactions. At the start of the gig, the scene was somewhat depressing, but as the people started coming in after the Russian Red set, she got a reasonable crowd. It didn’t take her long to win the audience with her personality - witty, friendly and thankful, as few stars are. Five minutes were enough for her to shut everybody up. With “Limón Y Sal” she already had everyone at her feet, and a Mexican flag appeared in the audience. With hits like “Me Voy”, “Original” and “Andar Conmigo” she managed to get people chanting her name like Messi’s after scoring three goals against Real Madrid at the Camp Nou. After fifteen minutes she got out her inseparable accordion, and her sweet music had the crowd enchanted. And hey, if we enjoy bands like Beirut, why not the Aztec artist? Complete conversion.
If Julieta Venegas’ concert wasn’t enough, then next up was Congotronics vs Rockers to prove that FIB has opened up to the so-called “world music”. The performance of the colossal collective was a celebration of contemporary and traditional sounds, a party in the most literal meaning of the word, with dozens of artists on stage playing instruments that you normally wouldn’t see at a festival like this. It was a stunning display of percussion, which, on the other hand, was to be expected. Konono Nº 1, Kasai All Stars, Wildbeasts & Peacedrums, Juana Molina and Deerhoof divided the roles and they did it with mastery. The crowd, enchanted by the tribal sounds, danced like they were trying to invoke the God of Rain.
In the meantime, the Maravillas Stage had the first full house of FIB 2011 with Plan B. Before the start came on stage, a beatboxer got the crowd warmed up with a kind of intro-medley featuring Duck Sauce’s “Barbra Streisand” and “I Like To Move It” by Reel 2 Real, among many others. From then on, the unstoppable soul-pop hits from the album “The Defamation Of Strickland Banks”, such as “Writing’s On The Wall” and “Welcome To Hell” started. Ben Drew didn’t play anything from “Who Needs Actions When You Got Words”, as usual during his present tour, but nobody seemed to mind, and he did play covers of Kanye West’s “Runaway” and Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose”.
From the brilliant student, to the master. Mike Skinner, who came to Benicàssim to say goodbye to his adventures with The Streets. He couldn’t have done it a better way, with a third of the setlist based on “Original Pirate Material” and the best tracks from his latest and undervalued work, “Computers And Blues”. During the second track, “Don’t Mug Yourself”, he was already on the speakerboxes, agitating the crowd, and he had is shirt off before getting to a jamming version of “Let’s Push Things Forward”. Fun and naughty was his alphabet songs, “ABC”. The first whoop of collective emotion came with “The Escapist” and the funk of “Weak Become Heroes” turned the Maravillas Stage into a huge dancefloor. But it was nothing compared to the unbeatable end with “Fit But You Know It” and “Going Through Hell”. Before that came though, MC Skinner brought everyone back down with “Blinded By The Lights”, in which he sang a few lines from Katy B’s “Katy On A Misson” (the redheaded singer does the same thing the other way around on her tour, curiously enough). See you soon, geezer.. PlayGround is a media partner of FIB
The first day of the festival on the eastern Spanish coast was full of surprises. Anna Calvi was one of the great revelations, Julieta Venegas only needed five minutes to shut everybody up, Congotronics vs Rockers were devastating with their colossal stage set-up, and The Streets went out in very fine style.
Photo by Noelia Rodríguez.
FIB 2011. A guide to the best of the fest.