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San Miguel Primavera Sound, Friday

The day Pulp returned and other supernatural facts

San Miguel Primavera Sound

By Mónica Franco, Sian Haestier and Cristian Rodríguez

Is Jarvis Cocker God? Possibly. The return to the stage of Pulp –without rehearsals, without clues, yet as magnetic as ever – resulted in crazy scenes and a fervour seldom seen at Primavera Sound. But then, Kode9 is also God. And here lies the problem: the concerts overlapped. One had to be God, too, if one wanted to witness both performances. Regardless - on such a big festival, there’s something for everyone – no one left the Fòrum unsatisfied. With 40,000 people attending per day, the only inconveniences were the queues –cash is accepted at the bars, the infamous credit card has been pulled – the programming was such that we could see the majority of the artists we wanted. And we did our very best to see as much as possible. Incidentally: if you want to see the Champions League final tonight, you can do so at the Llevant stage - the schedule there will be delayed for 45 minutes.

Sufjan Steven (Rockdelux Stage Auditorio)

Twelve musicians like the Twelve Apostles. And twelve songs, as immeasurable as the twelve signs of the Zodiac. “Seven Swans”, “Too Much”, “The Age Of Adz”, “Heirloom”, “I Walked”, “Sister”, “Get Real, Get Right”, “Vesuvius”, “I Want To Be Well”, “Futile Devices”, “Impossible Soul” and “Chicago”: the set list for one of the historical highlights of the festival. A climax that might never be reached again. Perhaps the most impressive audio-visual experience ever, at the Barcelona event. Sufjan’s performance was the paradigm that shifted everything (if you were in the audience, I bet you had trouble concentrating on the following concerts). Photos are not enough - nor are watching videos - even telling the story will never match it. The only way to experience his outstanding show – one that ended up like a futuristic Broadway show, where Priscilla, Queen of the Desert commands a cosmic jam - is in person. Adorable and talkative, Sufjan made us understand why - amongst many other things - “sound is a much deeper language than words”. He took time to explain who Royal Robertson was to him. He talked about the links between the solar and the nervous systems. And about all those people who think they’re creatures from another planet. And about how he wanted to invent a new language, how he nearly lost his mind over it. The truth is: nobody knows for sure what was going through his head, but it must have been something pretty powerful. After overcoming it, he delivered the concert of the century. Cristian Rodríguez

Julian Lynch (Pitchfork Stage)

One of the most elusive and alluring artists of the moment played the festival twice today - firstly on the Pitchfork Stage, later at the RayBan Unplugged Tent. The former provided Lynch with the opportunity to create large-scale, swooning soundscapes, almost in an Emeralds (read: prog) vein. Supported by the band accompanying him and - for the second day running - the best sound system at the Forum. It wasn't what we expected, but we liked it a lot. Sian Haestier

The Monochrome Set (Ray-Ban Stage)

When leaving the Sufjan gig, I realised the damage the Angel of Michigan had caused in me. I knew that I wouldn’t be seeing another gig as magical as his at the festival. With that in mind - and my judgement dazed and confused - I went to see The Monochrome Set. They are one of those bands from when England was really shaking – but for most, an unknown group in a common place. They had the task of warming up the Ray-Ban stage, as the Fòrum filled. They helped me to return to earth - little by little - with their playful post-punk. Bid, in a silk shirt, took on the falsettos with care. He played a tune from his other band, Scarlet’s Well, uncovering the fifties essence on “Cowboy Country”. At times, they reminded me of The Feelies. Serious - yet as eccentric as ever (the transvestite keyboardist got the most comments) - they played a rational and grey set. Perhaps too mat for the moment – they never left the path they set themselves. The middling crowd included a large representation of Barcelona based bands that owe them a lot - and some die-hard fans complaining about the sound. CR

Tennis (ATP Stage)

The afternoon sea breeze was blowing at the ATP stage, when Tennis were playing their “Cape Dory”. The idyllic story of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley’s wedding made us think the live show would be disappointing, that it wouldn’t be as good as on record. However, the timeless, dreamily sweet melodies of the Denver duo passed the test. Firstly, the sound was good and the execution meticulous. And then there was Alaina. She conveyed sweetness, innocence and warmth - combining her role on the keyboard with jumping up and down. Shaking her long hair and making use of her great voice (if you closed your eyes you’d think it was Olivia Newton John singing), Moore got us talking. Our debate swinging between admiration and jealousy - of her music, her presence, her marriage and her boat, moored in the harbour. The only negative point, was a lack of enthusiasm from part of the audience. A strong contingent seemed to have come to see Tennis to show off their boat shoes - their scarves with the anchors on them - and their sailor hats in a musical setting. Mónica Franco

M. Ward (San Miguel Stage)

He was one of my favourites of the day (despite the fact my head was still at the Auditori). At the San Miguel stage, Matt Ward played the perfect soundtrack for the Friday evening. The Folk Prince doesn’t come around here too often, possibly why he attracted so many people to the field. The audience greeted each other to the sound of his spectral lullabies - and couldn’t help but melt a little, when he played songs like “Sad, Sad Song”, “Never Had Nobody Like You”, “Chinese Translation” or Buddy Holly’s “Rave On”. The subtlety of his rootsy, dewy music was translated to a live setting with care - amplified by the classic band he brought with him (his musicians followed him closely, when he took on one of the hits of his super group Monsters of Folk). Friendly and happy to speak some words in Spanish, he ended on a high note playing pure, danceable rock ‘n’ roll. CR

Avi Buffalo ( Ray-Ban Stage Unplugged )

In a gorgeous, summery start to the second main day of Primavera Sound 2011, Avi Buffalo took to the stage - looking their (young) age and building tender melodies in the afternoon breeze at the Forum. Speaking pretty good Spanish (as many of the American bands seem to) in between songs to the appreciative international crowd, the characteristic guitar and vocal parts stood out. Recalling the cornerstone of Pavement - and arguably lesser known post-Nirvana bands such as Port O'Brien - Avi Buffalo gave a great festival performance. SH The National (Llevant Stage)

Like Deerhunter, The National came with their second masterpiece recently out. Together with Pulp, they were one of the most eagerly awaited bands among the crowd - so much so, that the huge and distant Llevant stage was completely rammed, half an hour before the show started. Very sober and very well prepared for the masses, their arachnid rock sounded virulent and superior. Matt Berninger grabbed the mic fiercely, the band was on fire. They weren’t better than their competitors a day earlier (the sublime The Walkmen), but they won over an audience that - like themselves - adore Joy Division and Interpol. As expected, they mainly played songs from “Boxer” ( “Slow Show”, “Start A War”, “Mistaken For Strangers”, “Squalor Victoria”) and “High Violet” ( “Anyone’s Ghost”, “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Afraid of Everyone”, among others) - delivering robust tracks that sound like all-time classics CR

Pere Ubu plays “The Annotated Modern Dance” (Ray-Ban Stage)

Tweaking the on-stage props (a music stand holding notes, a folding wooden chair) as though preparing a set piece for film or theatre, Pere Ubu stood with a hand on his hip - introducing each song in turn and explaining the circumstances around it. The fantastic 4 piece band (including his wife on bass) expertly handled the orchestrated Theremin and choice feedback. Enough to fill the RayBan stage on an epic scale, inciting whoops from a devoted (at times moshing) crowd. A gem of programming, Pere showcased blues and rock ‘n’ roll alongside the post-punk I anticipated. A great storyteller of the old school - philosophical, sometimes scathing, always amusing – Pere’s chat integrated with the songs. The vocal ramblings (that's a compliment) opened a portal for trademark Pere riffs and bass lines, exemplified on "The Real World". Based on this show, we can draw a line between him, David Thomas Broughton and Bill Callahan: melancholic and peculiarly male troubadours of the American psyche. SH

Half Japanese (ATP Stage)

The majority of people were still absorbed by the final part of The National’s gig, whilst others went to see Ariel Pink. We - however - went to see Half Japanese. Admittedly, the Half Japanese gig looked like a tough one: it’s easy to lose yourself in their huge arsenal of sprawling tracks, on dozens of home-made releases. I would have added some spicier stuff to the set they chose, songs like “T. For Texas” or their version of “La Bamba”. Here they uncovered their unpolished, grungy side (a side which influenced Kurt Cobain). That said, they were in undeniably good spirits: with Jad Fair cracking jokes between songs. CR

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti (Pitchfork Stage)

Hits like “ Round and Round” populated tonight’s show - the track in question treated to a swooning breakdown, followed by a bit of an audience sing (and clap) along. Ariel Pink’s set felt like the demarcation between the day and night events of day two (despite Ariel still wearing shades). In his Kurt Cobain lookalike get up, we enjoyed the higher fidelity values applied to some of the older material. Channelling Brian Eno via The Doors - with heavy echo on the vocals - the Haunted Graffiti ended on “ Getting’ High in the Morning”, the drug psychedelia building to a climax with Ariel’s screaming and grunting vocal parts. SH

Belle & Sebastian (San Miguel Stage)

Pulp’s performance will overshadow any other concert played yesterday at the Fórum. But one should note that before Jarvis Cocker and his band did their thing - Belle & Sebastian were taking a monumental (and very British) turn on the San Miguel stage. The rammed square was totally justified, given their career and the reputation of their live shows. No doubt: they have the quality, energy and presence to play huge venues. However – the sheer size of the venue didn’t sit comfortably with the warm, friendly and intoxicating spirit of the band’s records. Their spirit dissipated in in the vastness - they were only really visible to those in the first few rows. Aware of this handicap, the group compensated with a very generous set, covering everything from “Tigermilk” to “Write About Love”. They also splendidly and consciously sought out a link with the audience - encouraging them to give feedback, to sing along and even inviting them to dance on stage. Small gestures and efforts that - added to the unmistakable quality of the music and the overwhelming charisma of Stuart Murdoch - made our sardines-in-a-can wait worthwhile. MF

Low (ATP Stage)

Low created a private world for “family” as they put it (“and family is forever”), on the outcrop of the ATP stage. Tracks from “ The Great Destroyer” had an airing, but it was “ Sunflower” that received the warmest applause - bringing the cherished atmosphere over-ground. The subtle, seductive harmonies and chord progressions came together to create gorgeous results. You could tell the band were enjoying themselves, which only increased the glow-factor for the audience. SH

Twin Shadow (Pitchfork Stage)

I’d been told they were brilliant at SXSW, so I was looking forward to Twin Shadow’s set. In Barcelona for the first time ever (closing their European tour) - they were splendid. They didn’t look tired at all, simply well-oiled and rehearsed. George Lewis Jr. knows how to convey the sophistication of their debut album - working their live shows like a bad 80’s film. The crowd was largely guilty-faced boys with moustaches, who watched intently while he strutted across the stage - all black leather, fat synths and angry guitars. Aside one new song, their set more or less followed the track list of the album. “Tyrant Destroyed” and “When We Were Dancing” were first, whilst “Slow” - halfway through the gig - got the most applause. “Yellow Balloon” and “Castles In The Snow” closed the humid and late-night concert. CR

Deerhunter (Llevant Stage)

My problem with Deerhunter is my own egotism. I want them to myself - when I see them live, I can’t help but feeling they’re a bit distant. Don’t be alarmed: I think it’s simply down to long-standing addiction to their records. Regardless, I’m always dying to see them. I missed out last April, so the freshest memory I had of them was their appearance in 2009, presenting “ Microcastle”. This year, their performance held similar levels of fog and distortion - but they sounded more mysterious than usual. They got the rhythm from the outset – with competent renditions of “Desire Lines” and “Revival”. “Little Kids” dazzled with its blurry magic and “Nothing Ever Happened” (the most impressive part of the concert) was expanded like a rubber band - making it sound like Sonic Youth. The playful “Don’t Cry” and “Memory Boy” also featured, before the final tracks of “Helicopter” and “He Would Have Laughed” (which were less electronic live). CR

Explosions In The Sky (Ray-Ban Stage)

Their latest album - “ Take Care, Take Care, Take Care”- shows that Explosions In The Sky’s loyalty to their particular vision of instrumental post-rock, is impenetrable. In spite of some evolution in their sound, the Texans continue to construct extremely long, entrancing tracks that fluctuate in intensity - trusting the virtues of their drummer to invigorate the result. Yesterday was no different. Concentration mixed with emotion throughout the set, the solemn with the epic - stringing pieces together and directing the collective synergy through various levels of intensity. The spectators were rarely woken from their trance. Last night, the acoustics of the Ray-Ban stage worked with them - returning the first blow of distortion from the terraces, swathing the trembling audience in noise. However – the technical virtues and obvious dedication from the band did not equate to a miracle. The concert was musically excellent, without achieving emotional ecstasy. Perhaps the latter is too much to ask for, from the segmented festival audience. MF

Ford & Lopatin (formerly Games) (Pitchfork Stage)

The Pitchfork stage hosted much of the dance culture overspill, while indie ruled for a few hours between Belle & Sebastian and Pulp. Here to provide relief were Ford & Lopitan (Joel Ford and Daniel Lopitan) - with their spacey, retro-futurist Glitch-ridden 23rd century pop outfit - formerly named Games. Full of nostalgic analogue synths, their set could have been subtitled, “When will someone invent hover boards?” The beauty of this retro-aesthetic, of course, is that it sounds great. SH

Pulp (San Miguel Stage)

I remembered this afternoon that my first ever gig was Pulp at the Brighton Centre, probably in about 1997. Fitting then, that the reformed Pulp should start their set with “Do You Remember The First Time”, almost a decade since they last played Primavera Sound in 1992. Jarvis seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself, brokering a marriage proposal (between a couple in the first row) between songs and attempting some phrases in Catalan. It was always going to be a hits set – from “Babies”, and “Sorted For Es and Whizz” to “Common People” ending the main set. The show was underpinned by a sense of awareness of time, feeding into the sullied melancholy and sharp narrative observations that characterize Pulp lyrics. However, these days it is touched by a sense of a changed landscape – one where the old order is over, the cards are on the table, the frauds are discovered and where “This Is Hardcore” becomes a tale of dreams realized. SH

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