The second day of the 2011 edition of Barcelona Primavera Club offers on one plate the band of the year – at least, if you rely on Pitchfork ratings -, the musical hero of the 90s and one of the most interesting singer songwriters around. But, as it usually happens on these occasions, it’s the outsiders you better watch out, as this festival is notorious for turning some unexpected choices into proper stars. Just ask anyone who spotted Connan Mockasin or Kurt Vile at Primavera Sound last may, and you’ll hear tales of such enthusiasm that you may forget that names such as Pulp or P.I.L. were also performing.
Gardens & Villa couldn’t care less about playing the intimate Merula Café and pulled a show worth of the headlining slot on any bigger stage. Virtually unknown at the beginning of 2011, the Santa Barbara quintet have achieved the enviable task of releasing a debut that as well as soundtracking the summer (at least, at LDWT headquarters) still sounds fresh months later. Possibly due to endlessly touring the record for the best part of the year, songs like Spacetime and Star Fire Power have gained a danceable edge doubling the weirdness of their synth arrangements and the drive of their bass lines. The fact that they make a cover of Little Dragon’s Runabout their own speaks volumes about their blissed-out creativity.
Not even the fastest taxi driver in town, enjoying a personal Formula One race to bring the humble periodista to the Casino L’Alianca del Poblenou, can help us not missing St.Vincent. But such are the dramatic choices Primavera Club present the passionate punters, so we will get away with borrowing our fellow Derek Robertson’s description of Annie Clark’s show as “demure and sophisticated”. Sounds like we should have asked our taxi driver to speed up even more. If the venue, a decadent 1920s threatre, suits St.Vincent’s baroque pop perfectly, it is instead an odd location for Girls, although, on second thought, the immaculate classicism of “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” – their first truly great record – is more Roy Orbison than Nirvana. Chris Owens is amazed by the (sitting) crowd’s rapturous response but the inter-song banter is kept to a minimum (“we’ll see you again next summer” and immediately coily retreating “I mean…it’s not official yet”). Vomit becomes a psychedelic masterpiece and the gig finds another gear in the more uptempo numbers like Honey Bunny and Die. We reach Lust For Life too soon and the impression is that it all has come to an end when things were starting to happen. A good show which could have been great.
Another mad ride through town and it’s time for New Zealand via Portland’s Unknown Mortal Orchestra. A sprawling debut under their belt, mixing psych-pop sensibilities and punk impetus, on stage they sound both tighter and more shambolic. In Ruban Nielsen they have a charismatic pied piper leader, branding his guitar like a firing machine gun, contorting himself in the feedback and leading us through joyful renditions of Ffunny Ffriends and How Can U Luv Me. Many are dancing around us and it seems just right.
“We’re The Jicks, and I’m Steve”. Oh dear. I think we better start again. No more than a year ago, on the immense stage of Parc del Forum, he was Stephen from Pavement, but tonight there’s no place for nostalgia. Still looking the smart college lecturer he probably is in a parallel universe, Stephen Malkmus (and The Jicks) grinningly rambles through tracks from his five solo albums, from the jerky pop Senator and Tigers to (frankly too) long jams like “Pig Lib”‘s 1% Of One. He fights with the amps behind him – an unexpectedly amusing case of stage trashing, but also a perfect representation of his career -, wrestles with the mike stand eventually singing on his knees, joined by bassist Joanna Bolme and guitarist Mike Clark, and gives us an hour of pleasant but too instantly forgettable indie rock. Maybe he should do a Morrissey, remember he also wrote a bunch of songs before 2000 and play Cut Your Hair every now and then. Now, that would be fun.
St.Vincent, Girls, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks photos are courtesy of Derek Robertson.