No, it's not exactly the same, but who wouldn't like Peter Solowka back in the Wedding Present, Hugh Cornwell in The Stranglers, Jah Wobble in PiL? Sometimes you just have to get over it.
Friday starts - sometime around 2pm - at the wonderful La Mar Blava café: Official Breakfast Provider for the Incendiary Pissing About On The Costa Brava Division since 2008. You can buy Spanish omelette butties in approximately 75,000 cafés in this town, but why would you want anyone else's?
The Auditori is open before the outdoor stages today, for a special performance of NICK GARRIE PLAYS THE NIGHTMARE OF J.B. STANISLAS. No, me neither. As Garrie explains, the album was made in 1969 but never released (not strictly true: research reveals that French label DiscAZ managed to get a few copies out before the label's owner topped himself) and he's never played the songs live like this (as intended, with a small chamber group) before. This is obscure even by Primavera standards. There's probably a book in it. These days it's being touted as the last great lost album of the 60s and Garrie compared to Nick Drake or even Brian Wilson and Daniel Johnston. Now let's not get carried away; it's actually a bit MOR at times and certainly doesn't have a great deal of the tortured artist stuff that infuses the aforementioned's songs - but if you like that kind of hazy folky late-60s singer-songwriter pop (it's no surprise at all to read that members of professional oldie-rehabilitators Teenage Fanclub are fans) then it's probably as good as anyone else's. And even in these reunion-heavy days it can be arresting to see an old man singing young man's songs, especially when they're as full of the spirit of youth as these: sweetly naïve addresses to a girl in the library or a local streetwalker. Nice stuff, even if you get the idea the story as opposed to the music itself might be the reason he's here right now.
Into the main festival site, and what's that going on over there? There's a queue where we've never seen one before. It is not immediately apparent why, and then we realise, as we clock the black attire: the main stage isn't open yet and these people are Cure fans. The Cure are on at ten past ten. It's just before five and about half a million degrees with not a cloud in the sky. They are queuing to bag front spots. They are possibly going to die, however much Factor 100 goth sunblock they apply. I like this, in a way, as it makes some of the mental things I've done to catch favourite bands look, well, not quite as mental as that anyway. We head straight for Pitchfork's shade and the fairly run-of-the-mill if pleasant Lemonheadsy sounds of Majorca’s BEACH BEACH. Round the corner on Vice PICORE, from Zaragoza, are reviving the dirtier, harder side of 1990s US indie rock with abrasive riffs and hard split beats. At this time you can wander freely between the two in seconds; we stay at Vice for FASENUOVA on the grounds that their programme picture shows two slightly mad looking middle-aged men with a load of synths, and their entry claims their music "captures the atmosphere of the mining and industrial traditions". This basically means they sound like Suicide, reverb vocals and all. That's a great tunic / dress / thing on the singer, though; he leaps around like he's a screw loose while the other one frowns at a Korg. You can't really go wrong with this kind of thing. Similarly the hairy, upbeat Dinosaur Jnr-isms of MILK MUSIC.
Fasenuova (and tunic)
Bloke wearing "I listen to bands that don't even exist yet" t-shirt. Bingo? Dunno. I wore that one LAST year. No, really...
Enough of young bands that sound like bands I used to like when I was young - time to go and see one that we really hope will: the 2012 version of THE CHAMELEONS. Billed as the rather clunky ChameleonsVox most of the time, but not here. Those of you not utterly sick to the back teeth of the old "how many original members makes a band" debate may pause here and indulge themselves for a while with it. My take on it is thus: most fans of most 80s (and 70s, and even some 90s) bands accept that it's not the exact same line-up that made That Record. Look at the other old bands on this bill: didn't most of Mayhem die during their well-documented church-burning / murder / suicide themed early days? Is that rumour actually true that this Napalm Death contains precisely no founders? Do we care? Chameleons fans do, though, many pledging unswerving and uncritical allegiance to continuing singer Mark Burgess or departed guitarist Dave Fielding and spending what's been the best part of a decade now arguing about it on the internet. I had a front row (or possibly frontline) view when they split in 2003 and it wasn't pretty, but hell, it was nine fucking years ago. Water, bridges, etc. It's all about the music.
And you know what? It sounds fine. I know this because the band start with two of what have always been in my opinion their weaker tracks (A Person Isn't Safe and Paper Tigers) and a younger mate, well into Interpol but never exposed to the originators, thinks they're great. There's a gloriously surreal moment when I find myself singing As High As You Can Go's "...and I don't care who you are..." refrain back at them - it's not true, but this is the real world. No, it's not exactly the same, but who wouldn't like Peter Solowka back in the Wedding Present, Hugh Cornwell in The Stranglers, Jah Wobble in PiL? Sometimes you just have to get over it.
An early highlight is In Answer into I'll Remember, just as it should be - I've always loved it when bands segue an upbeat tune into a thoughtful instumental, British Sea Power's live Waving Flags- Great Skua being another one. Low points are Burgess unleashing his inner Bono (mullet, shades, poncing about a bit) though he keeps it in check most of the time, and the traditional but still tedious spot of McCulloching* in the middle of Soul in Isolation. But when Second Skin kicks off a singing, jumping moshpit and the band are almost worshipped by the crowd (some of whom wouldn't have been old enough to be going to gigs in 2002, never mind 1986) it would take more bitterness than I possess not to go along with it. Only towards the end when I look back and see the amphitheatre filled front to back, side to side and all up the terraces is there a genuine sadness, that this should have been all of them, the crowd they always deserved, if only they'd hung on a few more years...
* McCulloching (verb, participative): the act, by the lead singer of a popular beat combo, of inserting a lengthy, unnecessary and immensely irritating "medley" into the middle of what was a perfectly good song, often to the frustration of fans and bandmates alike; said medley may involve bits of their own other songs, bits of other people's or full ad-libs, often all of the above; the song then resumes where it left off when presumably the rest of the band manage to wrestle back some control, which can be anything from two to fifteen minutes. (ARRRGH - ed)
We go and chill out on the terrace at ATP to I BREAK HORSES. Aside from the fact that their programme entry "they met on a forum for hypochondriacs" is one of the best sentences ever, the band - now with a live drummer - make a beautiful warm electronica-tinged shoegazey sound you can lose yourself in - and we do, for a good half hour or so. Maria Lindén's vocals are astonishing towards the end, and then the sound spirals into a big psych-out and they leave one by one until there's just beautiful noise. I go for a Wilco butty. Companion goes for Spiritualized burger. Then it's over to Vice for LITURGY - relative newcomers to the black(ish) metal scene fronted by the amazingly named Hunter Hunt-Hendrix - who proceed to play the same chord for about 10 minutes, and it's brilliant. Then they do something that starts like an 80s computer game loading before growing into a full-on doomstorm. Strobe and smoke do a passable impression of wartime, and there is utterly unnerving chanting for a good five minutes. We move closer. It's a glorious, ungodly onslaught. Howls, relentless drums, pulsating processed guitars; it feels primal and contemporary at once. And yeah, I know, they're from Brooklyn not Norway, real black metal fans probably hate them (which does mean they're probably quite hard, I mean you wouldn't want to piss that lot off too much unless you could handle it) but you know, some of us quite like the idea of having the sonic thrills without the silly face paint and cult-ish thing. Talking of silly face paint... we could be watching The Cure, you say? Why the hell would we want to be doing that? Two very different contenders for set of the day and indeed weekend.
In the background we can hear The Cure doing Dreams Never End - um, shit, no, they called it In Between Days didn't they - and Just Like Heaven; I did like the latter, though I preferred the Dinosaur Jnr version. I remain blissfully unexposed to The Love Cats so nobody dies. We are waiting to see NAPALM DEATH. This is not my choice either, but it beats the possibility of the above, so we'll see... Obviously, being of a certain age, I remember them doing short sharp blasts on John Peel; these days some of the songs are actually quite long, and not just tuneless thrash. I guess with an older and more musically expeienced mind I can see they were a natural progression from Crass. "PRACTICE.... WHAT YOU FUCKIN' PREEEEACHHH!" screams a heavy Brummie accent.Yes! They do a couple of short ones. Oh, and for the record: yes it is true they have no original members, but drummer Mick Harris has put in 27 years' service and played on all their records, with a couple more of them there since the 80s.
We swing by Dirty Three en route to M83. They're dull. Dirty Three, that is. M83 surprise me. They've always been one of those bands I've never quite been able to get into, despite on paper having all the right component parts, doing tours and mutual remixes with Maps; spawning Team Ghost, the list goes on. Tonight I get it. Earlier in the week we passed through Anthony Gonzalez's Antibes hometown on the train and it seemed, oddly, to fill in some context; tonight this is electrogaze gone stadium sized, with the towers of the Diagonal business district Metropolis-like down the side of the arena. Fuck it, I'm dancing. Have had a few, mind. There are still some dull bits, but when it works - as in a kaleidoscopic We Own The Sky - it's fantastic. That's Primavera 2012 - not the wall to wall legend-fest of '11, but more like ATP, more as it should be. You go, you see whatever, and you find yourself enjoying it. Like MAIN, for instance. A little break at the ATP stage and we're enveloped in stunning shifting drones; we had absolutely no idea that Robert (Loop) Hampson's pioneering ambient project had been reactivated (the current incarnation also involving German experimental composer Stephan Mathieu). This is pure trance: there are no outwardly obvious beats or melody but they are there, deep inside, if you tune in.
Back at the Mini stage beach rave for DEATH IN VEGAS it's like we never left the gig and Main was a dream. It's been a long, long time since we saw them live last and only mainman Richard Fearless remains from those days, along with a some radical reshapings of familiar sounds: Dirge is a spaced out groove and Aisha's reworked as industrial-edged dark technopop as another astonishing day draws to a hazy close.