Primavera Club, Barcelona, Friday 25th November 2011

A gloriously refreshing dip in an indie-pop ocean.

Day two of DIY’s Primavera odyssey (actually day three, but hey, who’s counting?) promised to be a belter, if somewhat hectic. For reason’s best known to themselves, the festival scheduled the majority of the headline acts – the “stars” if you will – on Friday night, which involved several frantic taxi rides across town, a lot of coffee, and a not insignificant amount of dancing. Of course, being the professionals that we are, we just dived right in – and what a gloriously refreshing dip in an indie-pop ocean it turned out to be.

First up was St. Vincent. Clearly a fan of the maxim “rip it up and start again”, the unorthodox compositions and style of Annie Clark were bewildering and stunning in equal measure. By turns demure and sophisticated, and rocking an awesome pair of killer heels, she had everyone enraptured through an hour of sonic perfection. Drawing heavily on recent album ‘Strange Mercy’ gave her ample opportunity to showcase her vocal skills and fretwork, with the dark fuzz of ‘Cheerleader’ and ‘Year Of The Tiger’ sounding particularly good. She even gave a cover of The Pop Group – last night’s Black Sheep – a sheen of respectability. Best of all was a sultry, sexy ‘Surgeon’, leaving us totally smitten with our new indie crush.

Following that was never gonna be easy, but thankfully Girls were more than up to the task. Rocking a checked flannel shirt and straggly blonde locks, frontman Christopher Owens looked increasingly like he’s channelling the spirit of Kurt Cobain, and he seemed genuinely touched by the rapturous applause that greeted every track. Eschewing acoustic guitars, it was a rollicking set that featured several soaring solos from John Anderson and only slipped into introspection on the tender ‘My Ma’ and a beautifully sweet, slowed down ‘Ghost Mouth’. In an era of electronic frippery, it was refreshing to see proof that guitar, drums, and bass can still be relevant and interesting.

After a crazy cab ride, and a mad dash down the front, we found further evidence of this in Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Using an array of pedals and switches, Ruban Nielson wrestled an impressive variety of sounds and tones from his guitar. The vocals may have been a bit weak and lost in the mix, but what he lacked in the pipe department, he more than made up for with inventiveness. Wielding it at times like a rifle, at others cradling it close to his ear, he was a full of energy and the very definition of a bundle of nerves. It wasn’t much to look at, but the scruffy psych-pop-funk of their self-titled debut sounded great, and was the perfect soundtrack as late evening turned into early morning.

No night here is complete without some kind of nod to the past, and tonight saw Stephen Malkmus bringing up the rear. In place of Pavement we had “The Jicks”, a rag-tag bunch of friends and session musicians who simply lend support to the Stephen Malkmus Solo Career™. Defiantly refusing to play any of the songs we all wanted to hear, they instead rolled through the more memorably moments from their own back catalogue which, while pleasant enough, left many frustrated, us included. Throw us a bone man! Perhaps the Karmic Gods were watching, as within the space of two minutes, he managed to not only knock over his own amp stack – cue some madcap running repairs – but also break his mic stand, forcing him to his knees to finish the song. At least his bandmates saw the funny side, with both Mike Clark and Joanna Bolme joining him at floor level in a rare moment of humour. The last few songs passed off without incident and left us, and them, to wander off in search of better entertainment. Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.

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