Live Review

Bilbao BBK 2013: Day One

DIY head out to the Basque Country to sample Kalimotxo, and the best music on offer at Bilbao BBK.

It’s early evening and we’re traversing a perilous road, with an average angle of 45 degrees, whilst trying to squeeze past a tour bus coming the other way. We’re currently recreating Jeremy Clarkson effing and blinding at a cliff top road with hairpin corners on Top Gear, and clinging to the handle of the seat in front for dear life. It’s terrifying.

Our harrowing ordeal is all worthwhile, though, because Bilbao BBK is in a breathtaking location. Up a mountain overlooking the Basque country city, we soon have a refreshing gin and tonic in hand, and TOY provide the perfect accompaniment as we catch the end of their psychedelic riffery drifting over the festival ground. Alt-J are up next, tainted at first by a massive soundclash between the main stage and the neighboring Heineken Stage blasting out music from the speakers. It’s a similar issue to the one that plighted Radiohead’s crossover with Bloc Party last year, but once the distracting backdrop subsides, Alt-J are glorious. Despite their early set time, there’s a sizeable crowd who have braved the treacherous mountain ride up from Bilbao already , and ‘Matilda’ is particularly magical, sparkling tenderly against the unreal setting.

Billy Talent aren’t quite our cup of tea, so we opt for Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros instead at the Live! Stage, tucked away in a woodland filled with green lights. Emerging out to the stage area, we’ve walked into a bustling expanse of flailing limbs and some truly admirable dancing from the Spanish crowd. The whole place whistles along to ‘Home’, jumping up and down with such gusto that after the band endearingly make a right cobblers of trying to tell a story in Spanish, they play it a second time. The second time, the audience sing the chorus perfectly, all alone, and by ’40 Day Dream’ the mood is euphoric. They put everything into their live show, with frontman Alex Ebert conducting his 11-piece band, mainly by throwing countless shapes of vague direction. More or less everyone has a go on vocals, too, and it’s a lighthearted, brassy treat.

All that happiness leaves us vying for an authentic Basque bevy, and a reputable source recommends Kalimotxo – the poor man’s Cuba Libre, apparently. It’s a mixture of red wine and coca-cola, and it’s a far superior alternative to Heineken, one of the big sponsors. Charles Bradley, an ex-James Brown impersonator, is up next on the Live! Stage – quickly becoming the go-to location. He delivers an extraordinary set exhibiting snake-hips and an array of pelvic thrusts that totally defy what you’d expect from a man in his mid 60’s. His vocals are spine-tingling good too, evocative of both Brown and Otis Redding. ‘How Long’ is a sultry, pounding delight, and already a hot contender for song of the festival. Charles Bradley is funkiest, smoothest, most wonderfully entertaining thing we could ask for on Thursday night.

Encouraged by the repeated insistence that Depeche Mode are a cult must-see, we’re enticed along to a swelling crowd in front of the main Bilbao Stage. Decked out in leather waistcoats and red lighting, they disappointingly fall rather flat. Perhaps its because Depeche Mode are before our time, but we just can’t get excited about it at all, and the whole set seems to plateau with number after dreary number accompanied by graphics that make no sense. With a backdrop of dogs bounding across the big screens, ‘Precious’ stutters to a slow, uncomfortable halt of spluttering drum machines, amid technical difficulties. We only really wake up again during ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ – mainly because its Venga Boys-esque melody is the only hint of change from the dirge. We have had quite enough of Depeche Mode ourselves, and weave out of the crowd in search of something else. Luckily Biffy Clyro shake us back to life with ‘That Golden Rule’ and the aptly titled closing song ‘Mountains’ on the nearly Heineken Stage. “I wish we could play all fucking night,” says Simon Neil before the final song, “because this has been the best night of our summer.” The fun for Thursday night ends with Two Door Cinema Club. Enjoying a peak in form this summer, the boys from Bangor close Day One in true polished style. The crowd more or less hijack the chorus of ‘Something Good Can Work’ as their own, and they’re a joy to watch.

Tags: alt-J, Features

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