Ever heard of Black Crystal Wolf Kids? Self-styled as ‘the world’s first indie-rock tribute band’, their ironic moniker is a none-too-subtle dig at alternative music’s tendency to cycle through particular themes, leading to clusters of bands who all sound – name wise – vaguely similar. Hot on the heels of the stoner, surf n’ scuzz pop revival spearheaded by Wavves and Best Coast, some bands have gone right to the source: the beach. Perusing Primavera’s line up reveals not only Beaches House and Fossils, but Catalonia’s own, intriguingly named Beach Beach.
Dirty Beaches, aka Alex Zhang Hungtai, doesn’t sound like any of those bands. In fact, he doesn’t sound like anyone, crooning over crackling 50s rock n’ roll samples before drenching everything in fuzz and reverb. The tension and claustrophobia at the heart of last year’s ‘Badlands’ is lost in the blazing sunshine, and he’s not helped by vocals buried deep in the mix, swamped by the backing track and effects generated by his vast array of pedals. He’s at his most mesmerising yelping like a renegade Elvis but, save for an arresting ‘Lord Knows Best’, seems as weary and listless as the heavy summer air.
It’s well known that Girls’ Christopher Owens is a pretty big Barcelona aficionado; not just the city but the culture, the people, and yes, the football team. Playing a smaller, Primavera Club date last November, Owens assured us that, despite on-going negotiations, ‘We’re 99% sure we’ll be back in May!’. Back they are, and he looks genuinely humbled by one of the festivals warmest receptions. True, their setlist hasn’t changed much in the intervening 6 months, but with crowd pleasers like ‘Honey Bunny’, ‘Alex’ and ‘Lust For Life’, why should it? Delivered with a crisper tempo, the older material hasn’t lost any of its freshness and sounds tighter, and more focused, after so many concerts. Judging by the joyous reception, I don’t doubt they’ll be even higher up the bill come 2013.
As a format, the double album is pretty much redundant. Widely ridiculed for its associations with prog rock, cocaine psychosis, and grand, over-blown concepts, it’s not really suited to our 30-second soundbite, digital me-me-me age. M83’s Anthony Gonzalez clearly wasn’t deterred, dropping his 22-track magnum opus ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’ after promising something ‘very, very, very epic’. Painted in broad, vivid Technicolor, part of the attraction of his post-midnight slot is wondering how four people could possible replicate the widescreen experience of its most expansive moments. The answer? With aplomb. ‘Intro’ may not be the same without Zola Jesus’ distinctive bellow, but elsewhere Gonzalez skilfully juggles a number of elements: the echo and towering guitars of ‘Year One, One UFO’, the sky-high synths of ‘Steve McQueen’, and the familiar, peak-and-trough buzz of ‘Midnight City’. Short at only 12 songs – including an ambitious cover of Daft Punk’s ‘Fall’ – it’s a shame he never slows the rollercoaster for a bit of introspection, a ‘Wait’ or a ‘Splendour’ to act as counterpoint to non-stop sugar-rush pop, but that’s a minor quibble. Assured and confident, it’s a far cry from his days picking onstage fights with security.
Luke Jenner is a contented man. We’re all familiar with the tales of domestic bliss drip fed to the press for ‘In The Grace of Your Love’, but you’d never have expected him to take on the physical characteristics of such a role. Yet here he is, waving goofily like an oddball dad as he wanders on stage to the opening strains of ‘Grace’. The Rapture’s neat trick was always compelling the wallflowers to abandon the fringes, and while that’s never like to be an issue at 2.15am, steamrollering through ten tracks handpicked as party anthems gives plenty of hands-in-the-air, bags-on-the-floor moments. Live, you realise just how impressive – and essential – drummer Vito Roccoforte is to their pounding, disco indie, and several times Jenner even has the good sense to retreat to the side as the rhythm section takes over, driving the tracks ever onwards. It’s strange watching the man who almost single-handily defined a sound and genre ask the gathered to holler ‘hello’ to his watching two-year old son, but having outlived their successors and superiors, we should give thanks they’re still around. I guess growing old gracefully isn’t such a terrible fate after all.
Of course, in the midst of all that, we had one Robert Smith and co. headlining to much fanfare and adulation and, well, what can I say? Epic doesn’t really do a three-hour, thirty-six song set justice. Some of the rarities – ‘The Caterpillar’, ‘Dressing Up’, ‘Just One Kiss’ – were strictly for the super-fans, but it was refreshing to see a band happy to celebrate their legacy and what they mean to oh-so-many people. Few have had such a sustained impact or excellence as The Cure, and they wear it well. Fittingly for such a festival, it’s also a reminder that, shorn of the buzz and the hype, the cool shoes and the Oliver Peoples glasses, the only thing that really matters is the music, reaching out to hearts and souls and minds, articulating hopes and dreams, fears and emotions. It’s a lesson many would do well to heed, and one that very few do.