Hungover, we made our way to the dropoff point. My rat bastard editor still hadn’t come through on the care package, but as the Policia slowly drove by with seemingly steely eyes, it didn’t seem to matter as much, and cooler heads prevailed. I’d sort of forgotten today’s code phrase anyway. Was it “The air is much colder in February” or “Certainly I’d prefer the fudge”? Who can remember shit like that?
Undaunted, we made our way by Metro to the festival grounds. By this point, we felt on solid ground with the local transportation, and had progressed from walking incalculable distances to descending underground and hopping trains. No small feat, this, as there’s currently a strike amongst transportation workers in Spain. The Man, it seems, is ever omnipresent.
Upon arrival at the festival grounds, we discovered that the early parts of the festival, involving DJs and various other acts, were actually at a remote site. Overcoming a small depression, we discovered that there was a bar nearby, and that we could relocate and imbibe.
Hours passed. Despite the laughter and camaraderie, I assure you it was terrible. But goddam if I don’t love Heineken.
Signs of life across the way, and we were once more off and into the fray of the festival.
The first full day, according to the schedule, was fairly small in scale, with all the acts contained to one stage, the aptly named Primavera stage. It began humbly, with an act called Doble Pletina. Very few in America will have heard of Doble Pletina — until today, myself included. They don’t sing in English, for one. But I was thoroughly charmed by them and their driving pop songs, and a small crowd of people cheered them on as they played a set of tunes incorporating no less than three keyboard players, a female singer/bassist, guitarist/singer, and drummer.
With minimal attendance, and three songs in, my struggling translator and I looked down to discover a roach on the ground, a grim reminder that my editor had, once again, failed us.
Next up was another (seemingly) local Euro act, El Ultimo Vecino. My wife/failed translator said, “They sound like a non-English Joy Division,” to which I said, “Nah.” Several songs later I realized she was right (unlike her interpretation of what that weird sausage was at the restaurant the previous evening). The vocalist was totally a non-English Ian Curtis, with a driving synth-pop band behind him, and though they were more colorful and driving than Joy Division ever was, it was an appropriate comparison.
At this point in the narrative, it should be noted that the portapotties here are astounding. There are areas for men and women, and the men’s area has large troughs for pissing in, but the requisite large plastic sit down johns have lids like regular toilets, and aren’t just holes with excrement lying in the bottom. There is an actual button to flush them, and they’re more akin to the toilets you find in airplanes.
Europeans are always about 20 years ahead of us with shit like this.
While the next band, an unremarkable outfit called Sr. Chinarro, played, we wandered the premises, drinking our Heinekens and staring out at the ocean, and generally getting the lay of the land. There’s a Greenpeace tent here, and the entire fest is incredibly green and environment friendly.
Here, too, Europeans are ahead of us. You would be hard-pressed to find a climate change denier in these parts, because these are rational people from civilizations much older than us, and they’ve seen trends and paid attention and learned from them in a way our snotty teenage country will one day shake our head about and go, “Oh, youth.”
But I digress.
Next up was Goat, a Swedish group that was actually one of the reasons I wanted to come to this thing. I’ve listened to their albums pretty intensively, and always wanted to see them, and they rarely make it across the ocean to perform.
And let me tell you, they did not disappoint. Holy Christ. I don’t bandy about the word “transformative” much, or the phrase “life altering” even, but these guys did all that and more. Even without the aid of a care package.
Goat play music that is roughly summed up as “psychedelic Afrobeat,” meaning that they play complex but highly danceable grooves, build on those, and then have sections that aren’t really guitar solos, but they have two guitars playing things simultaneously. There are two singers, who appear to be female, and they aren’t really singing harmonies, they’re just sort of chanting together.
I have no idea what the songs are about, or what they’re saying, or even what language it’s in, but it’s very effective, and it makes your body move whether you goddam well want it to or not.
They also wear costumes and masks, which normally I’d write off as schtick, but the garb ends up adding to the whole mystery of the performance, and takes the onus off of the performers.
Thoroughly charged up after that show, we sought out sustenance. The food here is pretty amazing, even though the lines are long. You can get vegan food, or vegetarian, or gluten-free, or basically whatever you want. There’s a burger place, and Tex-Mex, and food trucks all over. We opted for kebabs for the first day, and I got mine with a sesame salsa on it, which was new and tasty as hell.
And can you guess by now what we washed it down with? I know you can.
Last up for today was Suede. By this time, the grounds were packed. It was getting difficult to move about, and seemed like an alarming prophecy for the days to come. This many people concentrated in one area can get claustrophobic for a Heineken-addled misanthrope.
I’d never much listened to Suede, but when I got this assignment, I listened to some of their albums, and found them to be inoffensive at best. Not bad, just sort of unremarkable. Not my thing, I guess, though many of my friends have assured me that I’m wrong on this one, and that there’s greatness there somewhere.
This was pretty much my experience with the band live. The singer/frontman is an excellent performer, a guy with soap opera good looks who roams the stage and emotes all over the place and climbs stage monitors and the whole nine yards. The band is tight, and there are interesting moments that reminded me of glam rock. But I just had a hard time connecting with anything.
I was clearly in the minority here, as it was jam packed and thousands of people, mostly Brits, I think, sang along and cheered their hearts out. You could not get anywhere near the stage for this one. In fact, while we were watching Goat, a young man stood by us with a Suede shirt on, wearing headphones, and looking generally miserable. He was clearly not a Goat fan, and was probably listening to Suede while holding his spot for them, and wondering when that crap was going to be over so he could see his dream band.
As we left, I found myself confused as to what I was missing with Suede. Having had the advantage of many Heinekens (goddam I love Heineken), I began asking people around who spoke English about it. On the train, a trio of young guys who said they were from South Africa told me that they thought Suede were “big in the ‘90s” and had some hits, so the appeal was nostalgia.
Nostalgia, like alcohol, is a powerful drug, so maybe that’s the key.
Tomorrow the fest begins in earnest. Time to gird our loins.