Today the festival began proper. It was the first full lineup, with all the stages firing on all pistons.
The day began auspiciously, with a cryptic message from my editor regarding my care package. More problems. I could take no more, I’m only human, so I got on the phone and called the Philistine in what was likely the middle of the night back in Iowa. The conversation began calmly enough, but devolved into me screaming about his mating habits with certain farm animals and my educated guess that even that was a chore for him. The last time I slammed the phone on the desk it shattered, which was honestly a relief.
A knock came at the hotel door. “Is everything okay, Senór?” I admitted the young man from the hotel, who looked concerned but was a consummate professional. He nodded as he glanced across the room, assessing the piles of beer bottles and those tiny little liquor bottles that had escaped from the hotel mini-fridge.
“Put it on my tab,” I grumbled, hoping my expense report would clear the Iowa Informer’s bean counters and their incessant questions.
We arrived early at the Parc del Fòrum without incident, and discovered a small line forming at the gates. They are strict about entry here, but the first bands we were interested in didn’t start until later, so not a problem. As the time got nearer, we noticed that the line had grown hugely long, and even though we weren’t in a hurry, I was glad we were near the front. Slowly, a small group of Brits began migrating forward in front of us. A few people called them out, and they didn’t respond. It was a fascinating thing. The gatekeepers began yelling at them to get to the back of the long line, and it was as if they’d suddenly been stricken deaf or had their brains encased in a sensory deprivation tank. Finally a petite Spanish woman standing right behind them yelled at them, telling them we’d all been in line for an hour, and threatened to pour bottled water on their heads. Even this failed to gain their notice, so she marched to the front and yelled at the guard, who called in a much bigger guard. Eventually the group walked away, and people cheered.
I’ve tended to be an anglophile, but this incident admittedly left a bad taste in my mouth. And even though I had no skin in this particular game, that spunky Spanish woman became my hero.
With so many options available, we decided to see some music buffet style, meaning we’d watch a few songs from someone and move along. We saw decent performance fragments from Autumn Comets and Cass McCombs, and a little bit of current buzz band Car Seat Headrest. I’d liked the album I’d heard by Car Seat Headrest, but live they were sort of boring and mediocre for the first 15 minutes before we left.
I bought a bottle of water, and the young man behind the counter said, “Sure, but I have to take the lid off. In case of a terrorist attack, you know. Terror in Barcelona!”
We decided to walk out towards the ocean, and happened upon a small stage right there by the sea, with only a handful of people lying about, soaking up the sun. The performer was a young woman named Noga Erez, and she was amazing. With a table full of synths and assorted electronics, along with a percussionist, she won us over in a big way, and I’m hoping to find some of her music when I get home.
Next up we caught Beak. Beak is another one of the bands that had me excited about the fest. It’s basically the krautrock band formed by one of the members of Portishead. They’re a three-piece, and after the first song, the drummer smiled and said, “Thanks. We don’t get out much, it’s nice to be here.” He wasn’t kidding. Beak rarely performs. If krautrock is your thing, these guys groove really hard and throw in some experimentation that’s fun for the musically adventurous.
From here we hit another of the festival’s fine food establishments, this time opting for a burger. You’re probably thinking, America is the king of burgers, why wouldn’t you try something different? And I applaud this line of questioning, but the fact of the matter is that restaurant after restaurant in the city of Barcelona has what appears to be an extensive burger menu, so I was curious. And goddam if the burgers here aren’t amazing. They don’t overcook them, pride themselves on locally sourced beef, and there’s a good shot they are going to win the international burger wars.
We then made our way to the main stage area, which was finally open, and was massive in scope, well over the size of three football fields, huge stages erected at each end, with video screens and Heineken booths all over the place. The Heineken stage proper is the main one, with the H & M one its mirror image.
The area was absolutely packed full of thousands and thousands of people. The Heineken flowed freely, and when Air took the stage, the eruption from the crowd was inspiring and somewhat terrifying.
Air did a fantastic job, though, and I’d gladly go see them again. They played what amounts to their hits, along with instrumental tracks from the Virgin Suicides soundtrack, and even jammed out a bit here and there. I’ve always thought of them as a superior studio band, but it turns out that actually translates to the stage as well.
We took a small break, then turned around, and Explosions in the Sky started. We’d seen them before at the Val Air Ballroom in Des Moines, and loved that show, and I’d wondered how the intimacy of their instrumental post-rock (do people still use that term?) would translate to the larger forum. It translated just fine, and was a huge hit with the crowd as well.
A short break again, and Tame Impala came on behind us. I love Tame Impala as well, so this was like heaven for me, just drinking some beer and turning around here and there and absorbing great music. Not quite an hour into their set, all of a sudden the song stopped, and it landed right on the beat, and the crowd began singing the words loudly, singalong style. Only the music didn’t come back. There were apparently some power difficulties. It took about fifteen minutes, but the stage personnel got it figured out, and the band finished out their set. Kevin Parker, the frontman for Tame Impala, was all smiles and gushed about getting to play the festival, and that helped with what may have been a frustrating situation for them.
At the end he shot off confetti cannons, which was visually interesting in the lights and clearly a crowd pleaser.
The final act of the evening was LCD Soundsystem, who put on an excellent show. This as the fourth time we’d seen them, and may have actually been the best. Since coming out of retirement, they’ve incorporated some weird elements into their music, such as long guitar feedback washes and delay romps, that pull you out of dance mode and take the music to another place, while often serving as segueways to the next song.
The entire massive area turned into the world’s biggest dance party, and it was a site to see, with a giant mirror ball and James Murphy, their singer and chief architect, serving as your humble and genial host.
During the LCD show, a young man fell into us. We helped him return to stability, and I asked him if he was okay. It turned out he was a drunken Scotsman. Being fluent in drunken Scottish, I waved away my translator, and we began slurring with one another. It turned out he had been to Iowa at one point and loved it. He waved his hand at the band, and said, “This is all fine and well, it’s good fun, but tomorrow night?” He raised his fist and shook it, and broke into a rant about the impending Radiohead performance the next night.
He talked about his girlfriend back home, hit on my translator a bit, and then we were ready to call it an evening.
Outside the event gates, there was a small army of men holding six packs of beer, attempting to sell them. This was at four in the morning, mind you, but dozens of them kept trying. I politely declined, full of Heinekens (goddam I love Heineken), and after my rejection one of the young men whispered, “Coke, weed?”
I briefly lit up, but my translator advised that we find transportation home, as the Metro trains were apparently done for the evening.
Tomorrow is Radiohead day. Holy hell.