Spaniards, it is safe to say, know how to party. There is an outside chance that they invented it. There is very little time that there is not something going on with this festival. You can start at a DJ tent at 11 a.m., and theoretically stay on the grounds until 6 the next morning, and there is entertainment available for you, and all of it is good, or at least interesting.
There is no way to physically do it all, and on four hours of sleep, we decided to get out of town for a couple of hours. Being in the middle of huddled masses can take its toll.
We got on a small sailing trip in the morning, which basically sailed out of Barcelona and back, a two hour tour. We were joined by a group of four Australians and our captain, a British expatriate named Robert. The tour met at an Irish pub at 10 a.m., and the first question they asked was if we wanted a coffee or beer. One of the Aussies, a guy named Shane, joined me for a beer, and I knew we were in good company.
The trip was relaxing and uneventful, and completely enjoyable, with instant camaraderie and Spanish beer. Captain Robert told us about the people who were selling various wares by the shores, and how they used to sell them within the city, but a lot of it is either counterfeit stuff or else they don’t have licenses to sell it. The city’s solution? Push them out, and let the sea police deal with it. The sea police are criminally understaffed, though, and can’t manage it, so their solution to their secondhand problem is to make it illegal for people to buy their wares.
Which, of course, is insane. And doesn’t work. And sort of reminds me of a lot of policies being offered by one of our current presidential candidates. But I digress.
Refreshed, we made our way back to Parc del Fòrum, our bodies prepared for more music.
Our first stop was a venue that was new to us, a gorgeous room inside a museum, to see a pianist named Lubomyr Melnyk. I hadn’t heard of him before, but instantly thought of my friend Paul Hertz, because this would’ve been right up his alley. Beautiful music in a beautiful room, and an excellent way to cleanse the indie rock palate a little and start the day right. Apparently Melnyk holds two world records for notes per second on the piano, one for playing over 13 nps for an entire hour. But it didn’t feel like a race or frantic at any point, it just constantly felt beautiful.
We once more needed sustenance, and though we ended up with more amazing kebabs and pizza, the options here are crazy. Anything goes. There is a food truck devoted to nothing but squid. You can get squid and chips, or squid burgers, on and on.
Next up was Dungen, a Swedish psych-rock-ish band than was also on my “must see” list. We’d seen Dungen once before, at Bonnaroo in a tent around ten years ago, and though I love their albums, that performance was a bit lackluster (and pretty under-attended). The group in front of the H & M stage was small but excited, and the live band was much, much better now. Halfway through the first song, the guitarist broke a string. He valiantly played through, and when they got to an extended bridge, he leapt back to his amp and put on a new one, getting tuned up just in time for the big end jam. Afterwards, he said into the mic, “I know, I know, why doesn’t he just play another guitar? Because I don’t have any fucking money!”
It is odd to think that a band could “make it” to the point of playing a headliner stage at a major international festival, and not have the resources to have a second guitar, or at least have the fest supply a tech of some kind to help you out.
Insert rant on the music industry here.
About halfway through their set, the singer announced this would be their last song. My translator and I looked at each other, confused (her help translating the Swedish lyrics was also a failure). But then the band performed a long, epic, jam-based song that filled up the entire last part of their set, and all was well. Inspiring, even, to see a band willing to do that. As Spinal Tap says, “in front of a festival crowd.”
We wandered through to a stage with the Ben Watt Band, featuring Bernard Butler on guitar. Butler used to play for Suede, and was the highlight of what we saw here, but the songs just didn’t seem that interesting, so we moved on pretty quickly.
We returned to the museum venue, for another “must see” show on our list, Cabaret Voltaire. I never thought I’d get to see this group in my lifetime, so it was sort of on my musical “bucket list.” It is now just Richard Kirk, so not a full band, and even then the theater was dark and you couldn’t really make out who was on stage, if anyone. There was some gear, and video projections, and the music started but you couldn’t really tell how it was being produced. We thoroughly enjoyed it, as we like techno and industrial music, and about halfway through the show the lights slowly went from black to just dim and there were shouts and cheers, then people began to get up and move to the front of the room and dance.
It was unclear what happened. We speculated that maybe Richard Kirk had come out into the audience, but in the dim light you couldn’t tell. But as we emerged from the darkened theater, we felt very tranced out and like we’d been dosed with something. Potent stuff.
Going from something like that back to the main Heineken stage to catch the tail end of Savages was sort of jarring, but worth it. Frontwoman Jehnny Beth is a born performer, and radiates intensity, even from afar. They closed their set with a song called “Fuckers,” which has the chant “Don’t let the fuckers get you down.” How can you not love something like that?
Our Heinekens had once more run dry, and we desperately needed refills for our parched throats. Now, one of the things that is endlessly endearing about this festival to me is that Heineken is a sponsor, so it’s the main beer everywhere. There are tents and tents of staff pouring out Heineken like there’s no tomorrow, and if you wanted another beer, you’d have to really look for it.
I’m okay with that. As we’ve established, I love the goddam stuff.
I’d like to take a small moment here to mention that there are people selling Heineken who move around. Like, with a keg of the shit on their backs. With a little flag sticking up, so you can see them in crowds. On top of the little flag there are glowing red lights, so that you can spot them in crowds when the sun goes down. I find this magical. I stopped one of them and asked him, “Is that heavy?” He nodded, emphatically. “About 20 kilos,” he confirmed. Which my translator tells me is about 44 pounds. Strapped to your back, as you walk around amongst drunken Spaniards. These people, and there are many of them, are heroes.
Night came, and it was time for the big act of the day, Radiohead. This is the seventh time I’ve seen Radiohead, and in some ways it was life affirming, and the best time, and in other ways it was the worst.
The set list was spectacular, and though there’s no way they could play all the songs you’d want to hear, this was about as good of a representation as one could reasonably expect without being a bitchy little goddam bitch. They started out with the first five songs from their new album, A Moon Shaped Pool, culminating in “Ful Stop,” their krautrock tune. From there they segued into “The National Anthem,” which was a spectacular idea. They played “Talk Show Host,” which didn’t even occur to me could be on their setlist. And “Pyramid Song” and “Bodysnatchers” and “2+2=5.” Thom Yorke’s voice sounded better than ever, and the band seems to be at a new creative height, getting in at least two songs from every album except Pablo Honey, and seemingly getting around to acknowledging their catalog as they’ve transformed into one of the Biggest Bands in the World.
It was inspiring enough that by the time they played “Paranoid Android,” I had an epiphany, and realized that I didn’t need my care package to enjoy the music after all. Somewhat weepy and wanting to apologize to my editor, I pulled out my cell and called him, but couldn’t help but also sing along. Which led to a conversation something like this:
“Hey, I know it’s late, but I just want to tell you that AMBITION MAKES YOU LOOK PRETTY UGLY I love you, man, just forget about the package, I’m good, I’ll cancel the invoice, you’re KICKING SCREAMING GUCCI LITTLE PIGGIE really awesome for supporting me here, and I’m sorry about the thing with your mother and the room damage and YOU DON’T REMEMBER YOU DON’T REMEMBER WHY DON’T YOU REMEMBER MY NAME it’s all good, hombre.”
On the down side, the sound was super quiet, and they turned off the video screens in the back, and though the screens up front were creative in their editing, you couldn’t actually see the band playing much of anything, which was disappointing.
And the crowd was talking at loud volumes pretty much throughout the show, unless it was a song they recognized, when they were trying to sing along. It occurred to me that by being such a huge band, Radiohead are now attracting people who desperately want to be at their shows who have little to no interest in the bulk of the actual music. Sort of like an indie-rock Jimmy Buffett vibe, where everyone’s there to party, with the music being ancillary to the actual experience. Which is so strange, because, judging from the setlist, and the new music and the overall content and strangeness of it, the band is digging deeper into the notion of being increasingly more creative.
I noticed that Thom Yorke barely talked between songs, which was unusual. I’ve found him to be a pretty amicable performer at past shows, but this one seemed strangely sort of geared more towards either hardcore fans or just crowd pleasing.
The second encore, and final song of the night, was “Creep.” The crowd went wild, and there were so many phones recording the moment for posterity.
From here, we got to turn around back to the H & M stage and catch The Last Shadow Puppets. At first I sort of pitied whoever would have to follow Radiohead, but this ended up being a great choice. The band had a full-on string section that was epic throughout, and the band effectively has two frontmen, Miles Kane and Alex Turner, who take turns singing, often within a song, and they also sing together. Listening to their albums, it hadn’t come through how often they do this, their voices are so similar. Turner is an experienced performer, and completely engaging and fearless.
Also, I’m fairly certain he was on something.
He would try to speak in Spanish and giggle afterwards, and early on in the show he laid down in front of Kane and spread his legs in a fairly sexual way that can only be described as homoerotic. He ran around the stage in his suit and was generally pretty hilarious and confrontational, as the band made this driving, sweeping music. But he never missed a lyric, and his vocal character was never boring.
It was at this point that it was nearing 4 a.m. again, so we swooned a bit to Beach House before deciding to stagger our way home. I’d really wanted to see Beach House for a long time, and they didn’t disappoint. There was so much glorious reverb on everything, and Victoria Legrand’s vocals are just as swoon-inducing live as they are on album, possibly more so, because they’re more up front.
As much as Lubomyr Melnyk was the perfect cleanser to start the day, Beach House was the perfect way to wind the bastard down.