Primavera Festival: Day 5

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PJ Harvey. Photo: Bryon Dudley/Iowa Informer

We got a full night’s sleep this time, but holy Christ, it was beginning to feel like this festival was trying to kill us. It’s a lot to take in, and without the benefit of pharmaceuticals, exhaustion and vague paranoia were beginning to set in. Streams of people pushing past us began to feel like more of a personal affront. My curmudgeonly side was beginning to rear its ugly whatever.

A break was needed, so we decided to check out the festival’s Beach Club area. This is where mostly DJs played, and there was music until the wee hours. Bob Mould had played an electric set here in the tent, which we unfortunately missed, and there were multiple Bacardi tents and bars, as well as access to the beach.

We crossed an architecturally interesting bridge to get there, a fairly long structure over what appeared to be an inlet. The entire fest has interesting structures everywhere. It’s like we’re all wandering around this futuristic sci-fi park covered in solar panels, straight out of Logan’s Run, seeking music instead of youth. Younger readers may need to Google that reference.

Feeling saucy, we ordered mojitos and wandered out to the beach. We sat in the sand and let the waves wash away the paranoia for a bit, staring at a large building across the way with three smokestacks that made us think of the cover of Pink Floyd’s Animals album for no real reason:

Bryon Dudley/Iowa Informer
Bryon Dudley/Iowa Informer

Refreshed, we returned to the fest grounds, just in time to catch Boredoms. I’d never seen Boredoms before, and was excited to. Japanese noise rock at its finest. They were fantastic. I wasn’t even clear on what exactly they were doing at times, but the sounds were not from around here. And by that I mean this planet. At one point they were banging on speakers, and putting metal objects in the speakers and playing them like drums, and at the end there were two long pieces of rebar hanging from stands that they played like percussion instruments. Amazing.

There’s often a misunderstanding of noise music, that it’s so random anyone could do it, and, to a certain extent, this is true. But, like anything, it’s difficult to do it well. These guys do it well, and you could even see them reading off of scores on music stands, which became clear during the percussion segments, when you realized how tight they actually were.

Boredoms. Photo: Bryon Dudley/Iowa Informer
Boredoms. Photo: Bryon Dudley/Iowa Informer

We wandered up another bridge structure, under the largest solar panel installation probably on the planet. It seemed like it powered the hostel below it, and we were walking across its roof.

On the other side was a performance by DăM-Funk, who improvised lyrics in an R&B voice style over grooves he’d generate. Very soothing, even when I felt like he was trying to seduce me.

DăM-Funk. Photo: Bryon Dudley/Iowa Informer
DăM-Funk. Photo: Bryon Dudley/Iowa Informer

The Heineken was flowing again, and our groove was back in action. We made our way back to the Great Big Stage area, in time to catch Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds. This will sound like blasphemy to many, I know, but I don’t revere this album as much as the general populous. That being said, the performance of it was pretty astonishing stuff, like watching an orchestra. There was clear love and camaraderie between Wilson and guitarist/vocalist Al Jardine, as well as with Jardine’s son, who handled the bulk of the higher register vocals.

Wilson was a charming, if not eccentric, frontman, announcing every song of the album, a couple of times announcing, “We have a real treat for you now. An instrumental. No vocals!” And you honestly couldn’t tell if he was joking or not.

After completing the album, the band still had time to fill, so they did some Beach Boys hits, along with a section where band members would sing some songs. This led to possibly the most out-of-place version of “Monster Mash” I think I’ve ever heard. Which led to me looking around and suddenly realizing the world collision that was occurring. Everyone was dancing. When they played those Beach Boys songs, the entire area, which is a huge area, was dancing and singing, and it felt like the strangest thing ever to see all these people, of a vast spectrum of ages and nationalities, many wearing Slayer and Sonic Youth shirts, all grinning and dancing to “Help Me, Rhonda.” More people danced to Brian Wilson than LCD Soundsystem by an astronomical margin.

Someone let go of their Dora the Explorer balloon, and it slowly drifted into the sky, stalling briefly as if she, too, was surprised at the scene below, before finally ascending into heaven.

There is a tradition of trying to get up close to an act you really love, and we decided to play this card for PJ Harvey. This meant that we got to hear and see a lot of Deerhunter, but pretty much “on the fly,” as we made our way through the throngs, into the savage heart of fandom madness.

Deerhunter were really good, and I sort of had my doubts about them being an arena style band, but they made a strong case for it, though I missed their experimental forays they did the previous times I’d seen them.

Also, short story here: Almost 20 years ago, I tried to see PJ Harvey at a festival in Germany, where we were living at the time. A friend went along with us, and this woman, through over-preparation and general drag-assedness, made us late, and I only got to see three songs. This was on PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love tour, and I’ve not been able to see her since, so this show was big for me. It meant seeing something I’d built up for nearly two decades, and it meant letting go of a long-held bit of frustration.

With all this build up, I kind of wondered if I’d be disappointed. But no. A thousand times no. This was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Harvey came out on stage in the middle of a ten-piece band, marching band style. She was playing saxophone, the only instrument she’d play during the entire set. Her voice was phenomenal throughout, and clear as a bell, and the band was bone-crunchingly tight. The band had horns, and extra percussion, all used incredibly tastefully. The set focused on her newest album, The Hope Six Demolition Project, which is quite possibly the most emotional album she’s released yet. As my translator leaned over and said at one point, “Damn, she’s saying something.”

Toward the end, Harvey shifted to some back catalog material, and the new band dove into it with knives. They completely slayed “50 Ft. Queenie,” and “Down By The Water” went from an electro-beat workout to a faithful and organic band version, with the horns providing both the groove and the spooky. And when she did “To Bring You My Love,” it was spellbinding, and I was pretty convinced she’d actually gone to Hell and come back.

If I smoked, I would’ve needed a cigarette right about then. It was a completely moving experience. And worth the effort of getting up close for:

PJ Harvey. Photo: Bryon Dudley/Iowa Informer
PJ Harvey. Photo: Bryon Dudley/Iowa Informer

On the opposite stage, Sigur Ros started up, which was the perfect come-down. We suckled more Heinekens (goddam I love Heineken) and sat for a bit, marvelling at the stage show and backdrop Sigur Ros provided, which was sort of a cross between projection and shadows created by lights on background structures. The crowd responded to every crescendo, and it was impressive how the band has become huge in sound and still incredibly artistic in the presentation of it all in larger venues like this.

Sigur Ros. Photo: Bryon Dudley/Iowa Informer
Sigur Ros. Photo: Bryon Dudley/Iowa Informer

Next was probably the biggest surprise of the whole festival, Ty Segall and the Muggers. I went in pretty cold on this one, having had them recommended to me by many friends, but never following through. My bad. Holy Christ. This guy is one of the best performers I’ve ever seen, and after this performance, I may have yet another Favorite New Band.

The band itself is tight and solid as hell, and clearly great at improvising and holding down the groove, while throwing in bits of experimentation. It’s sort of like a Black Sabbath garage rock band with less metal and more weird sounds thrown in.

The band has to be tight, though, because Segall is one of the loosest cannons ever let free on a stage, in the best possible way. We were sort of going to check this one out and then go get more Heinekens, but we found ourselves staying the whole show, primarily because we couldn’t tell what the hell this guy was going to do next.

He came out in a baby mask for the first song, mugged extensively for the camera crew in a way no other performer at the fest had done, spoke directly to the photographers about the importance of breakfast, dove into the audience multiple times, and at the end he gave his mic to a guy in the front row, who began screaming into it and improvising lyrics about the band while Segall crowd-surfed. Segall was impressed with the guy, so lifted him over the fence, told the security guys to put him on the stage and then replaced him in the audience. The guy put on the baby mask, and improvised more lyrics and screams, threw drum sticks into the audience, all while the band kept thrashing on. The cameras would turn to Segall in the audience, who was hugging another guy in the front row and grinning and enjoying the performance.

Segall returned to the stage, had several more rants and sang more songs, and the lunacy and energy of it all won everyone over.

The audience member on stage declared Segall his “favorite ever, ever best baby,” and when Segall asked him his name, he said, “Manny.” When the show was over, people chanted Manny’s name.

This was raw rock and roll at its very peak.

Ty Segall. Photo: Bryon Dudley/Iowa Informer
Ty Segall. Photo: Bryon Dudley/Iowa Informer

We finally got more Heinekens and sat down to try and catch some Pantha du Prince, another act I was pretty excited about. I was a big fan of the album Black Noise, and didn’t think I’d get to see the act live.

I can’t tell if it was the late hour (it was three in the morning when they started for fuck’s sake), the long day, or what, but it was pretty underwhelming.

There were three performers, and they began with mirrors on their heads, which was a cool effect, as the stage lights would reflect off of them and make them appear otherworldly. The music was chill, electronic washes with some nice beats going on, augmented by a drummer, but after about twenty minutes, it just didn’t seem like it was going anywhere, and we were exhausted, so we left.

After exiting the tram and walking towards the hotel, we saw a small group of young men drunk out of their minds, pissing on an electrical box. That seemed like a bad idea, but we stayed out of it.

This festival was most certainly the largest one I’ve ever been to, and it was a complete fungasm. I saw so much great music, and so many things that I never thought I’d get to see, and it’s inspiring to see so much creativity and ideas in such a short span of days.

I’d like to thank the Iowa Informer for the opportunity, and for handling certain legal fees allowing me to return to my homeland, and my translator for getting through some rough spots, even if she didn’t ultimately get a handle on the Spanish language.

And thanks for those reading back home, it means a lot.

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Bryon Dudley is a writer and musician from Ames. He has written about music and other topics for a number of local publications and blogs. When not playing music and putting out albums with groups such as Strong Like Bear, Liana, and Rockets of Desire, he is helping other Iowa artists record their music at his studio, The Spacement, and releasing it on the Iowa label he co-founded, Nova Labs. He has a tattoo of an aardvark and is adjusting to bifocals.