Jaded by the thought of paying rip-off prices to stand in waterlogged Irish fields, NOS Primavera Sound is fast becoming the discerning person’s festival of choice.
This is its fourth year, sister festival of the ever popular Barcelona event. However, where Barcelona’s Parc del Fòrum is a vast uncomfortable modern concrete jungle, Porto’s Parque da Cidade is in a compact scenic wooded parkland with natural amphitheatres.
In fact walking around the site before the festival opens you expect the Teletubbies to come lolling over the hill! It is without doubt the best location for a festival. Factoring in that tickets are a fraction of the price of Barcelona one, as is the cost of getting there and accommodation, Porto is a clear winner.
The city is set in the picture perfect Duoro river estuary and the medieval Ribeira (riverside) area with its narrow cobbled streets that wind past merchants’ houses and cafes are all added extras that you get as an added bonus when you book your Primavera ticket. It’s a glossy city break and world-class music festival, all in one.
Day 1 – Thursday 4 June
Other than knowing there was a Ty Segall link my knowledge of Mikal Cronin beforehand was close to zero. But, dragged along by friends acting as his advocate, your writer was entranced. It’s hard to beat listening to timeless 12 string fuelled garage pop melodies echo around this grass amphitheatre on a gloriously sunny evening. It’s put a smile on everybody’s face as we all believe in pop once more.
Patti Smith in the Pitchfork area was the glorious surprise of the evening. It is definitely not spoken word and although it is acoustic, it is full band show. And what a show! Featured are all the songs you’d love to hear her do that are not on Horses, such as Dancing Barefoot and Because The Night. Things then slip into the realm of the beautifully demented during Banga, first of all with her chanted impression of a wah-wah guitar solo and then the denouement when the entire audience are howling like wolves with full moon fever. With our scream therapy now complete, we are in full belief when informed that we have the power.
Interpol and I have a bit of history. After their legendary debut show in Dublin I went on the beer with them and in case of mistaken identity, was punched in the head by a now ex-member of the band and ended up with singer Paul (very nice guy) apologising profusely. Totes hilarbase as we used to say! Unfortunately they are tonight’s Buzz Killingtons. A terminally monotonous borefest set with only some occasional light relief from songs like Not Even Jail and Slow Hands. I end their set lying on the ground motionless. A fitting tribute.
Next up, The Juan MacLean’s Nancy Whang, formally of the LCD Soundsystem parish, entered the stage to the wah-wah sounds of John MacLean’s theremin being given a thorough workout. As per usual she has her serious game-face on as she takes control of the mic, whipping the audience into a frenzy with her tambourine.
The opener, The Simple Life, leads into A Simple Design and Moog synths pulse over a beat driven by a relentless souped-up Duracell bunny drummer. It’s still poignant to remember that they are on tour for the first time since 2009 and the tragic death of their drummer Jerry Fuchs. Suitably, they deliver a taut emotional performance that has people dancing for as far as the eye can see. They climax during a very extended version of Happy House, with Nancy singing “Launch me into space” over and over.
Caribou, dressed entirely in white, round off Day One with some nicely pulsating build up music that even gets the people at the top of the hill gyrating, with the life affirming Can’t Do Without You. They wrap things up nicely with an interstellar version of Sun.
Day 2 – Friday 5 June
Patti Smith & Band perform Horses. “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine” BOOM! And we’re off. As an album opening line, it’s without peer and tonight it’s a pretty good way to start the proceedings.
Here in the warm glow of evening light, there’s a lot of love for Patti and that’s not just because her voice isn’t as good as on vinyl – it in fact sounds remarkably far superior; but because she really gives a shit.
Anybody who’s witnessed her fellow travellers, Television, in the past few years will have seen a show transcended by apathy. Tonight though she is connected, locked in and sincere, spitting out the lyrics with a fury that delivers emotional punch after punch. The album ender Elegie which was written as a paean to Jimi Hendrix is now offered up to commemorate the fallen idols and friends, including her late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith.
Tonight, we get a reprise of two songs aired the previous night as an encore – Because The Night and People Have the Power, which is a joyful conclusion. Bands thinking of reforming or playing their classic album would do well to take note as to it should be done.
After that we then grab a beer and chill on the hill to the perfect accompanying sounds of José González.
The Replacements hit the stage at a blitzkreig bop pace. The first songs are fired out at the audience in rapid succession. Takin’ a Ride, BAM! Favourite Thing BAM! Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out BAM! Your scribe has a prime view, up close, in the photo-pit.
Bassist Tommy Stinson is having a ball, laughing his head off the whole time. Newish recruit guitarist, David Minehan, is giving a master class in facial expressions and throwing his body around the stage while Paul Westerberg is demonstrating that this is certainly no ‘take the money and run’ job.
Moving out of the photo pit and back into the crowd, it’s surprising just how easy it is just to walk up to the front. This is because it is sparsely populated and easily the smallest crowd for a main stage act of the festival. Those that are there are a) from the US of A and b) know all the words and are singing along. You see that is the problem that The Replacements have, they are practically unknown in Europe.
The band doesn’t seem to mind just how many are in attendance. You get the feeling that whether it was just one man and his dog, or one hundred thousand, their attitude is that ‘we’ve paid our buck and they are going to give us our money’s worth’. We get “Androgynous” followed by I Will Dare. Or how about Can’t Hardly Wait into Bastards of the Young and then into… My Boy Lollypop ??! There’s no doubting that this is party time. T Rex’s 20th Century Boy kicks off the encore. Encore? I don’t remember anyone demanding one, but are getting one, finishing off with Alex Chilton.
Mid-show, Westerberg said that they “were lazy bastards to the end”, preferring to stay in their hotel rather than having to sound-check. He also smashed his guitar after accidently dropping it. So when his parting words were that this would be the last time the band ever played together, your scribe chuckled presuming it was in jest. “He couldn’t be serious? Could he?!” The couple of rescheduled shows in the States have now been cancelled and there are no plans to return to the studio.
Spiritualized are on in the upper ATP field and are as expected building slowly early on with Lord Let It Rain on Me until they hit full stride with Electricity. Your writer turns photographer again to shoot Belle and Sebastian, but returned to catch Jason and co rounding off nicely with Walkin’ with Jesus and Take Your Time.
Speaking of whom, Belle and Sebastian are a far lively proposition than expected. With the largest crowd for a Super Bock stage they open with Nobody’s Empire, which finds band leader Stuart Murdoch wedged behind an organ. After that he is literally up and running with I’m a Cuckoo, followed by another one off their new long player, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, The Party Line.
Run The Jewels have We Are the Champions as their entrance tune and either you have big balls or you’re having a laugh. Unfortunately their shouty sweary schlock just leaves me unmoved. Maybe that’s because it’s impossible to make out the lyrics. Or maybe it’s using jaded rapper clichés in 2015 like telling us to “Put our motherf***ing hands in the air” and “Make some motherf***ing noise!”.
JUNGLE’s set on the other hand is a life affirming, joie de vivre, throw your hands in the air kind of vibe. Perfect for anyone trying to recover from the migraine inducing pain of Run The Jewels. Busy Earnin’ is a defining anthem of the festival.
Day 3 – Saturday 6 June
We are treated to an energetic start from Foxygen, with We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic. In fact you’d almost swear it was the finale such is the ferocity of their performance. By the second song, singer, Sam France, is already crowd surfing. On quieter tunes there’s an echo of the 70’s country swagger of Jagger and the Stones. But mostly it’s full on wacky unhinged mayhem, eagerly supported by the rest of the 9 piece band. A fake take on The Beatles’ Let It Be is quickly abandoned and they head into Shuggie, finishing off the set with Everyone Needs Love.
The best attended show of the festival had to be Damien Rice. So crowded was his performance, but it was impossible to even get onto the hill at the back for a view.
It’s up to the ATP field for Collapsing New Buildings (that were built after the 2nd World War) or Einstürzende Neubauten as they prefer to be called. They are far more restrained and measured than expected and were all the better for it. The post-industrial soundscapes alternate between German and English with former Bad Seeds member Blixa Bargeld in fine voice. The only downside was the noisebleed from Death Cab For Cutie during the more poignant moments.
Ride open with Leave Them All Behind and it’s clear that the near 20 year hiatus has dulled none of their powers. In fact this rebirth has only enhanced their sonic cathedral. They now seem more in control and the sound seems to shimmer. That’s not to say that there were lulls in the set and hey, they were never exactly the most exciting act in terms of stage presence, but a dynamic light show compensates. Plus an eight minute version Seagull definitely kicks things up a gear. Witnesses to Vapour Trail were testifying to its majesty for the rest of the night around Parque da Cidade to anyone that would listen. It definitely made an old fan very happy.
Dan Deacon is always a blast. Indeed I can remember carrying him on my shoulders right through the crowd at the end of one particularly memorable set in Dublin way back when. And tonight does not disappoint. He is sartorially attired in a green and white vertical striped shirt with matching red football shorts and socks.
He’s still doing his trick of getting the crowd to make a huge circle around his nominated freak of choice and roping the audience into doing things they shouldn’t normally do. So the first time he does this tonight the person is holding a potted plant. Yup, that’s right, a plant in a pot. At a festival. What could be weirder than that eh? That’s right FIVE random strangers carrying potted plants. Dan demands that one be handed up to the stage and GP ends up as part of the chain by transporting it from the guy in the audience to Dan. The plant then takes centre stage on his electronic box of tricks. Definitely a Primavera moment.
Dan and his drummer then resume their sonic pulverisation, which leaves the audience no option but to dance their ass off like being led through the streets of Hamlyn by some dervish Pied Piper.
Once more he turns to the crowd by singling out a member of the audience. “Where is Patrick (surname redacted) from Co Donegal in Ireland?”
Wait, whaaat?!! “Patrick, from Donegal”
Yup, that is what he said, but how did he know Patrick? We’ve definitely entered the dimension of the strange. But it would appear that Patrick is already there, wearing a fetching red apron, he looks mashed. Indeed the instructions being issued by Dan are far beyond the capabilities of the boy from Donegal and he is soon dispatched. A replacement is quickly found and soon we are as one dancing with our hands clamped above our heads.
My only previous interaction with Underworld live was when I broke the world record for making large and small boxes in a car park somewhere in Co Kildare. I had even lost my shirt earlier that evening, but had gained a straw cowboy hat so it all worked out nicely.
Things are slightly more restrained from my end tonight, but not from Underworld, who deliver a thumping set based on their 1994 dubnobasswithmyheadman long player to a backdrop of white strobe lights. Singer, Karl Hyde, explains the background to many of the songs detailing their origin and emotional roots. Pulsating songs like Rez lift the crowd into a frenzy concluding with a massed lager, lager mega, mega white thing chanty sing-a-long.
And so bar the last few tunes of Health in the Pitchfork tent on the way out, newly found friends say goodbye, briefly posing for one last posed photo under the multi light-bulbed NOS Primavera Sound entrance sign, before exiting towards the sea mist and into the night.
Primavera Sound festival tickets are from €70 for the 3 days. Getting there and back: From Dublin, Ryanair flies direct to Porto twice a week from €37.99 each way or alternately Aer Lingus fly to Lisbon from €39.99 each way and then take the train.