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:: Belle And Sebastian :: The National :: Battles :: Male Bonding :: Pulp :: Avi Buffalo :: M Ward ::
27 May 2011 / Forum Park / Barcelona
By David Edwards


In a wave of fatigue, stretches and giddy anticipation, I wake up. The first two are settled by a round of sandwiches and lethally strong black coffee, the latter remains. But initially, our most pressing concern is whether we’ll be able to afford anything today, given the monetary chaos of yesterday. Feeling slightly sceptical as to the chances of everything being sorted out sharply and smartly, we choose to head in early and take our chances. Thankfully, the Primavera organisers have admirably sorted out the situation and we quickly find ourselves reimbursed with a healthy wedge of Euros by a stunningly beautiful Spanish girl (I am tempted to put some money back INTO my portal account, so enraptured am I by her features and charming smile). But instead, the charm and beauty is continued by the delightful Avi Buffalo.

Now they’re an odd band. There’s little about their song structure and overall premise that I find particularly exciting. In fact, many of their actual songs I find boring. But live, there is something quite wonderful about them. Lead singer Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg tears every shred out of every syllable while bass player Barbara Kramer is technically flawless. But the real joy is obtained from watching their elegant, beautiful female drummer Sheridan Riley effortlessly conjuring up wave after wave of delectable rhythm: equal parts aloof and joyful. The combination of everything, as the sun beats down upon our heads, is one of those glorious festival moments where everything seems to come together to impart in one powerful voice that “WE’RE REALLY HERE”. And so the overall set is marvellous. Sometimes, the best moments of a festival are created through chance. It’s good to go on early; many people forget how many careers have been forged from that wonderful mid-afternoon euphoria.

Following across to the Pitchfork stage to see Male Bonding, I hone my perfect Spanish Phrase of the weekend. “Hola! Uno Cerveza y Dos Jagermeister Por Favor”. It works a treat and I am quickly refreshed by the bitter-sweet combination of the two. But Male Bonding don’t initially go down so sweetly. Their dirty grunge-blues seems oddly detached from such a sunny day. But gradually, they work upon me more and more: precise riffs, grinding rhythm and a distinct sense of fun bouncing over the heads of the crowd. By the end of the set, they’re a distinct success and a rousing call, a clearing of the thickened heads as the day begins to swing into action.

There’s time to catch a little of M.Ward’s skewed, sour candy blues on the San Miguel stage. He’s very good at what he does but it falls a little flat in the Sargasso Sea of the mid-afternoon. But I leave early as there’s a pressing engagement over at the Levant Stage. That engagement being The National. Now 12 months ago, I’d never heard of them. Fast forward and they’re quickly becoming one of my favourite bands. And tonight pushes my deep feelings towards them even closer to my heart, spinal cord and turning stomach. They’re oddly aloof, yet it seems to make the dark, outsider brooding of their music that much more intense. Coming on to the strains of Dylan’s ‘The Man in Me’ and breaking into ‘Start a War’ is a perfect, slow-burn opener and ‘Mistaken for Strangers’ is much more visceral than on record. Matt Berninger seems determined to drink the body and soul out of his bottles of wine (I count two that he gets through) but his voice remains focused and resonating with that bruised baritone. And the songs are magnificent. ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ is ripped out by the roots, ‘Terrible Love’ sees the album version crawling along the broken beats of a hundred drums; lacerated and bleeding. And ‘Abel’ and ‘Mr November’ are staggeringly muscular; they’re a remarkable and intensely powerful live band. But the towering highlight of a wonderful performance is the quite astounding ‘Apartment Story’ which builds from a slow, almost acapella intro into something almost spiritual in depth and resonance. It’s a band who have already achieved greatness, on the verge of something even more spectacular. There’s a temptation to feel slightly disappointed at the lack of ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’ as a tear-jerking encore but frankly, there’s very little else you can quibble about. Quite beautiful and justly befitting one of the finest bands in the world.

There follows a fun and chaotic couple of hours while we circle the site talking, drinking, reminiscing and erm...drinking more. We end up at the San Miguel Stage for Belle and Sebastian, a band who more than most, straddle the line between twee and gorgeous. Sadly, tonight there is too much of the former and too little of the latter. They aren’t helped by a dreadful sound mix that puts Stuart Murdoch’s vocals continually in the shadow of a booming, dubstep volume bass line, but the set is also too light and frothy to be anything of consequence to a crowd surfing on alcohol and adrenaline. You can’t help but feeling it’s a missed opportunity. Then again, Belle and Sebastian have never really been too bothered about their global appeal. The one and only problem with Primavera (to be repeated tomorrow with PJ Harvey) is that some of the more…shall we say…cerebral acts of the festival are put on at times that befit the drunk, rather than the devoted.

The lack of subtlety during Belle and Sebastian made me feel a tinge of concern for the reappearance of a band I never thought I’d get to see: Pulp. It’s fair to say that this gig had been long, long, long time in coming. In 1996, my friend Eilish offered me a ticket to see Pulp at Newcastle Arena, which would have been my first gig at the time. I admit it, I had my head up the arse of collective Gallaghi and I wasn’t into them. So I turned it down, a decision which has sat in the David Edwards room of collected regrets ever since. So there’s a duplicity sitting in my heart tonight. I’m excited beyond words, but desperate for the experience not to be an anti-climax.

But 20 seconds after the lights go out and a huge, pink neon “PULP” sign appears to the opening notes of ‘Do You Remember The First Time?”, I am suddenly gripped by that orgasmic chest-tightening that signifies your favourite musical moments. The crowd response is overwhelming: this has been worth waiting for. As I jump for joy, smile almost touching my ears, I reflect on something: this sounds absolutely flawless. I don’t know whether there’s some sort of psychic connection or whether they’ve been practicing like rutting monkeys since they announced their comeback, but the playing, sound and delivery is absolutely magnificent. Leading us, of course, is Jarvis Cocker. The outsider who came in from the cold, the coolest uncool man on the planet: the champion of the underdog. And he’s still an absolute star and wonder: climbing rigs and amps to pout and preen at the audience, leaping about with gusto and joy, filling the stage and making every moment count. And every moment counts indeed. The set is thick and heavy with material from Different Class (they play 4 out its 12 tracks) and (a touch disappointingly…only a little) lacking in tracks from This is Hardcore (only the epic title track survives) but in every other way, tonight is an absolute triumph: a reinvigoration of Pulp’s brilliance and importance, carried through the decades and emerging with a relevance and profundity that could barely have been anticipated, yet alone believed.

Though not quite so jaw-droppingly cathartic, it’s similar to Blur’s reunion concerts of 2009 in a “My god, they were fucking good, weren’t they?!” manner. There’s even a marriage proposal (left unresolved) before the deep, beautiful romance of...erm...’Underwear’. It’s hard to pick a highlight. ‘I Spy’ remains an astonishing piece of film noir revenge fantasy, transported to suburban, cigarette stained London. ‘Common People’ remains one of the greatest British singles of all time, sung along with an unrestrained joy. And closer ‘Razzmatazz’ carries its cheap wine, short skirt, crumbing cigarette beauty across the heads and hearts of us all. But for me, it’s ‘Disco 2000’: not by a long way my favourite Pulp song, but tonight it seems to speak for us all, all the people who have grown up with the words, phrases and melodies of this band. This is the metaphorical Year 2000. It is strange. We are all fully grown. But it is also beautiful, wonderful and life-affirming. The past is a strange thing to look back on. You can be disappointed and you can find that the nostalgic glow is actually lit by false, artificial rays. Tonight was a burning endorsement of the vital place that Pulp have in British musical history. Whether or not they have a place in the future is open to question, but tonight, they exceed any expectations. One of the best, one of the greats. I will remember the first time...

I go through several false starts after Pulp. Firstly, I head towards Simian Mobile Disco with a bunch of random (and rather short) Spanish Girls, only to be parted by the sea of the crowd. So instead, I make my way back and meet up with Martin, who I had become parted from earlier. We make our way to the Ray Ban Arena: packed and overflowing like a Roman Amphitheatre. And the gladiators on display are then appropriately monikered Battles.

If anyone knows me, they’ll know that I have a problem with Battles, notably the disparity between their reputation amongst music geeks and the patchy quality of their first record. Live however, tonight however, they are absolutely brilliant. A bit like Caribou at the Poble Espanyol (but with much more aggressive, fucked up force, spit and fury) their live performance is astronomical in delivery. They blast out wave after wave of intense, forceful tsunamis of sound and samples, backed up by the superhuman, Krautrock drumming of John Stainer. I’m shattered, I’m emotionally drained but I still contort my body into ways that Thom Yorke could only dream about. They’re so intense that I leave my wallet lying on the floor for 10 minutes unnoticed, only to find it again after a calm, placid search (anyone who knows me will be screaming “BULLSHIT!”. And they’d be right!). No-one would care less; they’re all too engrossed by this open-throttle display of glorious mayhem. I may not have changed my opinion about Battles music quality, but by God: I’m convinced by them live.

Though the energy from Battles keeps me going for a while, I’m flagging badly so I head home after a bite to eat. There follows a bizarre episode where some strange man tries (rather terribly and clumsily) to grope me on the busy Metro train. Now I’ll be honest, this has never happened at Glastonbury. But there’s little to care, I’m riding a wave of euphoria above the tracks tonight. In The National and Pulp, I’ve seen two of the best gigs of my life tonight. The past meets the future and clashes perfectly. Neither subducts, both rise. Getting older is about taking forward what you know, and being open to new things. Today, swamped by beer, friendship and sheer excitement, I realised that was all true. It’s amazing the things you realise at music festivals. They should prescribe them on the NHS...

Avi Buffalo, Pulp and M Ward pictures by Martin Sharman - // Butty shop and Battles pictures by Cath Aubergine

M Ward
Avi Buffalo
Cath Aubergine's alternative part two over at Incendiary

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