A 10-point guide to reviewing music festivals
By Harvey Manfrenjensenden
About a year and a half ago I played Primavera Festival in Barcelona, Spain with the other people I play in a band with who played the festival. Primavera is a very large, multi-staged, multi-venued international festival of music and beer promotion which you may have heard of if you’re the kind of person who follows things like that. We played on a big stage in front of several thousand people or something and it was terrifying and I fear we did not play our best but there were people there to see us anyway so we had fun. I even signed a bunch of records, which was embarrassing but delightful. I had intended to keep a journal or some such or at least write a long form wrap-up of the whole trip afterwards but I find writing about the actual events in my life unbelievably tedious and boring so instead I just wrote this, a year and a half later.
- Pere Ubu wiped the floor with everyone. In their late fifties and early sixties (?) they were still the hippest, most energetic, most inventive and generally grooviest thing I witnessed for the entire five days, or really the past decade or so. It’s bands like this that make indie rock’s oughts obsession with youth and beauty seem hideous and counter-productive.
- The Monochrome Set were terrific and should have had a bigger audience. I played bass with Bid when he came to NY several years ago and although the venue was crowded and reverent/excited enough to be deemed acceptable, it was more or less it was the same story. Shoulda been a thousand people at least, instead of 150 or whatever. I hate music people.
- Drummer and Bass Player got stranded and a fellow Brooklyn music land person friend tried to help us find them a place to stay to no avail, so they spent the rest of the evening wandering around the festival and then Barcelona until about 10 in the morning. Guitar player disappeared into the crowd and and we assumed he was hanging out with Veronica Falls but in fact he was completely lost and slept on a lawn or something. We didn’t see him again until the next evening. (This is what happens when no one can afford a foreign cell phone solution, friends.)
There was an enormous “performers/press/whatever” section cordoned off with ropes and signs on a hill that happily was too big and not well separated enough to make you feel like an asshole for standing there in your five dollar shades smoking while people who paid money to go stood around on the other side in their five dollar shades smoking. There was free beer, which was nice, except I’m a liquor-only guy so I wound up sneaking in large bottles of gin and weird Spanish vodka and liters of tonic or ginger ale and looking like a regular lush. Not that anyone noticed, although the security checks required some subterfuge as naturally no outlander liquids were allowed on the premises.
Didn’t see/experience any drug-taking, except our host mentioning she had ketamine she and her friends were gonna take (no thanks, and I’m still confused by the popularity of that un). I’m not sure how I feel about this. While I guess it’s nice that such events aren’t necessarily a bacchanal of cokey moribundity, it would have been nice to see a few people knocking back a stem or two or otherwise getting heavy into their own vibe with some similar alkaloid. Anyway I’m sure some of the L.A. bands were backstage, nostrils gilt with Big Lady White or whatever it’s call these days, discussing the minutia of the drum sounds on “Aja”.
- I don’t like Pulp much and have never owned a Pulp album yet I seemed to know every one of their songs. Jarvis Cocker is a pretty good dancer, or a terrible one.
- Animal Collective was like if a 10-year-old made a batch of E and forced you to take it even though you wanted to take a nap instead. People swear that years and years ago they were snortingly wonderful but if I’m going by one live show in 2011, they seem like music for people who aren’t really into music.
- Ariel Pink was alright, at least from a quarter of a mile away.
- Jad Fair had a bar band backing him and lost me about 15 minutes in. Seemed a shame, but I also left Pere Ubu briefly to watch him, so that didn’t help. I’m not sure why it was billed as Half Japanese when it sounded more like Crispin “Hellion” Glover fronting Rockpile, and not in a charming way. Get groovier musicians to back you up next time, Jad, especially since you hardly touched your guitar anyway.
- M Ward was someone I never would have chosen to see and wish I could have avoided seeing, but it was 1 AM and there were about 100, 000 people keeping me from leaving.
- I’m an idiot because we missed John Cale, probably my favorite popular musician of all time. Luckily he’s playing in NY next month.
- Mercury Rev fans don’t like disheveled garage pop bands with cheap 5 dollar sunglasses and poor rehearsal standards and a chubby guy with a hole-riddled blazer fronting bands, although apparently some other people love it.
My then-girlfriend and I should not have walked all the way from the apartment we were staying at to the museum on top of the mountain (the Fundacio Joan Miro), although that museum was wonderful and restored my faith in humanity (which has never really waned, actually).
Barcelona is a beautiful, lively, and very casual city, where you won’t be constantly assaulted by the visage of insanely beautiful/rich/obnoxious people, which makes it better than New York, or something.
Playing shows abroad is probably a lot less stressful when you’re not constantly broke, but I wouldn’t know.
I forgot everything else. Not really though, I’m just getting bored writing about it.