Sunday, June 3, 2012
*This year's All Tomorrow's Parties stage was one of the best located; you could sit on the stone-step bleacher seats to the right of the stage, and watch the bands play with the water of the Mediterranean Sea right behind them. Steve Albini's trio Shellac, of course, would take that kind of idyllic state and have a sea of fans shout along, "FUCKING KILL HIM. FUCKING KILL HIM. FUCKING KILL HIM ALREADY, KILL HIM."
Fists flew and bodies thrashed and surfed as the band tore through Terraform's "Canada" and "Copper", 1000 Hurts' "Squirrel Song" and "Prayer to God", the 1993 B-side "Wingwalker", and Excellent Italian Greyhound's "Steady as She Goes". They moved seamlessly from quiet abstraction to thick, abrasive noise, and at times Albini and bassist Bob Weston hit notes and let them ring, contorting their bodies with a sort of slow-motion theatrics.
The centerpiece of the set was an extended, air-tight version of the Excellent Italian Greyhound opener "The End of Radio", wherein Albini takes on the role of the last-ever radio DJ's farewell transmission. The performance alternated between depressed and comedic. As on record, Albini's conversational shout-speak offered a Verizon-hinting mantra-- "Can you hear me now?"-- over Weston's bass and Todd Trainer's militaristic drum roll.
But here he also described in detail his relationship to Trainer's snare drum, how "snare drum and I go way, way back," to the 1970s ("lots of cocaine"). "Snare drum and I paid our dues overnight FM holiday shifts after-hours," Albini sang. He later hinted at Joy Division ("Dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio") and noted that, in 10,000 years, alien civilizations will learn about radio. Albini apologized on behalf of the human race for the format's "horrible music," "way too much sports," "right wing assholes taking phone calls from right wing assholes." But, he added, "I do not apologize for John Peel."
He concluded his monologue with repeated, introspective bits about sitting in his basement, on psychedelic mushrooms, listening to music. "These records are amazing," he sang, "There is no rest of the world." To which an elated fan beside me shouted, "You are a fucking hero!"
*Mazzy Star's music has loomed large over the past couple of years of indie rock. They made Lynchian music 20 years ago, back when we took David Lynch for granted and before Lynchian music was really a thing. Guitarist Dave Roback, an influential figure in the 1960s-psych-obsessed L.A.-based Paisley Underground scene that bubbled up in the 80s, wrote dark, folk-inflected melodies that perfectly suited singer Hope Sandoval's impossibly distant purr.
It's an open question how much people would still care about Mazzy Star if they'd kept going making a record every couple of years after 1996's Among My Swan. But they didn't, and in an age of musical saturation, sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder. When they returned with a single last year and word of an album on the way, it seemed sensible to table the Widowspeaks and Tamaryns for a minute and return to the sad/slow/dream-core OGs.
One thing about Mazzy Star, though, is that you don't meet too many people who talk of having their minds blown at an early-90s show. Mazzy Star live is a subtle thing. The stage is kept dark and you can just barely see Sandoval. Whenever she wasn't singing, she turned around to look at the rest of the band, possibly looking for cues. They don't move around a whole lot. And many of their songs are shorter than you remember so that, when it seems like they're just settling into a groove, they suddenly stop.
Fortunately, the song selection was ace, the sound was excellent, and highlights were paid out evenly through the set. They opened with the mid-tempo "Blue Flower" from their 1990 debut She Hangs Brightly, and played my personal favorite from the same record, "Halah", just a few songs later. "Fade Into You" came mid-way through the set instead of being held for the end. They rocked convincingly on the Doors-like "Ghost Highway", and the foggy countrified numbers were augmented with pedal steel and Roback's slide.
I was just a few feet from the front, but as the set wore on I began to feel jealous of the people sitting some distance back on the steps that form the large amphitheater surrounding the stage. Mazzy Star make sit-down music and, in one sense, private music. The stuff of late nights in dark rooms rather than vast concerts in the open air.
*With Ben Greenberg joining as bassist and appearing to fix The Men's line-up for a while after a short series of departures and temporary players, the band's front section is suddenly transformed: Mark Perro, Nick Chiericozzi, and Greenberg often look as though they're in a race to get to the end of the song the fastest, and to swirl their manes the most. Greenberg took vocals on a number of songs that seem new, and indicate another transformation for the band: They played very little of Open Your Heart last night, other than a winding version of the title track, and a clipped-vocal rip through "Turn It Around" (which is apparently "in E," if you're trying to tab that).
Instead, "Bataille", "Night Landing", and "A Minor" muscled up against several new songs, which all shared a similar jagged, hardcore feel. They were confrontational and defiant, far from the soft ruggedness of Open Your Heart, which, lest we forget, nearly veered into country at one point.
The front section's dynamism didn't underestimate the role of drummer Rich Samis, who turned the end of "I Saw Her Face" into a triple speed storm. Despite the fact that the ground was concrete and the crowd was sparse enough to make it ripe for face-planting, a crowd-surfer took flight during the last couple of songs. At the same time, the set veered from punchy and arresting to something of a chunky, mildly bloated sprawl, a jam best saved for the rehearsal room rather than the stage.
*Before arriving at this year's Primavera festival, my concept of European fests was colored largely by bootleg footage from the 1990s that I've watched online. If any new band I've seen here could have been playing back then, it's the SST-sounding Olympia, Washington four-piece Milk Music, whose stoned guitar noise had me thinking of Dinosaur Jr. throughout. (The majority of the group also look like Kurt Vile's long-lost brothers.)
The long-haired frontman Alex Coxen-- who last year told Pitchfork, "We're like the ultimate outsiders. Too straight for hippies, too far-out for punk"-- often engaged in eyes-closed, head-back extended guitar solos that somehow never felt redundant. Despite the relaxed pose, at one point he noted that he'd cut his finger, presumably from shredding too hard, but he just shrugged it off and kept playing. Later he blew sarcastic little kisses at the crowd, which grew quite sizable, a number of front-row fans visibly and manically head-banging in bliss.
Towards the end of the set, bassist Dave Harris approached the mic: "We've been playing all over Europe and everyone says people in Barcelona don't know how to get a band high after a show. What's up with that. Let's get high." A couple of straggling festival-goers came to eagerly meet their request immediately following the set. Another enthusiast asked guitarist Charles Warring for his pick. The fandom felt real.
Posted by Dan Goldin at 4:27 PM