After a day of parks, Catalan cuisine and modern art, it’s time to bring the noise with a night-long stretch at the ATP stage, interspersed only with a quick look at Devo ‘s entertaining middle-aged-men-in-short-pants schtick and a scuttle past Cat Power’s lacklustre blues. The intention had been to also catch some shows in the Auditori venue, but its limited seating capacity meant hour-long queues just to get a ticket for the right to then join another snaking queue for the performance itself. With too many bands to see and too expansive of a city to explore to waste time standing in line, I had to give up on seeing Bill Callahan and Portishead’s second performance of the festival. The concert hall acoustics would’ve no doubt allowed Beth Gibbons’s voice to take on more of a ghostly hue, and on finishing with “We Carry On” the band invited the audience up onto the Auditori stage, so it was surely a special show and a shame to have missed it.

ATP stage, Primavera Sound, 30-May-2008

 

The evening kicks off with Six Organs Of Admittance singing the sun down, now at the end of their European tour and playing with a togetherness and understanding that was missing when I saw them at the start. This makes for an incendiary performance, Ben Chasny’s alternately intricate finger-picking and paint-peeling riffs in complete sync with drummer Alex Neilson’s expressive percussion, all washed over with Elisa Ambrogio’s waves of distortion and feedback. They start with live favourite “A Thousand Birds”, whose second half throws up swirls of splintered noise as Chasny & Ambrogio batter their guitars into submission. Chasny has recently said how he is drawn back to the noisier stuff that he made as a twenty-year-old, moving away from the all-acoustic explorations of earlier Six Organs material – and the evidence is certainly to be heard in his live performances, with Ambrogio’s instinctively free & unfettered playing the perfect springboard for Chasny to unleash his own six-stringed savagery.

Six Organs Of Admittance, ATP stage, Primavera Sound, 30-May-2008

Songs from most recent album “Shelter From The Ash” are interspersed with oldie “Black Needle Rhymes” before Chasny & partner Ambrogio harmonise through Fleetwood Mac’s “That’s Alright”, another staple of their recent performances. Chasny then provides some eye-of-the-hurricane calm, running through two of his most affecting songs, just his yearning falsetto and stellar playing keeping the large crowd captivated. This is the start of a four-song-suite of “School Of The Flower” material (happily my favourite Six Organs release) that closes the performance. The title track of that album is introduced as “School Of The Mick Flower” in tribute to the Vibracathedral Orchestra‘s guitarist, Chasny urging us all to enrol, and it’s a treat to hear it played as it hasn’t featured in live sets for some time. All three band members conjure up a maelstrom of freerock that comes full circle, dissolving into Chasny’s repeating refrain before we’re comfortingly brought “Home”.

 

Setlist: Six Organs Of Admittance @ Primavera Sound 2008, Barcelona (30 May 2008)
A Thousand Birds
Strangled Road
Black Needle Rhymes
Shelter From The Ash
That’s Alright (Fleetwood Mac cover)
All You’ve Left
Words For Two
School Of The Flower
Home

 

Having heard lots of buzz around Autolux I’d almost taken it for granted that they would prove to be my ‘discovery of the festival’. And I would have really enjoyed their performance had I completely missed out on Sonic Youth 1985-1995. As it is I can’t get past the fact that every riff sounds like it has been plundered from the Noo Yoik noiseniks back catalogue, not really adding (to these ears) anything new to the formula. That they actually manage to sound like Sonic Youth is achievement in itself I suppose, and if Autolux succeed in turning a new generation onto the joys of “Evol” or “Sister” then they’re serving a beneficial & humanitarian purpose, but it does not compute that this is considered somehow new & exciting. Of course most art builds on a foundation of what has gone before, but the revivalist nature of a lot of alternative music released this decade seems to these aged ears to be a case of cheap knock-off rather than an assimilation of influences in the pursuit of creating something new. That said, Autolux do entertain and they’re certainly no fly-by-night phonies – they’ve been playing together since the start of this decade, and although not exactly prolific (they’ve one album to their name thus far) have built a sizeable fanbase (as evidenced by the large & enthusiastic crowd here). Carla Azar is a powerhouse drummer, and really propels the band along – remarkable given that a shattered elbow following a stage fall in 2002 resulted in the prognosis that she would probably never play drums again. Eight titanium screws later and she continues to pound the skins with ferocious dexterity.

 

Polvo are a band revered by many, original proponents of dissonant math rock, all bent notes and complex time signatures. They existed for much of the 90s before disbanding – now reformed for a series of ATP-related festivals. They score high on the math test (ouch!): high-school classmates with some of Superchunk, releases on Touch and Go, recorded by Bob Weston, yada yada… – but don’t really do it for me. I like a good big dumb riff to get a hold of, and this is a bit too knowingly complex and fiddly, venturing into that no-man’s-land where the borders between punk and prog are unclear. For sure they still know how to wield their axes with intent and there is Eastern-tinged melody to be found in their unorthodox tunings and fluid fretwork, but I guess I’m too much of a big dumb lunk to want to study this further.

Polvo, ATP stage, Primavera Sound, 30-May-2008

 

Bristol-now-London duo Fuck Buttons are something I’ve been keen to see, and they don’t disappoint. The spirit of Suicide and a worthy history of noise bands inform the Fuck Buttons sound, and they have fun with turning it into the noize you can move to, be moved by. It has an elemental simplicity (and it seems eco-friendly too) which works well here under the stars by the sea. Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power stand hunched over their equipment, moving to the crystalline melodies submerged in the swarm of electronic noise, Power sometimes bashing out a tribal beat on a floor tom. While Hung seems pretty chilled behind his bank of old Casio keyboards, Power is the more animated, sticking the toy microphone into his mouth, screaming the distorted vocals while using both hands to shape the sound.

Fuck Buttons, ATP stage, Primavera Sound, 30-May-2008

Most of the set seems drawn from their “Street Horrrsing” album, although I think they may have played something new to finish. “Sweet Love For Planet Earth” is the highlight with its rainfall tinkle and pulsing drones building into a melodically abrasive shout out for help on behalf of this hunk of rock, Power howling into the microphone clenched in his jaws. For the rest, the tune-friendly, sometimes playful and at times downright-euphoric circuit-bent wall of buzzing synth sound makes for one upbeat noise party.

 

When news broke earlier in the year that drummer Chris Hakius had left Om I feared for the life of the mighty mantric metallers. Hakius and bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros had been friends & collaborators of some twenty years, playing in Sabbathian stoner-rock legends Sleep together before reconvening in 2004 for Om, and I couldn’t see how the band would survive the end of such a longstanding & close-knit connection. But Grandmaster Cisneros (he teaches chess when he is not captain of the shrine effulgent Om windship) quickly announced the continuation of the Om journey, and tonight he performs with new drummer Emil Amos (of Grails and Holy Sons).

The first thing that strikes me is just how good a bass-player Cisneros is – his fingers glide effortlessly over his Rickenbacker’s neck, the dextrous display somewhat incongruous with the bludgeoning vibrations that emenate from the speaker stacks. Early on, as I stand close to the stage, it feels as those vibrations will resonate inside my head to such an extent that it’ll explode, but I soon tune into the pre-dawn mantras, focusing only on the new rites of a Vedic sun to attend the blue horizon… The low-end barrage, cyclical rhythms, songs that seem to slow time, riffs fashioned from dark matter and chanted mysticisms (Julian Cope once called Cisneros’s lyrics “the kind of accessible pseudo-religious genius that started genuine religions”) all make for a meditative experience, albeit at arsequake volume – even if (to the uninitiated) the songs all sound the same. That Om plough the same groove is not something Cisneros denies: he talks of the music as being a singular continuous expression, with Om as merely the vessel that occasionally tunes into this one theme to make it tangible in our world (the 2004 debut album is aptly titled “Variations On A Theme”).

Om, ATP stage, Primavera Sound, 30-May-2008

Second song is “To The Shrinebuilder”, arguably Om’s most propulsive song to date, Amos adding even more weight to it with his hard-hitting percussion (you can download a live version of this song, recorded in Canada in 2006, from Holy Mountain here). Amos definitely brings a new dimension to the Om sound, his dynamic drumming is expressive and powerful, so it will be interesting to see how this translates to future Om recordings. They close with the epic “At Giza”, many fans’ favourite of Om’s thematic variations, the crowd going wild for the breakdown in the middle where Cisneros’s bass note hangs in the air before the song slowly builds again into a glacially heavy groove, the coming of the sun and that blue horizon a couple of hours away yet…

 

Setlist: Om @ Primavera Sound 2008, Barcelona (30 May 2008)
Bhima’s Theme
To The Shrinebuilder
Kapila’s Theme
At Giza
(well this is what I think it was… it was late & muchos Estrella later, so any corrections welcome…)

 

 

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