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Day Three - Enter The Messiah
For those of you getting a little peeved by our sanctimonius ramblings from some corner of a foreign field, you'll be happy to know that our Saturday was spent getting soaked and developing mild trench foot symptoms. "As if it rains on the Atlantic coast!" we thought as we packed our bags full of vests and beach shorts, failing to realise that Porto's summer season is characterised by frequent rainy squalls blowing in off the coat tails of El Niño. Typical. So it was that we spent the first twenty minutes after our arrival dodging puddles and hunting the near-deserted merch area for waterproof ponchos. Fo'shizzle that drizzle.
Our first port of call was the nearest stage with a bit of cover: that meant the Club stage, where VERONICA FALLS were stationed. The majority of great, catchy music is uncomplicated, and that is a maxim which Veronica Falls adhere to neatly. Tight and efficient, these London-based cool cats specialise in an infectious type of indie pop that is built around Roxanne Clifford and James Hoare's interweaving guitars and vocals, and this was a shamelessly enjoyable way to start the evening. If you've not heard of them think Dum Dum Girls mixed with The Organ, with a Morrissey-indebted vocal delivery; or just watch the video to first single Found Love In A Graveyard, which was a stand out moment here.
As we skidded our way down to the main stage, still in search of those elusive waterproofs, it was apparent that the rain was keeping a few people away. Those that did were either huddling under any available cover, or bravely queueing for tickets to Sunday night's entertainment. Eschewing either of those sensible-sounding ideas, we continued in our pilgrimage down to the far end of the site, where AFGHAN WHIGS were squeezed in to the side of the Optimus Stage to avoid the rain pouring in through the hole in the back. But our calling was elsewhere as we joined the congregation gathering in front of the adjacent Primavera Stage.
If yesterday’s performance by The Flaming Lips set the standard for a band operating in the realms of the celestial, tonight’s show from SPIRITUALIZED also found a group soaring along their own cosmic jet-stream. Yet this was a very different trajectory, as Wayne Coyne’s sense of theatre made way for Jason Pierce’s command of the subtle and dynamic. From the first chord of tonight’s opener (and recent single), Hey Jane, it was clear that the early-evening biblical buckets were only set to make this even more of a dramatic affair. Spiritualized commanded their dynamic twists from cavernous, contorted reverb to soaring gospel, via an attenuated whisper, with such ease that it was a glory to behold. The longstanding addition of two female vocalists added a stunning counterpoint to Pierce’s wafer thin vocal delivery. The show’s crowning moment saw the band effortlessly segue from Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, into Elvis’s I Can't Help Falling in Love With You; a stunning touch delivered with consummate class. Come Together and kneel at the altar of the Spaceman.
Thoroughly in need of the chance to gather our thoughts and dry out after that religious experience, we found ourselves in the press area for the Portugal v Germany Euro 2012 encounter. We found it hard to maintain our neutrality when Mario Gomez planted that header in the bottom corner, and nearly choked on the complementary champagne and foie gras when Nani's Lars Bender of a cross-shot came back off the bar. It was an absorbing encounter - about as absorbing as our sodden shoes in fact - and we could barely stay on our heated seats as Portugal pressed for the equaliser... seriously though, England don't stand a chance with that refereeing, there will be red cards aplenty for our players if that's the standard to stick to. What, more music? OK.
THE WEEKND were supposed to rejuvenate the evening, as the rain had stopped cascading by this point, but it wasn't the uplifting performance we were hoping for. Instead we got a weird Evanescence fronted by Aloe Blacc vibe, so we didn't hang about for more. Nor did we hang around long for LEE RANALDO's set on the ATP Stage, as he looked like he was missing something. The rest of Sonic Youth perhaps?
We were mildly surprised to find KINGS OF CONVENIENCE billed on the main Optimus Stage this evening. It seems that their popularity in Portugal dwarfs the group’s profile in the UK as one of the largest crowds of the weekend greeted them onstage at 11pm. The band’s delicate acoustic meanderings - mixing nylon and steel acoustic guitar alongside their gorgeous two part harmonies - worked surprisingly well in such a huge setting; even if the group were temporarily distracted by the “random rock band” (it was actually DIRTY THREE...) on the stage over the hill. Their Norwegian accents, whilst singing in English, gave an endearing disjointedness to the cold edge of their Elliott Smith-ian tales of loneliness - many lifted from their glorious debut Quiet Is The New Loud. And while the unveiling of a full backing band for the final collection of numbers - which verged dangerously on the euro-funk end of the spectrum - can be filed in the ‘guilty pleasures’ drawer, not enough damage was caused to regard this as anything other than a triumph.
Liverpool’s own FOREST SWORDS landed at Primavera following a run of shows across Europe, his first forays into the live arena. And what a debut setting, as he followed Dirty Three for a 1am showing on the All Tomorrow’s Parties stage. The task of translating an exercise in production wizardry into a live context was always going to be challenge, but we can confidently report that on tonight’s showing the results were exceptionally encouraging. Matt Barnes’ scorpion-like body contortions (set side on to the audience and stage right) were propped by Jay Freeman’s role as psychotic conductor, and a disorientating, greyscale visual backdrop. It came together to create an alluring live spectacle, made even more twisted and demonic by Barnes’ bass-addled vocal effect. The sparing use of live guitar and vocal, added to Freeman’s bass guitar, gave the show enough for the audience to relate to, without distancing the live performance wildly from Dagger Paths’ recorded persona. The warm reception from the audience, added to the fact that Forest Swords has managed to even get on this bill in the first place, provides great cause for anticipation ahead of a new LP due later this year. Liverpool’s prince of the avant-garde? We salute you.
It felt as though THE XX's performance was going to be something epic, potentially a defining point of this whole festival. Maybe for many it was, but it left us feeling a tad underwhelmed. While it's true that a large part of their charm come from their minimalist leanings it just feels as though they're missing a trick in not developing their live shows at this level to something more than just an extension of Jamie Smith's solo project. Sure there's an element of coldness, even remoteness, to their style that helps define them, but we walked away thinking that it could have been so much more if they'd turned it up ten times, injected a few degrees of warmth, and lit up that bloody great X hanging above them on the stage. They've got the songs and it worked well with the three of them on stage, we just wanted MORE!
In danger of leaving on a downbeat note, we swung by the SCREENADELICA tent on the way out to see that the team had been doing a roaring trade, with most of what was brought with them already sold. Great to see that the downpour hadn't totally scuppered the plans, and to see that another great Liverpool export was doing well on the continent. We get the impression Screenadelica will be a regular addition to lots of festivals for a few years to come - Amen to that.
And so we trundled off in search of the Magic Bus, leaving Porto's marvellous Parque Cidade for the last time on this particular venture. Tonight's shows move in to two venues in the city centre, so it was a fairly sad farewell to this park on the eastern edge of the Atlantic Ocean, at least for this year anyway. We'll leave you with this choice cut of a tune from Spanish Euro pop legend Bigott - definitely the defining song of this festival. Tuck in!
Like it or not, we'll be back tomorrow to wrap up the final day's shenanigans. We're just off to Praca Liberdade to mingle with the locals and find out a bit about this Ferdinand Magellan chap. There may be a glass or two of port involved too. Saude e bom appetit! x