Ah, festivals. Around these parts the very word conjures up images of wet weekends with wellies, mud, overpriced beer, flooded tents and a bunch of rowdy twats in the campsite who “only came here to see David Guetta.” Sure, there are more than enough decent acts to be seen, but precious few of them can stave off the sinking feeling that spreads throughout the crowd when it senses the pitter-patter of rainfall as the opening song rings out.
Which is why The Thin Air has made an executive decision and flown out to the northern Portuguese city of Porto for Optimus Primavera Sound 2013. The location promises sunshine and warmth, the beer is cheaper, and the crowds have a healthy appetite for the acts on the bill. And besides offering the opportunity to check out this young offshoot of Barcelona’s Primavera Sound – the Portuguese event is only in its second year – there’s also the added prospect of exploring one of Europe’s most beautiful and historic cities. So when hotel room curtains are opened to reveal a damp streetscape 24 hours before the gates open, confusion and anxiety sets in. Is it actually possible we towed the rainclouds behind us on the plane?
Move on 24 hours, though, and the weather has vastly improved, with the sun beaming down as The Thin Air walks through the gates of the festival site at the picturesque Parque da Cicade, a large parkland located near the seafront. The opening day sees only the two main stages – the Optimus Stage and the Super Bock Stage – in use. Both are situated side-by-side at the bottom of a hill which creates a natural amphitheatre, meaning those at the back can sit back and still enjoy the show. And as an added bonus, these stages host acts at alternate times, which means there will be no timetable clashes today.
The honour of opening the second edition of Optimus Primavera Sound falls to Spanish three-piece, Guadalupe Plata on the Super Bock Stage. With many people still exploring the grounds or finding a spot to enjoy the evening sunshine, the crowd that turns out to watch them numbers in the hundreds rather than the thousands, but that’s still an improvement on their Lisbon gig the night before, where apparently the crowd barely hit double figures. Heaven knows why, though, as their mix of garage rock and delta blues proves to be an ideal way to start the festival and it isn’t long before people start dancing along to songs like ‘Lorena’ and ‘Esclavo’.
Moving over to the Optimus Stage, Merchandise prove to be a more sedate proposition. On record, the Americans’ ’80s-tinged indie rock songs are powerful, even spine-tingling, but their Primavera performance doesn’t live up to expectations, with the passion normally squeezed into ‘Time’ and ‘Become What You Are’, amongst others, evaporating before it reaches the audience. In fairness, frontman Carson Cox admits the group hasn’t slept since the day before, so to some extent they can be forgiven for their underwhelming show.
As the sun sinks below the horizon, stomachs begin to rumble and minds wander back to a stand in the food area serving Argentinian beef dishes. Unfortuntealy, quite a large number of concert-goers have the exact same notion, and a lengthy wait in line ensues, while in the distance Wild Nothing can be heard playing ‘Live In Dreams’. Moving swiftly back towards the stage after being served, The Thin Air returns just in time to hear the Virginian group play the last strains of ‘Ride’, which results in a frustrating finish to what was a deliciously tasty steak sandwich. Oh well.
There is an upside, though, and that’s being able to move into a prime position for The Breeders before the crowds drift back towards the Optimus Stage. Tonight’s performance is part of the group’s Last Splash 20th anniversary tour, and with the Deal sisters and their bandmates playing the tunes in chronological order, there are no surprises in store. But that’s not to say their gig is a disappointment. Far from it. The band are all smiles as they rock out numbers ‘Cannonball’, ‘Divine Hammer’ and the rest of the album’s tracks, while the audience bounces around and sings along. It’s a complete nostaliga-fest, but who cares? The songs are magnificent and The Breeders are playing them with the eagerness of a band performing them for the first time. After the mixed bag which has proceeded them today, it’s The Breeders who really provide the kick-start for Optimus Primavera 2013. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a festival on our hands.
At this point, there should be a review of Dead Can Dance’s set, but there isn’t. A beer run results in a chance meeting with a group of friends and recent acquaintances, and the conversation is one of those timewarps you emerge from and realise almost an hour has passed and Dead Can Dance are playing their set closer, a cover of Tim Buckley’s ‘Song to the Siren’. Sorry about that.
Nick Cave’s set is one that will definitely not be missed, though. Darting around the stage and launching himself into the audience while he croons his moody lyrics, Cave is undoubtedly enjoying himself tonight. He has the audience firmly in his grasp as he Mixes cuts from his latest LP, such as ‘We No Who U R’, with fan favourites like ‘Red Right Hand’ and ‘Stagger Lee’. The final song is ‘Push the World Away’ – another new number, quiet and melancholic, yet exuding a formidable energy. His performance is without doubt one of the festival’s highlights.
Now in the early hours of the morning, Day One of OPS has entered its final stretch and a portion of the audience heads towards the exits. But it’s not over yet, as Deerhunter are taking to the stage. Their gig includes ‘Cover Me (Slowly)’, ‘Neon Junkyard’ and ‘Monomania’, and the group encourages fans to sing the Portuguese version of ‘Happy Birthday’ for bassist, Josh McKay. As they depart, there’s the distinct impression that their set has been cut short, but despite that, there can be no argument about the quality of their performance. They even manage to crack a few smiles.
The clock ticks past 3am as Jame Blake takes up position behind his keyboards, and it’s he who is tasked with bringing the opening day’s events to a close. Opening with ‘Air and A Lack Thereof’ and ‘I Never Learned To Share’, the hardcore members of the audience are lapping up his minimalist, soulful electronica, but the eyelids are getting heavy and the reluctant decision is made to head towards the gate and hail a taxi. It’s time to recharge the batteries because tomorrow is going to be twice the fun. Patrick Conboy