Primavera round-up: PiL, Grinderman, Suicide, Salem

Public Image Limited (Llevant Stage, Thursday)

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John Lydon’s not impressed with the passive crowd: “Fuck sake this is PiL man, we are your only friends in the music industry.” This finally gets a cheer, he gives us a cheeky wink and we’re all good from there. In fairness, everyone has started Primavera on a bit of a bummer – a few hours queuing to get festival passes (three hours for press and the size of the ‘real’ queue was giving me the fear). Once inside, there were huge queues to “recharge” your festival pass using a credit card, only to find out that the whole computer system was down and there’s only one bar open, scanning cards with an iPad. It sure was driving the indie hipsters to drink. Anyway, PiL are unreal.

John Lydon always maintains that this is his real legacy, and he’s kind of embarrassed by the squalid Sex Pistols pantomime. He’s still as Rotten as ever – blowing snot all over the stage, arching his back and howling at the moon during Poptones, and that cavernous bass lets us know that Primavera at least have the sound right. After a year or so on this comeback tour, they’ve the setlist nailed – from the Frankie Relax dance beat of This Is Not A Love Song, to the guitar squalls on Albatross and Death Disco, a song written for Lydon’s dying mother that brings him to tears.

There are a few crowd pleasers too, in the form of their big pop hit Rise and Leftfield’s Open Up. It’s round one to PiL then, in my book. They didn’t seem to win over any new converts though – a few mates were bored to death by the whole thing, but I’m a big fan and it worked for me. It even banished the whole recharge card fiasco to the back of my mind.

Grinderman (San Miguel stage, Thursday)

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No matter how many times you’ve seen Nick Cave live, you can’t help getting a rush when he’s in preacher man mode, all flailing limbs and cigarette smoke, pointing at the front row. He even jumps into the crowd during Kitchenette too, and I get to shake that fucking hand of his.

Grinderman are in ferocious form these days, and their show at Primavera’s main stage is an early festival highlight. Pity about the nautical-themed hipsters (shipsters) with their daft moustaches and stripey jumpers punching me on the back for dancing. Sorry lads, Nick wins. Cave and his select band of Bad Seeds steamroll through their two filthy blues rock albums, with No Pussy Blues, Heathen Child and Get It On the raucous standouts.

And let’s not forget about Warren Ellis’s feral performance – there’s a man who can make maracas look badass, as he’s beating Jim Sclavunos’s cymbals to a pulp during Grinderman, with sweat and spit dripping from his beard. Make sure you catch Grinderman in Vicar St in June, or we’ll send Big Bad Warren round to knock some sense into you.

Suicide (Ray Ban Stage, Thursday)

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Just as Grinderman’s set is finishing in a feedback maelstrom, Nick Cave is ordering us to go and see Suicide, as it’s “the only reason any of us are up on this stage”. And who are we to disobey Nick? It’s a sprint over to the Ray Ban Stage, set in an amphitheatre with huge flights of steps that’s one of the most perfect settings of the festival.

The skuzzy proto-electro duo are performing their 1977 debut album in full, with frontman Alan Vega in a foul mood, tearing through Ghostrider, Frankie Teardrop and Rocket USA, with vocals treated to the point of an echoey blur. Even though he looks about 150 years old, Vega is still one menacing dude – looking like Al Jourgensen’s da, with his shades covering half his face and his general disregard for his equipment – he batters his keyboard to death during Cheree, and he’s gobbing all over the place like a street bum.

His partner in crime Martin Rev beats him in the specs department though – modelling a fine pair of light-up sci-fi shades. Rev’s beats have been fairly beefed up from the record too. There’s some whack off the kick drum and coupled with the strobes, it turns into a techno onslaught at points. I chose Suicide over Caribou, Interpol and Das Racist, a pretty harsh four-way clash for the first night, and I reckon I chose wisely. Being shouted at by some old grouch shouldn’t be this much craic.

Salem (ATP Stage, Thursday)


I maybe wasn’t so shrewd choosing Salem over the Flaming Lips at the same time. Then again, we all know the Flaming Lips’ drill by now (stage invasions, Wayne Coyne in the plastic space bubble, glittery strobes), so I wanted to check out Salem’s so-called ‘witch house’ stylings, to see if they could pull off their haunted choral soundscapes and ice cold synths live. There’s been a bit of a backlash over the US trio’s shows, with tales of crowds booing them off stage, and their general not giving a shit demeanour. Mainman John Holland even once said of their concerts: “I don’t even care. I totally don’t.”

They draw a big crowd to the ATP amphitheatre, with hundreds of tired legs stretched out on grass verges and steps for the slot that nearly hits the 4am mark. It’s hardly life-changing, but the hipster pin-ups don’t disgrace themselves. The set is mostly culled from their debut album King Night, with a curious slowed-down swirly take on Alice Deejay’s Better Off Alone thrown in for good measure.

There seems to be some dreaded ‘technical difficulties’ on stage and the slithery synth-lines and broken beats would be better contained inside a club. It seems their live show involves powering up their laptops, whacking the smoke machine up full blast and playing their album back. Tracks like King Night, Frost and Release Da Boar leave everyone a bit cold, but that’s the general idea.

Originally published in State