A bit of customary second day dilly-dallying means we miss a lot of the hipster Beyoncé, aka Mrs Carter’s little sister Solange at the Pitchfork Stage. Like Jessie Ware on the same stage the previous evening, Solange is a straight-up pop star who’s managed to blag a pass into the indie big league. She’s sandwiched between the Breeders performing their iconic 90s album Last Splash and Steve Albini’s post-hardcore mainstays Shellac, who basically have a Parc del Forum residents’ pass. If this was Reading Festival the metallers would give her the bottle-of-piss treatment, but even the most hardened indie purist couldn’t turn their noses up at the thousands swarming at Pitchfork for her joyous brand of electro-pop, Motown bounce and breezy R&B. We arrive as the dreamy sunshine synths of her calling card, Losing You, kicks off a mass singalong, and she finishes with the Dirty Projectors’ You Made Me Realise, to strengthen her credentials.
It’s then time for perfect pop at the other end of the spectrum, as the Jesus and Mary Chain (below) resurrect their ’80s heyday in a swirl of wall-of-sound reverb and leather-and-shades rock’n’roll. The Reid brothers are a bit fuller round the gut and there’s zero chance of banter or any new material, but the songs are timeless and the Heineken Stage is packed with fans paying homage to the Scots that inspired half the bands playing at the festival. Singer Jim’s voice falters the odd time, but he never gave a shit anyway. Bolstered by an extra guitarist and bass player, they’re a million miles away from their infamous live disasters, involving on-stage scraps, 20-minute shows and walk-offs. As My Bloody Valentine’s Bilinda Butcher joins them on stage for Just Like Honey, it turns the notoriously dour band into unlikely crowd-pleasing cameo showmen.
Down to the Ray-Ban amphitheatre, and it’s my fifth time seeing Swans in as many months on The Seer tour. I feel like wearing a mask in case band leader Michael Gira has finally secured that restraining order, but I hang to the left of the stage as the six members walk out to a sparse crowd – it’s difficult to go toe-to-toe with Blur, even if they’ve got a deserved reputation as the greatest live band in the world. It begins, as always on this tour, with the 15-minute To Be Kind, with Gira’s slowly flailing arms clawing energy from mid-air as drones and shimmering cymbals count in the blast furnace of the first down beat that has Gira’s left boot and guitar repeatedly slamming south in unison, his hair already matted to his face with sweat. To Be Kind bangs into Mother of the World, as drummer Thor Harris leaps out of his stool and double-arm slams the skins repeatedly. It’s shaping up to be another transcendent visceral experience but a Swans performance demands total commitment and I’m distracted by the passing stragglers and tempted by Blur, safe in the knowledge that I’ll be seeing Gira and co at least twice in Ireland later this year.
We’re hoping that Blur’s performance at the Heinken Stage will lead to another personal Britpop reappraisal, after Pulp’s awesome performance at Primavera 2011. Initial signs are good, with the most vocal crowd of the weekend, chanting back every one of Damon Albarn’s lines. It’s a greatest hits set that fires all the teenage music synapses, with the student bar chant of Girls and Boys, Country House and Parklife and End of a Century joining hands with poignant lighters/iPhones aloft moments like Under the Westway and The Universal. It’s no Pulp though, and at times it’s a bit indie-disco karaoke, especially during Song 2, but I’d feel like a dick raining on fans’ parade, considering I’ll be a karaoke culprit at Nick Cave the following night.
The Knife’s closing show at the Primavera Stage is far from an all-inclusive love-in, as Swedish siblings Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer elicit responses of unburdened joy, giddy bewilderment and outright anger over their apparent miming of tracks from their latest album Shaking the Habitual. Emerging like cloaked druids, the pair remove silken sheet covers that reveal odd laser-lit instruments – chimes, a new take on a harp and a six-foot stringed instrument that looked like a Star Wars Star Destroyer played with a bow. Opening with the haunting Cherry on Top, they play, or appear to play, their crackpot instruments while Karin’s decayed low-pitch moan emerges from under her cloak. After the heavily percussive Bird and Raging Lung, the instruments are dragged away and replaced with a dance troupe who join Karin and Olof for an hour or so of interpretive dancing to a backing track, or so it seems. It initially comes off as a case of Primavera’s Got Talent, as the amateurish dancers twirl, run on the spot, perform air guitar moves and kid-at-a-wedding knee slides.
There’s always been a conflict in electronic music between what’s ‘live’ and pre-recorded, but the Knife break this spell by getting rid of any pretence: Olof lip-synchs Karin’s vocals, while as many as four or five of the dancers mime the lyrics at any one time. Before Shaking the Habitual, the Knife hadn’t played live since a five-date European tour in 2007. Maybe I’d feel short-changed if, like many people, I’d bought flights and booked tickets for the latest tour that sold out in minutes. But with no disbelief to suspend, and no one pretending to push all the buttons, the live show soon turns into a thrillingly bonkers rave – with the emperors’ new clothes becoming a set of garish neon leotards. Full of Fire and a techno cyber steel drum reworking of Silent Shout are etched into our eyeballs with strobe-lit precision, as day two crashes to a giddy close.