Someone playing in front of a lot of people in the most perfect scenery you can get in a music festival. Photo by Hugo Lima [Vodafone Paredes de Coura]
Writing a review about Vodafone Paredes de Coura is always one of the most painful things I can do as a music writer. First, if I am to judge the musical performances – and, of course, some of those were pretty forgettable, others not even worth mentioning, as there are always some rotten strawberries even in the nicest basket – I can never do justice to how good the festival is as a whole. Second, if I’m to write a review, it means this years’ edition of the festival – and the best week of the whole year for most people who attend it – is over, and there are 51 boring weeks left until we return.
Each year, one of the things I can’t recommend enough, especially for those who never went there, is to travel early to the small village of Paredes de Coura and spend the days leading to the festival to explore the green scenery, the awesome and cheap gastronomy (nothing like eating properly before everyone arrives!), the friendly atmosphere, and, of course, probably the cheapest booze of any town that holds a music festival in Europe.
The festival organization even puts out three days of live music in the center of the village (free entrance), where we could witness, among other nice moments, a group of kids enrolled in a project called Escola do Rock (Rock School) playing the sweetest version of Morphine’s “The Night” I’ve ever listened to. But one of the newest traditions of the festival is the annual Gin Party Soundsystem afternoon DJ set at Xapas Bar, one of the smallest bars in the town’s main street, where sweaty boys and girls stop pretending they only like “indie” music and completely waste their voices while shouting their favorite choruses of cheesy 90s Eurodance songs. Unfortunately, that meant we were bound to miss Gala Drop at the start of the first day of festival, but their newfound life as one of Portugal’s greatest live bands of the last couple of years has been fairly documented in other reviews. Once we finally settled in the most beautiful hill of our loves, the one that oversees the main stage, we felt Ceremony’s sound lacked some punch: the Californian punk rock act would be best appreciated in a more in-your-face setting where we had gone crazy with Thee Oh Sees last year: the smaller (and much narrower) Vodafone.FM stage.
By the time Slowdive had hit the stage, we could already witness what a sold out Vodafone Paredes de Coura edition looked like – people, people everywhere. Probably one of the biggest crowds Slowdive has ever gathered outside the UK. Still, while the show did not feel as intimate as a band like Slowdive deserves, the sound quality was still stellar, with Goswell’s voice soaring through the trees among a sea of noise like we all wanted it to. With Souvlaki as the centerpiece, there was still time to explore their whole discography (”Crazy for You”, “Catch the Breeze”) and top it off with a Syd Barrett cover (”Golden Hair”). TV on the Radio closed the affairs on the main stage with a competent show, way more entertaining than the last time we saw them, back in 2007. The highlight, once again, had to be a reworked version of “Wolf Like Me”: so powerful that someone in the audience lighted a flare as if they were in the middle of a Turkish or Greek football game (TOCHADA!). And that was it.
Father John Misty. Photo by Hugo Lima [Vodafone Paredes de Coura]
If we really wanted to pick a winner among all the concerts we’ve seen this year, it wouldn’t be difficult to give the prize to Father John Misty. He rolled on the floor, laughed with and at the audience’s bizarreness, ‘stole’ people’s phones to record live video of himself… all with a spotless, incredible vocal delivery that most singers simply can’t reach while standing still and concentrated throughout the whole set. This is why people pay tickets. They want to be entertained, and Tillman’s persona delivers it with such a passion that only the most stubborn casual listener dares to shrug off.
Earlier in the day, Pond were slaying in a completely packed Vodafone.FM stage, with the Australians presenting their new record Man It Feels Like Space Again, released last January. Afterwards, Steve Gunn and his band played a solid, contemplative set on the main stage as the sun was setting – it’s great to see so many people being exposed to the (great) music of someone who could barely fill a small café in this country if it weren’t for the exposure given by the festival.
Back to the festival after two years, Iceage showcased – once again – all they are and all they could be if they wanted to: a band that is perfectly capable of exploding but simply won’t do it. They’ve mastered the art of building up tension for ages and then giving the excited kids in the audience the worst blue balls ever, all while blasting bright lights in their eyes. Confrontational as always, they’ve surfed through their short but diverse discography while playing hits like the Birthday Party-through-Nashville inspired “The Lord’s Favorite” or older material like show closer ”Ecstasy”. Back in the main stage, The Legendary Tigerman, one of Portugal’s most exciting rock acts of the last decade, was delivering yet another rock and roll discharge, warming up for Tame Impala. The Australian powerhouse were quick to unleash their latest hit, “Let it Happen”, for the benefit of 25,000 people that sold out the festival in part because of them – from the youngest first-timer to the elder regulars in Paredes de Coura, pretty much everyone wanted to watch their set, which resulted in an over packed audience. Tame Impala were the most entertaining whenever they played the most energetic songs off their previous albums (”Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?”, “Elephant”, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”, “Apocalypse Dreams”) and just plain boring during the rest of the set. ”’Cause I’m A Man” is just embarrassing. Quit it, Parker, it won’t work. As the concert itself, reactions to the set were pretty much mixed up, but everyone I talked to seemed to agree in something: it wasn’t the best nor the worst show they’ve seen this weekend.
Katie Crutchfield’s [Waxahatchee] Secret Show on the top of a hill nearby the village.
One of the most special things about Vodafone Paredes de Coura are the Vodafone Secret Shows that take place in the afternoon and are only announced to the press and 50 random people near the camping area a couple of hours in advance. On Friday we were treated to a special Katie Crutchfield [Waxahatchee] solo show on the top of the Alto do Crasto in the neighbouring parish of Cristelo (population: 317). The more than idyllic surroundings were perfectly suited for Crutchfield to perform her confessional songs solo with her electric guitar, which included a beautiful performance of Lucinda Williams’ “Greenville” and the old favorite “I Think I Love You” from her debut album American Weekend. The funniest moment happened when the sound of the church bells ringing at 5pm trampled her voice during La Loose, making her start over.
Watch a video of the concert here, featuring said bells.
However, later on, her full band show on the Vodafone.FM stage wasn’t nearly as special – maybe three guitars, bass and drums make for a too heavy sound those songs don’t really need, and the Crutchfield sisters’ voices were somewhat buried under the mix.
Before the Waxahatchee concert, time for a nice surprise from the Spanish Grupo de Expertos Solynieve, a group lead by Los Planetas’ Jota, who sounded like country rock if country rock was born in the scorching hot plains of Andalucía instead of the US. They’re even more enjoyable if you understand a bit of Spanish language, I still can’t get the chorus of set closer “La Reina de Inglaterra” out of my head. Why aren’t we exposed to great Spanish music more often if we live right next door?
Charles Bradley. Photo by Hugo Lima [Vodafone Paredes de Coura]
On the main stage, Charles Bradley and The War on Drugs easily made us forget about the borefest that was the Mark Lanegan Band show and nice but forgettable shows by both X-Wife and Allah-Las. Despite being the most seasoned songwriter on the lineup, Lanegan and his band seemed out of place and lacked a certain flame; if we didn’t know him before, we would say they didn’t have what it takes to play a main stage in a festival. Or they just didn’t want to. On the other hand, Charles Bradley poured his heart out with the help of his Extraordinaires, his fantastic backing band. The soul giant – who only released his first album at the age of 62, when most people are thinking about retiring – presented us with the most emotional show of the whole festival (I would go as far as to say no other concert I ever saw there
ever came close to this, since my debut in 2007). That perpetual smile on his face during the show says it all.
The War on Drugs had the honor of closing the main stage for the third day of festival. Unlike Tame Impala on the night before – and very unlike Bradley before them – their set was more low key than most energetic kids hoped it would be, hence the unfathomable stream of crowdsurfers and moshers ruining the concert for everyone around them (even in the quiet bits of the songs!), reminding us to never try and watch big concerts near the stage in music festivals. Other than that (and the lack of sound coming from the saxophone during most of the concert), they provided one of the most solid concerts of the whole week; comparing to last years’ concert at NOS Alive ‘14, the band looked less energetic but way more in tune with each other. Also, big thumbs up for including Wagonwheel Blues’ “Arms Like Boulders” as the set opener, a homage to a time when their sound wasn’t “progressive” enough to be hyped and enjoyed by the larger indie community.
Woods’ Secret Show in the local firestation. #privileged #blessed
I know there are no words to explain how the Vodafone Secret Shows elevate the festival to the next level. Huge dark clouds menaced the well-being of virtually everyone in the last day of the festival and it poured right before Woods’ secret show at the Paredes de Coura firestation (it had to be moved from somewhere else to a sheltered space – thank god, as this place was amazing for a concert). But, unlike the day before, the real highlight was the show on the main stage, where the Brooklynites jammed the fuck out of some songs off their latest record, With Light and With Love and closed their European tour in style. One of the best shows of the festival.
Natalie Prass. Photo by Miguel Oliveira [POINT and SHOOT]
Right before them, Bolachas’ favorite Natalie Prass had presented her lovely selftitled debut album on the Vodafone.FM stage, throwing a beautiful Janet Jackson cover song in the mix. Her stage presence is unusual for someone who has just released her first album less than 9 months ago, I wonder if she was some sort of soul diva in a past life, if there’s such a thing. Sylvan Esso’s synthpop was pretty entertaining and energetic but they would fit on the after hours slot way better than The Soft Moon, who, despite the late hour, surprised most people who weren’t aware of them. Meanwhile, on the Vodafone stage, Temples, the poppier UK counterpart to Tame Impala, more Beatles than Syd, sounded slightly more interesting than the Australian band and provided a nice soundtrack to my worries about the FC Porto away game taking place at the same time. Nothing like a good noisy concert at the mighty 10pm slot in the smaller stage (in the vein of No Age, Iceage or Thee Oh Sees) to set the adrenaline levels straight, and Fuzz delivered.
But here comes the fall. Lykke Li was to play one of the most expected concerts of the festival, even more so after it was announced that Vodafone Paredes de Coura would be her only summer show of 2015. It turned out to be the most disappointing show of the week; the slow, somber songs off her beautiful latest album weren’t capable of grabbing most people’s attention on such a big stage, and the sound mix was too low from where I was standing – and no, I wasn’t on the other side of the festival site. It felt like I was listening to some Enya song
on the phone while waiting in line for my ISP to help me with my connection problems during one hour. And she didn’t even play “Orinoco Flow”. But don’t worry, we’ll give you another chance if you come back to play a seated venue. Just don’t play that boring Drake cover again.
But, in the end, Ratatat and all our friends were there to save the night. An example of how visuals can enhance a concert, keep people from making unnecessary noise and playing games on their phones, taking it up a couple of notches. It helps if you can play infectious tunes like “Abrasive” or “Seventeen Years”. If a show is fun, we’ll even forget about the fact they were using pre-recorded tracks live. And that the sky was about to unleash copious amounts of rain, which made our goodbyes to the enchanted village feel even more painful as we packed everything up again the next day, longing for that return, exactly 51 weeks from now.