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Vodafone Paredes de Coura 2014 – the review

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Photo by Hugo Lima [Vodafone Paredes de Coura]

In 2014, whenever we think
about blurred lines – other than that
infamous song – we think about that ever diluting line that separates work and
leisure, especially when you get to work on something that’s just too much fun
and sounds more like a hobby than a real job. Covering a festival is usually
one of those situations, except when you have to endure really bad or
unbalanced lineups. Now imagine you’re not only covering a festival with a good
lineup, but you’re surrounded by people who are passionate about it and are having
the best week of their year, in a land immersed in green and drenched by the
sun, with good (and cheap) food and drink awaiting on every corner of a small
but welcoming village. That’s Paredes de Coura for you, folks. And we can hardly
wait until next years’ festival.

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Janelle Monáe. Photo by Hugo Lima [Vodafone Paredes de Coura]

The first day of the
festival was dominated by the Q.U.E.E.N. Janelle
Monáe
. Accompanied by a big band all dressed in white, the Kansas singer
pulled up a flawless show where hits like “Tightrope”, “Cold War”, “PrimeTime”
or even a version of “I Feel Good” were celebrated like no other moments in
that day. Earlier on, Porto-based female rapper Capicua had enchanted the still smallish crowd that forgot about
the Champions League game and went to the festival site early. Public Service Broadcasting and their thinking person’s music closed the first
day of the festival on a high note, although the Britons could have benefitted from
being scheduled before 1 am.


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Seasick Steve. Photo by Hugo Lima [Vodafone Paredes de Coura]

Thursday, the first day of
the festival in full force, with concerts in both stages, began earlier, with one
of southern Portugal’s best rock musicians of the last couple of years, Fast Eddie Nelson warming up for what
would be one of the best concerts of the festival. Seasick Steve, a late bloomer who didn’t record an album until he
was in his late 50s, brought his rocking delta blues to the main stage in the
greatest of fashions, and doing what Portuguese audiences love the most: talking
a lot and bringing people to the stage. Lucky girl. You’ve shared a stage with
a soon-to-be-legend. Meanwhile, on the smaller stage, Thurston Moore played yet another lukewarm show (good to see Steve
Shelley on drums, though) that screams “please, let’s sort out our problems and
reform Sonic Youth, can we?” We know, wishful thinking. They’re never, ever,
ever getting back together.

Another artist whose music
doesn’t quite translate well to a big stage is Mac DeMarco’s, tailor of a handful of gems spread across three
records (‘Chamber of Reflection’, ‘Ode to Viceroy’, ‘Cooking Up Something Good’,
‘The Stars Keep On Calling My Name’) but who needs to resort to crazy stage
antics to grab people’s attention. It works. Mac’s a crowd-pleaser and there
was still time to roll one with a Bob Marley cover (‘Jamming’). That would probably
the best way to keep his music interesting after a few minutes.

But the best moment of the
whole festival (spoilers!) came in the form of a San Francisco trio. Presenting
their latest album, Drop, Thee Oh Sees brought memories of past
triumphant concerts in the smaller stage (right on the top of my head, No Age ’11,
Deer Tick ’12 and Iceage ’13). John Dwyer’s violent garage-y, vaguely
psychedelic riffs (thank God for ‘Toe Cutter/Thumb Buster’) brought the tent to
a boil, with yours truly’s nose fortunately saved one inch from the cold ground
by a kind stranger after a crowdsurf went bad. Thank you.

The rest of the night was
dominated by the hit machine that is Franz
Ferdinand
; making people who don’t even like them tap their feet since
2002. Festivals around Europe, you already know it: if you’re short of
headliners, Franz Ferdinand are your guys. You know the drill: ‘Tell Her
Tonight’, ‘Take Me Out’, ‘Jacqueline’, ‘Walk Away’, ‘Do You Want To’ and ‘This
Fire’ as the closer and nobody is going to complain. Pretty effective, even in
autopilot.


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Conor Oberst w/Dawes. Photo by Hugo Lima [Vodafone Paredes de Coura]

Day 3 began with one of
Bolachas’ favorites, Dawes. The Californian
roots-rockers, playing their last European show before coming back to the US,
played a heat-defeating laidback set which included fan-favorites ‘That Western
Skyline’ or ‘When My Time Comes’, coupled with songs off their latest two
records, Nothing is Wrong and Stories Don’t End, including the
beautiful set-closer ‘Fire Away’. There was still time for a brand new song to
be included in a forthcoming record, coming up in early 2015. We would meet
again later on the main stage though: Conor
Oberst
, in his first ever appearance in Portugal, used the Goldsmiths’ act
as his backing band, playing some songs off his latest solo record, Upside Down Mountain, and revisiting
some of Bright Eyes’ material, which included three fan favorites ‘Old Soul
Song’, ‘Another Travelin’ Song’ (both off I’m
Wide Awake It’s Morning
) and the oldie ‘Lover I Don’t Have To Love’. The
highlight of their set, however, was the beautiful rendition of ‘I Got the
Reason #2’. There’s a good reason that a song off a record that didn’t get much
attention is a constant on his live set, and you can (and should) check YouTube
to know why. Taylor Goldsmith really shines on this one, and Oberst can
consider himself lucky he got to pick such a talented band to support them on a
tour.

Between the two
Americana-infused sets we had plenty of reasons to be entertained though, from
the sludgy rock and roll of the young almost-locals Killimanjaro, tearing the main stage apart and Linda Martini’s more intricate and sonically expansive endeavors to
Buke and Gase’s experimentalism (and
by experimentalism we don’t mean ‘weirdness’, we mean invented instruments and
shit). Before Oberst took the stage, Yuck
were playing a surprisingly good show on the Vodafone FM stage, considering
they had just lost what arguably was their most creative band member (and
frontman) Daniel Blumberg. It helped that the band decided that playing some of
the most powerful songs off the first record, such as ‘Holing Out’, ‘Georgia’
or ‘Get Away’, during the first half of the set, was a good idea – and they
topped it off with the single off their sophomore album, ‘Middle Sea’. If
Oberst wasn’t calling from the other side of the festival side we would’ve happily
stayed there until the end.

The rest of the day was
less than memorable, though: Black Lips
are always fun and it’s a pleasure to see kids having the time of their lives,
singing along, moshing and crowdsurfing to ‘O Katrina!’ or ‘Bad Kids’, but the
main stage is too big for them; Cut Copy
are, generally, a waste of time.


After another memorable
hours-long DJ set by Gin Party
Soundsystem
at the mystical Xapas Bar, memories of the sublime Sensible Soccers concert, opening the
last day of the festival, are still a bit blurry. The Portuguese band’s soft
and beautifully crafted kraut-something rhythms and melodies brought us back to
Earth just in time for two absolute disappointments: The Dodos are not what they used to be (really bland show at the
Vodafone FM stage, such lack of flame) and Kurt
Vile
’s concert was a shadow of the one he gave back in 2011 on the smaller
stage, when a powerful and aptly named ‘Freak Train’ teared the stage apart
just before dinner. Fortunately, The
Growlers
saved the night with the most cheerful and energized show of the
last day of concerts, featuring some fans dressed up as animals (seriously, how
do they endure hot afternoons on those suits?) and high doses of surf’n’roll. The
last concert of the Vodafone FM stage was also one of the best of the whole festival,
with Goat’s psychedelic freakiness
(nice dancers and visuals, guys) making everyone dance, although we felt the
small stage was, indeed, too small for them.

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James Blake. Photo by Hugo Lima [Vodafone Paredes de Coura]

Back to ‘serious business’
concerts: Beirut, against all odds
(the cool kids don’t think Zach Condon is hip anymore), did an amazing job,
even if sometimes the sound of people talking prevailed over the band’s sound. ‘Nantes’,
‘Elephant Gun’ or ‘A Sunday Smile’ brought them some extra cheers, though. But,
in the end, what the average music fan brought home as their best memory from
Paredes de Coura was a sublime James
Blake
show that would only be better if people who didn’t want to see him learnt
to shut the fuck up or go talk somewhere else. Blake
started by shaking things off with the brilliant ‘CMYK’ but quickly moved on to
more introspective areas (such as Feist and Joni Mitchell’s ‘Limit to Your Love’
and ‘A Case of You’), meddling between his latest album Overgrown (‘Life Round Here’, ‘Overgrown’, ‘Retrograde’) and his breakthrough
self-titled debut (both ‘Lindisfarnes’ or the show’s highlight ‘The Wilhelm
Scream’). Some might argue that his music wasn’t suited to wrap up the last
night of concerts at Paredes de Coura, but ultimately everyone else’s smiles seemed
to outshine their torches.

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