Day 2 of Festival Para Gente Sentada (FPGS) and it was a sunny day in Braga. The conditions for an easy afternoon listening to the lovely music of Peixe, Sun Blossoms and Time for T were perfect. Unfortunately life had other plans for us and, by the time we got to Braga, we’d missed all three of those shows. Or so we thought.
Time stops for no one and the Bolachas crew is
now growing old
can barely handle the intensity of the big summer events. That’s just one of
the reasons we embrace Festival para
Gente Sentada (FpGS) dearly. What’s the other? The chance to see some of
our favorite singer-songwriters in a semi-intimate setting while comfortably
seated, of course. Despite what we just said, don’t think that FpGS is a
festival for “old people” (whatever that is). The wide range of generations we
saw in the audience should be proof enough of that.
Officially, the festival opened on Friday afternoon
with performances by Serushio, Benjamim and Box 2 Box on tiny outdoor stages across the city. Unfortunately other
responsibilities prevented us from being there from the get-go so our festival
started at 21h30 when we stepped into the majestic Theatro Circo to see Bruno Pernadas.
With a remarkable line-up of nine musicians (including
members from You Can’t Win, Charlie Brown, Tape Junk, Minta and a three element
brass section) this show was a real treat. Even if you don’t really like Pernadas’ music it’s hard to look at
this group of talented musicians and not admire the way they work together complementing
each other and creating this organic free-flowing style somewhere between the
soundtrack of a space-opera and some exotic old-time big band while still
sounding fresh and maintaining a pop-like charm. From the brass section to the
choirs, to the synths and the drums everything fits perfectly together sounding
as complex and exquisite as in a studio recording. Truly impressive!
Starting the show off with “Ahhhhh”, which
is also the album opener, Pernadas
and his band seamlessly played the songs from his critically-acclaimed work and
immersed the audience in his imaginary outer-space fantasy in such a way that
it was really disappointing when, after announcing a new song to close the set,
the production didn’t let him play it due to schedule restrictions. It was a rude
awakening back to a reality where (unfortunately) there are no pink ponies
flying on Jupiter.
The next artist to grace the stage with her presence was
Yasmine Hamdan, the alluring bare-footed
beauty from Lebanon. With songs ranging from love and heartbreak (like the
lovely “Hal” from the Jim Jarmusch film “Only Lovers Left Alive”) to traditional
fisherman songs from the gulf of Persia or theatrical representations of
stereotypes in old Egyptian films, Yasmine
and her band took the everyone for a smooth ride across the Middle-East.
Even if the audience can’t really distinguish any
words (apart from the occasional habibi),
the truth is that music doesn’t always need words to get through to the
audience. This was a prime example of that because, even if Yasmine did put some effort into
briefly explaining the stories behind most of the songs, her sensual dance
moves and emotionally charged voice would be more than enough to enthrall
everyone. It was almost magical, like she was some kind of enchantress from an
old One Thousand and One Nights fairy-tale. Shakira must’ve been onto something
when she claimed that the hips don’t lie.
It was time for Giant
Sand to blow us away with, not only one of the most musically fulfilling
shows of the festival, but also the most entertaining one. Presenting
themselves to Braga with a classic rock-band formation (guitars, drums and
bass), the new moniker they have adopted (Giant3
Sand) works both as a way for them to keep making new songs (their new
album Heartbreak Pass proves that) and also to celebrate their 3 decades of
Between toasts, cell-phone pictures, crazy
pedal-effect guitars and other funny antics, Gelb was acting even goofier than his usual self so it was kind of hard
to take even the most heartfelt ballads (like the beautiful cover of Leonard
Cohen’s “A Thousand Kisses Deep”) too seriously. There’s no doubt that Howe Gelb is the star of the show and
heart and soul of Giant Sand but,
despite his intense presence, it was humbling to see that he doesn’t selfishly
hog the attention for himself and is able to disappear into the shadows and let
the spotlight shine on his bandmates Brian
Lopez and Gabriel Sullivan as
each of them each perform a song of their own authorship.
We won’t deny that, for a few minutes, we were taken
aback by the heavy focus on their most rock’n’roll-tinged songs (their concert at
NOS Primavera Festival, earlier this year, was mostly country-based and we
expected something along those lines) but, as we settled into the noisy storm Gelb had prepared for us, the surprise turned
into pleasure quite naturally. “It’s ok to leave a little early.” Howe said “You’ll hear the last one
from the street.” he warned before throwing “Tumble & Tear” (from Giant Sand’s first album) at the
audience and ending this terrific concert with a very loud ‘bang’.
Not everyone decided to take the short walk between
Theatro Circo and GNRation to see Mdou
Moctar and his band (if you are
one of those persons: too bad for you) but, as the trio stepped onto the stage
of the adequately named “black-box”, the room was still comfortably crowded. Moctar and his bandmates took the tribal
rythms and the arabesque finger-picking from their homelands and evolved them into
a sweet psychedelic desert-blues that was the perfect excuse for us to stretch
our legs and loosen our muscles a bit after all that time in Theatro Circo’s
There were only two downsides to this show. The fact
that the encore had to be cut short (and we mean really short… that was the
shortest encore ever) for the band to make it to Barcelona on time and the many
technical difficulties that made the technician look like the fourth member of
the band – always on stage checking the cables and the amps. Fortunately, none
of those managed to disrupt the communion between band and audience or stop the
band from bringing the Saharan heat to Braga and ending the first night of the
festival on a very high note.
The first thing you need to know about Festival Para Gente Sentada (FPGS) is the
meaning of this long name. It translates quite literally to “Festival For
Seated People” and this should be enough to make you understand how much
this festival values a comfortable and intimate music-listening experience over
the massive-crowd and wild-party experience offered by most live music events. Over
the past decade, this festival has prided itself on its carefully curated
line-up (including names like Bill Callahan, Sufjan Stevens or Low*) that
attracts festivalgoers for the music itself and not for some other gimmick.
This year the festival moved from Santa Maria da Feira
(a small town between Porto and Aveiro) to Braga. This move allowed the
festival to grow and evolve a little into its biggest and most ecletic edition
ever spreading all across Braga’s downtown. The main stage is the jawdropping Theatro
Circo (a century-old theatre in the heart of Braga) and it will accommodate the
biggest and most sounding names from the billboard. But that’s not all there is.
The small downtown stages, spread across the city, will feature a handful of
up-and-coming portuguese acts and the very hip and modern GNRation (an old
military headquarter recently turned into a culture hub) will surely make us
forget all about Theatro Circo’s comfy chairs and make us dance well into the
night in a sort of after-hours party.
Circo, easily one of the most beautiful venues in Portugal
Onto what really matters: looking at this year’s
line-up we can’t help but feel that the festival played it a bit safe – the
change of setting was probably a big enough risk already – and chose to somehow
“recycle” some of the names from NOS Primavera Sound. At first this might sound like a flaw but, when you really
think about it, this might actually be great news because, the truth is, we
can’t get enough of Howe Gelb’s
bohemian-gentleman charm and, in this year’s NOS Primavera Sound, we actually
had to cut Yasmine Hamdan’s set
short to go see Giant Sand’s concert in full. This will be a great chance to see them both again and we’re pretty
sure both acts will benefit from moving into an indoors venue.
Sand’s Howe Gelb covered in kitties and Yasmine Hamdan covered in glittery tulle.
Who looks more adorable?
So there you have it, the first two things we wanted
to highlight for you: Giant Sand’s borderless
country songs and Yasmine’s
hypnotizing middle-eastern pop/folk. Throw in Bruno Pernadas – whose first album was a great critical hit last
year – into the mix and the main stage is set to have an incredible first day. Also,
make sure not to miss Mdou Moctar on
the GNRation stage – his touareg music
is bound to transport everyone into the shifting sands of a scorching desert.
Moving on to the second day’s headliners: have you heard
that Mercury Rev are releasing a new
record? It’s true they haven’t been the most active or relevant band for a
while so we can’t really say we’re hyped for it but we do know they can still
pull off great live shows (Optimus Primavera Sound’12 anyone?) and it’s hard
deny the greatness of songs like “Opus
40”. We’re cautious about our expectations towards their performance
but we’d be lying if we said we weren’t the least bit curious.
Speaking of new releases, FPGS also has some fresh talent worth checking out. We’re talking
about Sun Blossoms, the dreamy lo-fi
bedroom project of young Alexandre
Fernandes that has just released his first LP (check it out).
Also, even if they can’t really be considered new-comers on their own, we have
to mention Rui Carvalho’s (known as Filho da Mãe) new collaboration with Ricardo Martins (drummer from the
now-extinct experimental rock duo Lobster) for a really promising album set to
be released this year. The advance single from their joint-venture is called “Tormenta” and it totally sounds like a
clash of titans, really ominous and sort of distressing but also somewhat
exotic, making us want to hear more as soon as possible – this will be our
Rev’s Donahue and Grasshopper posing with fancy cocktails while Rui Carvalho
and Ricardo Martins toast to their new collaboration
We have absolutely no doubts that DJ Coco will throw one hell of a party, we just don’t really care
about his set or any of the other DJs. We love to party but partying all night
is not why we go to this festival. We go to this festival because of our love
for the singer-songwriters that mean something to us. We go to this festival
because (when we’re not busting dancefloors) we’re just a bunch of sappy fellas
and there’s nothing wrong with that. We understand that it’s nice to have an
after-party to really make the ticket price worth it for the festivalgoers and
we’re sure lots of people will love the chance to party late into the night but,
to us, that’s not really what Festival para Gente Sentada is all about.
Let’s check how everything plays out next weekend. See
* Also, Devendra Banhart. <- this was the mandatory
mention of Devendra Banhart on all pieces about Festival Para Gente Sentada.