Bilbao BBK Live is the smaller sibling of more established Spanish festivals Primavera and Benicassim. Much of the line-up feels like it’s been teleported from the 1990s (Primal Scream! Supergrass! Placebo!), but let’s not sneer. This is a fun festival: the compact site means you’re never more than a brief stroll from either of the two stages, and the staggered performance times means there are none of those scheduling clashes that can so traumatise music-lovers at the big UK festivals. In addition, the punters at Bilbao BBK seem capable of enjoying themselves without releasing bodily fluids in front of everyone else. All in all, you could do a lot worse if you’re looking for an overseas festival.
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Clash isn’t able to arrive at the festival until the evening of the first day, by which time the Editors are providing a suitably gloomy soundtrack to your reporter’s increasingly desperate attempts to buy some food.
Appetite sated, it’s time to settle down for Depeche Mode’s headlining set. The ‘Mode occupy the same commercial position as The Cure: weirdly undervalued in their UK homeland, but subject to unqualified adoration on foreign soils, hence the massive turnout this evening. It’s nice to see Dave Gahan (pictured) back in action following his recent health scare: he’s in full-on rock god mode tonight, like synth-pop’s answer to Jim Morrison. Their performance is sturdy, but lacking any real sense of jeopardy: Depeche Mode songs played live sound very much like Depeche Mode songs played on an iPod, only much louder.
Although Depeche Mode’s headlining status is undeniable (their name is in the biggest font on all the posters, after all), they’re not the last act to perform tonight. That would be Basement Jaxx, whose late-night show acts as an anarchic epilogue to the more straitlaced action which precedes it. Opening with bloke-bashing disco monster ‘Good Luck’, they offer up one poppers-snorting dance classic after another.
A cynic could claim that Supergrass ought to have split up at the end of the ‘90s; this would’ve allowed them to reform lucratively in the wake of the recent wave of Britpop nostalgia. As it happens, they’ve just pootled along, releasing a solid – if increasingly inessential – album every three years, and they now find themselves playing a late afternoon slot at a Spanish festival. They deserve better, as an entertaining performance confirms.
Over on the second stage, Pete Doherty explains that Babyshambles are ‘a man down’ this evening, probably referring to the absence of a second guitarist. But this isn’t an adequate excuse for a performance which falls short of the standard expected from professional musicians. The setlist includes some Libertines numbers but, frankly, they might as well have been playing Ace of Base covers.
Following that, er, shambles, the muso-like professionalism of The Dave Matthews Band comes as some relief, although any goodwill from this reviewer haemorrhages away during a lengthy drum solo.
Chris Cornell’s latest, Timbaland-produced album is an entertaining folly. Tonight’s performance eschews his recent R&B leanings in favour of a straight-ahead rock set which, pleasingly, makes room for the odd Soundgarden number but, less pleasingly, also includes a cock-awful version of ‘Billie Jean’.
Who’s this slender fellow singing with the Kaiser Chiefs? Why, it’s Ricky Wilson and he’s apparently lost half his body weight. Following the lukewarm reception given to their last album in the UK, this feels like the performance of a band in happy exile. The Chiefs would’ve been a more suitable headlining act than Jane’s Addiction, whose slickness offers little in the way of communal fun. Playing the nocturnal slot that follows are Echo and the Bunnymen. The seminal post-punkers are still capable of greatness on stage – Clash witnessed a thrilling set at a festival a couple of years ago – but McCulloch seems to be in a bit of a grump so it’s time for bed.
The final day limbers up with performances from some relative unknowns. None will be attracting any breathless ‘Ones to Watch!’ accolades. Ama Say are a local band who, disappointingly, sound like they’re trying to put people off music forever. Cycle resemble The Bravery covering Scissor Sisters album tracks. It Hugs Back and Baddies represent the UK indie scene - the former are pleasant if meek; the latter are more ballsy but, to be blunt, a bit of a racket. In amongst all this, The Phenomenal Handclap Band’s tight but unremarkable funk sounds like the work of a more sophisticated species.
Asian Dub Foundation’s appearance on the second stage that the final day provides a welcome fillip. To these ears at least, ADF have rather disappeared from the radar following their Mercury Prize-nominated album ‘Rafi’s Revenge’. Perma-pogoing vocalist Al Rumjen provides plenty of what’s patronisingly described as ‘energy’ but their songs’ scant tunage means they soon become a bit of a drag.
Without a recent album to promote, it’s difficult to know which version of Primal Scream will turn up for their slot on the main stage. Will it be a) the ecstasy-munching lot who made ‘Screamadelica’, b) the grumpy buggers responsible for the brilliant punk-Krautrock hybrid that was ‘Exterminator’, or c) the boring pub-rock band they occasionally mutate into? It’s mostly Primal Scream Version B, which means lots of fast, groovy, noisy songs with stupid lyrics. Yay.
Your festival reporter isn’t as hostile towards Placebo as many of his UK-based brethren, so the band’s headlining set was approached with hopes for a moderately good time. But Brian Molko’s ponytail doesn’t augur well, and what ensues is a set high on musical proficiency but light on their best tunes. Failing to play one of ‘Nancy Boy’, ‘Pure Morning’, ‘Come Home’ or ‘Bruise Pristine’ would’ve been forgivable, but not playing any of them? Pah. Perhaps the setlist was geared towards a Spanish audience but, to those who stopped following them after the second album, it was a bit of a trudge.
Fischerspooner provide a rather anti-climactic finale. Unwisely, they don’t opt for a freewheeling dance set and instead offer their electroclash in bite-size portions. They don’t really have the songs to pull it off, and are forced into playing ‘Emerge’ twice. Still, Mr Spooner seems to be enjoying himself: at the end he claims that, given the time, he would “fuck every one” of us. Which is nice of him.
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Photograph by Al De Perez; a full gallery can be found HERE.
Echo And The Bunnymen
It Hugs Back