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When an artist is on the road, all cities and venues tend to look the same during the daily grind of tour life; load out and grab some sleep before the drive to the next city in order to do it all over again. Barcelona is quite a lovely, vibrant city and while the quartet that comprises Warpaint has played the city before but it’s been at the sprawling Primavera festival so hopefully they had a chance of the day between the prior show in Switzerland to see some of the environs. Seeing how a band is received in a different country can be revealing, and while Warpaint’s fluency in Spanish wasn’t on display they had no problems connecting with the crowd.
The nightly set list has been pretty rigid from last year, but when I saw them at Psycho Las Vegas the shortened festival time slot meant that a couple of songs would be cut, and unfortunately for me that meant “Stars” was one of them. The band’s had a bit more success wending in sensuous dance elements into their mix, the bedrock of which is formed on the supple rhythms of bands like Liquid Liquid, ESG and The Slits but steeped for days in the brittle post-punk guitar work of bands like Durutti Column, Sad Lovers and Giants or whatever lucky band happened to have John McGeoch playing for them.
“Disco//Very” is the ultimate distillation of that particular groove and it got the room moving quite well, but let’s come back to “Stars,” where it all started for the band. The lead track to their first release, the insistent pull of Jenny Lee Lindberg’s bass gradually gives way to Teresa Wayman’s and Emily Kokal’s intertwining guitars until the drums and bass mesh in and it all coalesces into a ball of glowing beauty.
Kokal and Wayman’s vocals are as sympatico as any two non-siblings can get, and they traded off lead vocals the entire night, with Stella and Jennie Lee bringing their voices to blend in as well. Jenny Lee took the lead for “Bees,” her quickly strummed Rickenbacker conjuring images of a buzzing hive and her standout turn was the plangent take on Fugazi’s “I’m So Tired” a world-weary and pessimistic look at life that to be honest worked extremely well despite Warpaint’s uniformly cheery appearance on stage.
An outcome of playing primarily the same set for a while is that not only does it get the band that much tighter as a unit, they can expand and take on some changes and chances; this was never more apparent in the transition from “New Song” into “Disco//Very,” a transcendent moment that brilliantly segued from one to the other. The encore started with Jennie Lee putting on a clinic during “Whiteout,” locked in with Mozgawa tighter than the weave of a thousand thread count Egyptian cotton sheet and a thunderous “Beetles” (written on the set list as “Beatles” which made it look like a teaser for an undisclosed Fab Four cover) closed out the night. Tremendous, uplifting show.
Opening duties were handled by a local band The Crab Apples, who alternatively sang in Spanish and English. They wore matching suits a la The Aces and obviously have a Warpaint record or two in their collective pile of records. Fun, sharp dance rock served up with some sass and smiles was the perfect way to kick off the evening.
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