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The warmer season is upon us in Barcelona. Marked by the official arrival of spring, the hotter and more pleasant temperatures accompany dreamy afternoons in the city. Like clockwork, this coincides with a flood of tourists invading Catalonia, particularly during the early April Easter weekend.
Another more positive consequence is the growth of outdoor events and festivals in and around town. With Sónar and Cruïlla joining Primavera Sound as premier summer choices for music fans in Barcelona, many smaller but equally intriguing open air music gatherings are being scheduled on a weekly basis.
One that caught our immediate attention is called Guitar BCN. A huge concert series with an eclectic line-up, it includes many renowned artists with a special flair for the world of the six strings.
The festival’s 2018 edition spans multiple venues throughout the city for an impressive six months (from 27 January to 26 June), and is being headlined by guitar giants such as Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, and Uli Jon Roth, alongside marquee heavyweights like Bob Dylan and Ringo Starr.
Besides placing a significant number of its shows in many venues already familiar to us, such as Razzmatazz, Sidecarand Sala Apolo, Guitar BCN was a great opportunity to visit some new and unexplored clubs.
For instance, BARTS and Luz de Gas have long been on our radar and are both key event spaces in the Guitar BCN festival. However, the one we chose this time was a pretty, mid-sized venue located in the North-Western part of town, called Bikini Barcelona.
Situated in the city’s ‘zona alta’, just off the infinite Avinguda Diagonal, at the intersection of the historical neighbourhoods of Eixample and Sants, the club has been a central part of Barcelonian nightlife since its opening in 1953.
Although it doesn’t specialise in a specific kind of music, the venue prides itself on its ever-changing and adapting nature, which has enabled it to remain relevant throughout the decades. On Thursday 29 March, as part of Guitar BCN, the club offered an exclusive live performance of US-German prog trio Stick Men, and we took our chance to attend.
The core of the group formed 12 years ago thanks to drummer Pat Mastelotto and chapman stick-virtuoso Tony Levin (both of influential UK prog veterans King Crimson fame), only to be later joined by German multi-instrumentalist Markus Reuter on guitars in 2010.
The outfit, famous for its characteristic and peculiar heavy sound, bordering hard rock and progressive metal with everything in-between, has so far released six studio albums. Their latest is a brilliant 10-track effort called ‘Prog Noir’ and was released in 2016.
The night was opened by Barcelonians On The Raw, an instrumental quintet incorporating elements of jazz, rock, and electronic music. Its members, all stemming from previous established prog rock projects, are Jordi Amela on keyboards, Jordi Prats on guitars, Pep Espasa on sax and flutes, bassist Toni Sànchez, and drummer Alex Ojea. The band released their debut LP ‘Big City Awakes’ last year to decent critical acclaim.
On The Raw took the stage punctually at 8pm, overlooking a mildly attended main parterre area, reached from the outside through a curious and eccentric swallowing metallic tunnel spiralling towards a couple floors underground. For sure, one of the most off the wall venue experiences you can find in Barcelona.
Throughout their 45-minute set, the Catalans displayed gorgeous virtuoso melodic textures, switching their instrumental driving seat mostly between Jordi Prats’ spacey and technical guitars and Pep Espasa’s warm and fuzzy sax lines.
The audience seemed to appreciate On The Raw’s sophisticated and layered compositions, wrapped in multi-dimensional ambient sounds, effectively amplified by Bikini’s excellent sound system and space layout.
The band performed amidst clear jazzy influences, moving their sonic journey through frequent rhythmic switches, ranging from Pink Floyd-esque moods to dirtier oriental influences, all without vocal melodies – simply letting the instruments speak for themselves.
Stick Men climbed the Bikini stage at around 9pm and immediately took off with an hypnotic and intricate sound, led by an evident guitar-heavy rendering and a superior drumming aesthetic, delivery by Pat Mastelotto.
The trio offered an impressingly heavy sound considering the rather thin formation, with Tony Levin’s 12-string stick and Markus Reuter’s custom self-built 8-string electric guitar continuously switching roles between lower and higher octaves, much like keyboards, effectively replicating a mesmerizing bass-to-guitar dialogue.
On a similar train of thought, some of the tracks had a surprisingly abrasive sound filled with quintessential prog textures, resulting from what appeared to be a very well thought-through amplification set up. And in conjunction to that, Stick Men made great utilisation of looped sonic themes, giving the impression of a quintet, rather than just three musicians.
Spoken word-pieces and melodic vocal lines were delivered in turns with mixed success between Levin and Reuter, often humorously, spoofing everything from planet Pluto to Tchaikovsky.
This all made for another quality musical evening in an underrated part of town, starring two interesting and talented alternative bands that, if it weren’t for fantastic initiatives such as Guitar BCN, would otherwise perhaps go unnoticed.
The evening also marked one of the first concerts of the Barcelona warmer season. A Bikini, some chapman sticks, raw experimental prog rock, and King Crimson enthusiasts were all a part of it; no doubt a delightful way to venture into springtime.
Fins la pròxima vegada!
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I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.