Thousands thronged Las Ramblas and strolled the ancient blind alleys among the sepulchral stone walls of the Barri Gotic as the final night of the Barcelona Accio Musical (BAM) played out on the eve of the citywide Merce holiday. Every language could be heard on the streets, and nearly every genre could be found on the stages.
Now in its 13th year, BAM has grown to six days of conference sessions and concerts featuring musicians from all over Spain, as well as, for example, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, Finland, Canada, Dominican Republic, Scotland, Belgium and France.
U.S. entries ran mostly to singer-songwriters, including Northwesterners Rocky Votolato, David Bazan (nee Pedro The Lion), and Alela Diane. The Long Winters enlivened the crowd gathered in the Plaza Reial with a shambolic set highlighting songs from their anticipated January 2009 release, and American Music Club wrapped up the event with a midnight show in a Roman-era pocket plaza that this writer dares anyone to find.
A highlight of the night’s music was the powerfully charismatic and popular local, Gerard Quintana. Not technically part of the BAM festival, Quintana performed both an afternoon and an evening set at Plaza Catalunya as part of the Merce celebration. Fans filled the plaza as the actor, radio star and Musica Global recording artist plied the passions of Catalunya in rock arrangements that called to mind American artists like Pearl Jam or a proggier Sonic Youth.
Asian night featured music, film and performers from India. The largest crowd of the evening assembled at the waterfront stage for an evening of flamenco, rumba, salsa and a fusion of flamenco and pop.
At Plaza Reial, Madrid singer-songwriter Secret Society performed most of his songs in English, although he spoke to the crowd in Catalan. At one point he urged the audience to clap along in a rhythm that occasionally erupts in Spanish crowds, and all responded enthusiastically to his rare flamenco riff. He could as well have been opening for the likes of Josh Ritter, though. His songs in English were articulate on familiar themes, and he looped and layered his guitar accompaniment into rich, deep textures.
At Plaza Catalunya, Jaume Sisa and Friends wound up the festivities with a collection of songs from his new album Ni Cap Ni Peus, an homage to 40 years of music. His Tom Waitsian voice rang across the plaza with traditional songs in contemporary arrangements, provided by his “amics,” drawn from rock, folk and dub genres. The popular Majorcan’s own backing band, Acapulco All Stars, included decades-long collaborator Pascal Comelade.
After the last official concert, a small crowd of music fans lingered on Las Ramblas to listen to a Catalan street musician playing Nirvana and Bob Dylan covers. Although he actually looked like Jeff Tweedy, he averred that he didn’t know any Wilco songs.