Last week I attended the Primavera Sound in Barcelona for the 3rd time in 4 years (I ended up going to the debut of Porto incarnation in 2012). The festival cemented its standing as the most exciting and varied in the world again this year on account of its yet again stellar line up and continued creative use of spaces outside of the main festival night to deliver an almost week long celebration of music old and new. The Parc Del Forum where the main 3 days of the festival is located provides one of the most spectacular settings for seeing live music and many of the bands who play seem to step up their game because they truly love playing there.
On the Tuesday night me and my companions for the week commenced our journey through Primavera at the Sala Apolo venue seeing Godflesh or rather, being pummeled by Godflesh. The band, consisting of guitar, bass and a triggered drum machine sequencer played probably the most consistently heavy gig I’ve seen, a relentless aural assault of heavy riffs, hardcore vocals and industrial metal percussion. There was more music to come on Wednesday as well where we attended the much discussed secret gig back at the Sala Apolo. A common day signature of Primavera I’ve missed out on the secret gigs over the years due to always hearing about them when they’re sold out. The deal according to the website said that the band would only be announced 5 minutes before they came on leading to rumors abounding as to who they might be. The most exciting I came across was The Dream Syndicate (which would of made me ecstatic) and the most frightening was Shed Seven (which had us walking into the venue beforehand with a genuine sense of dread). In the end when we got in, 20 mins before the band was due, the merch guy was already set up selling Breeders t-shirts which undermined the whole thing a little. The band themselves were in fine form, running through their breakthrough smash ‘The Last Splash’ in its entirety before playing a long encore of other material which thankfully included their incredible take on ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’. I’ve never been a massive Breeders fan and I’m more familiar with debut LP ‘Pod’ than its follow up but they played with enough energy and enthusiasm and were enjoyable enough if not brilliant. Though ‘Cannonball’ was, predictably, outstanding and had the crowd going crazy.
The first band we saw at the festival site on Thursday was Wild Nothing. Last year’s ‘Nocturne’ is still a regular on my stereo and its pleasant and tuneful wistful guitar pop filled a much needed gap that had been created by overplaying the last Real Estate album. They’re excellent new EP ‘Empty Estates’ had also worked its way into being go to balcony listening in the days prior to the festival. Live they were enjoyable enough, well suited to hearing in the sun at 6.30 in the evening but hampered a little by them playing such a huge stage and to such a large crowd and not quite having a big enough sound to match those circumstances. I’d like to have seen them in a smaller setting but I’m sure that would have just added to headache of clashes throughout the festival.
We left Wild Nothing just before the end in order to make the long trek across the festival site to the Pitchfork stage to see one of the bands of the moment Savages put on a quite incredible and energetic show. Their image is great and their Siouxie inspired agit-pop was a welcome adrenaline boost after the breezy vibe of Wild Nothing. Equipment failures rarely heighten a performance but the way Savages dealt with a guitar breakdown midway through ‘Strife’ without loosing any intensity whist jamming out relentlessly for 10 minutes on the song’s tight drum and bass fuelled groove went a long way to validating how serious and unfazed the band are.
Rushing from one stage to another in a desperate attempt to catch full sets was one of the tiring and disorienting themes of the festival and no longer had Savages stuck their final notes before we were off again in a mad dash to catch Tame Impala over on the Heineken stage. Having written them off on the back of their debut album, a fault I attribute to my fatigue with the compressed throw everything in the mix trademark of producer Dave Fridman more than the band, I was surprised when last years ‘Lonerism’ became on of my favorite albums of the year. Live they were a lot more muscular and heavy than I’d anticipated and their glammed out psychedelic pop combined well with their screensaver on overdrive visuals to create a mesmerizing performance that suggested great future potential for the band to become this era’s (early) Pink Floyd.
Mild exhaustion and Scottishness resulted in abandoning another trip on the slow meandering crowd train over to the main stage to see Dinosaur Jr. and instead opting to have a couple of beers in the food court and get myself a little tanked up before seeing one of my bands of the festival Deerhunter in the tranquil sea background setting of the Ray Ban stage. Missing them touring ‘Halcyon Digest’ was one of my big regrets in terms of recent gig going and seeing them perform ‘Desire Lines’ for the first time was enough to whip me up into a frenzy that took vengeance on my vocal chords the following day. New album ‘Monomania’ had started to settle more with me in the week prior to the festival but I still had doubts about them replacing original bassist Josh Fauver who I thought was indispensible to their sound. The addition of new guitarist Frankie Broyles added more punch to the band’s guitar interplay (although visually it’s miraculous that they managed to find someone more despondent and uninterested looking than Lockett Pundt to join the band). Their set relied heavily on the new album and left me with no doubts as to its deserved place in their ridiculously inventive and consistent discography. As I commented to friends during their performance, if I was 16 my bedroom would be covered in Deerhunter posters and my school books scrawled with their lyrics.
Resolving the dilemma of whether to see Grizzly Bear or Menomena who clashed had been a slight thorn in my side all evening and coming of the high of Deerhunter I opted to see the latter on the smallest stage of the festival rather than seeing Grizzly Bear on the main stage and despite the expected later reports of how wonderful Grizzly Bear were (of course they would be!) any doubts or regrets were nullified the moment Menomena started. As a band they mean a huge deal to me and their lack of more widespread recognition is one of my most rued issues in contemporary music. Their set was one of my major highlights of the festival and I spent the entire time bouncing about with the kind of energy that only something you really love can inspire. Special props to the Spanish girl behind me who knew the words to every song (I thought I did but the frowned looks of some people around me suggested otherwise)
After the high of Menomena we skipped our way across the site over to the main stage to see Phoenix’s headline performance. In contrast to Menomena it’s wonderful to see Phoenix ascend to the status they now enjoy as they’ve made some of the most well crafted pop music of the last few years. The near constant crowd sing alongs were testament to the infectiousness of their music. The mid set dance along that resulted from the medley of ‘Love Like a Sunset’ and ‘Entertainment ‘ being fused into one big rave up was a sight to behold. The fact that by 10 minutes into their set they’d already played new single ‘Entertainment’ and their most recognized song ‘Lisztomania’ and yet the energy levels of the crowd never dropped until their last song of their encore (a revved up dance improv with Jay Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. joining in for some shredding) was further proof of the surprising depth in their catalogue. Performance wise they’ve obviously consulted friends Daft Punk before this tour (the robots came on and did a song with them in New York recently) and some of the song mashups that peppered their set were reminiscent of Daft Punk’s seminal ‘Alive 2007’ shows but played out by a conventional band.
We finished the night by catching a little bit of Animal Collective over of the main stage at 3am. The last time I saw them here, headlining in 2011, I walked away a bitter and disgruntled fan questioning his blind allegiance as they played only a couple of recognizable songs and spent the majority of their performance road testing new material (an admirable artistic move but for me poor play in terms of the inherent responsibilities of playing a headline festival set). What I saw of them this time round was much better if still a little ‘Centipede Hz ‘ heavy. They’ll always be a strange band live for me, equally capable of giving intoxicating performances of inventiveness and bliss (see their takes on Fireworks circa 2007) or being a total borefest.