Over five days, at the start of the Northern Hemisphere Summer, Primavera Sound took over Barcelona in Spain with one of the world’s finest and most eclectic music festivals.
Earlier this month, we outlined why every Australian should make the pilgrimage to the event – which was without question one of the best events I’ve ever attended. While a lot of this came down to the fact that it’s an incredibly well run and organised event in one the best cities in the world, at the end of the day, a festival is nothing without its music. And it just so happened that its lineup may have been the best you’ll see at any event this year. So, I wanted to take some time to look back at some of those performances that really stood out across the five days, in order of the experience…
Having mostly skipped over music on the first day, with the exception of Barcelona group Bearoid who blew me away at an afternoon showcase, my festival truly kicked into gear on day two with The Aussie BBQ, which ran as a free event for the public as part of the festival’s “Primavera Pro” conference. At the event, a mix of Australia’s finest live talents took to the stage including Oh Pep!, Jack Carty, Methyl Ethyl, Gang of Youths, The Meanies and Money For Rope – many of whom were including the Primavera dates in wider European tours.
All acts performed wonderfully in the Barcelona sun, and would go on to impress throughout the entire festival – with some bands (Gang of Youths) going on to play two more shows that very day (what legends), while The Meanies helped close the entire festival. They wouldn’t be the only Australians to play the festival, however – but more on them later.
One of my earliest highlights (as well as discoveries) was Beak>, a Portishead side project, with Geoff Barrow on drums and vocals, who drew a massive crowd in the relative early hours of the festival. Their pulsating beats, heavy guitars and 1970’s era synth puts them somewhere between the likes of Tame Impala and Radiohead. But a whole lot more rocking, and often just instrumental. The group recognised that most of the crowd would never have heard of them, which enlisted some enjoyable banter, where the band would end up playing the song the crowd was even less likely to have heard “except for a few of the weirdos up the front”, like “I Know” in place of their “almost radio single”, “Mono”.
On the main Heineken stage, Daughter, seemed to be pinching themselves from the moment they walked onto the stage, playing to a mammoth crowd as they ran through tracks off both their LPs, starting with “How” and “Tomorrow”, before impressing with tracks like “Doing The Right Thing”, “No Care”, “Smother” and “New Ways”. The set ended with “Fossa”, though favourite “Youth” snuck in just before and it’s fair to say that Elena Tonra couldn’t wipe the smile off her face as the crowd sung and clapped along to that one. It was a beautiful moment.
Across the way on the H&M stage, Air made a triumphant return after an almost six year touring hiatus. The show’s – primarily festival appearances – come in the wake of the band’s new retrospective complication, twentyyears. The French duo performed as a four piece – all in white – with a similarly retrospective set. Opening with “Venus”, they delivered a crowd pleasing set in front of LED mirrors, with tracks like “Cherry Blossom Girl” coming early, and the trifecta of “Sexy Boy”, “Kelly Watch The Stars” and “Le Femme d’Argent” closing out the 12 track setlist with a bit of an epic jam. My favourite moment of the set, however, came with the instrumental “Alpha Beta Gaga”… the whistling at the start simply killed it – banjo and all.
As the day continued, instrumental legends Explosions in the Sky delivered a powerful set, while Australia’s Tame Impala had their music die halfway through their intoxicating set, but made up for it with a pile of confetti during “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”. But both served as but a precursor to the party that would come when the recently reunited LCD Soundsystem took to the stage. Opening with a giant, massive disco ball moving above them as “Us V Them” kicked thing off, they ran through a crowd pleasing set that including “Daft Punk is Playing at My House”, “I Can Change”, “Losing My Edge” and “All My Friends”, which closed the night (and took us well into the early hours of the morning).
Apart of a couple of short moments of dialogue, “We forgot how good it is to play in Spain!”, they let the music speak for itself. “Yeah” was a particular highlight of the set, with some incredible jams, as there was in the spectacular breakdown we find in “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”. And of course “Dance Yrself Clean” was phenomenal. There’s no way anyone would have left disappointed from this set.
And even though we had hit almost 3am by the time LCD Soundsystem finished, we still had Battles to enjoy – who of course played “Atlas” to an adoring crowd, and we got to hear Neon Indian beautifully cover Prince’s “Pop Life” and help close out the night with “News from the Sun”.
On the Friday, I arrived on site at 6pm to the sounds of Dungen, the Swedish rock group who continue to tour their seventh acclaimed record Allas Sak, which was released last September. When I arrived, however, to a stage still covered in confetti from Tame Impala the night before, they were playing what is still their most well known track “Panda”, which fans may have seen when they last toured Australia with Wolfmother in 2006. The band – which embrace the instrumental – are easy to place in the psych rock category but definitely make the genre their own.
The frenetic and wondrous energy of Titus Andronicus followed, with a cover of the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” alongside a barrage of their own material off of The Most Lamentable Tragedy, The Airing of Grievances and The Monitor, which had the crowd rocking out early in the evening. But few would have the crowds rocking harder than Savages – who sadly (and without reason) cancelled their Australian tour this week – who whipped the crowd into a frenzy as the sun began to set.
Lead vocalist Jehnny Beth spent much of the set on top of the crowd – heeled boots and all – while she screamed through a stunning set. Opening with “Sad Person” and closing with “Fuckers”, the set may have been the heaviest and most energetic the festival would see (this side of Venom), and the crowd couldn’t get enough. And I think Jehnny summed it up best why they were all there, “You know why I like you? Because you don’t want to be bored. That’s why you’re here. That’s why we’re here. Because we love music.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Friday night at Primavera Sound also delivered what was arguably the festival’s most anticipated performance – Radiohead – in the show that, while not the first of their A Moon Shaped Pool performances, was the first that had been announced back in January. So it’s fair to say there were more than a few fans in the crowd. Myself included.
Ambient noise grew as stage lights anticipated the bands arrival and they jumped into the opening five tracks of their brand new record A Moon Shaped Pool – stopping short of playing the record in its entirety, with only “The Numbers” appearing in the remainder of the set (and serving itself as a highlight of the show). The set from there on out delivered favourite after favourite, as Thom jumped between keys, guitars and vocals. “Talk Show Host” was a welcome inclusion, and “No Surprises” saw Thom on the acoustic as the crowd had the first big singalong of the night. Though the closing track – the surprise inclusion of one of their ‘rarest’ live tracks “Creep” – had everyone singing along, it was perhaps “Karma Police” that had the moment of the set, with tens of thousands of fans chanting “I Lost Myself” after the song finished; Thom going on to conduct the crowd as our voices joined as one. It’s these sorts of moments that make festivals like this such a special affair.
Thom didn’t have much to say during the set, saying little but “thank you for listening” when they left the stage for the first time, as “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” closed the main set. They would go on to return twice, first with a stunning five track encore that saw the first two tracks from Hail To The Thief to make an appearance – “2 + 2 = 5” and “There There” – alongside “Paranoid Android” (which we recently named one of the best songs of all time), “Nude” and “Bloom”, ahead of a surprise second encore that exclusively included the band’s second performance of “Creep” since 2009.
I’ve often said that I didn’t mind they never played “Creep”, because it’s far from their best song and they can use the time to play something better. But that was something I said as a person who just never expected to hear it live. Having actually heard them play the song which is arguably their most well known – and certainly their biggest singalong – I can say without question it was one of the musical highlights of my life. But is that in part because it’s such a rare, yet highly sought after experience? Most definitely.
For those playing at home, here’s the full setlist:
Burn the Witch
Desert Island Disk
The National Anthem
Talk Show Host
Everything in Its Right Place
Street Spirit (Fade Out)
2 + 2 = 5
At most festivals, Radiohead may have closed out the night. But here, they were just getting things started. The Last Shadows Puppets followed Radiohead in the main arena, with a string section and all, hitting a cover of The Beatles’ classic “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” in there, while US quartet Animal Collective hit the Ray Ban stage. Currently touring the record Painting With, it’s catchy single “FloriDada” got everyone moving, and closed the set. Methyl Ethyl impressed on the night pro stage while Beach House closed the main arena with their ethereal sounds against a starry backdrop.
While it may have been 4am by the time The Avalanches left the stage (you can read more about their sadly disappointing set HERE), the night was far from over, with the likes of Maceo Plex, Tiger & Woods and DJ Kose keeping the party going until 6am.
As we move deep into Sunday night, it’s hard to say that PJ Harvey wasn’t a highlight of the entire weekend. Diving into her back catalogue and celebrating the release of her new LP in what was one of her first shows in four years, Harvey and her incredible backing band – which included Australia’s Mick Harvey (no presumed relation) – were as hypnotising as they were intense. Intoxicating as they were symphonic and magnificent. True aural pleasure that you can read a bit more about HERE.
Sigur Ros followed Harvey, in what was their first official show in years, sitting against an epic graphical set up compared to the simplistic PJ Harvey set – black and white images against a cubed backdrop.
Their set began behind an LED curtain, as a new track “Óveður” opened things up, ahead of the classic “Starálfur”, which had disappeared from their sets years ago – making it a special moment for fans. They emerged from behind the LEDs for “Sæglópur” – another fan favourite – and the screens would continue to move for the entire show. It was an incredible light show – the best we’d see all weekend and one of the best I’ve ever seen at a festival. The set was epic, featuring a strong mix of their catalogue, and closing up with one of the most stunning set closers that any band has ever incorporated into their sets – “Untitled #8” aka “Popplagið“. Though playing as a four piece scales back their music somewhat (most fans would remember the days they’d tour with a string section), it’s undeniably beautiful and awe-inspiring nonetheless. And the respectful crowd made sure you could hear a pin drop in their most sensitive moments.
On the final day, things moved back to the conference area for an afternoon of free performances across three stages, headlined by Mudhoney and Black Lips. Bradford Cox had hit the stage on my arrival, a six piece. Ethereal vocals with largely improvised material. “Here’s an actual song… I think…” But I think what followed was improvised with frenetic vocals and energy and sexy sax. As for Mudhoney. Well they were Mudhoney. They rocked it, and ran through a pretty amazing and inclusive setlist while they were at it. Here’s a look at what we got to hear, in the set that officially closed out my festival experience:
Get Into Yours
I Like It Small
Who You Drivin’ Now?
In ‘N’ Out of Grace
No One Has
Judgement, Rage, Retribution and Thyme
Touch Me I’m Sick
The Final Course
The Only Son of the Widow from Nain
With music at the Primavera Pro conference and in the festival’s beach club starting at lunch, and the festival pushing things through until 6am for three days straight (with reduced nights either side), the first festival of the Northern Hemisphere Summer is quite the lengthy commitment to say the least. But something tells me this is just how the Spanish like to do things. And I think it must be how I like to do things as well.
Headline photo by the author.