Primavera Sound reliably puts on rock solid alternative line-ups, often the strongest that appear each year to my eyes. Pitchfork and All Tomorrow's Parties (ATP) each curate stages, though the bands that the Primavera stages put on are very much in the same vein. The fledgling Optimus Primavera Sound event is now in its 2nd year, the larger parent festival took place in Barcelona the weekend before, featuring the same line-up and more. The event is similar in being held in Portugal’s 2nd city (Porto), in a park (Parque da Cidade) with white sandy beaches by the sea. This beach also boasts a decent Atlantic break and surf school however.
Though Optimus takes a cut of about a third in numbers of bands, and has a few less stages (4), this turned out to be slightly less frustrating experience as regards the number of acts you miss that you wanted to see. Primavera always rates high on the clashometer and it’s not uncommon for seemingly all stages to be clashing. Bands ran 5pm-5am over the 3 days and there was a strong 80’s/90’s retro theme to the line-up, even with the newer acts.
On arrival at Parque da Cidade , volunteers handed out free programmes, line-up cards and a quality branded bag/picnic blanket for all. There were 4 stages (3 on grassy slopes with good views); Optimus, Super Bock, ATP and Pitchfork. Optimus and Super Bock were the two adjacent main stages that alternated bands between them, all stages were close together with minutes to get between each (the Barcelona site has more Glastonbury-like proportions). The site included a large food court area and market; various chill zones dotted the place too.
The weather seemed to have read the script; the clouds and rain of the previous day dissipated leaving clear skies for the rest of the festival. Hot by day with a cool (becoming cold) sea breeze come nightfall. Florence-style garlands of flowers were very much in evidence over the course of the weekend, many artists entered into the spirit of things, usually borrowing one from the crowd.
The opening day saw only the main 2 stages used; a staggered line-up meant you could catch all acts on the adjacent stages. One stage set up whilst the other played so that the music was fairly unrelenting and continuous. The blues-rock of Spanish band Guadalupe Plata kickstarted the event in lively style, their abrasive sound reminded me of The Strypes. A quick shuffle of feet (and/or picnic blankets) to the right to Optimus Stage, and the post-punk sounds of Merchandise continued the upbeat start to the festival in the adjacent field.
The Breeders performed their highly-rated 1993 album Last Splash (4AD) in the year of its 20th anniversary, a fun set which got the audience dancing. Ever-smiling sisters Kim and Kelley Deal never seem to take things too seriously and seemed to be enjoying themselves as usual, this quickly translated to the crowd. They’ve had a changing line-up over the years; this 1993 incarnation saw the return of the bass/vocals of Josephine Wiggs with Jim Macpherson on drums, and they were joined by violinist Carrie Bradley.The encore included live rarity Shocker in Gloomtown (Guided by Voices cover). Neoclassical dark wave band Dead Can Dance's set followed and was an unconventional and interesting fusion of styles, perhaps better suited to those more familiar with the material though.
Nick Cave was the obvious highlight on the night accompanied by his Bad Seeds. As ever he soon took the show to the front-rowers, picking up a flower garland en route to present one of the festival's more surreal sights. He found himself singing to the now usual array of screens and Stagger Lee's lyrics got updated on his travels "Here comes the devil, he got a ******* iPhone in his hand". It lacked the accompanying choir seen at Coachella last month, but was still one if not the performances of the weekend as expected.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds setlist: We No Who U R, Jubilee Street, From Her to Eternity, Red Right Hand, The Weeping Song, Jack the Ripper, Tupelo, We Real Cool, The Mercy Seat, Stagger Lee, Push the Sky Away
Deerhunter were also on good form and their set included a few tunes from new effort Monomania. Bradford Cox enjoyed his usual banter with the audience and band members, the audience even sang a Portuguese version of Happy Birthday to the celebrating Josh. Deerhunter curate their own ATP line-up at Camber Sands later this month. The talented James Blake reproduced his trademark moody/atmospheric set of post-dubstep/progressive electronica. Much layered sounds and a diverse array of samples in the mix, and a popular and well-received set to end the first night.
For those still looking for excitement, the revelries continued 5-11 a.m. a few miles away in the old town at 'Hard Club'. DJs and some guest appearances by bands appearing at the festival each night. 5a.m. is about as hard as I get these days it seems though. . .
latest on this festival
Primavera Sound 2018 review
line-ups & rumours