Day 1 - Ain’t no party like a Primavera party!
Primavera has been much more than a three-day festival for pretty much its entire existence but this year it kind of pulled out all the stops in that regard. The now infamous pre-main festival gigs in the Apollo and Saint Barts seen cracking sets from the likes of Formation, Romare and The Wedding Present. The latter of whom seemed to play about a dozen sets across the weekend including one in a random living room in Barcelona. We see none of them such as the choice that’s on offer throughout the week.
As for the main festival, we do our usual routine and take to the grass opposite the Primavera stage to laze around and let whoever is on ease us into the weekend. Cymbals Eat Guitars are the ones tasked with that this year and they do anything but ease us into the festival.
They’re usually renowned for being anything but easy listening. However, on this occasion their usual frenetic and jagged guitar is complemented by denser more hook laden numbers that has more than a few nods to Pavement and other 90s bands of a similar ilk. The crowd they’ve amassed isn’t quite going all guns blazing for them but it’s a decent start.
What comes after, I’m reliably informed, is one of the greatest displays of experimental music. However, what I witnessed and heard with my own two ears was more akin to a shit show. If one act encapsulates the differing opinions of music fans this weekend, it’s This is not the Heat who are next up on the Primavera stage.
One admirable piece of the set was that when they decided to groove they totally went for it regardless of how it sounded. Tones, notes and screams seemed to bounce in all different directions offering up a sonic pallet that was a bit too helter skelter for my own taste.
As Primavera has expanded, my favourite stage remains the same amphitheater that now goes under the RayBan stage name. Seeing some of the great bands there playing over that ocean is a triumph. One such band on that very stage was Broken Social Scene in 2010. Now seven years later, they’re back at the same stage looking a bit more ragged and world-weary but prove that class never fades.
Kevin Drew takes the reigns as commander in chief as they explore a set of old favourites, perfect for any such festival setting. ‘Cause = Time’ and ‘Almost Crimes’ have a special wall of noise that reverberates around the old amphitheater. The most special credit is reserved for ‘Ibi Dreams of Pavement’ complete with a Bonnie Tyler ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ interlude. A few classics, a nod to the new, and the pulling of the heartstrings ensures these wily old foxes remain masters of the stage.
I only know BADBADNOTGOOD (BBNG) thanks to their Sour Soul album with Ghostface Killiah a few years back, unfortunately he’s not part of this your so we don’t know what to expect. As BBNG play their first few chords it becomes clear that this is for dancing.
The whole band are weaving and pogoing about for most their set, it’s hard not to let their infectiousness rub off on the crowd, and the solos - the solos where to die for! Usually in a band dishing out jazz influenced hip hop the solos stray the way of wanky, but these cats are on point with every lick and stab. The first proper dance off moment of the weekend. Bless ya, BBNG!
I remember the first time seeing Death Grips, was at Primavera some years ago, totally stumbled across them by accident and felt as if I’d been hit by a truck. I’ve been a borderline fanboy since, so this was the next natural move.
Taking to the Primavera stage they instantly take charge, pints are raining down on everyone, there is a nasty edge to everyone (in a good way!) and the general pomp of the whole place seems to be lifted. Front man MC Ride is known for his intimidating live character, but his bandmates get in on the act this time around. There is something generally unhinged looking about Andy Morin as he lays down filthy key stabs looking reminiscent of one of the Lost Boys on the verge of sucking someone’s neck dry. The live drums add an extra layer of intensity as MC Ride’s verbal bile send many of us into a convulsive state and retain their long-standing reign as one of the best live acts on the planet.
It’s fair to say that Aphex Twin was the one act I was most looking forward to when the bill was originally announced just before Christmas. It had been a long time since a BLOC weekend performance that had just about enough head melting insanity in it to have it down as one of my favourite sets of all time. So, I was hoping for much the same.
Perhaps it was the main stage setting, the brilliance of what went before, or if it was just an off night. But the long wait for a new Aphex live show seemed a bit phoned in. The music was fine and stretched the entire spectrum of electronica music that is usually up my street. But it failed to ever take off, even the visuals which Richard D James shows are renowned for felt flat, a kind of half arsed face manipulation of a few people in the crowd was the height of the visual extremities.
As we were in full swing dance mode at that point, it only made sense to go down and check out the Bacardi Live arena, part of the recent dance area additions to Primavera. Henrik Schwarz, on this occasion was the opposite of Aphex, an intricately developed set dipping in and out of his own tracks and crowd favourites but always building the set with precision and focus so that when it was time to hit its peak, it did so perfectly. A wonderfully crafted set on a great sound system with a party in full swing. The ideal night cap.
Day 2 – Crowd favourites and experimental mentalists take to the floor
It’s great to see Mac DeMarco making the leap to the main stage. A guy who is so likeable he’s probably giving Dave Grohl a run for his money as nicest man in rock. As with all his touring bands it seems as if he’s assembled a right Motley Crew. It looks as if he’s sourced all the biggest rejects he could find to come travel with him. The drummer’s is naked throughout with his ass cheered perhaps louder than any of the songs played tonight, while his bass player looks as if he is into pyromania.
With over four albums under his belt he now has the chance to play a pretty much faultless headline set. Special cheer reserved for ‘Cooking Up Something Good’ and ‘Ode to Viceroy’ a special personal nostalgic moment of a Primavera past. But the likes of ‘My Kind of Woman’ has a distinct sing a long, lighter in the air quality, while the busting out of a few licks of Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden when he finds the time.
The ever formidable Grandaddy had to pull out of Primavera due to the untimely death of one of their founding members – Kevin Garcia. Thankfully Arab Strap were drafted in and probably have a great deal of crossover appeal to that same fan base and they do themselves and those in attendance proud with what seems to be a stellar set as I catch the tail end of their set. Aidan Moffat’s superbly Scottish patter sees him introduce ‘Speed Date’ with the words Here’s another song about trying to get the ride while special mention is reserved for finisher ‘The First Big Weekend.’ Arguably a song and a festival have never gone as hand in hand as this before. A rip-roaring finish to what seemed (to borrow a phrase) a wee belter of a set.
It’s all around the Pitchfork stage to see Swans, one of the most revered live acts of modern times. And seemingly with good reason. The New York experimentalists offer one of the most punishing soundscapes I’ve heard in a long time, clearly carefully crafted in there 30 plus year career. It’s hard to connect with on an emotional level, you get the feeling the band purposefully have their music coming from a nihilistic slant. But the growls of Michael Gira and the deranged whirling of keys and guitar swirl to create a sound so forceful it just about lifts us off our feet. It’s only a shame I’d to cut it so short to see our next act.
Run the Jewels are one of the most consistently great live acts to have burst on the scene in the last few years. But they’ve a difficult stage to contend with in the Mango stage that is seemingly fraught with difficult sound throughout the weekend. But if anyone can overcome it, it’s RTJ. They come onto the sounds of Queen’s ‘We are the Champions’ before launching into a trio of tracks from RTJ3.
After these the speakers temporarily give out, but the guys come back exactly where they left off and blow it out of the water with tracks like ‘Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) and ‘Lie, Cheat, Steal’, from where we are the sound is perfect and there is a whole lot of crowd surfing and body popping throughout. Probably the fan’s favourite set of the weekend.
Flying Lotus has been busy taking his feature film debut to Sundance Film Festival, but he’s clearly been keeping an eye on crafting the delightfully weird and eccentric live shows that have so far bookmarked his career. Hip hop, soul, funk, dubstep and more are pooled together to create his unique style. With visuals as caustic as his music it creates a sensory overload to the point you feel like you may just pop at any given moment. The greatest quality that FlyLo continues to have is how much he genuinely buzzes off doing this stuff as he laughs and jokes rinsing out some fabulously goofy numbers in the process.
The tiredness had almost got the better of me at this point, as we walked up to the queue to go over to the dance stages I flung my arms up and thought I’d had enough. They joined the rave queue, I thought I’d check another band on a lesser populated stage before heading off. I came across Priests on the Pitchfork stage.
I’ve seen more original acts this evening, but they’ve an unashamedly nostalgic direction in their music and that is no bad thing. The music teeters on the brink of insanity throughout, all underpinned by gorgeous ever shifting melodies.
Day 3 – The Night of Wine and Roses
There seems to be a bit of a theme developing in the last few years with Primavera. They’ve tended to get one of the greats playing the main stage on the last day of the proper festival. This year it’s the turn of Van Morrison.
It’s got the weight and cleft of a headline set clocking in at 18 tracks, with plenty of classics and covers sprinkled in to what should ensure a classic festival set. However, Van and his band are lost on the poor sound of the big stage, it tends to seem by the numbers and by the end you get the feeling the band and the crowd are each phoning their performance in.
That was something of a dampener, but Scottish indie heroes Teenage Fanclub on the Primavera stage right any of the previous wrongs. One of those bands everyone usually universally agrees are great but this performance brings it home. Every tune a classic, perfect pop harmonies and jangly guitars that should see them lauded as highly as the likes of early-REM or Wilco.
There is a clear age to the crowd here, people mostly on the wrong side of 30 and more closely aligned with what the festival demographic perhaps used to look like, but that react with the gusto of whipper snappers half their age. Highlights include the solo during ‘I Need Direction’, the middle bit in ‘The Concept’ when it goes unapologetically 70s rock or ‘Sparky’s Dream’ for having one of the best choruses of all time. My only gripe is the set didn’t go on twice as long. Sublime.
Arcade Fire performed a secret gig at the festival on the first day, but I was too late to find out so I’ve to make do with their huge headline show on one of the main stages. Thankfully the Canadian champs are as adept on the big stage as they are on the small ones. I’d grown tired of Arcade Fire, Reflektor failed to hit the same buttons for me that it seemed to for everyone else, but there was enough in the back catalogue to get me on board.
At the beginning, we were quite central where again the sound was poor, by moving well out to the left the sound improved dramatically and thus the gig improved about 10-fold. We did this just in time for the band’s first live performance of the title track from Neon Bible in nine years, and the back catalogue hoking about didn’t stop there. In the Backseat got its first run out since 2010 with both tracks sounded pitch perfect and as if they’ve been set staples for years.
It’s got to the point where Arcade Fire have established themselves as the most incredible stadium rock band that has ever existed. Just look, listen and soak in the ‘Power Out’ and ‘Rebellion’ one-two that is a common sight to any of their live gigs. All dozen or so of the collective are forever in sync, forever intent on taking each song to its extremes, not content to let a song rest on its laurels. That is no mean feat and even if latter albums haven’t clicked that closely to continue that level of performance is credit to them. With such a rich and varied catalogue while continuing to collect new fans and retain existing ones along the way, it’s fair to say there is still something special about these weirdos.
The Primavera stage was the undoubted highlight of the weekend, there was always enough room to move and get right in the heart of the action without needing to be there 50 mins earlier to get a good spot like the two main stages. So, it seemed only right to get in the heart of the matters for Canadian duo Japandroids. It was already into the wee hours, so naturally everyone in attendance seemed to be various levels of drunk. Crowd and band coalesce into one frenzied sing a long for the likes of ‘The Night of Wine and Roses’ and ‘Young Hearts Spark Fire’. Triumphant choruses aplenty and a fine a show as any to end Primavera.
I kind of battled through the last Primavera, I thought maybe I’d had enough. But I think you need to be wise with what you want to see and the weekend you’re looking to achieve, once you’ve got that down then the festival is what you make of it. Regardless of growth in size there is always a world of wonder at Primavera and I think I refound some of the magic that lacked the year before.
Other general thoughts
Bowers and Wilkes Soundsystem has made this another festival altogether – potentially a cause of concern for Sonar (An electronic music festival usually held in the same city on the same month)
The constant advertising on the screens before bands was uncalled for – have your photo taken with a Baywatch babe? Please.
Increase in hen parties and stag parties was noticeable but comes with the territory of being a world-renowned music festival and arguably made it a more significant cultural mix
Ropey sounds on both the main stages – especially Heineken
Unexpected Primavera seen Arcade Fire, HAIM and Mogwai do unannounced sets – good work if you got there in time, adds an extra bit of excitement too
Improved food selection especially in between the two main stages – Dragon Balls at the Thai place ftw!
latest on this festival
Primavera Sound 2018 review
line-ups & rumours