The reputation of Barcelona’s Primavera Sound has grown so much over the last five years that it gets mentioned in the same breath as the UK’s Glastonbury as a festival heavyweight. Is this reputation deserved? Primavera offers something different from Glasto, which fans will tell you is always about ‘more than just the music’, hence it selling out before a single name gets announced. Conversely Primavera sells out as the line up is always amazing and there’s very little else to distract from it. The sound quality on all eight stages is always amazing and there are practically no breaks in the program. Bands start around 4:30pm and finish at 5am. And being in Spain means that the weather nearly always holds up. What’s not to love?
A delayed flight meant that this reviewer had to miss Wednesday night’s free performance by Goat, one of the best live guitar bands of the moment. Instead the festival started on Thursday with an enchanting greatest hits set by French lounge pop legends Air. Floating Points then played on the amphitheater-like Ray Bans stage. At any other festival their live-band jazz electro mash up may have fallen flat but here it’s welcomed like a hands-in- the-air dance set. Tame Impala are a band I’d never been fully convinced by before but their set blew me away, even despite a fairly long break as the sound cut out. Kevin Parker has embraced his awkward front man persona and the cuts from last year’s Currents LP sound monumental. But Thursday is really only about one band and that’s LCD Soundsystem. The reunited New Yorkers express their love for Spain before running through a set that’s low on surprises but high on incredible moments. Their longer tracks work better live for me
– Yeah and Losing My Edge really come into their own with the live band stretching things out. A cool yet unpretentious mix of dance, indie, and experimental but always with eyes on the dance floor, they may be the band that sums up Primavera best.
Friday starts with Savages and their furiously engaging live show. I saw them play the smaller Pitchfork stage three years ago but they if anything appear even more comfortable here on the main stage. Radiohead draw arguably the biggest crowd of the weekend though and they bring the kind of dedicated audience that allows them to take chances, hence starting quietly with five songs from new album Moon Shaped Pool. Pretty much everyone is enraptured though and the band seem comfortable enough so to slowly start rolling out some of their lesser heard hits… and yes, that includes a final encore of Creep. For all of Radiohead’s experimental chops they looks tame next to Animal Collective and Holly Herndon’s sets, the latter making genuine head-scratching electro whilst typing onstage banter directly onto the backing screen, which is oddly lovely. There’s one more hugely anticipated set on the Friday though. Any music fan over 25 is probably at least curious to see what the Avalanches are coming back with. Will they recreate their legendary sample-adelic debut album live? Will they play loads of new stuff? Well, no, and no. What we get instead is two of the once eight strong band doing a DJ set. There are snatches of the Since I Left You album but mostly this is ingeniously mashed-up party music, with two new songs thrown in at the end, the disappointing Frankie Sinatra and the faith-reaffirming Subways. Was it any good? I know some fans were very disappointed but I loved it. Once you got your head around the fact it wasn’t a live show it became simple the best party DJ set you’d ever heard, and no one seemed to be enjoying it more than the two guys onstage.
Saturday hosts Primavera’s answer to Glastonbury’s Sunday legends slot. Last year Patti Smith played Horses, this year was Brian Wilson’s turn to wheel out 50-year-old classic Pet Sounds in full. It’s a miracle that the elder Beach Boy brother is alive, never mind the fact that him and his band can hold a crowd like this. They end with the hits and it’s amazing fun after two solid nights of partying. Deerhunter plodded slightly but Pusha T’s bracing set on the Pitchfork stage was bracing and raw. Chairlift charmed a dedicated crowd but the big talking point of Sunday was PJ Harvey and the first full performance of her Community Of Hope show. It features an arty backdrop, proper choreography, a nine-piece band, and a marching drum intro. For some of my friends it was the performance of the festival, while to me it was impressive yet a bit too earnest. Harvey and her band are in fine voice but a crowd pleasing set this isn’t. That’s the beauty of Primavera for you though. It’s managed to become hugely popular whilst still showcasing a genuine alternative to standard festival fare. Long may it reign.