Primavera Sound: A Retrospective
By matter of chance, one of our writers, Grafton Tanner, wound up at the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona, Spain last weekend. Never to pass up the opportunity to work, he took time off from his studying to give us a full run-down of how the festivals work. Check it out!
Primavera Sound in Barcelona really pulled out all the stops this year. Wilco, Death Cab, and Franz Ferdinand played Thursday night. The Cure topped the bill on Friday, and Saturday ended with the Pop Group, Justice, and Neon Indian. It was the meeting place of acts both young and old, electro and punk, underground and enormous. At one point, I felt reality slap my face silly after walking from Liturgy’s set to the San Miguel mainstage to dance with thousands to the Cure. More than once, I questioned why the hell I was in Spain, and more than once, I laughed with excitement at such a thought with my good friend and festival partner, Madeline. This lineup was the perfect blend, and I made sure to cover as much ground (and music history) as possible over the course of Friday and Saturday.
Once I was over my sadness of not getting to witness Danny Brown and A$AP Rocky in Barcelona (both Thursday sets), I found myself in the Rockdelux auditorium while Laura Marling and her band performed at 5:15 on Friday. My mom introduced me to Marling before I left (shout out to my mom who also knows who Beach House and Father John Misty are), and I enjoyed her studio work. Her live set was split down the middle. One half consisted of fairly upbeat, straightforward pieces, and the rest were dark sketches complete with the kinds of chord changes that would make any lover of Radiohead get giddy. Marling screwed with her voice a bit too much for my taste, but I found her set to be a solid opener for the weekend.
We ran from the theatre to the San Miguel Stage just in time to see Other Lives end their first song. I had seen these orchestral rockers open for Radiohead in Atlanta, and as much as I wanted to write them off, I’d been spinning their record, Tamer Animals, ever since. Watching the crowd grow to a nice size for an early set was impressive. These guys hail from Oklahoma, and here they were packing out a Barcelona afternoon set. Like I said: impressive.
As much as you may think otherwise, I love being proved wrong, and watching Girls on the MINI Stage blew every preconceived notion I had of them out of my system. While waiting for Girls to come onstage, I was cracking jokes with Madeline about the poor band. They are still overhyped, I feel, but their set was electrifying. The guitars were spot on, just dirty enough to tickle my rock and roll roots but just clean enough for me to realize how talented everyone in the band is. The organist ripped up the keys during “Vomit,” and the addition of three backup singers had me freaking out with all the kids rocking Pitchfork Music Festival Paris totes. Don’t ever let anyone tell you Girls is no good.
I didn’t “get into” the metal genre until Liturgy’s album Aesthethica dropped last year. If you haven’t heard it, stop what you are doing, and listen to “Generation.” All seven minutes of it.
The crowd for Liturgy was very different than the uber-hipsters in the Girls crowd, and I laughed when I realized I was the only one not wearing black (I happened to sport a Modern Skirts tee that day). Then Liturgy took the stage. Well, sorta. There were only two guitarists, and like me, they were not clothed in black. In fact, they looked…er, normal. Vocalist/guitarist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix opened the set by looping his voice and layering strange “uhs” and “ohs” that resembled something Bradford Cox would do the following day. Black metal? Maybe, but then again it’s hard to form a complete opinion of this set when only two of the members were onstage. Were the drummer and bassist behind the black curtain draped at the back of the stage? I remember reading about drummer Greg Fox leaving the band last year. Was Liturgy mocking the numerous contemporary artists who perform with no live drummers but instead use a laptop as their beatmaker? I honestly have no idea, but this band gave me chills like few bands have. They are truly doing wonders for such a fruitful yet stigmatized genre.
I left Liturgy and ended up in a crowd of thousands watching The Cure perform “Friday I’m In Love.” It was surreal but not as surreal as dancing with a Hagrid look-alike swinging a glass of Jack to the song. The Cure still has that spark, and they showed the crowd that they could continue to outperform a lot of acts around.
I caught a glimpse of Sleigh Bells at the Pitchfork Stage during the Cure’s lengthy set, but I didn’t stay long. On record (the first one, that is), Sleigh Bells is wild fun. Loud beats, loud guitars, you know. As a live act, Sleigh Bells just can’t pull it off. The beats are loud, sure, but without a live drummer, Sleigh Bells loses a lot of oomph that could set them apart. Not to mention, Alexis Krauss’ hammy stage persona gets old fast.
We rounded out the day with one of the best live sets I have ever seen. I had been in Europe for the latter half of May, so I missed M83 in Atlanta. Well, Anthony Gonzalez and company got rid of my pains pretty quickly. They went mad on stage with an unprecedented amount of energy. The guitarist jumped on the drum set more than once. Gonzalez yelled and gyrated. Lights of every color flashed like a 1980’s foil Christmas tree. They led the ultimate dance party and even covered Daft Punk’s “Fall” from the Tron soundtrack. When they kicked into “Midnight City,” the crowd erupted into singing the synth parts. I’m still a bit whiplashed by the whole thing.
Get ready because day two is the day I’ll tell everyone about until I’m blue in the face.
We started out at Father John Misty’s set at Rockdelux, a show I’d wanted to see since I witnessed whatever the hell J. Tillman did on Dave Letterman during his performance of “Only Son of the Ladiesman.” He didn’t disappoint. If Tillman doesn’t make it in music (he will), then comedy is his route. He pranced about on stage, mimed the destruction of his guitar, posed for pictures, and littered his lyrics with old-country style asides. “There’s no time in the present,” he sang in “I’m Writing a Novel” followed by a loud “duh!” Then there was: “I would like to abuse my lungs/ Smoke everything in sight with every girl I’ve ever loved…..I got a few.” I love Father John Misty and his album Fear Fun because he’s using these country-western tropes to sing about the fakeness of fame and to deprecate himself to a tremendous degree. It’s the meeting of old and new again, just like the festival itself.
Maybe I’m biased about ol’ J. I did get to meet him and take goofy photographs. I told him he should play Athens, to which he responded, “We just played Atlanta, which was cool. I like Atlanta….but I love Athens.”
The real reason I attended this festival was to see Jeff Mangum. Honestly. I missed him in Athens at the 40 Watt, but I can now say I’ve seen him live. Sitting on stage with him. In Barcelona.
I started out six rows back in the Rockdelux venue, but when he took the stage and announced into the mic, “You all can move up closer if you want. I don’t mind,” we bum rushed the stage. We were right next to the man who was never supposed to play live again, singing “Two-Headed Boy” and crying. It was something like attending church or watching a monastic intone his mantra. Here we were, two Athenians reuniting in a foreign country. I’m pretty sure I died.
The winner for strangest music blaring out of a sound system in relation to what appeared onstage goes to Bradford Cox. I only saw three or four songs of Atlas Sound’s set, but witnessing Cox’s Bob Dylan-esque stage presence (crazy hair, harmonica around neck, acoustic-toting) while hearing the strangest thing ever done to an acoustic guitar sent my musical heart soaring. Halfway through a line of lyrics, he pointed and shouted, “Look, a ship!” We all turned. Behind us on the water was a giant pirate ship passing by. Needless to say, I’ll be the guy in the front row during his set at Athfest. Don’t miss him.
Madeline and I left early for Beach House, and their set, like Girls’, changed a lot of what I thought about the band. They played the majority of Bloom, which I now consider a better album than the near-masterpiece Teen Dream. Singing along with the rest of the crowd to “Myth” was undoubtedly a highlight of my concert-going career, and maybe that’s because Beach House had been stuck in my head for the majority of my time in France. I don’t know what it is, but France made me truly understand that band.
After a brief respite and a conversation at a kebab stand with an old krautrocker about my Neu! t-shirt and love for all things Tago Mago-related, we ended up at the rail for The Weeknd. Abel Tesfaye kicked off the show with “High for This,” but about a minute in, he and his band blew the system. Come on, Pitchfork Stage. He played the rest of the set with minimal lights, but it didn’t matter. In a live setting, some of Tesfaye’s vocals get lost; his voice is suited for the studio, really. But his presence was electric. And the crowd was raucous as the characters in his songs.
The night ended with The Pop Group. We secured a front row spot and witnessed the insanity of this post-punk titan. Exhaustion got the better of us eventually, but what we saw was a group that could still cause mayhem. Techies ran about onstage, plugging things back in and moving cables so the band could continue their bull-in-a-china-shop romp around the gear. It was an appropriate cap to two days of musical bliss.
By the end of the fest, I had never felt more at home. The city itself with its gorgeous graffiti and aquamarine waters was more than enough for me, but I think seeing the dude with the John Maus tee as well as the two guys sporting Oxbow shirts had me sold. Some will always have Paris, sure. I’ll always have Primavera