Primavera Sound 2018 was again a really effective showcase of talent and new music, but also of the problems of what happens when a festival this important gets really big, with more that 215,000 attendees. But let’s focus on the music, better, Monday-to-Saturday, May 28th-to-June 2nd, in Barcelona, Spain:
Until Thursday, the action was focused on the Apolo Rooms in Barcelona, and the Barts Ballroom and Theatre. On Monday we had a very different program with Americans The Men, who exposed one of their many sides in the form of stoner rock, a bit rigid in a bit one-dimensional, but interesting nonetheless. Upstairs in the main room American Kelsey Lu displayed a magnificent and mix of gospel and religious music with electronica, with some tinges of Björk, even though not only in the way she was dressed. Her vocal prowess and power where remarkable and the inventiveness with which she was mixing loops guitar and melodies made for a notable debut in the festival and in Barcelona.
The second night at the Apollo was Poland’s night. At least in the Apolo 2. Coals, a duo from Silesia, offered a mix of electronica, guitars, and dreamy pop that put them in the crossroads between 4AD bands and The xx, with a dense and mysterious vibe that was a real treat to hear.
Trupa Trupa were a revelation. Their sweet, generous mix of light shoegaze, light indie rock from the ‘90s, light post-rock, and a very simple and straightforward sense of humour made for a fun and, let’s say, digestible concert. To that, it helped that sounds like “Coffin” were about a coffin, tracks like “Wasteland” were about the wasteland, and tunes like “Never Forget” were about never forgetting. One of those bands that without realising you will be listening to for a long time.
In the main room, local freaky megaflow electronic duo ZA! revealed a new variation on their set list where the use of electronica put them closer to the Sónar Festival than the Primavera Sound. Hits like their eternal “Badulake” are still brilliantly catchy and their connection with the audience is still one-of-a-kind.
Finally, The Sea and Cake were actually headlining the main room. In this case, quartet from Chicago, fresh from the release of latest offering, Any Day (QRO review), which revisits ‘90s indie rock, had nothing new to add to everything that’s been said in the genre.
At the Parc del Fòrum, Starcrawler, Spiritualized, Wolf Parade, and Belle and Sebastian were all from good to brilliant, depending on the account. But following the tendency we stayed in the city, specifically at the Barts Theatre and Ballroom for a session of Italian rock and pop.
Guano Padano, protégés of Joey Barnes from Calexico, offered an instrumental set of different takes on what could be music for an imaginary spaghetti western soundtrack. In specific moments, the music seemed to lose a bit of focus, but when the whole band was pulling in the same direction, they were irresistible.
Any Other are an Italian quartet with American influences like Built to Spill. Theirs are very well crafted songs on their own, but put on a set list they really lack fluency, the main thing they have to work on for the future.
U.K.’s Yonaka showed the kind of anger and fire bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sleigh Bells, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs had in the past. Their subtle and mix of post punk rock, some drops of hip-hop attitude and the sense that they can’t give any rest to the audience made for a great set, but we’re not sure if theirs will be a long musical path.
Right after, The Twilight Sad returned to Barcelona after opening for The Cure in late 2016. Theirs was a very tense and emotive gig with the classics like “I Become A Prostitute”. Alex Graham, once again one of the most dedicated and committed frontmen you will ever find, was the focus of a very, very solid gig which included a very heartfelt rendition of “Keep Yourself Warm”, by Frightened Rabbit, a tribute to the recently deceased Scott Hutchinson (QRO interview). One of the most touching gigs of the festival.
ZA! Proved that their electronic/megaflow/oriental/freaky/electric/schizophonic set works well in small rooms as well as big, open-space places.
Later in the evening, Anna von Hausswolff was one of the revelations of the festival, with an incredible set of expansive metal, experimental pop and prog-rock. But this description and it’s not fair to von Hausswolff’s music. It’s like Fennesz decided to turn it up to eleven and put guitars in it, to say the least. A really, really pleasant surprise.
Fever Ray was underwhelming as they decided to focus on the dancey uncomfortable side of their work, so we decided to go and watch Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds for the nth time. And, you know what? It was fantastic.
And to cap off at night we were genuinely surprised by the mix of blues and black metal by Zeal and Ardor. Most of those songs start with bluesy touch, but were almost like gospel and then turn to an expansive blow of black metal, which was reinforced by two other vocalists apart from frontman’s Manuel Gagneux. And it worked! It really worked! Very, very worth of a listen.
Elsewhere, Björk made sure her visa from her planet was put to good use with a radically different sonic-wise and image-wise concert.
Josh T. Pearson warmed up those who wanted an early gig at the Primavera Sound, with a set of songs and ranged from delicate ballads, to vigorous rock and roll to a reflective combination of country and blues (more bluesy, actually). He’s much more optimistic now, and more grateful with things in general, and that shows in his music.
The Breeders, with their classic line up, were probably the unbeatable band if we talk about a revision of ‘90s indie rock.
Father John Misty structured his appearance in the way he was mixing hits with new songs and then more hits and then more new songs. A clever way to approach a festival, if you’re into his music. If you’re not, then probably the best thing you could have done was to go watch Liminal Soundbath, Sigur Ros’ Jonsi’s new ambient project alongside Alex Summers and Paul Corley. The dark room used by Liminal Soundbath set the mood for a post-apocalyptic set of tunes and noises, walking the fine line between the real and the imaginary. Amid the loud concerts around, this was refreshing, a real sonic balm.
After presenting their current record in a surprise gig, in 2017, Mogwai came back to the Primavera Sound to give a proper concert, mixing new songs and old hits. The additions of Alex Mackay on guitars and keyboards, and Cat Myers on drums, even if only for this tour, revitalised the old numbers of the band and infused them with new energy. “Hunted by a Freak”, “Rano Pano” or “Mogwai Fear Satan” sounded different enough so one had the feeling the band is not just touring for touring sake. Cohesive, concrete, all of them pushing in the same direction, Mogwai are still a great live machine.
Right after Mogwai, Ride played in the so-called hidden stage. They went over new compositions and old numbers, but contrary to what you might expect nostalgia, was not their goal. They sounded better and way more elastic than before.
To cap off the night, U.K.’s Idles were probably the most energetic band in the line-up. It’s not only garage, it’s not only punk, it’s not only grime, it’s not only hard-core. It’s a mix of all that and more. With a touch of Les Savy Fav, they are a fun experience live.
Elsewhere, The National offered a precise if a tad anodyne gig; Shellac played the same once again, and once again it worked; Charlotte Gainsbourg projected elegance and sophistication in some well-crafted recreations of her compositions, with tinges of electronica; Cigarettes After Sex were correct and even a bit livelier than record; and Ty Segall and the Freedom Band surprised by their calm and mature approach to rock, funk and electricity, proving that Segall can you do very well anything he proposes.
Vulk, from the Basque country (north of Spain), opened the last day of Sound 2018. Their take on Gang of Four, Wire and the most obscure post-punk worked better in an open space, in relation to the Primavera Club concert they offered in late 2017. Even though they had some problems with the bass guitar, the enthusiasm and energy of this combo is worth a listen. One of the few Spanish bands that doesn’t sound like a Spanish band.
Then, a special return: Lift To Experience were reunited almost 15 years after the release of their acclaimed record, Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, 90 minutes of conceptual post-rock mixed with Western roots. In an incredible concert that encompassed almost the whole of their record, Josh T. Pearson and co. gave us a unique glimpse – and possibly the only one we will ever get to witness – of a set of songs rarely played, a jewel on their own.
Jane Birkin was the epitome of elegance and sophistication, though on stage presence could’ve been better suited for the Auditorium, bearing in mind she was playing with a full orchestra.
How can you surprise your audience when, after your return, some fours years ago, everybody is fixated about you and your craft? Basically, by exploiting your virtues to the limit. And that’s what Slowdive did in a ten-song set, exhibiting the brightest and most luminescent side of the quintet. “Catch the Breeze”, “Start Rolling”, “When the Sun Hits” or “Golden Hair” were incredible gems that put them right in the rostrum of the best concerts of the festival.
After that, Grizzly Bear and Deerhunter were simply correct. The former lacked energy in their set, not really pushing to the maximum of their skills; the latter, doing very homogeneous gig that at moments left you wanting it to end.
Elsewhere, Car Seat Headrest were a bit disappointing with a very short concert of only seven songs; Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever were interesting but probably lacked the punch they have on record; Lorde was arguable the most revered headliner in the festival, apart from Nick Cave; and Arctic Monkeys couldn’t do anything to prevent a certain boredom either with their slowed-down classics, or their current tunes from Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino, a work that may only be acceptable on record but not live.
So, once again the Primavera Sound proved to be a very good place to discover or rediscover great music, but at the same time it had the danger of becoming overcrowded and oversaturated with people. As you may have seen, if you read the whole review, we summed up the headliners in a few words and that’s because we couldn’t really go watch them properly due to the agglomerations, most of the times, and we had to trust in third party accounts. Something that may make you rethink if you can enjoy music when your favourite festival is dangerously becoming a concrete and cement version of Glastonbury.
-words & photos: Abel Cruz