On the second year, Optimus Primavera Sound sounded a lot to pretty much of the crowd to a revival for the thirty-something generation. And don’t get me wrong – I love the ‘70s, ‘80s and specially the ‘90s. But when you look at the headliners, it’s inevitable to have a trip down memory lane with the bands that sounded really loud on the radio back in those days.
Porto city welcomes the festivalgoers like the comeback kids of the previous year. It’s the perfect scenery to throw such an event. It’s cozy, cosmopolitan, filled with art galleries, museums, trendy hostels and cafés, but not big enough to cause a scattering and dispersion of music lovers around town.
It was a contrasting bunch of bands and musicians. When you think about the variety of public indie music brings to festivals like these, you must always reflect that back in the ‘90s you had three of four bands you admired and followed. Now, with the internet, Spotify and alike revolutionary gadgets and software, we have dozens or even hundreds of bands we adore.
And this is where the Primavera Sound Festival rises above every other half a dozen music festivals in Portugal and, dare I say, even Europe – people come here to listen, watch and enjoy great music and musicians, to discover new sounds and gather with their friends in the same expectations. Not to ride on rollercoasters or get the sponsors gift packages, get heavily drunk while their parents aren’t watching or have their iPhones participate heavily in regular conversations while the headliners are on the main stage (but who cares, who is playing anyway?).
The so-called hipsters don’t mind at all having their Instagram filled with amazing gig memories and friends’ likes and comments, but they still bring their Leicas and Holgas, while drinking wine or having a chat on a swing, amongst hay and flowers with an impeccable pierced post-rock apparel and hairstyle.
This year, those contrasts produced one of the most alternative and creative festivals seen in Portugal.
Just think about it and smile:
If Nick Cave opened the festivities throwing a party which brought us all down to the depths of hell, Explosions In the Sky closed the headliners on the last days, sending us back home through the gates of a ceremonial and lavishing heaven.
We were doomed by the 55-year-old Australian to a melodic purgatory, amidst tales of murderers and prostitutes, rippers and revengeful lovers, a dark world of his own (whose salvation is announced on the late Push the Sky Away – QRO review) only to be saved by explosions of light and sound rescued by all post-rock Mogwai fans and followers, like Explosions themselves.
Thursday, May 30th
The Spanish Guadalupe Plata opened the first of the only two stages who came alive on May 30th. Their blues-inspired rock invited everyone around to come and see what was going on, as it was quite early and people were still wandering about the merchandise, beverage and food stands.
We followed Wild Nothing and captured the five elements of the band throughout the catchy indie tunes, the sun still shinning and pushing aside the coldest night of the festival.
Which reminds us of another reason why Porto was a perfect choice for the Portuguese edition of the Primavera Sound Festival. The chilly nights, the seaside, the coziness, quite similar to the countries of where the great majority of public came from: tons of Spanish, British, Irish and French, apart from the Portuguese, of course who came this year in greater numbers.
And it was time for the first ‘90s revival – The Breeders.
We were all surprised by the sing-along, as most of the crowd was probably as old as the Breeders’ hit album, Last Splash, which they were playing in full two decades after its release. They did pretty well and the two sisters developed, along with the rest of the band, a happy partnership with the crowd.
Twenty minutes past ten long came Dead Can Dance. Two nights before they had been at the Lisbon Coliseum for a great night, and here they were up north to face a crowd and an atmosphere not fit for their sound as a more intimate closed venue might be.
Lisa Gerrard’s awesome presence embraced everyone close to the stage, and at the back the crowd danced spontaneously imagining exotic landscapes to the Arabic/African/Greek/lyrical/electronic inspired band from the ‘80s.
Brendan Perry made the highlight when he introduced a Greek song from the 3’0s, making a remark about Portugal’s (and Greece’s) economic austerity and financial crisis, stating, “They are selling out parts of the country abroad. This one is for you, Portugal…”
At half past eleven sharp, Nick Cave stepped up to the main stage to face a huge crowd, anxiously staring and the pink drum set with “bad seeds” written in black.
“We Know Who U R” echoed and Nick Cave, in a dark velvet suit, immediately jumped into the crowd. He put on a show of his own. He never disappoints.
“Jubilee Street” echoed on the piano and suddenly, on the first chords of “From Her to Eternity” he loops onto the crowd on a mass chorus with the front rows near the stage.
Amazingly, the band chooses to emphasize the great hits of the Bad Seeds, quite differently from what had happened in Barcelona (QRO recap), on a gig mainly centered on Push the Sky Away.
“Jack The Ripper”, “Stagger Lee”, “Red Right Hand” and the colossal “Weeping Song” brought the crowd to their knees. Amazingly strong, visceral and heart-sent lyrics.
Cave is the man and he knows it. It’s not a religion – it’s a revolution, a celebration of the fault against perfection. But also a celebration of life against death. Of love against indifference or hatred. And as he taught us pretty well, there’s no doubt that “all beauty must die.”
Yes, we where there for Deerhunter, they were great and the sound was pretty efficient. Monomania (QRO review), the Atlanta band’s latest album, was there for everyone’s judgment and yes: live, it still is kinda boring. Well, there was no doubt that after Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, we were still recovering. And the damn cold wasn’t our ally.
The chilly night didn’t help much to the ones who patiently waited for James Blake. It was long past two when he came to the main stage, calling it a day for our first music marathon of the festival. People were getting tired and so cold, that it happened to be unfair for the new Brit electronic sensation to perform at such a tough scheduled time, but he still put on a good show, ups and downs, trying to catch the pulse of the audience with his new album “Retrograde” and also remind us of “Limit to Your Love”, always beautiful to swing to, and “The Wilhelm Scream” which had launched him worldwide.
Friday, May 31st
On the 31st, the kick-off was the responsibility of Dear Telephone, a Portuguese newcomer’s rock act with very catchy tunes and a repertoire that instantly approved this great choice to open the second day of the festival, and welcome everyone to the best ticket selling and the biggest crowd expected.
But our greatest expectation of the afternoon was the folk-inspired Neko Case, who appeared so appealing, warm and singing so beautifully that the crowd immediately welcomed the news of her coming back by the end of the year for a solo gig.
In the meanwhile, after trying the Porto traditional delicacies – and this year, we had a lot to choose from: vegetarian, fast food, slow-food, organic, oriental, you name it! – Austin’s own Local Natives appeared on the main stage showing that their rock is alive and kicking. Afterwards the Portuguese press stated that they were so impressed by the landscape of Porto that they decided to do some filming around town. Something tells us they will be coming back very soon.
Back on ATP stage, Daniel Johnston made everybody cry. And the ones who didn’t, felt bad that they couldn’t. Overheard someone say: “This man needs love.” And that says it all.
Running towards Super Bock stage, caught Swans and their incredible blast, like a slap on everyone’s faces, but had to leave soon, because one of my favorite Portuguese rock bands of all time, Mão Morta, where up on ATP, on a last minute replacement for Rodriguez, who couldn’t make it.
Mão Morta come from Braga, the city of bishops as we call it, and the one with the strongest catholic traditions in the country. The band has dark heavy sound, whose lyrics span from religion, to sex, drugs and, of course, rock and roll. The gig was amazing: a must see for fans and of course a pretty vigorous introduction to foreigners who didn’t know them yet. Frontman Adolfo Luxúria Canibal (just try to translate this alias into English and you’ll know what I mean when I say a true rock star doesn’t have to be born in the States, ah!), gets into everyone’s souls, rips their hearts to pieces and throws them to the wolves, just to see the crowd coming back for more.
In the meanwhile, on Pitchfork stage, Melody’s Echo Chamber put on a pretty good show. Melody Prochet’s ethereal voice gave a beautiful dressing for the songs live, but we didn’t stay long, as Grizzly Bear where coming up on the main stage.
What can we say about Grizzly Bear, except it was a clean, almost perfect, but sort of the obvious choices gig.
“Yet Again” echoes like the opening of a new dawn, as if suddenly the day broke and the Parque da Cidade would give birth to completely fresh arrangements and sounds. Their voices were synched and transparent, technically perfect. But some element of surprise was missing. Some expectation we all had to not just hear the albums but something more, something creative. Not just perfect. That’s what the live experience is all about, anyway.
Well, Shellac were amazing on ATP, but we were stuck and enjoying Grizzly Bear.
A friend caught a drumstick and was absolutely rendered to the electricity still vibrating all through the ATP area by the end of the show. Magnificent, as always.
Four Tet proved once more to be in shape and the owners of a kind of electronic/dance scene crown. The live act wasn’t as electrifying as expected, but still their set was preparing souls and hearts for what was to come.
Blur were up next and 1h25, and the main stage was packed.
Electrifying, one of the best reunions ever, ten years after they were on Portuguese ground,
Damon Albarn and friends kicked their overwhelming performance with “Girls & Boys” and suddenly it’s the ‘90s all over again.
“Beetlebum”, and “Tender” announce to the crowd why they are still one of the greatest bands alive. The gospel choir finally had a chance to prove themselves, amazingly ethereal and sounding just perfect and melodic. The chorus made it to the crowd, that even with no music, managed to stay for a couple of more minutes chanting, arms in the air, waving, still in awe for what they were experiencing.
I must say I was totally blown away by Albarn’s fantastic energy. I had thought age and the several projects had worn a bit on Blur’s frontman, but it was the other way round. All his other side groups gave him the stamina and continuity to show all the Brit-pop newcomers who they still had to look up to.
“The Universal” still stands for a hymn of a generation and brings the chills ups and down the spin of every Girl & Boy who were living the great youngsters lives back in those days “when the universal’s free.”
“Song 2” closed the amazing show, throwing a giant dust cloud over the crowd and stage, everybody jumping in a frenzy, not wanting to come to terms to the certainty that the show was going to be over in a minute or so, as hard-core as it had started.
Yes, we were still around the premises when Fuck Buttons started their industrial electronic revolutionary gig.
It was 4 am QRO’s photographer was inside the pit taking amazing shots that could express the creativeness of the duo’s synths and macs surrounded by thousands of plugs, buttons and such. Impressive.
Saturday, June 1st
What can you say when you have yet another Portuguese great rock act to open the last day of the festival? The Glockenwise are part of a movement that started years ago, an amazing rock scene at the small town of Barcelos, up at the north of Portugal. Their sound is strong, ambitious and shows the influences of progressive rock and we could only foresee a really bright future for them.
Dinosaur Jr. were amazing as usual on the main stage at the late remaining sun hours, around dinnertime. We stayed, we danced, we rocked and wondered were where we 30 years ago when it all had started? Damian Abraham, of Fucked Up, even sang and welcomed the most amazing sunset of the event and, finally, the warm weather we were so desperate for.
PAUS, two Portuguese drummers, a bass player and keyboards rocked at ATP. They are always one of the best choices for this kind of gathering. They are fresh, raw, their drums rock and the chorus are contagious.
At Pitchfork, here came yet another Spanish band, or should I say Catalan? L’Hereu Escampa appear with an aggressive rock attitude, greeted everyone in Portuguese and the Spanish crowd was thrilled and follows the chorus bravely. Beautiful to watch.
In the meantime, The Sea and Cake were at ATP, but we just went through there, as Explosions In the Sky were my highest expectation of the evening, at the main stage.
What? Savages against Explosions in the Sky? Man…!! Guess who won…
Since they cancelled the gig the previous year, we decided it was time to see what they were all about, after spending years just dreaming about those incredible melodies live
They greeted the audience in a perfect Portuguese, translating the name of the band to the native tongue and thanking for the warm welcome. The sonic melodies cradled the crowd in a mass of devotion and surrender. It’s perfect and, as close to the stage as we are, we see tears in some people’s eyes. Yup – it was that strong. Music has the power to let emotions flow freely as never before. At this point I remembered a Portuguese writer who wrote a novel called Happy People With Tears In Their Eyes. That sums it up.
Liars were absolutely amazing after EITS, making it impossible not to dance all the way near the stage and up the hill.
We missed Dan Deacon at Pitchfork due to a last minute schedule change, but the show was amazing, as we heard afterwards.
The only negative note and disappointment goes to My Bloody Valentine, closing the festival for us.
The sound was bad, the voices unheard, the tunes depressing (o.k., we knew they were, but they really sounded like a cheap version of early PJ Harvey and Sonic Youth on a really bad day).
The result was a catatonic audience and once again, the cold wasn’t helping at all.
We all expected more liveliness, and it was a bad ending to a great three day-party, but you can’t have it all, can you?
All in all, the setting kind of brings back images of what an urban Woodstock of the 21st century could be like.
The ladies had flowers in their hair, but times they did change – what do you know – so had Nick Cave and Damon Albarn all through their gigs. The green grass, the ducks flying around over our heads. If you close your eyes for a split second, you could even feel the sea breeze, smell it and sense it deep into your bones (aaah the chilly nights once more!)
Definitely a comeback! As the organization already announced their first headliners for 2014: just like the Barcelona edition, Neutral Milk Hotel.
See you next year, Porto!
words: Carla Ferraz
photos: Jayne Yong