Primavera never stops growing. This is the first time in three years I’ve been able to go and there are now more stages than ever before, a whole week of live music before the festival even begins, ad-hoc stages set-up in parks all over the city, as well as the obligatory closing party. With all this going on it’s no surprise that every time I speak to someone about what they’ve seen at the festival it differs so greatly from mine. I then get a little jealous before realizing it’s what makes Primavera so great in the first place. It’s nice to be spoilt for choice.
My experience began with Surfer Blood. I had expected songs like “Swim” and “Twin Peaks” from their riff-filled debut album to ignite the place, but it never quite happened. I think this is one of the curses of being one of the first bands on; people are still in travelling and queuing mode and take a while to settle into the festival groove. The place still felt like it was finding its feet when I had to make a tricky choice between Circulatory System and The Fall. As I have seen The Fall many times before I opt for the other, besides I was a massive Olivia Tremor Control fan and the chance to see one of their members is too hard to resist. They play their latest album Signal Warning with a slightly-pared-down band that added a little ramshackle uncertainty to songs that seem so certain on the album, and generally oozed charm in a way that experimental pop/rock bands can really struggle to do.
Next choice was between Tortoise and Wild Beasts. I went for the riskier option of the latter although I don’t last long. There’s something about the Pitchfork stage that makes it hard for me to listen to new bands. Maybe it’s the fact that it resembles a fish market, and so I soon find myself in the safe environs of the ATP stage, a place that seems so much more homely. Tortoise take my soul, caress it, jazz it up a little and tell me the mission; to see Pavement. I duly oblige.
Now I have to admit I felt a little out of my depth when it came to seeing Pavement. I liked the band a lot but never had my epiphany moment with them, which seemed to make me unlike everyone else at the festival. During their opening five songs I think I got as close as I ever will to conversion; “Cut Your Hair”, “Rattled by the Rush”, “In the Mouth a Desert” and another I didn’t recognize before they launched into “Kennel District”. The band seemed to be loving every moment with Malkmus doing his best Hendrix impressions and Bob Nastanovich screaming and running around like a schoolboy.
I jumped out of the set before the end and managed to catch some of Sleigh Bells, who seem the antithesis of Pavement. They had a point to prove and were doing it with maximum attitude. It was kind of enjoyable in a verbal assault kind-of-way. The night ended with Delorean, who were incredible in all their fuzziness (although it should be mentioned I added the fuzz here by discovering that coffee laced with a double whiskey was cheaper than a beer).
Friday kicked off with Owen Pallett. I was still recovering from the previous night, but seeing as he was playing in the Auditorium where I could take a comfy seat in the darkness this didn’t matter too much. It was an environment where he seemed really confident, reshaping his songs and even trying a cover of Caribou’s “Odessa”, but it was his “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt”, with additional drums, that really got the crowd’s attention. I caught some of Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions set that followed and their slow-burning, slightly-psychedelic songs offered a level of serenity that cured me of all the previous night’s ills.
I decided to break the trance to see The New Pornographers, who in my head are one of the greatest pop bands around, but which never seem to live up to the billing. Considering the wealth of tunes after five albums it’s something of a disappointment, although hearing “Testament to Youth in Verse”, with it’s “And the bells go no, no, no, no” refrain did perk me up a little.
Scout Niblett played her fractured blues songs peppered with crashes of drums and unexpected grunge riffs down to a tee on the ATP stage before I approached the more dad-friendly worlds of Spoon and Wilco. Spoon in particular were really good, picking songs from all of their back catalog, including “I Turn My Camera On”, “Underdog”, “Written in Reverse” and “Small Stakes”. Wilco, a band who had been one of my favorites until their last two albums killed that notion, were reliable and I admit it was still great to hear “Jesus, etc.”, in acoustic form and “Black Bull Nova”, the only track that I think bears repeated listens on their last album.
I had planned to watch the start of Les Savy Fav before heading off to Panda Bear, keenly forgetting that Tim Harrington is pretty much the best front-man in the business. By the time he had launched himself off the stage for the 12th time and the band had played every zinger in their armory, Panda Bear was well into his set. I caught the end of it but was left feeling a little cold by his one man show which still needs something added to it for it to ever rival his recorded output, so I grab a “coffee” before The Pixies.
The fact that The Pixies rarely address each other and generally don’t seem overwhelmed to be playing a festival so big, and with such a great line-up, hints at some of the reasons for their reunion, but it needn’t matter because they at least seem comfortable with it. They play pretty much every song anyone could want to hear. For me it was “Bone Machine”. After that all I can remember is dancing as they plucked out classic after classic.
I had planned to start my Saturday with a short blast of Neu! followed by Atlas Sound. Only problem was Neu! had pretty much realized what made them great in the first place, and played a set of thumping, motorik blinders with Steve Shelley on drums and Michael Rother and Aaron Mullan (of Tall Firs) playing tangled guitar lines that seemed to push the songs into that unearthly space where you feel a little bit like you’re floating. In the end I caught the end of Atlas Sound. Bradford Cox seems to have reinvented himself as a troubadour, complete with lumbering pose, guitar and harmonica, and played a gloriously languid version of “Attic Lights” to close the set.
The Bundles who were without Kimya Dawson and so essentially just Jeffrey Lewis and the Junkyard were having a great time on the Vice stage, and pulled out a cover of Traveling Wilbury’s “End of the Line”, complete with potted history of the group. Maybe they were having too much fun.
The Ray Ban stage was perfect for Grizzly Bear as they kicked off in style with “Southern Point”, “Lullabye” and “Two Weeks” as the sky turned from blue to purple before finally succumbing to night. By which time the band had decided to focus on some of the lesser-hits and somehow managed the tough act of being both grandiose and personal.
Built to Spill is one of my favorite live bands despite only ever listening to Keep It Like a Secret in great length. Doug Martsch is such a lively front-man and you can always be sure the band will lock into a tight groove and layer up one guitar riff after another. It also helps when you know that every three or four songs they will play “You Were Right”, “Else” or “Carry the Zero” (all off fore-mentioned album) which will have me punching the air with delight.
I was unsure whether I wanted to see the Pet Shop Boys but curiosity propelled me towards their performance on the main stage. What followed was nowhere near the best music I had heard at the festival, but without a doubt the best spectacle. This was pop music presented by true masters, eating up every ounce of modern culture, be it tango, Tetris or Daft Punk and spitting it out in brightly-colored, dry-humored, sugar-coated greatness.
And that’s about it. I didn’t even mention Emilio Jose’s naked set, The Oh Sees playing in the Park on Saturday, King Khan doing exactly the same on Sunday, or even his presence during a storming Black Lips set at the Closing Party. No doubt next year there will be even more to write about and even less time to do it in, but I’m sure it will be enjoyed just as much.