Last November, Primavera Sound’s organizers wrote that they’d booked everyone they had their eye on for 2013 and used a #bestfestivalever hashtag, which amplified expectations that were already growing wildly. Over the last few years, Primavera Sound has separated itself from other festivals that are similar on the surface by booking consistently interesting lineups highlighted by a handful of acts that don’t just play anywhere. Glowing word of mouth has led to big attendance increases from festivalgoers around the world (over 40% of attendees come from outside Spain).
An early announcement that Blur would play the 2013 edition did nothing to quell the expectations. Then, unlike past years when chunks of the lineup would be released between November and February, organizers fell silent and decided to reveal the other 200+ bands at once in late January. So what would happen if, say, Primavera Sound ended up with a lineup without the special acts that jumped out on a cursory glance? What if the top acts resembled the sort of lineup you’d see at any other festival? Well, I guess you’d just have to dig a little deeper to find what makes Primavera Sound special.
As in the last few years, there was an opening night show with a few bands on one stage (when the festival is in full swing, there are ten stages). Barcelona-based chillwavers Delorean headlined the evening with a set of new songs that presumably will find their way onto a follow-up to 2010’s Subiza, and a variety of older favorites. At first, the sound was a bit muddy, but it soon cleared up and the synthesizers sparkled, especially on Subiza tracks that passed the audience’s test of recognition.
Still, though, the band never said much and the crowd was surprisingly tame to a local act who has graduated to headlining the opening night of a major festival. Perhaps everyone was a bit tired out from the Vaccines’ set that was loud and rambunctious. From the start, their crowd was enthusiastic with sing-alongs, crowd-surfing and pogoing. “Bad Mood” and “If You Wanna” garnered enormous cheers, especially from the large contingent of Brits who’d traveled for the festival and often made their presence clear through the weekend. The emerging Guards played a nice set of their psychedelic rock somewhere between early Mercury Rev and Spiritualized with a little more pop added in. Singer Richie Follin greeted the crowd with his usual “We’re thrilled to be here”/“It’s an honor to play for you” remarks, which he’s made each time I’ve seen them, and by alerting everyone it was his birthday. The band’s strength lies in how tight they are when going off and whipping up extended versions of their songs.
When the festival really kicked off on Thursday, my evening began with L’Hereu Escampa, who’ve taken significant influence from Japandroids in their noisy punk sound, as well as their stage setup. The Manlleu-based duo played early and, thus, didn’t pull a huge crowd, but those who did show up were a dedicated bunch that went wild for their locals. Following them were the much-hyped Savages, who pulled thousands of curious listeners. With a Wire-influence and Jehnny Beth’s Siouxsie Sioux-ish vocals, it’s not hard to like Savages for what their sound harks back to. Beth’s simmering stage presence can be mesmerizing, as well. But the most significant part of their set may have been when Beth’s guitar malfunctioned and the rhythm section took control while the guitar issue was tended to. It spoke volumes about how comfortable band members are with each other to pick up like that to overcome an obstacle while trying to make a good first impression to a large crowd of mostly new ears. On the other hand, there was Tame Impala, who played to a gigantic crowd and never really seemed to get into a top gear. It could be due to recent personnel changes in the band, though. Their Spirograph visuals were sort of cheesy and only the big riffs in “Elephant” got more than a dull roar from past the midway point in the crowd.
From “Watch the Corners” to a “Feel the Pain”/“Out There”/“Start Choppin’” trifecta (J Mascis wisely didn’t attempt the highest notes of the latter) to closing with “Freak Scene”, “Just Like Heaven” and “Sludgefeast”, Dinosaur Jr delivered a hit-heavy set that was popular with an older audience eager for some of Mascis’ distinct guitar solos. A few hundred yards away, a younger audience watched Jessie Ware knock it out of the park. Even with a lot of success in the last year, Ware still comes across as humble and almost like she can’t believe it’s all happening for her. “Wildest Moments” brought on an emphatic sing-along and an easy joke endeared her to the crowd when she announced “This is our last song” during applause and then chided “Don’t fucking cheer” before letting loose on “Keep Me Running”. A much anticipated Postal Service set was a pleasant surprise of indie pop, even though almost everyone seeing them could also hear Bob Mould at a nearby stage. Ben Gibbard had a commanding presence and Jenny Lewis dazzled as an accompanying player. Their version of Beat Happening’s “Our Secret” was one of the best covers of the weekend and a perfect way for a band without a lot of their own music to pad a set. Yet for as much fanfare as Postal Service have received for this reunion, they were still outdrawn by Tame Impala.
Chasing them was the raucous post-punk Hot Snakes, whose charismatic John Reis joked that they wouldn’t play while a Ferris wheel was in motion. It appeared that the Ferris wheel did, indeed, stop for the first three songs. Intentional or just a coincidence? The band rocketed through their arsenal with brutal cuts of “10th Planet” and “Braintrust”. Switching gears to something calmer, Grizzly Bear ended their set with crowd favorites like “While You Wait for the Others”, “Two Weeks” and “Half Gate”, the latter featuring exceptional drumming. Closing out the night was an hour and a half of Phoenix. The French electropop band started out a little blandly, but quickly stepped it up with some dynamic play. Oddly, though, they fired totally anticlimactic confetti cannons during the low-key transition from “Love Like a Sunset” into “Bankrupt”. Thomas Mars went into the crowd, as per usual, for “1901” and stayed there for a stripped down “Countdown” before the band returned in full to close on a high point with “Rome” and J Mascis guesting on “Entertainment”.
Check back tomorrow for coverage of Days 3 and 4. Visit PopMatters’ Facebook page to see an extensive gallery of images by Rory O’Connor from Primavera.
The Postal Service