The first thing you need to know about Primavera Sound, besides its incredible lineup and the many schedule conflicts that produces, is that it goes all night. As opposed to most American festivals, which kick off around noon and continue until 11PM or midnight, Primavera gets going around 6 in the evening and doesn’t stop until 6 in the morning.
It’s an awesome experience. You skip past the miserable afternoon heat and the awkwardness of watching artists’ night-ready sets wilt in the midday sun. Instead you get right to the good part, those early evening hours when a sense of anticipation starts to build. Then comes sunset, and then a full workday’s worth of entertainment after dark. The festival experience feels more special at night. It’s more comfortable. Its more exciting. It’s better in pretty much every way I can think of.
It helps, of course, when you’re watching some of the best bands in the world, and plenty of them were present for Primavera’s first proper day — way more than one person could see, even when you’re jumping from stage to stage catching bits and pieces of as many sets as possible like I did. Most of the ones I did see were tremendous, and these were the best of them in chronological order.
Algiers’ Big Come-Up
Unless Algiers have some main-stage festival sets under their belt that I don’t know about, I imagine the mass of thousands gathered in front of the Heineken stage was their largest audience ever by a wide margin. The Band To Watch alums have a unique sound: part punk, part soul, part hip-hop, part experimental electronic noise — like Death Grips if they were signed to In The Red. (For the record, Algiers are on Matador.) It’s a darkly aggressive combination fit for dive bars and DIY art galleries, but I worried about how it would translate to a festival environment. As it turns out, Algiers killed it. Franklin James Fisher’s gospel howls sound refreshingly vital against the group’s bleak post-industrial soundscapes as opposed to yet another dutiful recreation of retro sounds. And despite the presence of multiple dudes at Animal Collective-style work stations, it was far closer to a punk show than the art installation I feared.
Julien Baker Silences The Masses
A year ago, very few people outside of Tennessee — and very few people in Tennessee, for that matter — knew who Julien Baker was. But from the moment “Sprained Ankle” entered the world last July, the prodigious emo balladeer has been picking up steam at a ridiculous pace. Case in point: There she was Thursday evening on the Adidas Originals stage with nothing but a microphone, a guitar, and some extremely sad songs, commanding the attention of a hundreds-strong throng. I’ve seen her take over a small room before, but it was quite another thing to witness that power emanating into the wide open spaces of Primavera Sound without losing its potency. Baker’s between-song banter was almost comically soft-spoken, but when she raised her voice for massive choruses a la “Rejooooice!” — I mean, how could you not?
Destroyer Sails Into The Sunset
Dan Bejar continues to live every disheveled middle-aged college professor’s dream. The New Pornographers’ secret weapon brought his primary band to the Ray-Ban stage at twilight Thursday night, and I doubt anyone could have delivered superior sunset fare. Destroyer didn’t bother with the baroque balladry that peppers their discography. Instead they delivered the ideal version of their sound, a cognac-swigging composite that makes soft-rock elements hit hard. Sax, trumpet, and electric guitar melodies sliced across the rhythm section’s suave, sturdy lounge act. As ever, Bejar presided over it all with the detached idiosyncrasy of David Bowie, Bob Dylan, and Cosmo Kramer rolled into one — his shirt halfway unbuttoned, his posture slanted, his erudite bleat spinning oblique poetry. If I had a yacht, I might’ve climbed aboard and drifted off into the Mediterranean.
Kamasi Washington Makes Jazz Fans Of Us All
Like a large percentage of Kamasi Washington’s fan base, I am not a jazz guy by any stretch. Kendrick Lamar was my one and only gateway into The Epic, the three-disc behemoth Washington released last year to wide acclaim. But Thursday night at Primavera’s large indoor Rockdelux Auditori theater, Washington came at me like a gateway drug. Surrounded by smoke and a large band (two drummers, stand-up bass, keys, trombone, and a vocalist who doubled as hype woman), the saxophonist draped himself in a massive, flowing Sun Ra robe and proceeded to soar, skronk, flutter, pivot, and wail with a level of virtuosity that would leave even the staunchest primitivist in awe.
Tame Impala Stake Their Claim As The World’s Reigning Festival Band
Hard rock promoters may believe the silent majority doesn’t care about Tame Impala, but the sheer number of enthusiastic festival-goers who crammed themselves in front of the H&M stage for the band’s late-night set Thursday suggests Kevin Parker’s combo is indeed one of the biggest bands in the world. They may also be the ideal group for the modern festival environment, with a brightly psychedelic sound straddling the worlds of rock and pop, equally fit for dancing or zoning out. Throw in some confetti cannons and zonked-out melancholy interludes, tricks borrowed from their old pals and former festival MVPs the Flaming Lips, and you’ve got an experience practically lab-engineered to dominate the festival scene. It helps that Tame Impala have the songs to back it up, of course. Even the tunes from Currents, an album released less than a year ago, are already sounding like classics.
John Carpenter Plays One Of His First Concerts Ever
First of all: John Carpenter rocks! At one the famed director and composer’s first-ever concerts (the very first was a few weeks ago in LA), the 68-year-old led his band through selections from his recent Lost Themes albums and some of his most iconic film scores. Driven by distorted guitars and eerie synths, Carpenter’s constructions were far more compelling on stage than much of the instrumental music I heard elsewhere at the festival. Secondly: John Carpenter talks! I figured he’d mostly let the music speak for him, but no. Between songs he offered friendly banter and humorous grandfatherly introductions such as this, regarding his soundtrack to the Kurt Russell-starring Big Trouble In Little China: “I have a friend, we’ve made five movies together. But the most fun we’ve ever had is when we went looking for a girl with green eyes and ended up in big trouble.” Perched at his keyboard out front of the band, he later introduced the Halloween theme by declaring, “For most of my movie career I’ve directed horror movies. I love horror movies. Horror movies will live forever.” So will their soundtracks, apparently.
LCD Soundsystem’s Joyous Return
I was lucky enough to see LCD Soundsystem at a Primavera-sponsored club show in Barcelona two days before their headlining festival set. It was the most positive vibe I’ve experienced at a concert in years. All night people were dancing, smiling, hugging strangers. They were so happy to be there. So was I. So were LCD Soundsystem, who beamed with gratitude all night. In the end, “Where are your friends tonight?” became an answer unto itself: They’re here, screaming along with you, whether you’ve ever met them before or not. The performance was so enthralling that I parked myself up front to experience it all over again early Friday morning at the Heineken stage. A few songs into the identical setlist, I started walking backwards through the crowd, taking in the sights. The same phenomenon was happening on a larger scale. All the way back, people were moving their bodies and rocking these magnificent grins. They seemed so happy to have this band back in action. And although I bristled at the idea of a reunion at first, I’m extremely happy too. Bring on LP4.
Neon Indian’s Stage Presence
Alan Palomo’s got the moves. The Neon Indian frontman struts with such force and fluidity that it’s easy to forget he came up riding a wave called chill. His performance on the Pitchfork stage in the wee hours of Friday morning was an astounding feat of Prince worship and a reminder of how much a buzz band can evolve if you give them a little space. No need for umpteen layers of reverb now: The guy’s a showman, and his band’s got lite-funk grooves for days.
White Reaper Throw A Different Kind Of Dance Party
Thursday at Primavera ended with Optimo and Hudson Mohawke staging competing 4AM DJ sets at the Ray-Ban and Pitchfork stages respectively. From what little I witnessed, both dance parties looked like a lot of fun. Meanwhile, on the Adidas Originals stage, White Reaper were throwing their bodies all over the place and encouraging their audience to do the same: “I wanna see some people crawling on each other’s heads!” They provided ample incentive in the form of electrifying, untamed, high-speed rock ‘n’ roll plus wonderfully ridiculous between-song discourse and a keyboard player who just as often thrashed around the front of the stage playing hypeman. Straight-up no-frills rock the likes of White Reaper’s has long felt like a cliche to me, or worse, a museum exhibit. But in this young band’s hands, it was the exhilarating chaos agent it was conceived to be.