As Stereogum’s resident Radiohead fanboy, for me, Friday at Primavera Sound was all about Thom Yorke and company. My whole night was planned around achieving ideal Radiohead-watching circumstances, which involved some sacrifices. It meant missing Dinosaur Jr., Jay Rock, Tortoise, Shellac, and Royal Headache, who were scheduled at the same time. It also meant skipping Freddie Gibbs in order to stake out prime Radiohead-watching real estate, plus forgoing the Last Shadow Puppets across the field immediately afterward because LOL at watching Radiohead for two hours and then turning around and expecting an Arctic Monkeys side project to move you.
I kid, Last Shadow Puppets fans! (Mostly.) But I definitely needed to sit down for a few minutes after Oxford’s finest left the stage, both physically and, you know, emotionally.
Lest you think I barely saw any bands Friday, the plan also involved cramming as much as possible into the hours before and after Radiohead. As usual, the acts that most stood out were the once whose music landed with some oomph. The festival environment does not lend itself to pensive musical reflection or open-ended ethereal drift. It’s a short attention span zone that requires musicians to bring the fire. And in chronological order, the following acts did just that.
White Fence Come Alive
There are some bands at Primavera Sound whose albums I love, but whose live show did not connect with me for whatever reason, Air and Car Seat Headrest among them. White Fence presents the opposite scenario: Tim Presley’s retro garage rock records have never particularly inspired me, but his set on the Primavera stage sure did. From all-out power chord ragers to spiraling melodic grooves to a droning, stomping, discordant Velvet Underground-inspired vamp, it was a reminder that sometimes you have to see a band in concert to “get” it.
Titus Andronicus Stretch The Limits Of Punk
No band besides Fucked Up has done more to bring prog-rock bombast (and sometimes bloat) into punk than Titus Andronicus. During their triumphant H&M stage set, Patrick Stickles and friends offered a savvy demonstration of just how far they’ve pushed the form. Midway through, they careened through the Ramones’ short, sweet rager “Blitzkrieg Bop,” arguably the genre’s most foundational song. They followed it up with The Monitor’s behemoth closer “The Battle Of Hampton Roads,” a multi-segmented 14-minute epic that has almost as many false endings as The Return Of The King, ultimately climaxing with a harmonized guitar solo that found Stickles and his bandmate back to back, arena rock style. They followed that up with the seven-minute “A More Perfect Union” as if to drive home the point.
Savages, Holy Shit
Go see Savages in concert and not only will you be convinced they are the greatest live band in the world, you might also forget other bands even exist. The England-based post-punk quartet have had a reputation for on-stage prowess, but man, these women were made for a massive festival showcase like the Heineken stage. Playing in the last spot before Radiohead, they absolutely obliterated everything in sight, delivering a ferocious performance that had my eyes as wide and impassioned as Jehnny Beth’s. Every member of the band was on fire — combustible guitar, crushing bass, and punishing drum detonations were all topped off by an inspiring display by the band’s lead singer. She bellowed, she screamed, she crowd-surfed, she cast glances at the audience capable of enticing, enlivening, and destroying you. They (intentionally or not) teased at the following band’s storied discography with “T.I.W.Y.G.” and its aggro refrain, “This is what you get when you mess with love.” And then they ended with the triumphantly defiant “Fuckers,” because how could they not?
Radiohead Deliver The Fan Favorites
Here’s the thing about the ideal Radiohead setlist: It doesn’t exist. Not within a 22-song set, 23 or 24 if you’re lucky. That’s like two albums’ worth of tracks. It’s certainly not enough to contain every song I’d want to hear at a Radiohead concert. THAT SAID, all things considered, the band came pretty close to the perfect assortment of songs Friday at the Heineken stage. Beloved oldies were abundant: “The National Anthem”! “Street Spirit”! “Paranoid Android”! “2+2=5″! Every album was represented (even the first one — more about that in a second), plus “Talk Show Host,” arguably their greatest B-side ever. Massive sing-alongs erupted every few songs, and after “Karma Police,” the crowd spontaneously decided we needed a few more a cappella rounds of “For a minute there, I lost myself!” I figured that would be the tingly takeaway moment of the night, but at the end of it all came a last-minute addition to the encore. Yes, it was “Creep,” and yes, it was so fucking special.
Animal Collective Get Visceral
Animal Collective’s latest album Painting With is their attempt to conjure the raw immediacy of early rock ‘n’ roll, and while their set early Saturday morning on the Ray-Ban stage won’t be confused for the Rolling Stones any time soon, it definitely reflected the new LP’s hard-hitting ethos. Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and Geologist were perched at their usual electronic work stations, but unlike some festival sets I’ve seen them play, which meandered into zonked-out nothingness, this one mostly maintained a steady thump thanks to a live drummer pounding out rhythms behind them. Factor in all the usual yips, yaps, shrieks, and skewed Pet Sounds pillaging, and you’ve got an AnCo show you can happily bob your head to — the best kind, if you ask me.
The Avalanches Return
A photo posted by Raphael Pour-Hashemi (@raphph) on
The Avalanches’ first gig in years began with a tiny audience and a big hug. The Australian plunderphonics masters took the Ray-Ban stage to a fraction of the audience Animal Collective had commanded an hour before, but that didn’t snuff out the duo’s contagious giddiness. Their congratulatory embrace seemed to say, “We did it! We finally did it!” After that they began wildly jumping and flailing, even as their record collection conjured that dreamlike sensation that made Since I Left You such a fantastic post-party comedown. But as soon as the beat dropped and a cartoonish slew of disco/funk/tropicalia/hip-hop rhythms descended upon the shoreline, the area filled to the brim with party-goers, to the extent that it was difficult to force my way out of the crowd when it was all over. And by the time they dropped “Frontier Psychiatrist” about 45 minutes in — and then “Frankie Sinatra,” and then the debut of “Subways” — that entire swarm of people was bouncing right along with them.
Sheer Mag Kick A Whole Lot Of Ass
For the second straight night, I found myself in front of the Adidas Originals stage at 4AM finishing up with one of the most exciting young rock bands in the world. This time it was Sheer Mag, the Philadelphia force of nature that finds prodigious howler Tina Halladay riding high on a wave of gnarly Thin Lizzy riffs. This band has it all: killer songwriting, skilled musicianship, deep grooves, and a born star out front. They’re like the Exploding Hearts fronted by Janis Joplin, and we’re lucky they exist.