Pavement Stage A Mighty Return At Primavera Despite First-Day Organizational Snafus
Back in the early, innocent days of January 2020, Primavera Sound announced its big 20th anniversary blowout. You know the deal. Two years later, and we’ve finally arrived at the festival’s belated birthday celebration, spread out across two weekends with a significantly expanded Ciutat program of club gigs around Barcelona during the interim week. When the new lineup was announced last year, we commented that Primavera 2022 has every band — and it’s true, it feels like everyone is here this year. It’s a stacked lineup even for a festival known for its impressive booking.
Unfortunately, that big celebratory weekend got off to a rocky start. If you’ve seen any chatter online, you know a lot of festivalgoers were perplexed by some of this year’s decisions. One of the most baffling elements is lack of access to water, with no stations and no vendors aside from the bars, which often had waits over an hour given the general oversold/understaffed feeling going on last night. There also seems to be a lack of security and crowd control, with bottlenecks and cramming becoming particularly brutal at the main stages — which have been placed directly side-by-side, which in turn created a strange use of space on the main field. Primavera has always been crowded and a little crazy — it’s a big festival, that’s how it goes — but something felt noticeably off and at times unsafe last night. (The festival has since apologized and vowed to make improvements today.)
If you could successfully navigate the changes of Primavera 2022, the music lived up to the promise of this year’s iteration. Thursday’s kickoff night featured a whole lot of indie faves and pop crossover figures: Dinosaur Jr., a smoldering set from Sharon Van Etten, Kacey Musgraves and Charli XCX both received by fervent fans, Yo La Tengo, a late late night set from Black Midi. Tame Impala were perhaps the big, unifying event of the night, filling that main-stage field with a cross-generational group of fans and dazzling with their perfectly calibrated laser/light/psychedelic overload live show. They also covered “Last Nite” for some good crowd-pleasing measure, after the Strokes had to drop out from this weekend due to COVID in their camp.
But then there was the indie fave grandaddy of them all: Pavement. This, as the band remarked early in their set, was originally supposed to happen in 2020, after they’d previously hinted at an imminent reunion in 2019. Of course, that was just one of those big events that got kicked further and further down the road, so we had to wait just a bit longer for the already long-awaited third coming of Pavement. When they first reunited in 2010, Primavera was also a significant stop. This time around, it’s effectively the debut of Pavement’s next run, excepting the LA theater show just over a week ago.
Like the Fonda gig, Pavement’s Primavera set was a long, gratifying hang with one of the all-time legendary American indie bands. This was one was just a tad shorter — 27 vs. 30 songs — but still overflowing with enough to satiate the diehard fans who’ve been waiting 12 years to see them again, let alone those of us who had never had an opportunity to catch them, whether in 2010 or in the ’90s. At the Fonda show, Pavement dusted off a bunch of songs they’d skipped in 2010, making it the first time they’d performed them since their initial run: “Embassy Row,” “Black Out,” “Serpentine Pad,” “Folk Jam.” Most of those were still part of the set in Barcelona, plus several that they’d played on the first reunion but hadn’t made it into the new set in LA. That means last night we got “Father To A Sister Of Thought,” “Zurich Is Stained,” and “Stereo” for the first time since 2010.
While the crowd had admittedly thinned out compared to Tame — which, to be honest, seemed like a lot of people calling it after an exhausting, complicated first day — the Pavement reunion still felt like one of the main events of this weekend of Primavera. Anecdotally, many of the people I talked to seemed to have come excited about the rest of the lineup but almost exclusively for the purpose of seeing an old favorite they know there won’t be many opportunities to see. I’ve always been something of a Pavement agnostic — that strain of American indie just wasn’t really a part of my formative years as a music fan. But it was easy to get swept up in everyone else’s excitement at seeing the legendary group back onstage.
Pavement, in response, brought it — insofar as a band once known for a slacker rock aesthetic would bring it. There were plenty of amped-up freakout moments across the set. The big hits were dutifully present; it was hard to ignore how much everyone lost their shit to “Cut Your Hair” dropped halfway through the set. Then there is the bizarre story of “Harness Your Hopes,” a B-side given an unexpected second life as a viral hit. This song was, of course, not a part of the first reunion. Now, it garners one of the big singalongs of the night, from new and old fans.
People had to get through a lot to see these Pavement shows. The yawning pandemic wait for live music to return, naturally. But also, at Primavera, a trying first day that was wholly inconsistent with how the festival has run in the past. It gave their set the feeling of a pilgrimage, weathering some travels to see one of the greats resurrected. By the time they wrapped up after two in the morning, they sent everyone off in a calm, weary sort of euphoria — hopefully setting the stage for a better weekend to come.