Do you think Radiohead ever sit back collectively (or even individually) and wonder how it ever got so damn big and indestructible? They must surely afford themselves the occasional gentle chuckle at the endless grace afforded to them by the notoriously fickle general public.
After all, it seems to matter little as to how wilfully obtuse, leftfield and discordant their output becomes, the mere whisper of their name guarantees an irrational leave of the senses and giddy hysteria in even the most mild mannered of music lovers. Their stature remains as bullet-proof as a presidential car and their reach broader than an Amazon Prime delivery account.
They certainly faced the biggest crowd of Primavera Sound 2016, but more of that later.
What about the festival itself? Well, Primavera Sound is surprisingly mammoth in terms of numbers. For an idea of scale, 175,000 attendees fill its environs annually. Of this number, around half are visitors from outside of Spain. In a city that boasts impressive architecture, sunny beaches and the best football team in the world, it is certainly never short on tourist trade, and yet this event supplies another reason/excuse to ramp up Airbnb prices and the cost of the average Paella.
Perhaps unique compared to any other music festival worldwide, there are two main stages stationed directly opposite one another. It is a construction that enables a quick turnaround between acts, as one stage can set-up whilst the other is hosting. Once again, this year the main stages appeared to be the preserve of non-domestic acts, as the international big hitters took up residency.
Before the festival started properly, Suedeplayed a free headline show on the festival grounds. Initially beset, to these ears at least, by poor sound, ‘Introducing the Band’ and ‘Outsiders’ are compromised by the muddy mash of indecipherable noise. Thankfully, this improves as matters progress.
Blissfully unaware anyway, the band enthusiastically thrash and romp through some of their biggest songs, greeting those present with an infectious ‘Killing of a Flashboy’, the Britpop thrust of ‘Trash’ and the dirty swagger of ‘Filmstar’, before ‘Animal Nitrate’ paves the way for a second half of widescreen drama, including a boisterous ‘Beautiful Ones’ and an acoustic take on ‘She’s In Fashion’. All in all, it goes down a treat. As a precursor for the festival proper, and maybe a promotional tool for non-festival goers for future years, Brett Anderson and co certainly whet the appetite for what was to come.
Once the main gates opened, and away from the main stages, Primavera once again offered an eclectic bill. Madrid band Autumn Comets kick-started the picturesque Rayban stage with their spectral, atmospheric soundscapes. Tremelo effect-heavy guitar and plangent synth sounds contested with the odd blast of fiddle to create an interesting sonic collision. Resembling something akin to The Boxer Rebellion-meets-The Cure, they are an interesting proposition and deserving of an audience outside of their native homeland.
Speaking of Spanish artists, the Catalan equivalent of Gruff Rhys, Alberto Montero, drew a small, but enthusiastic, crowd on the Adidas Originals stage. Predominately focusing on tracks from his fourth effort Arco Mediterraneo, his mellifluous vocals and musical charm attempts to make up for what he lacks in on-stage charisma (truth be told, he is a bit of a vacuum in this regard and no competition for the aforementioned Rhys). His set boasts the strangest cover-song-that-wasn’t-a-cover-song cover song of the festival when he introduces ‘Smooth Operator’. Of the original, he manages to utter the title twice during the chorus, whilst housing the remainder of the song in his own mother tongue with different words and a different tune. Interesting.
Floating Points arrive at Primavera off the back of their seductive debut album 2015 release, Elaenia. The brainchild of electronic musician (and also neuroscientist) Sam Shepherd, the charm of his recorded output does not transpose particularly well to the stage.
Much of the jazz elements seem lost in the relentless bludgeon of the whirring electro. Consequently, despite flashes of occasional brilliance, their set peters out into a samey hum, losing almost all of the promising early momentum. Good light show though.
An extremely bashful (to the point of borderline incredulity considering their popularity), Elena Tonra, led her band, Daughter, out into the expanse of the main stage area of the Barcelona turf to pitch their ambient tones. Engendering a hushed reverence, the crowd listen with ears cocked and conversational chatter kept to a minimum as they tease out their patented musical restraint just as the evening sun begins to set.
‘Smother’ stands out alongside, perhaps predictably, ‘Youth’, which also attracts the biggest cheer. Overall though, you can’t help but think that a little more of a spark, rattle and (a louder) hum would add welcome shades to their oeuvre and avoid charges of monotony from their biggest detractors. Moments of undeniable arrestment is the residual memory, however.
Following them, and attracting the first truly big crowd of the festival, French outfit Air seek to reclaim their melodic lounge music from the DIY/Home Improvements/Property TV shows that seem to have made their 1998 debut Moon Safari as their one and only soundtrack. Sadly, they look not only disconnected to the festival experience, but almost thoroughly disengaged with their own catalogue.
As they languidly push their musical wares, the crowd fall into a languishing, flailing whole; boredom enveloping those present like a vicious, highly infectious contagion on an unforgiving march. Even the closing salvo of ‘Sexy Boy’, ‘Kelly Watched the Stars’ and ‘La Femme d’Argent’ can’t save this set from the sensation of tedium.
Offering a more raucous and thoroughly more entertaining proposal, LCD Soundsystem make a strong case for offering the best party in Barcelona on Thursday night, irrespective of Daft Punk playing at their house or not. Despite having bowed out in 2011, they have clearly returned to remind us just how diverse their catalogue is and also of James Murphy’s mastery of melody, the good time groove and canny hooks.
‘I Can Change’ and ‘Yeah’ pay off with their incessant repetitions. ‘Losing My Edge’, meanwhile, is compelling. Very few flat moments ensure that they vacate the stage victorious and with what would become an undeniable highlight of the festival weekend.
Just under 24 hours later, and Tame Impala embrace their enormous (and evidently ever-growing) popularity by eking out their quasi-falsetto pop rock with intent. The glam stomp of ‘Elephant’ rumbles nicely. As momentum builds, through the Mark Ronson cover ‘Daffodils’ and onto a gleeful ‘Eventually’, what first appears to be a planned crowd sing-along moment proves to be a technical failure, and after a number of torches being flashed about on-set, the sound returns and the band resume ‘Eventually’ (oh, the irony), but at the expense of a curtailed set.
Confetti and upbeat anthems manage to pull their set back from the brink of disaster (gimmicky though it may be). This visual menagerie of colour and light win over even the sternest of cynics.
Savages, on the other hand, believe that the power of performance lies in the unremitting bang of the drums and wail of the electric guitar. Rampaging their way through their set with a typical sense of purpose, front woman Jehnny Beth bridges the chasm between stage and crowd by surfing over to the middle and begging to be held aloft by a more than willing audience. For all of the attempts to inject some ramshackle punk energy and jolt some life into proceedings, however, there retains an air of aloof cool about them; being both part of the gathered and also a band apart.
‘We’re starting to like you’, imparts Beth at around the halfway mark. By this point though, they have already dispatched the chugging throttle of ‘City’s Full’ and ‘Husbands’ from their debut. Seamlessly, numerous highs from their recently released sophomore album also fill the air with the same sense of commitment. Speaking of which, they opt to end their set with ‘Fuckers’, departing to the sound of feedback. Stunned, Primavera is left in no doubt that these girls have more balls than your average guitar band, and it’s one much needed.
What some might observe as a step up for Miles Kane and a step down for Alex Turner, The Last Shadow Puppets have chosen 2016 to emerge from their 8-year hibernation with a fairly successful second album, Everything You’ve Come To Expect. Opening here with ‘Miracle Aligner’, Turner prances about the stage with an arrogance that was pretty much non-existent in their earlier incarnation. It is both an aggravating over-egging of the proverbial pudding and a welcome dash of showmanship – which is a bizarre oxymoron. In a way, this see-saw works for the live show; making the on-stage movements an engaging accompaniment to the music itself.
Kane is a consummate performer, and his harmonies blend neatly with Turner’s. The unsung hero of this project though lies in the sumptuous arrangements by their collaborator, Owen Pallett, and these ripple across the night air in a deliciously sonorous manner. Truth be told, their set does run out of steam. An hour and a half is too big a slot for a two-album band, which is why an encore cover of the Beatles’ ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ is gratefully received. That said, before the said steam is run dry, songs such as ‘Standing Next To Me’, ‘Aviation’, ‘Dracula Teeth’ and ‘The Age of the Understatement’ remind us all that this is a side project that is worthy of its place, no matter how retro and in thrall it is to the past.
And so this all brings us to Radiohead: a band who have no problems looking to the future. Taking to the stage in near darkness, A Moon Shaped Pool’s ‘Burn The Witch’ kicks things off in a quiet fashion. In fact, the eagle-eyed observer would note that the early part of this set resembles the same order as that on previous dates of the tour. For a festival set, this certainly smacks of bloody-mindedness, as a brace of new songs dominate. For a cantankerous sob such as Yorke, would you expect anything different though?
On the plus side, what’s striking from the very first note is that his voice hasn’t been on this good a form in a long while. As excellent on record as it usually is, the live experience in the last 15 years or so has found Thom paying less heed and care to key and consistency. That is not the case tonight. He is on fire. As the band drop Kid A’s ‘National Anthem’ to a huge roar, the set moves forward with renewed purpose and inclusivity, aided by the persistent bass line; it is one that prompts nods and shoulder movements aplenty from the mammoth audience.
From there, the guitars come out for the old B-side/Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet ‘Talk Show Host’. And then, they go into true crowd pleasing mode… ‘Lotus Flower’, ‘No Surprises’ and even ‘Karma Police’ follow in quick succession. In terms of the latter, the big screen projections capture an apologetic Colin Greenwood word ‘sorry’ with a smile to Yorke as he fluffs a note in the chorus. Chat might be kept to a minimum, but the band seem to be in good spirits and operating as a fully cohesive unit. ‘Bodysnatchers’ is wheeled out and punches out of the speakers with its inherent urgency. It is a revelation. A change in mood entirely is signified by the delicate arpeggio of ‘Street Spirit’, which concludes the main set. As affecting as ever, is there any band other than Radiohead that can make a song as sombre as ‘Street Spirit’ sound like a festival anthem? Probably not.
When the cheers pull them back onto the stage, ‘Bloom’ resumes a deliberately off-kilter mood (they don’t want us to quite have it all our own way), but this is followed by a ‘Paranoid Android’ that would positively blow the roof off (if only there was one). This dash of raucousness is followed by the gentle ‘Nude’, where the crystal pure beauty of Yorke’s vocal generates wide-eyes and gasps all around. Beautiful. ‘There There’ glistens and dazzles. Johnny Greenwood jumps from drum to guitar and back again. It sounds ever more like the closest modern rock music has achieved to a 4-minute opera, as it ebbs and flows, builds and builds to its chilling crescendo.
With that, the band depart for a second time. Eventually, they re-emerge. It would appear that they are to do something impromptu. They play ‘Creep’. As to be expected, the crowd go nuts. This is their final statement. There might not have been any alarms, but there were certainly some surprises. Their first festival appearance of the year was an unqualified success.
But what about the festival as a whole? Well, it’s easy to sum up its charms: good vibes, good music and scorching sunshine; is there much else to wish for? Primavera deserves its place ensconced in the top tier of European festivals.
Primavera Sound took place between 1st-4th June 2016.