Primavera Sound 2016

After an underwhelming edition in 2015, Primavera Sound pulled out all the stops this year, delaying the traditional weekend of the festival by a week in order to secure one of its headliners. There were few leaks and fewer dripfeeds, the organisers confident that they could maximise revenue from full price tickets once the bill was announced, which duly happened in record time – Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem (comically calling it a comeback only five years after their last studio album) and Brian Wilson the big hitters from a marvellous line up.

 

THURSDAY 2 JUNE

It’s hot and sticky and Algiers singer’s crisp white shirt is soon drenched as the Atlanta band deliver what turns out to be one of our favourite sets from the weekend. Rock meets soul and gospel with beats and loops, socially charged lyrics and a vocalist blessed with a rangy voice. They create a unique sound, pleasing to dancers and headbangers alike, and as the sun mercifully sinks behind Mount Tibidabo, Algiers kick off proceedings on this main stage with real vigour.

Suede -l ive at Primavera 2016

Suede live at Primavera 2016

Escaping the heat, we enter the impressive 3,000 capacity indoor Auditori for a performance of Suede’s recent album Night Thoughts, the band playing behind a translucent screen, each member spotlit sparingly throughout to let the accompanying movie breathe and make its impact. It’s a wonderful marriage of music and visuals, and Brett Anderson once more puts everything into his performance, his vocals a marked improvement on last night’s free show. In an era of cherry picking and streaming, Suede have shown that the concept album doesn’t have to be naff. I felt more engaged with the songs because of the story being played out on screen. As Suede drifted off behind the rolling credits they left long standing ovations in the aisles.

Despite coming here annually since 2007, I had not seen a show in the Auditori until today, and like buses, a second show arrives straight away, the much anticipated performance of Compton wunderkind Kamasi Washington. Watching the roadies set up as we sit down, one thing becomes apparent – Kamasi, you had us at two full drum kits. For the next hour we get drum battles, a double bass played with a bow through a wah-wah pedal, freakouts and space jams. It’s jazz Captain but not as we know it.

Washington can switch his saxophone from a purr to a blur in seconds and when he’s not playing, he’s leading his band The Next Step like a boss. The only time he’s not the daddy is when he brings out his own father to play flute alongside. A funky appropriation of Prince’s Controversy sees a gent down the front dancing his ass off before bouncers attempt to nullify this perceived security threat. Unperturbed and cheered on by the crowd, the boogie terrorist continues his dad dancing and all the while I’m reminding myself that this is a jazz concert. It is all that and more, but nothing like at the same time. Another rowdy ovation sends Kamasi Washington back to his mothership.

And so to the picturesque Ray Ban stage for a more electronic form of jazz in the shape of Floating Points. With the Mediterranean behind it, this stage is the heart and soul of the venue, its crescent of steps illuminated by twinkling fairy lights. As such, it provides respite from the concrete and gravel of the main arena and many punters are sitting down around us just to take a break, unaware of who’s on next.

A minimal digital backdrop plays like a game of Pong on a dimly lit stage as Sam Shepherd’s expanded live band follow their leader, who slowly and purposefully builds layers of sound and texture. The synthesised pops and beeps are serenely seductive, and gorgeous jazzy drum shuffles form a consistent backbone. The songs from his debut Elaenia are given new life and context, each crescendo is followed by huge applause, and you suddenly realise that the Ray Ban is full to capacity. A beautiful live experience, and one not to be missed if you’re heading to Body & Soul later this month.

John Carpenter -Primavera 2016

John Carpenter -Primavera 2016

Agonising over Protomartyr versus John Carpenter, we plump for the latter, based purely on some uplifting banter revolving around the fact that he could die before we get a chance to see him again. Standing there on the Primavera stage in a black leather jacket, his hand in one pocket and chewing gum, he’s coolness personified. Movie themes such as The Fog and Halloween remind me of old ringtones, but with Carpenter’s live band who are slanted towards heavy rock, these songs are given more punch than my ancient Nokia could ever manage.

Clips from the legendary  director’s films play out on a screen – Assault on Precinct 13, Escape from New York – and Carpenter is direct and succinct as he introduces each theme. Not a man for waffle, as I’m sure many a Hollywood producer has discovered over the years. I expected the movie themes to be longer, they all disappointingly average only four minutes or so, but still it’s largely an enjoyable set.

It suddenly dawns on me that I haven’t heard lyrics and singing since Suede finished their set about five hours ago, which makes the walk down the steps to the Pitchfork stage quicker than usual. Beach Slang (d’Slang to you and me) along with Sheer Mag, Downtown Boys and Protomartyr have been portrayed in all the right circles as the saviours of American guitar music this year and their blend of punk and heart reminds me of the bands I grew up with (Mega City Four, Leatherface, Replacements). This is their third show of the day, not that you’d know it by their infectious zest.

Even a couple of false starts prove endearing as they tear through a set drawn from their EP Broken Thrills and debut album The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us. The Philadelphia band aesthetic draws from those titles, with singer James Alex displaying that likeable/vulnerable trait which has been the essence of many a bedroom songwriter. This is no-frills dirty rock n’roll for awkward kids and broken hearts who latch onto music to make them feel alive as Alex might say. He wants to drink with us, hug us, “punch us right in fucking heart”.

They even throw in a Jawbreaker tune and Bastards of Young by the ‘Mats. Front and centre, we were lucky to be on the receiving end of one of those hugs when they show ended, and a polite enquiry about an Irish gig was vociferously answered. Dublin and Belfast in November kids, mark the diary.

 

FRIDAY 3 JUNE

One thing guaranteed with Primavera is diversity. I’ve never been to a piano concert and it’s one of those things I may never attend back home. So when the opportunity to witness the fastest pianist in the world presented itself, it was a no-brainer. Lubomyr  Melnyk, a 67 year old Ukrainian, has been recorded playing 21 notes per second. Once again inside the magnificent Auditori, his elegant continuous method of playing captivates and enthralls the 3,000 souls present. Keeping his foot on the sustain pedal, notes and keys blend to form an echo chamber.

Sometimes he plays solo piano and other times he plays a tape of a piece he played earlier in the day and plays live alongside it, layering and building a beautiful tapestry. He is clearly a man uncomfortable with talking between pieces, but this awkwardness is charming. (One could argue that a more confident individual wouldn’t endear himself quite so easily.) Lengthy applause echoes around the room after each piece and when the concert ends, I realise that I’ve seen a unique talent. Watching the crowd exit the venue, I notice Husker Du and At the Drive in shirts, proving the appeal of Melnyk is not confined to classical music enthusiasts.

There followed an arduous trek over to the Pitchfork stage to see Moses Sumney whose angelic tones were completely spoiled by the noisebleed coming from adjacent stages. Playing solo with just his guitar, and at times leaving the instrument aside, I could hear Ella and Jeff Buckley in his delivery but this was not the place for his talents.

Savages - photo: Eric Pamies/Primavera Sound

Savages – photo: Eric Pamies/Primavera Sound

Savages last played here on the smaller Pitchfork stage a few years back following the release of their debut album. They were festival green and had a sizeable chunk of their set eaten up by technical difficulties. On the main stage tonight with the coveted sundown slot, they chew up the scenery. With a large amount of Radiohead fans claiming prime real estate for later, Savages have a massive crowd in front of them but they lap it up like rock gods.

Opening with Sad Person from latest album Adore Life, singer Jehnny Beth immediately confronts the sea of bodies, prowling the edge of the stage with piercing looks at the front row. By the time the second song ends, she’s already stagedived and crowdsurfed whilst her bandmates get on with the music. The individuality of each member of the London quartet is striking – Beth aggressive, guitarist Gemma Thompson intense, bassist Ayse Hassan effortlessly laid back, drummer Fay Milton beaming – but as a unit they remind me of U2 both in terms of stage presence (Beth’s crowd interaction) and sound (Thompson’s carefully constructed soundscapes reminiscent of The Edge’s work on Boy and October).

Savages also occupy the space between alternative rock and stadium ambition that U2 lived in around 1983. They even have an anthem called Surrender. Although hampered slightly by sound issues throughout their set, it’s a kick-ass performance. I would have liked to hear them play Adore as it’s the strongest track on the most recent album and it would have added another dimension to tonight’s show which is largely made up of furious rockers like City’s Full, TIWYG, and Husbands. Evidently Savages came tonight to attack, and the resulting onslaught was magnificent.

The pleasant folk and brass of Beirut is as removed from Savages as you’re likely to get, and their Hispanic sound is easy on the ear as I queue for cervezas. Within minutes, my half decent spot is gobbled up by mobs of people, thousands pouring into the main stage arena for the big one. A faint cheer from those amassed down the front floats back through the throng which means Radiohead are on. I’m so far back I can’t even see the stage so I’m relying on the big screen which only shows small grainy images of each band member. The opening staccato of Burn The Witch starts the show and like recent shows across Europe, the setlist follows the first half of the new record.

It’s one of those balmy nights and the atmosphere during Decks Dark should be bottled and given out free at all gigs. For the first time in eons, we have a show where nobody is chattering, everyone is respecting the musicians and the focus is the stage, not the self. I know this won’t last so I’m enjoying every second of it …….. Last year Primavera was full of narcissistic idiots, bro’s in Native American headdresses doing high-fives, fancy dress morons and beered-up dickheads. This year, whilst not completely devoid of dodgy behaviour, it’s been a return to form. As in more Body and Soul, less Oxegen.

Radiohead live

Radiohead live

I don’t know whether that’s down to the increased security measures both onsite and outside, but I’ll take it anyway …… Thom Yorke’s falsetto wraps itself around me, I close my eyes and drift away. Like a sleep kick puncturing a dream, this state of bliss is broken by Ful Stop, the muffled snare eventually disrobing its cloak and mugging me. Unlike the poor sound for Savages, Radiohead are crystal clear.

A little quiet perhaps, but what’s lost in volume is made up for in detail. Every sonic nook and cranny is picked up and amplified with amazing clarity. Older songs seem handpicked to suit the sombre mood of A Moon Shaped Pool, Street Spirit and No Surprises keeping the tone of the show consistently mellow. Highlights of the set include There There, Paranoid Android and an impromptu Creep. Interaction with the massive crowd is sparse, save for Yorke conducting the crowd as they sing “for a minute I lost myself” back to him. It’s a majestic return to the Barcelona stage, this being their first show in the city in ten years, and whilst I may have not seen it, I heard it, and it sounded great.

I liked the Scott Walkeresque look and sound of The Last Shadow Puppets when they brought out their debut album The Age Of The Understatement in 2008. The sound on this year’s follow up is not as focussed and why Alex Turner chooses to look like Mike fucking Flowers these days is beyond me. But they’ve still got a festival-length set full of good tunes. Thrown in a string quartet and it’s a good way to spend an hour. Alex Turner and Miles Kane emerge, no turquoise suit for Turner but plenty of cheesy dancing and kitsch, which often threatens to upstage the other musicians presented, not least Kane who thankfully remains unruffled.

One gets the impression that Turner treats this project as a plaything, knowing well that he can fall back on his main band for credibility, whereas this seems on the surface at least more important to Kane. They’re enjoying themselves up there and the natural warmth between the two frontmen is obvious. Turner is particularly enjoying himself, perhaps he overdid the cava?

A rude sign held up by a fan (regarding a body orifice) is copped by Turner who gets a fit of giggles. Each song is wonderfully embellished by the strings in this live setting, with special mention to My Mistakes Were Made For You and Dracula Teeth. More enjoyable than I had anticipated to be fair.

Beach House – I heard great things and great reports from Vicar St earlier in the year. I gave them three songs and they did nothing for me. Sheer Mag – As mentioned elsewhere in this piece, I had high hopes for this performance and stayed up until 4am to see a band who from the get-go obviously didn’t want to be there. Booked to play 50 minutes, they lashed through their “set” and were done after 20 minutes. Now I know how those Mary Chain fans felt years ago, but there wasn’t even a riot here to talk about. The Avalanches – A much heralded live return turned out to be a half arsed DJ set. Talk about phoning it in, this lot reversed the charges on top.

 

SATURDAY 4 JUNE

Bob Mould – I queued for an hour to get a free ticket to his Hidden Stage show and promptly screwed up the time of the show by an hour.

Boredoms -Primavera 2016

Boredoms -Primavera 2016

Appropriately enough, Makes No Sense At All was the only song I caught.

Still kicking myself, we strolled past the Primavera stage where Japanese noise merchants Boredoms were making an unholy cacophony. Seated close to each other in a semi circle, the trio’s only conventional instrument appeared to be a drumkit. After that, it’s anyone’s guess, but I’m pretty certain they had chucked the filters from a coffee machine into a tin drum and were using it to enhance their sound. It looked mental and it sounded mental but it was different, terrifying and visceral. The next time someone tells you rock music is just rehashing the same trends over and over again, tell them to go and see Boredoms.

Angel Witch in the Auditori was another opportunity to rest my weary feet. Those new insoles were doing their best to man up to the concrete but by this, the third day of the festival, they had given up on me. As part of a Current 93 curated day here at Primavera, Angel Witch along with Baby Dee and Six Organs of Admittance were given carte blanche in this venue. Less commercially successful than their English contemporaries Iron Maiden, they plough a similar metal furrow. I kept nodding off, only for sleep twitches to violently project my head back. This unknowingly made me look like a fanboy headbanger to those seated behind me. It was time to leave, before the nightmares from seeing Boredoms began.

Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson

Floral garlands and Hawaiian shirts swayed amidst the smell of the sea and a baking sun. It had to be Brian Wilson on the main stage, here to play Pet Sounds in full to celebrate its 50th anniversary. It’s easy to forget that Wilson never intended to play this album live, his vision for The Beach Boys more in tune with what The Beatles had done post- Shea Stadium, creating better albums and foregoing touring.

He started to play it in full back in 2000 but he has decided that this summer will be the last time he plays it live, so the chance to see this musical icon possibly for the only time is impossible to ignore, especially in 2016 when so many musical heroes have been prematurely taken from us.

We’ll even forgive some patchy singing and guitar playing, it’s Brian Wilson. I’m just glad I saw the man sing God Only Knows and it was a beautiful moment to be one of 50,000 souls singing along with him.

Post-hardcore legends Drive Like Jehu released two albums in the early nineties, broke up in 1994, and have influenced countless bands since. Possibly the first exponents of what ultimately became marketed by major labels as “emo”, the San Diegans/ San Diegoans (ask Ron Burgundy) have been in several bands since but the Drive Like Jehu legend has grown in the last twenty years. This IS a comeback James Murphy. Proximity to the barrier is the rule, on this the last night of Primavera.

They plug in, feedback for 30 seconds and ignite Super Unison. Watching the intricate guitar interplay between John Reis and Rick Froberg is impressive but watching drummer Mark Trombino hit everything in sight is beyond incredible. And man they have the volume turned up. Froberg’s guttural singing is as strong as it was back in 1994, and freed from entertainer duties as frontman for Rocket From The Crypt, Reis can focus on getting every last drop of juice out of his Les Paul and tube amp. The moshpit is a feeding frenzy even for slower numbers like Do You Compute  and Luau.

Human Interest and Here Come The Rome Plows are off the scale in terms of musicianship, considering the math required to construct these songs. The quickest hour, the quickest set of the festival by a mile. Damn, coulda watched Drive Like Jehu all night. And ending Primavera 2016 early but on a high, we watch the roadies unplug the cables and carry the gear backstage.

Sad to say, it’s over now.

Keith McGouran

Twitter: @dublinkeith1972