This year’s Primavera had the usual predilection for oblique music, but it was the focus on the beachier lo-fi guitar types that really had me going. From the get-go, it was all gritty euphoria with Sic Alps (who I missed) and then Surfer Blood, whose 90s revivalist rifts came off particularly colorful on the Pitchfork stage. Like many of the early-evening (around 6-9 PM) bands, it felt perfect, what with the ocean right there and the sun streaming through the concrete jungle pillars. On the other hand, Titus Andronicus saw the sun down with expected gusto, though their darker and heavy tomes of songs were probably more suited to a few hours later. It was just starting to rain lightly and The xx were playing on the Ray-Ban stage, with its large concrete amphitheater, where the super assured sensuality surged out.
I’ve always loved the distinct teen/TV set romanticism with which Smith Westerns drench their ballads, but I couldn’t tell if it was just them being totally on fire or the totally awkward standing-next-to-ex-girlfriend situation I was personally in (IT’S COOL; we made up!); I’m thinking the former, given the steady nod of heads in the centre of the suitably reddy orange lights.
Wild Beasts kept it up with a similarly vivid type of pop exploration. I’d somehow never heard them before (sold out shows in my town I guess), but it all bounced along with a skewedness that startled me — really wobbly electronics amid the indie conventions.
I got lost in some sort of Broken Social Scene k-hole, but I think that’s because they played for A REALLY LONG TIME, a couple of hours or so I think? Good, then, that they had all the You Forgot It In People hits that are bundled with almost as much nostalgia for me as Pavement, whose Spiral Stairs joined for a song, not contributing a huge amount other than some weird dad dancing (endearing, for sure). Such is their humanism, I guess; Springsteen-style grandeur for the Now.
And Pavement, with their contrastingly lackadaisical feelings, then embarked onto an epic vibes session. They couldn’t have played any more of my favourites, preferring the scruffy energetic pop hits all the way through; “Gold Soundz,” “Stereo,” “Shady Lane,” and “Range Life,” the latter ringing truest in the Barcelona vacation context. That chilled Californian pop color made sense alongside the newer bands in the festival lineup, and the genuine fun they seemed to be having added to the sensation of hearing all those formative songs played live.
I’ve always found Fuck Buttons a little obvious or linear in their somewhat abstract explorations of electronica. Even if their set on bass- and generally volume-heavy Ray-Ban stage seemed ultra sensory and full, it wasn’t long before I was drawn to the tropical Ibiza weirdness of locals Delorean back at Pitchfork. Really into their wonky, ecstasy-fueled record, and their live set let it slip out in the right places, even if I was convinced I kept hearing the same break down or bridge in three of four of their songs.
The week before Primavera, I’d put on Sacramento’s Ganglians local show (in Newcastle upon Tyne) in a small dingy basement room in which they blew various minds with a seemingly casual ease. They were doing the same at the Pitchfork stage around 8:30 PM, but I couldn’t help think they’re better suited to a small grungy room, even if their psych is full of street imagery and skewed pastoralia.
Beach House, on the other hand, lit up the ATP stage and nearby bamboo mini-forest with their always-lucid pop. They were all smiles with their heat-drenched, old-world romanticism, moving through Teen Dream as much as old favorites.
I was psyched to catch Ganglians’ unplugged version of “Lost Words” before half-watching Wilco from the back, which seemed like the best bet given the spaciousness in their country-tinged ballads.
Panda Bear’s show in Paris a few months back saw him play through an ultra-inspired showcase of what will probably be Tomboy, and this time the setlist seemed much the same. The big bass and squiggly electronics didn’t carry as much out over the concreted Vice stage, which was a bit of a bummer; some of those new ones are party jams, from skewed rap tectonics to semi-inverted trance.
Even if The Pixies were once nearly as big a teenage mainstay for me as Pavement, I’m much less plussed about their reunion. It’s for money, mostly, which is fair enough (as all most reunions presumably and almost always are; aren’t they entitled to some?), but all their hits sounded crammed with that jagged angst.
After Yeasayer came out particularly clear and “world music”-y, summoning those “2080” Aztec structures as well as more disco-focused terrains, it’s probably unfair to report in full on the rest of Friday, as I only remember it as a schlocky blur of electro-gurners The Bloody Beetroots (what the crap?) and more straightforward party hits from Diplo.
I’d thought it couldn’t get much better than Pavement for 90s slacker licks, but Real Estate were possibly even better (!). Along with Atlas Sound, they made this final evening the most enjoyable yet. Like Pavement, the level of sheer enjoyment on their faces was enough to make my grin slip off the sides of my own cheeks (I wasn’t the only one) and made me think of the importance of this sort of indie guitar tradtion, pushing things forward with color and casual progressiveness. It’d be hard not to be stoked playing in such a place, but the smirk on Matt Mondanile’s face, in combination with those suburban, good-times riffs, was kind of absurd.
After a quick stop by Dum Dum Girls’ unplugged set in the small Ray-Ban tent, Bradford Cox followed at the Pitchfork Stage as Atlas Sound. I’d been told his one-man, loop-heavy live show was stellar, and it really was breathtaking how casually he layered distorted acoustic guitar, vocals, hand taps, and samples; “Walkabout” came out ultra live and lucid, but it was “Sheila” that really carried weight. All the oblique and largely ambient songs had this great Neil Young kind of residue that seemed so important, not to mention sincere.
No Age’s set last year at the My Bloody Valentine-curated ATP was wild and pretty depraved. This time, joined by a third member on samples and other electronics, who fleshed out their set by allowing the ambient album tracks to be heard in a live setting, they blasted a particularly dense wall of color punk. Not sure if it was the horrific amount of seafood we ate prior to this, but after “Teen Creeps” my enthusiasm wavered slightly. Dum Dum Girls then lathered more dense fuzz than I had imagined over what definitely is “blissed-out buzzsaw”, full of ’60s nonchalance
Across the rest of the evening, we caught solid and slightly depraved sets from Liquid Liquid and The Pet Shop Boys, who we watched over a fucking sea of arms in the air. They had choreographed dancers dressed as the New York skyline and played their catchy and obviously dated pop hits with a refreshing proudness. We had to scram to the airport bus then to catch a 6 AM flight that, at the time of booking, seemed like a genius plan (save on accommodation and pull a fun all-nighter!). I would not advise this. It also meant we missed a bunch of free shows in Parc Joan Miro the following day (featuring Real Estate and Sunny Day in Glasgow). DANG!
But I’ll of course admit that the three days and nights were a blur of partying, beaches, and (friendly) hedonism. Primavera really outdid itself with its 2010 installment; this year, more than ever, the lineup was challenging, diverse, and particularly relevant in the context-changing of blog hype versus the conventional and perhaps ageing music criticism and curation. It sure beats all those English festivals, anyway, and I’m assuming most other international ones out there, too.