Concert Reviews

Primavera Sound 2017

This past Sunday, Primavera Sound (successfully) wrapped up its 17th incarnation. This year’s lineups featured music big names like Bon Iver, Aphex Twin, Slayer, Arcade Fire, Van Morrison, The XX; names to ‘please the hipster like Mac DeMarco, The Local Natives, Run the Jewels, Broken Social Scene and enough notable unknowns that could become your new additions to Spotify playlists.

Isn’t that the point of a festival?

Before we delve into the nitty-gritty of the acts, lets talk about the festival.

(the) AMAZING

Layout/Programming

The festival had 2 Main stages for the headliners, followed by 4 stages for mid-sized bands, secret Heineken stage and area for electronic music.

Yea, there was a lot.

Yet, you would have never felt overwhelmed despite the exponential growth in attendance (8500 in 2001 to over 190,000 in 2015). This was because the stages were spread out extremely well at in Parc del Forum, a massive waterfront area. There was no congestion or sense of overcrowding anywhere. Barring the inevitable conflicts, the set times were alternated well enough that you didn’t have to sacrifice a headliner for a mid-sized act or vice versa.

(the) AWFUL

Food

The festival wasn’t reflective of a city that is as gastronomically rich as Barcelona. There was an absence of adventurous options. Apart from the usual hamburgers, Mexican and Asian options, there was nothing exciting.

No fusion food? Cmon! That is a common festival gimmick!

Even amidst the available options, the food wasn’t necessarily something foodies would feature on their IG story. Talk about a missed opportunity!

(the) SO SO

Parc del Forum is a much better location for the ever expanding festival. It is easily accessible through public transportation. However, there were no extended hours for the metro or tram on the weekdays part of festival. Having to pull an all-nighter was implied, or else be prepared to fork up Euros for a cab ride back to the hotel. Given the hundreds of thousands in attendance that bring in sizeable tourism money, one would expect the city could have provided extra hours of metro service.

Alright, now let’s talk about the acts. Given the sheer amount of bands, it was impossible to see it all. But, following are some of the disappointments, highlights and new loves.

DISAPPOINTMENTS

Mitski

Heard of Mitski before? No? Then odds are you wouldn’t have found her Friday set at Pitchfork Stage particularly memorable. The rising singer-songwriter’s last album Puberty 2 was on several critics’ Best of 2016 lists. Believe me, it wasn’t the music, it was her. Mitski is one of those ‘let my music do the talking’ artists. Her demeanour paralleled the melancholic and somber nature of her music. This would have been fine if you were already familiar with her music or if she was playing a dimly lit backroom. But, for the casual fan at a festival in broad daylight, I wouldn’t have shamed you if you stepped away after couple of songs, because that is what I did.

The XX

Allow me to preface this critique with the disclaimer that I am a fan of The XX. They are consistently one of the most played bands on my Spotify. Can you sense a ‘but’ coming though?

Unfortunately, for me, the love for the album version of The XX has yet to translate in a live setting. Akin to other minimalist mid-tempo acts like Kings of Leon or Alt-J, The XX are great at crafting heartfelt songs in a restrained setting. This kind of simplicity certainly resonates through seclusion of your headphones. But, when headlining a Friday night in front of 20,000 strangers, you feel as if something was missing. The band’s live performance was not fitted for the big setting. The set severely missed any visual complements. Everything was fine: the musicality, the songs and Jamie xx. But, there were no sparks.

MacDemarco

I have yet to drink the kool-aid on Mac DeMarco. The Canuck bundle of joy is more of a personality than a musician and the antics were on full display during his set on Friday night. Burps, nude drummer, topless bandmates and many more. Sure, he played some songs and the crowd, particularly those under the influence, cheered for them all. It is obvious that DeMarco doesn’t take idea of being a musician too seriously, which can be a breath of fresh air to some. But, when the hijinks trump the music, a concert turns into a live show by Jackass crew. The set finale featured DeMarco tucking his boxers into his butt crack, getting on top of his guitar amp and trying to burn off his armpit and leg hair. At that point, I imagined the selective few, who weren’t high, collectively uttered ‘huh?’.

HIGHLIGHTS

Sampha

Not until his breakthrough single ‘(No one knows me) Like the Piano’, Sampha was personification of ‘always the bridesmaid, never the bride’. The British singer was widely known for his collaborative work with notable names like Drake, Katy B, Solange and Yeezus himself. Cut to 2017, and Sampha Sisay has become a legitimate festival force. While most notable for the aforementioned ballad, the man with The Weeknd haircut let his charming voice familiarize the packed crowd through other gems on his debut Process like ‘Too Much’, ‘Without’, delightful ‘Kora Sings’ and catchy-as-hell ‘Blood on Me’. Consider yourself lucky if you caught him at a small venue in last years. After his run of 2017 festival dates, odds are he will be headlining bigger venues soon.

Japandroids

Shortly after 2 am, the band took the stage and got to work on the ruckus fans The Canuck duo of Brian King and David Prowse are great at blending elements of classic rock and punk & the duo delivered it with the energy of a 10-person band. And the crowd ate all of it up. There were uninitiated sing-alongs, voluntary mosh pits and even commendable show of patience as the King went through several equipment troubles. Credit to the band’s extensive touring schedule in the past few years, Japandroids has deservedly grown a worldwide audience. This was clear during the set finale ‘The House that Heaven Built’, as the crowd at Primavera was as loud as a crowd would have been at their hometown show in Vancouver.

Arcade Fire

Outside of the scheduled Saturday headlining set, the Canadian indie-gods performed a surprise Thursday night set. After the performance, the band released the new single ‘Everything Now’ to the streaming services along with a music video.

How did the festival faithfuls repay the favour? Sing along to every effing word of the new single as the band debuted the song to a wider audience on Saturday night. Although it was tough to decide which was more gratifying: hearing the song live for the first time or the band’s reaction to the positive response of the day old single.

The set was a clear example of the diverse range of the band’s discography. No one song sounded like the other. The common denominator was Win Butler’s passion and Regine Chassagne’s radiance as the indie-collective from Montreal was taking in all the adoration.

Other notable highlight was the upgrade on the visual aspects of the performance. There were massive panels projecting state-of-the-art graphics paired with each song. The band was sharply dressed, and Butler and Chassagne were remarkably less awkward on a bigger stage. While the visuals never took away from the music, but they work wonders in furthering the cause: delivering a memorable performance.

New Loves

Seu Jorge

Seu Jorge was a prime example of Primavera’s strength: diversified programming. The Brazilian singer/songwriter, while a legend in his own right, gained Hollywood notoriety as he performed David Bowie covers in Portugese in 2004 Wes Anderson flick ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’. Jorge’s set on Saturday Night was a tribute to David Bowie given the recent passing of the British legend. Seated on a chair on stage decked out to look like a scene from the movie, Jorge and his guitar took the crowd down the memory lane, as they relived classics like ‘Ziggy Stardust’, ‘Changes’, ‘Space Oddity’ and so on. While at times it was tough to sing along given the different language, the crowd still revelled in the extraordinary nature of the experience.

Joey Purp

Stage hopping is one of the many joys of music festivals, and as you do so, sometimes you bump into unexpected gems, such as Joey Purp. Rated as ‘Best New Music’ by Pitchfork, it was fitting that the Chicago rapper lived up to the praise on the Pitchfork stage. Aided by his hypeman/DJ Kami, Purp performed 2 mixtapes worth of material with the swagger of a rapper who usually headlines arenas. The man had relentless energy and there were no dull moments in the set. Hard to have a dull moment when your songs are as ridiculously catchy as ‘Girls @’ and ‘Money & Bitches’.

Junun

Disclaimer: the love for this project is biased due to my Indian roots and general love of fusion music

Junun is a musical project that brought together prominent Israel musician Shye Ben Tzur, Indian folk collective Rajasthan Express and Radiohead’s guitarist Jonny Greenwood. Even though Greenwood was missing, that had no affects on the festive atmosphere. From the first note, there was an instant synergy between the performers and the crowd. There was not a single unresponsive person in the crowd, as the hour long set turned into a street party. The group is clearly the personification of how music can unite different cultures. However, it was even more refreshing and rewarding to see the crowd react so favourably to something different.

About author

Unemployed U of T grad by day, Nilabjo is in this writing thing for one reason: to see shows for FREE! He is also not ashamed to admit his unabashed love for Backstreet Boys. And oh yeah, the name is pronounced the way its spelt.