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Primavera Sound 2015 Festival Review: Top 15 Sets + Photos

on June 03, 2015, 9:45pm
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In the middle of an appropriately raucous post-midnight set, Death from Above 1979’s Sebastien Grainger took the time to point out how many amazing female musicians were featured on the Primavera Sound 2015 bill. From living legend Patti Smith to rising star Torres, from tender songwriters like Tori Amos to volcanic physical performers like Pharmakon, Grainger’s assessment that the lineup didn’t suffer from the lack of female artists the way many other festivals do shone brightly. Or, in Grainger’s words, “Let’s hear it for the ladies!”

And hear it they did: Every performer at the festival got plenty of rabid support from scads of fans with dozens and dozens of languages and accents. They weren’t just drawn by the cool breezes off the nearby ocean — though those were pretty sweet. As usual, the Primavera Sound lineup showed a powerful diversity of genre, style, and status. Though it’s become cliche at this point, there truly was something for everyone.

Primavera Sound 2015

Photo by Adam Kivel

In honor of this year’s edition being the festival’s 15th anniversary, we decided to single out the 15 most exciting sets we saw over the packed week. Needless to say, this was a difficult task, but we wanted to highlight the amazing range and power seen on the Barcelona oceanfront.

–Adam Kivel
Managing Editor

Patti Smith

Patti Smith // Photo by Eric Pamies
Photo by Eric Pamies

Patti Fucking Smith. This year’s lineup was thick with veterans, gigantic goliaths from their respective genres, but for all the space for musical epiphanies that Primavera Sound 2015 provided, the most powerful revelation arrived when Patti Smith took the stage. There are few experiences in life quite like witnessing her live. It’s not just that she performed her classic album, Horses, that had tears leaking from so many attendees’ eyes. For most, it was simply the devastatingly emotional fact that they were able to see the near-mythical Patti Smith and her merry men perform these 40-year-old songs live, a possibility that seemed farfetched a few years ago.

With her hand clutching her heart before she began, the devastating combo of “Gloria” and “Redondo Beach” — two poignant, beautiful songs about heartbreak and rebellion — tore through the crowd. But it wasn’t just the uninhibited cathartic energy expelled by Smith. What made it was the enigmatic nature of her very being, the fact that she’s so utterly individual and non-traditional but at the same time put on this earth to create something collective, willing you into this world with her. “He’s been riding these fucking horses for 40 years people! We are all Johnny,” she screams at one point, then spits on the stage. “We are being fucked by the government, we are free people, and we want the world, and we want it now!”

Grabbing her guitar, raising it to the sky, she shouts, “Behold! The best weapon of our generation!” The screams were deafening, with Smith transcending, god-like, decreeing, “I haven’t fucked much with the past, but I’ve fucked with the future. You will decide what happens to our children, our land, rock and roll. You are the future and the future is now!” Suffice it to say, we lost our shit and are forever changed by Patti Fucking Smith. –Lior Phillips


SOAK // Photo by Dani Canto
Photo by Dani Canto

The two rooms across the street from each other for the Sunday evening closing festivities were split pretty evenly. Thee Oh Sees and Jambinai filled the sweaty, crowded Sala Apolo with noise, while Torres and My Brightest Diamond created a much more intimate, subtle vibe at the BARTS. The surprise star of the latter, though, was 19-year-old Bridie Monds-Watson, aka SOAK — “like a bathtub.” The young Irish songwriter took the stage with only a borrowed guitar (“I was told that my gear would get to Barcelona, but the only thing that got here was me”), but her crystalline voice, passionate lyrics, and understated warmth overtook the entire room.

Songs from her debut LP, Before We Forgot How to Dream, gained immensely from being pared down to the essentials: her stories. The heart-wrenching “Blud” (written as she listened through the floor to her parents arguing in the kitchen below her bedroom) and alienated and anxious “Sea Creatures” (about a childhood frenemy) proved her immense presence, her connection with the audience immediate. After delivering a sweetly sung lyrical twist in “Sea Creatures” — “I pray for you/ And you know I don’t like Jesus” — she shrugged and apologized. Like Sharon Van Etten before she added a full band (something Monds-Watson is preparing to do for an upcoming tour), SOAK’s performance was a sign of much bigger things to come. –Adam Kivel

Strand of Oaks

Strand Of Oaks (3) -- Kivel

Photo by Adam Kivel

“I got a lot of chest showing, which is a mighty bold decision for a fat guy,” Strand of Oaks’ Timothy Showalter told the Heineken Stage during Primavera’s first main set on Saturday evening. Wearing nothing but a black denim vest, long, death metal-y hair hanging over his shoulders, it was clear then that the crowd was already eating out of his hand. Considering your Prima-days only end when the DJ sets call in sunrise, a 6 p.m. time slot feels like a warm-up show. This was more like an opening ceremony, as if someone gave Strand of Oaks a code that they tapped into their guitars to deliver one of the rawest, most ferocious rock thrashings yet.

The effect of knowing Showalter made folk music for most of his career is gone the minute they’re tangling guitars together in howling, keening knots of weighted songs like opener “Heal”. “I would never think a year after releasing the album that I’d be in Spain with my best friends,” Showalter said just before plunging into “Plymouth”. Every guitar clang made the light seem golden; I even turned around and saw people running from the other side of the field just to get closer. Showalter sang as if it were his last chance to get his feelings out, darting from side to side, falling to his knees, head-banging. He’d then rise up to the microphone with both hands raised high in a gospel plea to summon a chant-like roar from the crowd. Strand of Oaks arrived with a sense of purpose, whipping up an atmosphere both brutal and introspective, while performing every track with sincerity, showing off the power behind this rising band’s force. –Lior Phillips

Antony and the Johnsons

Antony 2015

It began with no more than a hum. A soft hiss of static that gently prickles your skin, the kind of sound that artfully tells you that somewhere, something is starting to change its course and come flooding into you. You’re afraid of what’s about to arrive. You ready yourself, waiting for the righteous power to consume you. The sound hits, matching the warbling orchestral strings, and within minutes I’m crying uncontrollably, trying not to look around so that strangers don’t wonder why this weeping tourist looks like she might collapse.

Both Antony Hegarty and the orchestra’s conductor are positioned center stage; it’s a brave and illustrative concept having her facing the crowd in a long, white gown that doubled as a blank canvas infused by a web of colorful effects projected all over her body. The video of kabuki-esque Japanese characters runs throughout the set, boosting the hypothetical into the experiential.

After playing a stripped-down cover of the Hercules and Love Affair track “Blind”, before diving into a rendition of “Dust and Water”, she turned to the crowd saying, “It requires that you just imagine that your spirit is shaking three inches above your head.” They obey her, letting the tangle of piano and strings from the orchestra during “Cripple and the Starfish” sound so exquisitely clear, her hands spreading like a starfish, pleading, “I am very happy, so come on hurt me.” Hegarty is truly loved, and everyone let her know just how much with several earnest rounds of applause that extended far longer than those for most of the other acts. –Lior Phillips


Caribou (2) -- Kivel

Photo by Adam Kivel

If you’re anything like me and haven’t been able to see Caribou live yet, it might not seem that unfortunate having to leave one of your idols, Karl Hyde of Underworld, and his gyrating bod mid-set, singing songs from his band’s ’94 classic, Dubnobasswithmyheadman. Sorry, Karl. I got to Caribou’s set early enough to snake my way into the front row with the rest of the diehards, and it turns out Dan Snaith and co.’s three a.m. set was one the most thrilling experiences I’ve had in recent memory — and, from the crowd reaction, the best of the festival.

Snaith, in his all-white getup, smiled continuously as he toggled and twisted buttons, making music that forces your mind to unbuckle itself from your body and spasm like a puppet. The floor was heaving, so much so that when the person next to you jumped, your body followed suit, lifting you inches off the floor. His contribution to electronic music, mixed with this intensely danceable live set, works as a formidable consolidation of everything he’s put together so far. You’re suctioned into his world at warp speed, recognizing the songs for what they really are — amplified experiences of our lives, of our inner worlds constantly being tainted and twisted, emerging out of our mouths in epic proportions. Whether he’s picking over the remains of a relationship in the extended version of “All I Ever Need” or making heart-wrenching proclamations in “Can’t Do Without You”, his sincerity and powerful live arrangements were never anything less than utterly compelling. –Lior Phillips


Ratatat (1) -- Kivel

Photo by Adam Kivel

For anyone who was around for the NYC experimental electronic rock duo Ratatat’s debut 11 years ago, it remains impossible to hear their songs without mimicking every guitar fuzz, synthesizer, and percussive beat. You sound ridiculous, god we know, but during a live set you’ll be drrrr na na nuuh badaaa badaa-ing like the rest of us. This is kinetic, physical music, and the duo treated Primavera to LCD screens, smoke machines, fireworks, and bewitching lasers that were every bit the eye candy compliment to deep bass tones, ricocheting guitar, and artificial bursts of synth. Everything about their set was overdriven to the point of magnificent excess, and they packed the field around the Ray-Ban stage with thousands of disciples, playing favorites like “Loud Pipes”, “Wildcat”, and “Falcon Jab”. It’s clear they were never a band who needed to change their sound, but a band that must carry on doing what they did and embrace something no one else was doing. After five years, they’ve got a new album, Magnifique, coming out in July, and teased with the brand new “Cream on Chrome”. It all felt like they were looking back and forward all at once, just thrilled to be in the moment, and the crowd agreed. –Lior Phillips

Tori Amos

Tori Amos (2) -- Kivel

Photo by Adam Kivel

Tori Amos took the stage in metallic silver stilettos, wrapped in a long, airy, black and gold dress, to be greeted by her worshipping fans, many of whom I’d spotted crying for at least five minutes before the set even began. She didn’t disappoint, delivering the kind of energy level one would expect from a young debut artist, not one who’s been spilling her guts out for nearly two decades. She’s at her prime when grabbing that gaping dark hole of her emotional abyss and singing directly into it, as if to pierce through and let the light in through the cracks. She didn’t skip a beat or miss a note; instead, she bared her teeth, whipped her signature orange mane around, and switched between a grand piano and a synth to bash each note out of her system. She was fiercer than I imagined her to be, feet firmly fixed to her pedals, angry, emotional, hitting all her major albums, starting with 1999’s “Bliss” and going back to “Crucify” from her debut, Little Earthquakes. One would assume that an artist touring a new album, Unrepentant Geraldines, might gloss over the past, but both the classics and new material had her superfans shrieking (she unfortunately didn’t play “Siren”, a personal favorite). The most enthralling moment came during what she’s calling “Lizard Lounge” where she mushed up two different songs, “Rasberry Swirl” with “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)”, enhanced by the balancing aid of a synth beat. –Lior Phillips

The Juan Maclean

The Juan Maclean (7) -- Kivel

Photo by Adam Kivel

In hindsight, being suctioned into the mosh pit during Death from Above 1979’s set, chewed up, chucked around, and then spat out doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. It gave my feet the power they needed to run away and head straight into a lush dance heaven. Guided by John Maclean, the techno-house outfit The Juan Maclean includes DFA veteran Nancy Whang and her disco-vixen vocals. They perform with a self-confidence and meticulousness that eluded other electronic acts that day.

At some point around the 20-minute mark, true sonorous physicality was reached. The crunchy, gnashing dance fusion rattled the stage to the point where you’d think it would break apart, bolt-by-bolt. Maclean’s hands — like a warlock summoning a spell — tickled the invisible sound waves bouncing off his theremin, leaving me wondering if he was even controlling the hardware or actually puppeteering the crowd. Festivalgoers’ arms flailed about, air-punching through the techno roots of “Happy House”, watching in awe as Whang’s euphoric vocals haunted each synth stab in “A Simple Design”. For a mere 50 minutes, we were in their new wave disco world; but, in a blink, it was over, with the crowd leaving, panting for air, turning back at the stage dumbfounded that it even happened in the first place. –Lior Phillips


Interpol (6) -- Kivel

Photo by Adam Kivel

With tickets in high demand for their high-profile Thursday night show at the Sala Apolo, one had to wonder if there was enough steam in the Interpol-craving Primavera crowd for their set Saturday at the massive Heineken stage — especially with so many people camped immediately across the field in anticipation of The Strokes. But, sure enough, there was still a buzz in the air as Paul Banks and co. took the stage, immediately turning on the nostalgia machine with Turn on the Bright Lights highlight “Say Hello to Angels”. In fact, the entire set leaned heavily on their early albums, as 12 of the 17 songs came from their debut and Antics. As might be expected from the cool-as-ice New Yorkers, there wasn’t much banter, but when Banks did speak up between songs, his attempt at Barcelonan-accented Spanish elicited some giggles and whoops of approval. Even more whoops of approval? Long-beloved songs like “NYC” (to which the crowd showed serious sing-along chops) and “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down”. –Adam Kivel

The Strokes

The Strokes (10) -- Kivel

Photo by Adam Kivel

Let me just get this out of the way: The Strokes have never really been my thing. I was the kind of guy that dug the singles, that would nod along when they’d get played at a party, but didn’t really get why they were as massive as they were. But after their massive, career-spanning set at Primavera, I’ve been fully convinced — won over even, though not yet as much as the dozens of screaming, crying young fans at the front row.

The set starting in “Macchu Picchu” and ending in The Big Apple for “New York City Cops” has a sort of magic to it, the group covering everything every fan would have possibly wanted. After being missing from setlists for four years, “Juicebox” and “Modern Age” got huge responses. But the classics are still the classics for a reason, and the one-two punch of “Last Nite” and “Take It or Leave It” closing the main set proved that. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a crowd react as explosively as the Primavera masses did for “Reptilia”. It can all be pretty well summed in Julian Casablancas’ mid-set miming of swinging a baseball bat: The Strokes absolutely hit a home run. –Adam Kivel


Sleater-Kinney (1) -- Kivel

Photo by Adam Kivel

“To be given the gift of Patti Smith’s Horses tonight, we feel reborn,” Corin Tucker explained, with a sort of beatific smile. Hot on the heels of their reunion, Sleater-Kinney didn’t seem the kind of band that needed much rebirth, but that’s just the power of Patti Smith. Carrie Brownstein seemed a little more ferocious, Tucker burned with a raw energy, and Janet Weiss’ drumming swarmed and pounded nimbly. Between the smell of the ocean coming in on the wind and the giant, rippling stone-like covering they added to the back of the stage, there was something physical, visceral, and intimate about Sleater-Kinney’s set, even if it was held on one of the two biggest stages and gathered a massive crowd. The set covered plenty of ground for European fans who might not have been able to see the reunion tour yet, drawing equally from No Cities to Love and back catalog highlights. The appreciation was equally split, huge waves of applause for both “Price Tag” and “Words and Guitar”, for “Bury Our Friends” and “Entertain”. Sleater-Kinney are back, and they don’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. –Adam Kivel


Ride (7) -- Kivel

Photo by Adam Kivel

“Hello Barcelona, it’s been a long time coming.” And with that, the reunited Ride reintroduced themselves to the Primavera crowd. Mark Gardener and Andy Bell led the way ably through the shoegaze soup, swirling lights, and massive cheers of adoring fans. The band’s only Top 10 UK single, “Leave Them All Behind”, opened the set, and the band never looked back, charging through a dense, high-octane setlist. Those not close enough to the stage were treated to an appropriately psychedelic twist on the big screens: The slo-mo effect added yet more trippy greatness to a particularly flange-y guitar solo. The crowd seemed to be a blend of longtime fans glad to see Ride return and kids too young to have seen the band in their first incarnation, but for both, it was truly special to get to hear songs like “Vapour Trail” and “Black Nite Crash” live again. –Adam Kivel

Sunn O)))

Sunn O))) (5) -- Kivel

Photo by Adam Kivel

Further proof that Primavera Sound 2015 had a little bit of everything: the primetime slot given to cloaked drone metal outfit Sunn O))). Like monks from some dark order, lifting bottles of wine to their hoods when they weren’t lifting their hands like claws to the dark sky, Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson produced a mutating wall of bassy tones and feedback for 15 minutes or so before Attila Csihar entered the stage to add low-tone spoken word, mighty howls, and feral shrieks. The festival’s sound system was more than ready to dole out the punishment, and the bubbling ooze coming from the speakers poured through the park with a physical component, the music seeping into the blood stream. Seeing Sunn O))) is truly a religious experience — though ritual sacrifice rather than Sunday morning services. –Adam Kivel

Panda Bear

Panda Bear (2) -- Kivel

Photo by Adam Kivel

One great thing about Primavera Sound is their inclusion of an indoor space to complement their outdoor stages, and Panda Bear’s set at the Auditori Rockdelux benefited from that immensely. While Noah Lennox’s malleable, beautiful instrumentals and luxurious harmonies would have been amazing anywhere, the massive screen in the museum space gave a kinetic energy to the set that Lennox — standing stock-still at his gear — needed. Danny Perez’s visuals shifted just as smoothly from familiar to alien, from beautiful to grotesque just as the Animal Collective member’s songs, the two working in unison to heighten each other. Leaving the museum and walking out into the real world of the festival, everyone seemed to be singing back the syllabic-burst of “Boys Latin”, not wanting to leave the enclosed experience of Panda Bear’s magical realm. –Adam Kivel

The Replacements

The Replacements // Photo by Eric Pamies
Photo by Eric Pamies

At this point, the shock that we’re all actually getting to see The Replacements should’ve worn off. Every super-fan I know — and that’s more than a few — has seen them multiple times on this reunion stretch. But those diehards in Spain were clearly thrilled to get their shot at seeing the Mats, and the boys delivered. The Minnesotans injected their free-wheeling fun into the Barcelona crowd, jumping joyously between classic tracks and covers of The Jackson 5 and Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene”.

Tommy Stinson and Paul Westerberg took time to goof on each other over which album “Achin’ to Be” came from and quick slip-ups on their instruments (“I forgot where the C was on the guitar”), but still managed to get through 20 songs, including a rapid-fire burst of stunners like “Bastards of Young”, “Left of the Dial”, and “Alex Chilton” at the end of the set. That sort of electricity makes every set on the Mats’ comeback tour feel like a rare treat — and they seem to be enjoying it as much as every one of the dancing, grinning, glowing fans.–Adam Kivel


Photographer: Adam Kivel

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