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Barcelona’s Primavera Sound: 15 Great Years, 15 Top Sets

Adam Kivel and Lior Phillips pregame for their upcoming trip to this year's festivities.

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    The 15th anniversary of Barcelona’s Primavera Sound is right around the corner, and in order to celebrate, we thought we’d throw it a birthday party in the form of a look back at its brightest moments. So, click through for the best of the best from the festival’s decade and a half, from its very first set to today.

    Sr. Chinarro (2001)

    Opening the very first Primavera Sound festival is a big honor, one that went to Seville, Spain, indie outfit Sr. Chinarro. Antonio Luque’s syrupy sweet vocals and shimmering guitar set the tone for the festival, the outfit’s new wave and retro pop making the perfect match for the open air in a Barcelonan spring. Fittingly, Luque’s been a welcome presence throughout Primavera’s 15 years, and the organizers will be bringing him back this spring to celebrate the anniversary. –Adam Kivel

    LCD Soundsytem (2003)

    “I’m losing my edge/ The kids are coming up from behind/ I’m losing my edge.” This is frontman James Murphy in all his punk rock slant and captivatingly frantic splendor, crying out the opening verse to an unsuspecting crowd of Primavera Sound goers in 2003. But the message wasn’t accurate. It didn’t matter that they hit the stage with only two singles to their name at the time because this appearance would power LCD Soundsystem right over the edge, just so they could invent a new one. It had to do with them setting the stage for hyper-hip indie versions of tracks that sounded like Todd Rundgren meets Talking Heads rallying Brian Eno’s funk-punk intricacies. Even then, their sound and spirit felt humongous enough to fill a festival arena. “Losing My Edge” finds Murphy at the tail end, chiming, “But I was there” — and oh how we wish we had been. –Lior Phillips

    Wilco (2004)

    A lot of things changed for Wilco after the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in 2002, including a serious raise in expectations. So, in the summer of 2004, the Chicago indie rockers played the festival in what would be their inaugural trip to Spain, bringing along with them tunes from the soon-to-be-released A Ghost Is Born. The setlist cherry-picked from those two albums beautifully, giving the crowd their first chance to see YHF mainstays as well as get in on soon-to-be setlist mainstays like “The Late Greats” and “Hummingbird”. The pairing was a success, as Wilco made triumphant returns in both 2007 and 2012. –Adam Kivel

    Arcade Fire (2005)

    Quite a few bands make their debut in Spain at Primavera, including Arcade Fire’s 2005 appearance. A year removed from their masterpiece studio debut, Funeral, the Montreal-based band were just starting to wow world audiences with their anthemic take on indie rock. At Primavera, though, the outfit’s cathartic set covered the emotional gamut, opening with the explosive, uplifting “Wake Up” and tugging on the heartstrings with Regine Chassagne’s transcendent vocals on “In the Backseat”. –Adam Kivel

    The Good, The Bad & The Queen (2007)

    With names like Sonic Youth, Slint, and Buzzcocks all sharing a festival bill, you’d assume that the sonic wrath could unleash a portal to another dimension — preferably one with a microphone and loudspeaker handy just to scream, “What in the utter fuck did I just witness!” Before Primavera Sound ’07 had even begun, it promised an expansive, powerful list of bands to reflect both its target generation’s inner makings and the ability to lure in a newer generation. That lineup reads just like a music history lesson. The Good, The Bad & the Queen — the supergroup made up of The Clash’s Paul Simonon, Blur & Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn, Simon Tong of The Verve, and legendary Nigerian drummer Tony Allen — stepped up to that challenge and delivered. The good news? According to an interview Albarn did last year, they’ll return to the festival circuit someday soon, having already written new songs for an upcoming record. Where’s that loudspeaker when you need it? –Lior Phillips

    DJ Coco (2007)

    Primavera attendees through the years know full well the bombastic celebration that is DJ Coco’s festival-closing set. The Barcelona native is an obsessive digger, and his sets explore pop music’s brightest lights and dustiest corners in order to send visitors out on a serious high. Coco’s been a staple of Primavera final late-late-nights/early-early-mornings since his appearance in 2007. A particularly bleary-eyed and joyful video from last year finds the DJ spinning Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” at around 5:30 a.m. Dude knows how to party, and thanks to Coco, the thousands and thousands lingering, hoping Primavera will never end, do too. –Adam Kivel

    Portishead (2008)

    In 1998, the experimental trip-hopping Bristol-based Portishead went silent, apart from one or two secret gigs wrenched between charity events. They more or less disappeared for an entire decade. Buoyed by a new album plus a slew of world tour dates, their reappearance in 2008 felt like the Houdini-years had passed just so their circuitry could be rewired. (They’ve never really seemed “human,” have they?) It’s remarkable re-watching them play songs like delicate folk crusher “The Rip” to a massive festival audience. They performed two successive shows, unveiling songs that seemed so private, so mysterious, pummeling the memory right into submission. I doubt it took long for the spellbound crowd to turn a little misty-eyed when Beth Gibbons’ quivering whisper hushed through “Silence”. They surfaced with a sense of purpose, thrashing up an atmosphere that was both brutal and inclusive while performing every track live just to show off the humanism behind their innate transient force. –Lior Phillips

    Neil Young (2009)

    The organizers of Primavera themselves call Neil Young’s 2009 appearance “the fulfillment of the organization’s dream and a turning point in the evolution of the festival.” Looking at videos of the performance and Young’s setlist would suggest that this is more truth than hyperbole. The folk rock legend tore through essential tracks like “Heart of Gold”, “The Needle and the Damage Done”, and “Old Man”, dug out Crazy Horse jams like “Cinnamon Girl” and “Hey Hey, My My”, and closed out with a one-two punch of “Rockin’ in the Free World” and a cover of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”. –Adam Kivel

    My Bloody Valentine (2009)

    There’s nothing quite like being handed a pair of squishy, bright orange earplugs before you enter a concert venue, is there? I suppose you’d writhe in pain if you had to reminisce about a My Bloody Valentine double concert you didn’t go to just as much as one you did. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to see them at their double-set at 2009’s Primavera; my first experience was during their 2005 London shows. But they’re known to be a band where almost every audience expects to leave in pain, the overwhelming, exhilarating, devastating type: My Bloody Valentine, a name for a torturous love affair you need. Live, they can open the earth right under your feet, so to offer an audience two chances for this to happen is an outstanding mark of Primavera’s greatness. –Lior Phillips

    Van Dyke Parks (2010)

    When you think high-energy, youthful, outdoor festivals, it’s unlikely that the first artist to pop to mind would be sexagenarian outsider pop genius/composer/arranger/producer/author Van Dyke Parks. That said, the Beach Boys collaborator and arranger for everyone from U2 to Joanna Newsom offered a breath of fresh air, even in the midst of the festival’s air-conditioned indoor stage. The appearance was part of his tour with Clare and the Reasons, whose debut LP Parks had contributed to. Naturally, this led to cross-appearances in sets from both performances, the kind of good-natured warmth that a spring festival should induce. –Adam Kivel

    Sufjan Stevens (2011)

    The perception once was that Sufjan Stevens was just simply not a festival guy. While he’s got a few of them booked this summer, his appearance at Primavera in 2011 was a tipping point. Fresh off The Age of Adz, the fan favorite made sure to dip into his back catalog as well, opening with a stunning rendition of “Seven Swans” on the second night. True to form for the Adz tour, his fluorescent colors and feathered wings played extra-theatrically in the indoor stage at the basement of Barcelona’s Natural History Museum, Museu Blau. The true highlight, though, may have been the one-two punch of tracks from Illinois in the encore, closing with the equally raucous and fragile “Chicago”. –Adam Kivel

    Pulp (2011)

    Maybe the timing was right, maybe they just wanted a little sun — for whatever reason, Britpop legends Pulp began their reunion onslaught with a headlining spot southeast of their Sheffield home. Their 2 a.m. set was the first to feature the full, classic lineup (including guitarist Russell Senior) since 1997 and the band’s first show period in eight years. The band’s unflagging energy didn’t tip the fact that they’d been gone at all, frontman Jarvis Cocker running around the stage like an over-caffeinated madman. Ever aware, Cocker made reference to a violent breakup of civil rights protesters in the city that very day when introducing “Common People”. –Adam Kivel

    Big Star’s Third (2012)

    Tragedy struck Big Star in 2010. Founding members Andy Hummel and Alex Chilton both sadly passed away, leaving drummer Jody Stephens the only surviving original musician. Rather than call it quits, Stephens bravely soldiered on in honor of his friends, touring with shows that would be called “Big Star Third.” The 2012 Primavera version of this lineup was appropriately star-studded, featuring the likes of R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub, and Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip. The set was appropriately touching and cathartic, likely leading to more than a few attendees reaching for tissues. –Adam Kivel

    The Cure (2012)

    At this point in their career, with this many hits, lengthy sets are nothing new for The Cure. But their marathon three-hour performance at 2012’s Primavera was something altogether different, the longest set in the festival’s history. The triple-encore, 36-song set truly left no stone unturned, including what Setlist.fm calls their first performance of “Fight” since 1987, their first take of “Dressing Up” since 1996, and the outright debut of “Just One Kiss”. And what could close such an epic performance? As if it could be anything but “Boys Don’t Cry”. –Adam Kivel

    Blur (2013)

    There aren’t many things in this world as practical as a reunion tour to help a band stitch themselves back together from what sounded like the end of their tether 11 years before. When Blur finished their main set at Primavera 2013 with “End of a Century”, it really felt just like one. There’s nothing quite like a 17-track setlist to end a chapter and kick-start a new one. They played like they never went away — all those hits — and like we never aged. Opener “Girls & Boys” led the battalion of deep cuts for the true fans to appreciate. “Coffee & TV”, “Parklife”, and “Tender” had the audience dazed in a hazy blur of nostalgia. Sure, 2013 was a prolific year for Primavera fans, but more so for Blur itself — this was when sessions for this year’s The Magic Whip unraveled. It wasn’t a band reuniting for their final curtain call; it was a magical new beginning. –Lior Phillips

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