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Primavera Sound Festival 2016: From Worst to Best

We return to the inimitable Barcelona fest that dares you to try and take it all in

Primavera Sound
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    After each edition of Primavera Sound, our team winds up leaving feeling as if there was still so much left to discover. We’ll hear about the one young Spanish band we didn’t see after catching a handful of others, the one experimental performer that graced the indoor stage at two in the afternoon, the international act we only heard raves about once we arrived home. But that’s kind of the thrill of Primavera, one of the most unique festivals on the scene.

    While the likes of South by Southwest and Iceland Airwaves pack dozens of venues with a dizzying scope of artists, there are tons of other festivals that rely on a handful of heavy hitters and then fill out a viable middle-card. Primavera sits somewhere in the middle. Sure, Sigur Ros, Radiohead, and LCD Soundsystem will steal the headlines, but they also provided some seriously unique choices on their park’s main stages, as well as the city-based events scattered throughout the week.

    Primavera provides such an intensely well-rounded experience that it’d be impossible to get a view of the whole thing. But that didn’t stop us from trying. Considering the massive scope of artists and how there were four or five playing at any given time, we were hard-pressed to find too many slots in which we were stuck watching subpar sets. That said, when pitted up against each other, some stood out more than others. Gracias, Primavera!

    –Adam Kivel
    Executive Editor


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    Alex G

    Best Ass (Apparently, We’re Told)

    Amanda Koellner-PrimaveraSound-Alex G 2

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    “You guys seem really nice. We’re really nice too. We’re the nicest people I know,” Alex G began in a monotone, seemingly trying to find something to say while tuning. “We’re the sexiest people I know. What do you think of my ass? People tell me I have a great ass.” That sharp right turn is the kind of thing Alex Giannascoli has perfected in his off-kilter indie rock tunes over the last few years, building an empire on the outskirts with a plethora of bedroom pop records. But the tunes are often more fragile, open, emotionally available than that aside, as the evocative poetry of “Kicker” (“White bird in a black cloud/ Rain comin’ down, thinking hey/ Maybe we should turn this boat around”), which fared well especially when placed next to rawer screams. Tunes like “Bug” that required some studio tweaks for their recorded version felt rougher live, the vocalists recreating a pitch-shift with a strained falsetto. The set came across a little less emotionally connected than I’d have expected, almost even defensive, but the best songs still spoke for themselves. –Adam Kivel


    Beach House

    Most Suited to a Reclining Look at the Stars that Turns into a Nap

    Amanda Koellner-PrimaveraSound-Beach House 1

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    Lets get this straight: Beach House have written some mind-blowingly good songs. Hearing “10 Mile Stereo” — at home, through a car stereo, on headphones on the train, through a massive soundsystem at a beautiful festival — will always send shivers down the spine. That said, there have undeniably been some diminishing returns for those of us lucky enough to have seen them on the festival circuit a few times since the 2010 release of their groundbreaking Teen Dream. The first time I saw them live, the set felt like it latched onto my heart and took it soaring. Though their Primavera set added on songs from three records since then, it didn’t feel all that different. It’s still beautiful music to get lost in and feel the world spinning, but personally it didn’t capture the same emotional connectivity that it once did. –Adam Kivel


    The Last Shadow Puppets

    Most Clumsy Sleaze

    Amanda Koellner-PrimaveraSound-Last Shadow Puppets

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    There’s a very obvious leap between the massively packed field singing along together to “Creep” (the last song of Radiohead’s night, which ended moments before, across the field) and the remaining spectators trying to catch Last Shadow Puppets’ opening “Miracle Aligner”, as the majority flee the scene. On record, Alex Turner and Miles Kane’s music fumbles for words and oozes an uncomfortable pseudo-sex appeal. Live, that gets amped to 11, seeing Turner arch his back and grind his crotch against his mic stand. The band, including a string section, sounded professional enough, but the duo sounded like they were reciting someone else’s words, as on a binge-fueled karaoke session. That feeling was accentuated by professional, if rote, covers of The Beatles (“I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and Leonard Cohen (“Is This What You Wanted”). But then again, covering The Beatles is kind of like a cheat code for a video game; sure, you win, but not of your own doing. –Lior Phillips


    Cass McCombs

    Most Likely to Make You Check Your Phone

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    Nina Corcoran, Cass McCombs 1

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    The second day of Primavera Sound Festival is built to prove why the middle child matters — the first day of any festival is a given, and the second day has to back it up. Kamasi Washington, AIR, Tame Impala, and LCD Soundsystem stood tall, garnering all the limelight and justifying a return to the park — but unfortunately some lesser-known acts were then bound to get at least a little caught in their shadows. Enter Californian singer-songwriter Cass McCombs with an evening slot at one of the larger coliseum-style spots, the Ray-Ban stage. The poetic catalog he’s built over the past decade is full of evocative, intimate songs, but a stage like this on a sunny evening is ill-fit for an understated performance that revels in tiny nuances, the type that got lost reverberating against the concrete expanse in front of him. –Lior Phillips


    Angel Witch

    Most Ill-Placed Metal Show

    Amanda Koellner-PrimaveraSound-Angel Witch

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    The Saturday afternoon performance from Angel Witch was the perfect case of the right band in the wrong space. While intimate performers like Cass McCombs struggled on large outdoor stages, classic British heavy metal outfit Angel Witch were stuck indoors at the Auditori RockDeluxe, their fervent fans stuck seated in theater seats. Powerful songs like “White Witch” and “Atlantis” rang out viciously into the large hall, yet all energy seemed drained by the lack of interaction with the audience. There were plenty of people walking around the festival grounds with cutoff denim jackets, long hair, and Angel Witch shirts all weekend, and it’s a shame that they couldn’t have seen the metal heroes in their proper element. –Adam Kivel


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