When it comes to discussing the best festivals across the world, Primavera Sound is always a given. Sure, you’ll often hear about Coachella and Glastonbury, but Primavera Sound has been in the mix since its 2001 inception, and particularly since 2005, when it moved to its current location in Parc del Forum in Barcelona, Spain. Reasons abound for its inclusion, from incredible lineups filled less with what’s hot and more with what makes sense, to a locale that’s both scenic and spacious and essentially the ideal festival footprint, to a schedule that keeps attendees out of the hot sun all day and into the Spanish nightlife that runs from the late afternoon until the early hours of dawn. Even better, in a world of festival parity, Primavera still has an identity.
And in those regards, nothing has changed in its 2017 edition. In terms of the lineup, the roster was still stacked, even after Frank Ocean bailed a week before his scheduled appearance. Sure, fans were none too pleased, with several “Fuck Ocean” and “Prank Ocean” t-shirts seen on the grounds on Friday, the day of his scheduled appearance, but his absence spawned a late-night DJ set from one of the world’s best musical minds, Jamie xx, as well as surprise gigs from Arcade Fire (who also appeared as final day headliners in their first pair of appearances supporting their upcoming album, Everything Now), Haim, and Mogwai. Add to the fold acts spanning the best of contemporary (Bon Iver, The xx, Solange, Run the Jewels) and a spattering of undeniable legends (Van Morrison, Grace Jones, Slayer, Aphex Twin) that lined up well with an undercard oozing with both a discerning view of music’s history and an unparalleled insight into both music’s present and future, namely sets by Japandroids, Angel Olsen, Sampha, Weyes Blood, Broken Social Scene, and The Afghan Whigs. It’s a music festival for people that care deeply about music, not so much for the casual fan looking for a more general experience.
In terms of layout, the festival features four distinct areas, all sporting a pair of stages that, for the most part, alternated acts. If you wanted two huge stages in a flat dusty field with a view of the sea, then the Mango and Heineken stages were where you’d see the festival’s biggest acts. Bacardi Light occupied the area on the complete opposite end, and specialized in electronic music, while in the middle, there were the mid-sized stages sponsored by Ray Ban and, uh, Primavera itself and the smaller stages, one curated by Pitchfork and the other by Adidas. So yeah, lots of stages. There was even an indoor auditorium just outside the main festival grounds, a secret Heineken stage, something that happened backstage, a weird Firestone stage that looked like a gas station. Essentially, there was far more to experience than anyone could conceivably fit into their schedule over the fest’s main run of three days. (The festival also brought wider programming for a couple weeks.) But with all of this happening, there was never a sense of being overwhelmed, of congestion between stages, or of overcrowding. A dozen years at one location will do that. In essence, Primavera Sound is now a well-oiled machine.
This all begs the question: Why is the food so awful? Perhaps we’re spoiled by American festivals like Lollapalooza, Coachella, Outside Lands, FYF, and Life Is Beautiful, which all gather the best chefs and restaurants from their respective cities to prove that you don’t need to resort to trashy stadium food, but Primavera Sound was dumpy. Pizza crust was soggy, fries were over-salted, falafel was covered in mayonnaise masquerading as tahini, nachos seemed to not understand the definition of pico de gallo. Somehow, over three days, not a single decent meal was consumed, which is downright shocking coming from a city known for its cuisine. Surely some of Barcelona’s best restaurants would love a booth at Primavera Sound. And this complaint isn’t just a Primavera thing, but something that’s also been prevalent at other international festivals around Canada and Mexico. Festivals are more than just a location to set up stages and play music. They are a chance to reflect your city and put your best on display.
Still, there is something about Primavera Sound that makes it special that’s hard to put in writing. It’s a legitimate feeling or energy that starts to drape itself over the festival at around two in the morning. It’s venders selling cans of beer outside the fest before entering and after exiting, creating a bar atmosphere outside the event, where people just sit and relax. It’s in the park’s permanent fixtures, massive architectural feats that line the skyline with awe-inspiring constructions. It’s in the environment that prompts artists to walk around the grounds and experience it for themselves, making photo ops with Jarvis Cocker or Oliver Sim a possibility for eagle-eyed attendees And it’s in the fans (one aspect of international events that always trumps stateside fests), singing along to their favorite artists at top volume and creating a sense of community amongst strangers. If you love a band, sometime festivals aren’t the best place to see that band. But Primavera argued otherwise, curating memorable moments that couldn’t happen anywhere else.
With the sheer amount of programming, it was impossible to take in everything. But the following were what we did manage to witness, assorted from worst to best.
Besides what’s written on the Primavera Sound schedule, the festival has another world of programming that happens behind the scenes. This year included a surprise Arcade Fire set on a small stage, an appearance from Haim late at night on the closing evening, backstage sets from the likes of Local Natives and Algiers, and, maybe least impressive of all, Mogwai debuting their new album, Every Country’s Sun, from start to finish. Perhaps it was the location (on the typically electronic-focused Bacardi Light stage that came with a load of indifferent spectators), or that the only real stage adornment was a shitload of smoke (that made looking at the band challenging at best), or the fact that a new album from Mogwai in 2017 isn’t particularly revelatory (it feels like they’ve never really left), but this limp appearance felt like the equivalent of getting socks in your Christmas stocking. –Philip Cosores
There were a lot of excited kids assembled in front of the Primavera stage for the Friday night gig from OG SoCal punk rock granddads, Descendents, who took the audience through a set of classics, favorites, and new songs from 2016’s Hypercaffium Spazzinate. “We’re from the United States,” frontman Milo Aukerman announced apologetically, before introducing “Everything Sux” as “Everything’s Cofeve”. The set was more than competent, but decidedly workmanlike–that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the performance just felt flat. And this crowd was here to have the time of their lives, eating up any request for engagement, or taking any opportunity to show their enthusiasm, throwing their arms in the air for new tracks like “Shameless Halo” as well as classics like “Clean Sheets” or “Silly Girl.” Out of all the sets by so-called elder statesmen at Primavera this year, this one sadly missed the mark. –Caryn Rose
It’s not that Kevin Morby isn’t a fantastic songwriter. He is, as he’s shown at a prolific rate of late, with his second album in as many years coming out in a couple weeks. It’s just that as a performer, he’s only has a couple of gears, which is also fine depending on the environment. With the multitude of stages at Primavera Sound, he just was dealt a pretty bunk hand, opening up the biggest one while it was still light out. Morby would have been much better suited in a more intimate environment, and his choice to lean heavily on new songs early in the set didn’t help the matter. When the moody “Harlem River” opened the set wide open four songs in, it was an unexpected crowdpleaser, with the audience seeking to latch onto anything familiar. Still, Morby had his moments, particularly when “Dorothy” incited groups to sprint towards the stage at its first notes.
If only the performance could live up to the design of the spectacular suit he had made to promote the new album, City Music, with its title scrawled across the back. Though even that was poorly manufactured, the pants becoming see through in the afternoon light. Like his music, it would have been better in a darker, smaller setting. –Philip Cosores
It’s kind of amazing that The Damned are still a hot request in 2017, but there’s a good reason: They know how to put on a solid-as-hell show without the implied malevolence of their early years. Instead, they’ve distilled their sound into somewhere in the psychobilly range, which just makes sense. Dave Vanian’s mystique is still intact, but he’s managed to age it gracefully, because he’s standing alongside Captain Sensible, who is still, well, Captain Sensible, red beret and striped shirt–although playing more of a straight man these days, playing more than reasonable guitar. Vanian’s voice is in unbelievable shape, and he held sustained notes effortlessly, most notably on their cover of “Eloise”, which was responsible for one of their many comebacks; in fact, it’s probably in better shape now than it was back in the day. As expected, the crowd was a mix of young punks moshing down front while the older, grey-tinged punks stood halfway back, adding the harmony bits at the right moments. Not so expected was the cadre of Slayer fans standing way in the back. It’s odd to use the word “exuberance” to describe the Damned, but damn it was there. The band rewarded the faithful with a 1-2-3 of greatest hits at the end, Vanian’s sardonic, “Is she really going out with him?” still generating legit goosebumps at the start of “New Rose”, before crashing straight into “Neat Neat Neat” and “Smash It Up”, which vibrated in the air at two in the morning. You know, just like old times. –Caryn Rose
After seeing Mitski at Coachella, it was a fair concern to wonder whether the rapidly rising songwriter worked in a festival setting. She’s a “let her music stand for itself” performer, which works best the more the audience is invested. In short, if you aren’t already on board, she’s not gonna win you over in concert. And Primavera didn’t totally dispel those concerns, though it did prove to be a more suitable place for her music to cast its spell. It helped big time that the audience appeared to know her songs and that her material fit in with the general programming. It also helped that she could speak comfortably to the crowd in Spanish, always a big endearing mark when playing in a foreign country. And it helped just how strong her songs are and how wide they’ve been able to travel on the success of Puberty 2. Sure, when she stops playing bass and emotes with her hands, as she did early in her set during “Francis Forever”, it’s a rare bit of actual performance that does wonders, and speaks to where Mitski’s live shows need to explore if she’s to continue to build an audience. More of that in time would take her sets to the next level. –Philip Cosores
Going to see legends at festivals can be a dodgy thing; if you’re looking for magic, you’re not likely to find it in the middle of a dusty field, while people around you drink Heineken and wait for That One Song They Know. And when Van the Man came out and coughed into his gold-plated mic (all the hardware onstage is gold), your heart sank and you wondered if you made the right call. But it was a momentary glitch, and the set would play out well; he gave us the hits and played harp and sax, he sang Elvis and spirituals and standards. This was not a good booking for this stage, especially as the band had to crowd into a tiny allotment in front of Grace Jones’ enormous gear, and it just cried out for a friendlier environment. But his fans were down front, and offered the proper attention and enthusiasm: the loud cheer in reaction to “Parchman Farm” displayed the crowd’s discernment. Morrison called an audible immediately thereafter, turning to his band before the deliciously satisfying intro to “Here Comes The Night” soared through the PA. It gave you goosebumps. And at the end, there were those unmistakable chords and then the entire field was singing and dancing to “Gloria”, that moment when you finally get to hear that song sung by that voice. Magic. –Caryn Rose
Pond might forever be dubbed a Tame Impala side-project by some, but if you’ve caught them at a festival in 2017, you know just how tall the band stands on its own. Forget the connections to Tame Impala, that leader Nick Allbrook used to be in Tame, that Jay Watson is a full-time member of both, that the rest of the band, including central figure Kevin Parker, used to play in Pond at some point, and that, yes, the band does have a similar psych rock vein. Instead, know that Pond aims to please a little more, which makes them plenty of friends at music festivals. Earlier this year, they worked well as an afternoon tent set at Coachella, and at Primavera, they worked even better under the sunshine on the fest’s biggest stage. Sure, they’re an act you leave remembering moments of songs (be it a zappy guitar lick or Allbrook’s traditional journey into the crowd) more than the actual songs themselves (big exception being new track “Paint Me Silver”, which is a vibrant summery psychedelic anthem) but room to grow isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a group just getting wide notice. The key element to glean from Primavera Sound is that big stages suit Pond, and that’s a great position to be in. –Philip Cosores
Grace Jones emerged in the center of a stage set up like a boxing ring, wearing a mask that made her look like an Incan queen, with a bearing that implied Her Highness was ready for her sacrifices to be presented. She opened with her cover of Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing”, and proved that she’s one of the few people who could actually perform that song without looking ridiculous. Other highlights were, unashamedly, also the covers: Roxy Music’s “Love Is The Drug” and an absolutely insane version of “Private Life” from the Pretenders’ first album, which Jones has absolutely made her own. Though, similar to Van Morrison’s set, this was not a good match in terms of staging; much of the subtleties were lost in a temporary high wind due to a storm just offshore (which damaged a video screen on the neighboring stage), and material like “Pull Up To The Bumper” and “Slave To The Rhythm” felt, well, neutered in the cavernous, characterless environment of a large festival main stage. –Caryn Rose
For Pinegrove, there were two different propositions: One was allowing the New Jersey outfit to usher in your festival, enjoying their easy-going anthems while there was virtually nothing else going on. The other was catching them in the middle of the night, as the band was also scheduled at 4 a.m. on the Pitchfork stage, where they likely held the hands of the Primavera faithful as hangovers started seeping in and beds began calling their name. Choosing the former option, you had to wrestle with the goofy Firestone branding, as the stage was literally shaped like a gas station, complete with a prop minibus. While fans watched, hats for the tire company were being given out in mass. “It’s kinda weird performing a concert where half the audience is wearing the same hat,” leader Evan Stephens Hall joked, confident that his songs and now six-piece band were good enough to cut through the bullshit. And they were, earning unsolicited crowd singalongs for their effort. As for the late-night show, who knows if that went over as well. We were already asleep. –Philip Cosores
At the end of Mac DeMarco‘s Friday night set, he stood on top of his amplifier, stripped down to his underwear, tucked his boxers into his butt crack to form a g-string, and started burning off his own leg hair with a lighter. It was the perfect ending for a set that was unhinged from the start, DeMarco reveling in his mock Spanish accent, his drummer steadily keeping time in the nude, the rest of his band hardly keeping a straight face as the hijinks ensued. Yeah, he played some songs, and the audience adored every one of them. But Mac DeMarco, for better or worse, is more a personality than a musician, and his shows are memorable for that trait more than his tunes. Luckily for Primavera Sound, he, uh, exposed his personality for the big and bright force that it is. –Philip Cosores
Hustling from Van Morrison to Teenage Fanclub was like traveling from one side of Memphis to the other–Van repping for Stax/Volt, and of course, Fanclub holding down for Ardent. Norman Blake’s band of rockers were sharp, bright, and energetic, doing their best to get through as much music as possible within their allotted hour. Unsurprisingly, for a band that can bang out a classic pop song on the back of an envelope, it was one of those sets where you find yourself exclaiming, “Oh! That song, I love that song,” over and over again, from “Star Sign” off Bandwagonesque, to “Thin Air” and “Hold On” from 2016’s Here. During the set, one of the faithful fans turned up with a Scottish flag, waving it high above the crowd, Glastonbury-style, all the way until the end, when “Sparky’s Dream” and “Everything Flows” closed things out. Of course, those are the kind of songs that make you feel like things are just getting started. –Caryn Rose
Sure, it was Aphex Twin’s other performance that made the news, what with its unique, live stream experience and all, but if we’ve learned one thing from the reclusive artist’s recent performances, it’s that each set is going to be its own unique thing. And one thing a live stream will never have on a real Aphex Twin performance is walking around and watching people try to dance. At Primavera, songs sounded like someone setting their car alarm or horses stampeding across loose gravel, but the brave souls still tried to move, their gaze affixed to video screens displaying warped versions of their own faces. To their credit, the noise does reach some semblance of harmony, a beat simmers through, and the late-night expanse becomes a sort of avant garde dance club, but Aphex Twin always makes music festivals work for him and not the other way around. Then again, did you expect anything less? –Philip Cosores
“This song is called ’17 Words’, Weyes Blood mastermind Natalie Mering announced early in her afternoon set on Saturday. “We’ve added a lot of words since the song was originally conceived.” It was one of many yuks from a set that would have seemed heavy-handed based just on the music and the straight-faced delivery. Merring tried riling up the fans in Spanish, though, with a playful “Prima! Prima! Prima! Vera!” chant. She even had a visual gag, sporting a Baywatch viser they were surely giving out for free at the Baywatch installation near the Bacardi Light stage.
These efforts might have seemed cursory, but really, it was a savvy move to present a well-rounded stage persona. Weyes Blood’s music is undeniably gorgeous, thoughtful, and emotionally impactful, so why not present it with a garnish of levity? It’s a music festival, and Weyes Blood knew it. On that note, her songs songs also felt a little more muscular than they do on record, punched-up by her three-piece backing band. This quickly alleviated any concern about whether she is a legitimate music festival booking, that her music is more than just a masterful studio question. It was the total package that left her performance feeling like a triumph. –Philip Cosores
Broken Social Scene
Like Kevin Morby, who played earlier on Thursday, Broken Social Scene also have a new album that will be released imminently. But BSS has been around the block enough times to know how to win over an audience and came out swinging with a one-two punch of classics “Cause=Time” and “7/4 (Shoreline)” — and they were just getting started. From there, they welcomed Metric frontwoman Emily Haines for the first single from their forthcoming album, Hug of Thunder, a rare treat for the non-touring BSS member to appear. Haines popped up throughout the set, standing in for Feist on “Almost Crimes” and inciting handclaps during Brendan Canning’s “Stars and Sons”.
Metric’s Jimmy Shaw also popped in for the show that filled the Ray-Ban bandshell area with exuberant fans. It was exactly the kind of show and reception that BSS’s music deserves, and is rare to find in the rapidly shifting major music festival landscape. The only blemishes came from some poor sound mixing at times (we get it, it’s hard when a band had 324832947 lead singers) and leader Kevin Drew’s grumpy comments about their music “not being made of laptops.” He was preaching to the converted, sure, but at a festival that celebrates so many different kinds of music, that display of our-way-is-better-than-your-way rhetoric felt sorely out of place. –Philip Cosores
The elders of thrash and doom filled the field at the Mango stage at midnight, holding court with a masterfully executed set–whether Slayer was your jam or not, you would have to admit that they were on point — full of plenty of smoke and bass and volume, to the physical and vocal delight of the crowd. The circle pit down front was frequently on the large screens, dramatic and deeply ritualistic. There were no women in it, but the field was plenty full of them who did not hold back their enthusiasm or their headbanging to the likes of “Mandatory Suicide” or “South of Heaven”.
The band’s proximity to an adjoining stage that had just featured Bon Iver is likely what prompted frontman Tom Araya to acknowledge the faithful and their upraised devil horns down front, but for the people in the back and on the sides, he told them prior to “Fight Till Death”, “I hope you guys like this, it’s a little different than what you’ve been hearing all day.” The crowd was essentially there for the pageantry as much as the music, losing their shit when the backdrop curtain came down, revealing the Slayer logo in all its glory to the sounds of “Seasons in the Abyss”.
However, nothing topped the moment when the red lights filled the stage and the opening notes of “Raining Blood” blasted out of the speakers. “¡Así es!” proclaimed a gaggle of nearby teenagers–roughly translated, “This is it!”–jumping up and down and hugging each other, ecstatic to hear the song they wanted more than anything. –Caryn Rose
If you saw Sampha a year ago, before his acclaimed album Process was released, it would have been hard to believe what a legitimate festival force he’s become. With the attention the long gestating debut album has received, improving his live show was a virtual necessity — and boy has he answered that bell. The shift is more than just his early set bravado on songs like “Timmy’s Prayer” and “Under”, where he sells his tunes with his whole body; instead, it comes later, like for “Reverse Faults”, when he removes his microphone from its stand and morphs into genuine frontman. Songs like the Drake-used “Too Much” can exist on their own, but for much of the set, his building charisma justified the masses that flocked to see him at the Ray Ban stage. When you have a full-band drum breakdown midway through your set, it makes his dramatic set climax “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” feel earned. No one might finish 2017 with a higher lift in their stock than Sampha. His festival sets will be a big part of that. –Philip Cosores
The field in front of the Heineken stage was absolutely packed, almost all the way to the edges, with a highly animated crowd ready to receive the xx with open arms. People wanted to dance, they wanted to sing along to the tales of lost and ruined and unrequited love, and they wanted to cheer Romy Madley Croft’s guitar playing. They even sent waves of affection back to Oliver Sim, whose adorable professions of love for the crowd and Primavera seemed to never end. At one point, Sim warned the crowd that they were about to play something they hadn’t often included in their sets, and that they’d often fucked it up, but if they did, they’d get it back again. Sure enough, “Replica” derailed almost immediately, but the audience cheered until it got back on track. “Dangerous” was dedicated to “all the single people,” Sim sharing that he was single at the moment, and a bit crabby about it. “Shelter” was the number that finally quieted the loudest talkers and gradually turned the field into a dance floor, people quietly dancing with themselves, friends, lovers or a combination of all of the above. The xx worked magic, creating any semblance of their kind of vibe in that space. –Caryn Rose
Arcade Fire (Surprise Show)
Arcade Fire have always un-ironically embraced a sense of wonder, and their surprise pop-up show at a tiny, unmarked corner of the festival around sundown was certainly executed in that spirit. On a small, square, open-sided stage, the band trekked through the crowd like prize fighters entering the ring, and went straight into overdrive with their new disco-flavored titular single, “Everything Now”. Despite the new album coming down the pipeline, the set leaned heavily on 2013’s Reflektor, which they happened to performed with more gusto and genuine enthusiasm than you’d expect to see from a band celebrating a three-year-old album. The guitar-fueled “Creature Comfort”, another new track, came out at the end of the set and fit right in with the expected anthems from Funeral. Once again, Regine Chassigne glowed during her outings on “Haiti” and “Sprawl II”, complete with ribbon loops, while Win Butler stalked all four sides of the stage, hopping down to climb the barrier during “We Exist” and later climbing the lighting trusses for the conclusion of “Rebellion (Lies)”. Before exiting, Butler declared, “We’re not scared of these fear mongers. We’re not fucking scared.” It was sad and defiant and righteous, and as the band left, the audience followed their exit route, cheering and singing them out with the final refrain of “Rebellion”. It gave you hope. –Caryn Rose
The Afghan Whigs
It takes moxie and bravado to treat a festival amphitheater like a night club, and yet Greg Dulli managed unsurprisingly to pull it off at Primavera. The Afghan Whigs frontman simply walked out solo, sans guitar, and opened the set by crooning “Birdland”, the opening track to their new album, In Spades. That instantly shifted into a full metal jacket, emotionally enormous performance that precisely captured the typically dark yet exultant arc of a Whigs show, only it was condensed into one hour. Not surprisingly, the set was heavy on the new record and its predecessor, 2014’s Do To The Beast, which is a good thing: these are all fantastic songs on record and find their goddamn heart live onstage. Besides, Dulli still threads the set with older favorites, like “Debonair” or “Gentlemen”, but they’re not there to placate the crowd nor do they feel emotionally inauthentic despite being 24 years old. It’s as though he sings them as memories instead of a thing happening right now, and this keeps the narrative arc, namely because you still believe him. Sadly, this tour was made bittersweet by the notable absence of Dave Rosser, Dulli’s friend and long-time rock and roll lieutenant, who’s been at home in New Orleans fighting cancer. During the set, Dulli urged the crowd to give it up to his pal, who was at home watching the webcast. What a guy. –Caryn Rose
“This is kind of the biggest deal ever,” Angel Olsen noted after a few songs, adding, “It’s like the biggest date I’ve ever been on.” She didn’t really need to say it, though. You could look around at the thousands of people that came to see her, a gathering that wasn’t just there to watch, but to belt her songs right back to her. Olsen wore the moment on her face, smiling huge between her lovelorn verses, beaming confidently as front for a band with chops, as the crafter of songs with bite, and as the singer with pipes so sturdy they could hold fire. She played what she called a sunset song (“Sister”), as if the celestial body needed the help. But if anyone’s songs could move objects in the sky, could shift the day into night, it’s Angel Olsen’s. On Saturday, it was a performance to move mountains, to defeat armies, or, at very worst, to sell some records. Outdoor sunset performances are often special, and Angel Olsen made the moment her own. For one evening at least, the sun shined specifically for her. –Philip Cosores
Shortly after Japandroids took the stage at almost 2:00 a.m., guitarist Brian King greeted the crowd in Spanish. “Buenas noches, Catalunya,” he announced with particular emphasis, before switching briefly to Catalan (“Bona nit!”), and then finally introducing the band completely in Spanish. It’s not difficult to learn a few words, but the gesture says something. It speaks to an intention and attention to detail, which make Japandroids who they are, and why they excel at their particular brand of rock and roll. It seems deceptively simple, two dudes on a stage with two instruments (four, if you count vocals, which you should). But it requires a united energy and a precision that isn’t easy to come by.
While the set suffered with nearly constant equipment problems, the duo managed to keep their dynamic flowing and didn’t lose pace once. At the start of “Days of Wine And Roses”, King had once again been dealing with equipment troubles, and he closed his eyes, willing Prowse to bring him into the moment, playing air drums. After a few beats, the crowd kicked in on the refrain, which delighted King, brought him to the edge of the stage, urging them on, revving up on their energy until he was ready to hit the guitar riff into the sky, somewhere in the vicinity of the moon.
The last two songs, though, were the coup d’grace: “Young Hearts Spark Fire”, as everyone sang “I don’t want to worry about dying” as their smartphones likely reported the recent terrorist attack in London, and then, King inviting everyone to sing along on the high parts of “The House That Heaven Built”, which was nothing short of homecoming. It was then you believed in life. You believed in hope. You believed in rock and roll. –Caryn Rose
When Arcade Fire announced their arena tour for this fall in America, there were many who remembered their last big jaunt, where they had trouble filling the big spaces both literally and figuratively. But with their debut performance of Arcade Fire 5.0, version Everything Now, the band seemed ready to squash those concerns.
They didn’t begin their set with their new single as everyone surely expected (and they’ve done for their past couple albums). No, they kicked it off with the biggest song in their repertoire, “Wake Up”, uniting the audience in an anthem to squash all other anthems. It was a go-big-or-go-home move, the kind that cements artists on the biggest of stages.
The new single did come early, as song number two, and the look on the faces of leads Win Butler and Régine Chassagne when the crowd sang not only the lyrics to the couple-days-old tune, but the keyboard riff as well, was priceless. There was surprise there, sure, but it was fueled by unobstructed joy, the kind that comes after spending untold months in the studio and finding your audience to be right there with you when you emerge.
The set was also notable for how visually impressive it was, taking a leap from their previous presentations with a state-of-the-art backing screen for custom graphics for each of their songs. But there were also practical improvements, too, from Win comfortably using a riser to Chassagne improving upon her choreography. These allowed for moments of sheer drama, like Chassagne’s unexpected run through of “In the Backseat”, performed for the first time since 2010, that cast her as the vulnerable frontwoman of the band like never before.
Likewise, Win’s delivery of “Afterlife”, while sitting on a monitor and later leaning against a mirrored piano, sold the tune with just his voice and face. He milked the part of looking spent for all it was worth, and it, in turn, added a different level of theater for the band. If anything has changed between albums, it’s that both leads aren’t just musicians at this point. They’ve embraced their role as performers.
Virtually no time was wasted between songs, with each number dripping into the next. When Win did speak, he made it count, interjecting some political commentary before “Intervention”, noting that it was written about a previous US election. “We made it through that, we’ll make it through our new terrible president,” he exclaimed.
Is this all enough for Arcade Fire to make their next step as a band and finally own their status as an arena rock band? If audiences are as invested as they were at Primavera Sound, then it shouldn’t be an issue. After all, Arcade Fire are still unparalleled when it comes to building the kind of presence and experience where nothing else matters aside from what is happening right in front of you.
So, if their tour resembles what Barcelona saw on Saturday night, it won’t be so much a matter of Arcade Fire being ready for the arenas, but if the arenas are ready for Arcade Fire. –Philip Cosores
Click ahead for our complete photo coverage.