Primavera Sound 2014, Part I: the highlights

I’m pretty sure Primavera Sound, which takes place annually in Barcelona, is basically the best festival in Europe right now. Bold statement, I know, but I truly believe that. I was lucky enough to convince my bosses that I needed the time off of work to attend this year’s festival, and I couldn’t have spent that time more happily. After what was essentially an entire week of non-stop music in slightly-less-than-ideal weather (much to every non-native’s surprise), I’m still exhausted, but the sounds of all of the incredible music that I heard last week are still ringing in my ears. Sometimes festivals can be really overwhelming: three days of shows for at least 12 hours each day, all packed to the brim with bands and musicians eager to make their voices heard. It was daunting just figuring out what I wanted to see, let alone actually making whatever ideal schedule I’d created a reality. BUT, I thought I did a good job of sticking to my picks and I most definitely singled out some of the festival’s highlights, at least from my perspective.

#4 – Pond

Last but definitely not least was the Australian band Pond. I haven’t rocked out that hard at a show in a long, long while. While Pond shares two members with the Aussie psych band Tame Impala, don’t expect to hear that same level of mellowness. Pond’s music is characterized by bunches of guitar distortion and the occasional screech let out by the lead singer, who appears as if he could’ve been sent down to us from another world entirely. They looked like they were having so much fun while playing up on that Vice stage, and by proxy, the we as the audience couldn’t help but headbang and jump along excitedly.

Pond at the Vice stage
Pond at the Vice stage

If you get the chance to see any of these guys live, walk briskly—no, better yet, RUN—to your nearest ticket vendor (or, you know, your nearest laptop). And, if you’re planning on attending any festival this coming year, Primavera Sound is where it’s at.

#3 – Volcano Choir

Speaking of Godspeed, I was so bummed when I first looked at the Primavera schedule to see that Volcano Choir was playing during the exact same time slot as Godspeed. Initially, I was in a quandary: should I miss one of my current favorite bands to see a post-rock legend? Thankfully, the organizers of the festival were clearly tapping into my psyche when they announced that they’d be opening a Volcano Choir rehearsal for the festivalgoers at the start of the official festival. This “rehearsal” turned out to be a full-fledged concert, much to the happy surprise of the audience that had gathered at the Apolo to see them. I feel like, no matter what the circumstance, Justin Vernon always delivers, and this concert was no different. He and his bandmates somehow seem to make every audience member feel as if they’re an integral part of the performance, which is what really sets apart the recordings from the live show. Volcano Choir’s live show manages to be both intimate and epic, with quite moments of solo acoustic guitar building into bombastic finales involving all band members playing as loudly and intensely as possible. I think that’s what struck me most, how flawlessly they handled that contrast.

Volcano Choir at Sala Apolo
Volcano Choir at Sala Apolo

#2 – Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Although Godspeed definitely has its cult following, they are still those who are in denial of their genius and think of them as purely “boring instrumental music.” To those people, I say: get your asses to a live performance. It was my first time seeing them and it was unbelievable. They played a two-hour set, but I swear it felt like no more than 30 minutes. Their music has a way of putting the listener into a sort of trance-like state, which is even more the case in a live setting. The entire audience was swaying and bobbing in sync as they transitioned flawlessly from musical theme to musical theme. The visuals that they chose to accompany the show were perfect: they complemented the music without distracting from it. Amidst all of the wonderful chaos of the festival, the Godspeed show was a calming yet powerful little oasis.

A view onto the crowd at the festival
A view onto the crowd at the festival

#1 – Arcade Fire

No surprise here. Arcade Fire always put on a good show, but this one really blew me out of the water. They started off the set by saying how happy they were to be back at Primavera and that it’s one of their favorite festivals, so that pretty solidly cemented the positive mood. They began with the typical Reflektor fare – understandably, as it’s their most recent album – but then they slowly started veering from the norm in a way that can only be described as elating, particularly if you’re a long-time fan of theirs. They played nearly all of Funeral, and even delved into a bit of Neon Bible (who doesn’t like “Keep the Car Running,” right?). It seemed like they really played this show from their hearts, for both themselves and their fans.

Arcade Fire: Regine singing to Win
Arcade Fire: Regine singing to Win

Coming soon, new musical discoveries from Primavera Sound 2014…


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