For good reason, the Primavera Sound festival has earned a sterling reputation for curating the best superstar, up-and-coming and cult classic acts in music year after year along the beach in Barcelona. Weekend one of the 2022 edition is in the books, and for this first-timer, the experience has been nothing short of revelatory.
Taking place for the first time since 2019, Primavera Sound is the kind of event where you run into legendary rappers backstage and maybe smoke a joint with them, ponder and then refrain from introducing yourself to actor Diego Luna, observe J Mascis and Kim Gordon standing next to each other for 15 minutes without actually talking and then dance until the sun comes up at 6 AM.
It’s also an absolutely massive festival, encompassing more than 15 different stages and drawing upward of 90,000 fans daily. The sheer size of the crowd led to some logistical hiccups, particularly on the first day, but the audience’s collective honest-to-goodness enthusiasm for the music on offer consistently set the vibe for sonic exploration, new discoveries and righteous head-banging.
We pulled three straight all-nighters, so despite our weakened condition, here’s a semi-objective recap of The Best, The Mess & The Rest of the first weekend of Primavera Sound in Barcelona.
Kacey Musgraves: Mainstream American country music may have seemed like an odd fit on the main Estella Dramm stage on opening day (June 2), but Kacey Musgraves quickly found her footing with her trademark heartfelt banter and pop-tinged tunes as the sun was going down over the ocean. On a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” she effortlessly hit the high notes Steve Nicks hasn’t touched in 20 years, while “Rainbow” was a heart-warming show of solidarity for those who just don’t fit into society’s neat little boxes: “If you’re feeling down in any way, this song is for you,” she said. “We can sing it together.”
Charli XCX: Although her voice was hampered due to a recent sickness, the U.K. queen of electro-pop powered through an entertaining set on Thursday highlighted by the first live duet with Rina Sawayama on the song “Beg for You” and the Britney-referencing “1999.” Euro gays moshed and normie couples held hands and sang along to favorites such as “Boys” and “Unlock It,” which is essentially the birth of the now-pervasive PC Music sound.
Tame Impala: Kevin Parker and company boast the most top-of-the-line live rock production in the business in 2022, and their Thursday set delivered on every level. Beyond all the hits and shoulda-been-smashes like “Breathe Deeper” from the most recent album The Slow Rush, the best surprise was the band’s first-time cover of “Last Night” by the Strokes, who had to bail on their opening weekend set due to COVID issues. “I can’t even see the end of you, there’s so many people,” Parker marveled from the stage.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard: It’s not often that audiences are zesty enough to sing the band’s guitar melodies loud enough to be heard from hundreds of feet away, but that was the scene at King Gizzard’s first of five shows as part of Primavera on Friday. The group welcomes back drummer Michael “Cavs” Cavanagh after a two-show, COVID-mandated hiatus, and his presence was key on scorchers such as “Self-Immolate” and “Honey,” which teased melodic elements from both “Rattlesnake” and “Sleep Drifter.” Gizzard even rewarded Cavanagh with a drum solo on the third song of the set, “Gaia.” We later saw the drummer patiently waiting in the porto-potty line with all the regular punters. Rock on, brothers. See you at the next four gigs.
Gorillaz: Damon Albarn is nothing if not a showman, and on Saturday night he led Gorillaz through a triumphant, 23-song set with an eye-popping array of surprise guests. Yasiin Bey, the rapper formerly known as Mos Def, commanded the stage on “Styrofoam” and “Sweepstakes,” while De La Soul’s Pos and Dave enlivened the smash “Feel Good Inc” and slowthai ramped up the energy on “Momentary Bliss.” “Kids With Guns” felt a bit icky in light of the recent spate of school shootings back in America, but Albarn kept the vibes positive throughout, including when he walked up and down the front stage railing decked out in a pink robe that made him look like a wizened old Britpop Jawa.
Jawbox: Full disclosure: I had a hand in helping reunite this beloved D.C.-area post-hardcore band back in 2009 when I was the music booker for The Tonight Show, and watching the quartet play to thousands of fans on Saturday night was a real thrill. Primavera celebrates groups like this who have made a big impact on the past 30 years of guitar-based music but perhaps have never gotten their due at corollary American festivals. Young, tie-dyed punks were in the pit from the first notes of “Mirrorful,” a remarkable sight during a set by a band that hasn’t played in Europe since the Bill Clinton administration.
Tyler, the Creator: “For those who don’t know me, I’m Tyler, the Creator and I executive ideas for a living,” the artist told a huge MainStage crowd on Saturday night as he toured the nooks and crannies of his discography. The production, featuring Tyler alone on a stage resembling the great outdoors, effectively conveyed the emotional ups-and-downs of songs such as “Earfquake” and “See You Again.” But without a live band or much variety in the actual music, we were left wanting a bit more. Tyler does deserve props for the connection he’s built with his audience, telling them that their energy was making a tangible impact. “I’m gonna think of this shit when I’m 53 years old,” he said.
Honey Dijon, Jeff Mills and Ben UFO: The DICE-sponsored stage at the far end of the festival site is manna from heaven for party-hearty dance-music fans, with sets lasting will into the morning hours when a new day has already begun. In the wee hours, Honey Dijon set Primavera Sound ablaze on Thursday night with one banger after another, while Detroit techno legend Jeff Mills demonstrated his vast influence on the genre’s worldwide evolution with his four-to-the-floor Friday night set. Ben UFO closed things out on this stage on Saturday night, wrapping his beat-tastic set after 6 am as charter boats could be seen starting their days out on the neighboring water. Wow, do our feet hurt!
Fans complained loudly about the lack of water, extremely long lines and general overcrowding on the Primavera Sound’s first day, but from our relatively privileged position, we didn’t see much, or any, of this. Could the size of the audience be a bit intimidating when trying to navigate from one area to another? Sure. Is that somewhat par for the course at a festival like this? Yes. Yes, it is. Our advice? Buy some more comfortable shoes, pack some snacks and keep on rockin’. We’ll see you out there again next weekend.