remnants: Primavera Sound, 2017

Van Morrison, the Damned, the Afghan Whigs, Japandroids & more

remnants: Primavera Sound, 2017

I’ll start by saying, I am not a festival person. But I knew so many people who spoke so highly of Primavera, and I had wanted to return to Barcelona for a proper visit, and there was an airfare sale the day the lineup was announced, and there were enough bands in the lineup to make me say, “Okay.”

I am still not a festival person, but I would endorse Primavera. On the other hand, I now know that I will never do this again.


The festival is located within the city limits of Barcelona, and there is copious public transit within a very short and reasonable walk. It was about a 20-30 minute ride from the center of the city. I chose my hotel based on its proximity to the Metro line closest to the festival as well as its proximity to Placa de Catalunya. That’s because the festival ran a shuttle bus there for those periods when public transit was shut down (e.g. Thursday after midnight, Friday after 2 a.m.). This worked out well. Public transport in Barcelona is more than fine.

I was part of a two-person team covering the festival for a publication. This boiled down to me saying, “These are the shows I want to see so I’ll cover them.” (This means that I will not be repeating anything I have written for publication here.) This was fine, except when things happened like the Arcade Fire surprise pop-up show, which meant I could not get to the mainstage area to cover Solange. (And my editor did not have a European SIM card so I had no way to get ahold of them and change coverage on the fly.)

On Friday I was covering Solange, the Afghan Whigs, Slayer and the Damned. I had also planned to see This Is Not That Heat and Miguel. This Is Not That Heat was underwhelming, and I was on the mainstage field walking to see Miguel when I got a text that Arcade Fire were doing an unannounced show…all the way back near the entrance. Gratefully, my press pass allowed me to cut the line and get in, because by the time I got there the secret was not a secret.

The Arcade Fire1 pop up show was a lot of fun and was a great way to get the festival started, even if I was irked that they only played two new songs. The timing of the set meant that I could get on the rail for the Afghan Whigs, which did not suck. No joke, but this band is at the top of their game right now and I was in awe of Dulli’s ability to craft a coherent and convincing narrative arc in a festival context. I would never have paid for a ticket to see Slayer but they were fucking ON POINT and I was surprised by how furious and intense they still were. The last time I saw the Damned, I had to use a fake ID to get in (seriously, I think I was a senior in high school). They are not someone I would have ever considered paying money to see, and they were *great*! Like, they’re still The Damned, Vanian is still creepy, but the band was tight and his voice is in fantastic shape and the crowd was fun and I’m glad to have heard “New Rose” and “Neat Neat Neat” live one more time. 

This map is not to scale.

On the left is the GIANT FOOTBALL SIZED FIELD that held the mainstages, Mango and Heineken. Mango was a reasonable stage setup but Heineken was god-awful, due to a slope and crowd barrier and ENORMOUS VIP PIT CONFIGURATIONS. (Mango also had a VIP enclosure but you could still get reasonably close. You could not do this at Heineken.) But the journeys between each of the stages takes a not-inconsiderable amount of time. I was clocking 6 miles a day just at the festival. There was a tiny and infrequent shuttle from the entrance area to the mainstages – I managed to catch it once, by luck, on the last day of the schedule when I was running late to Van Morrison. AND EVERYTHING AT PRIMAVERA IS CONCRETE. Everything, except the EDM area, which was on a beach (which is how it’s described, do you think I actually schlepped over there). By the end of day one I was hobbling the three blocks back to my pension like my feet were bound, and I wear proper shoes to these things.


that’s all VIP space


This was my “light” day, I only had to cover two acts – the Descendents and the xx –and I thought about getting there early and seeing a couple of other shows earlier, but I had also done some sightseeing during the day and I had gotten back at 3:30am and still had to file. Instead, I took a nap and got there in time to say hi to some friends and eavesdrop on Sampha and then Shellac. The xx were actually super-enjoyable except for the fact that it was impossible to get anywhere near the stage (due to the configuration described above) and standing back in the crowd was not possible because of the proximity to the beer tents and the TALKING PEOPLE. My friend Jill and I moved into the crowd – me originally thinking I could approximate something like my position for Slayer the night before – and we eventually stopped when the press got too thick. This, however, DID NOT STOP THE TALKING PEOPLE. There were four women next to us that had a NON STOP LOUD CONVERSATION DURING THE ENTIRE PERFORMANCE. Like, I’m trying to hear what the band is actually saying, one, because I’m investing my time standing here, and two, I have a job to actually do. (And if you think that there’s some kind of fancy press enclosure, there is not, unless you pay for the “premium” press pass, which gets you access to the VIP areas, and only the mainstage has VIP pens.)

I would have loved to have stayed to see Run The Jewels but their set ran until 2 a.m., which meant I would be back around 3:30, after you count in the walk back to the entrance and the wait for the bus, etc. and my Saturday was *booked*.


I had a gentle afternoon at the Joan Miro museum before eating dinner and heading back to the festival. This was going to be a marathon of my own making: Heineken stage for Van Morrison, then back to Primavera for Teenage Fanclub, then back to the mainstages for Grace Jones and Arcade Fire, and one final sprint back to Primavera for Japandroids at 1:50am. GOOD TIMES.

The mainstage was a terrible place for Van Morrison. I’m not just saying this because it was the first time I have ever seen him, but he’s got this little jazz combo thing going and it was too intimate of a performance for what was essentially a parking lot. I was also surrounded by The World’s Worst People: a woman who needed to demonstrate her enormous fandom by making sure her dancing bumped into me non-stop, then smoking, taking copious selfies of herself with the video screen, and then pulling her entire group of friends up to stand with her, where they all proceeded to talk. Behind me were a trio of British lads who had come over because they were waiting for Arcade Fire over at the other stage, and were unfamiliar with Van Morrison’s music – but insisted on singing along loudly with it anyway, and then at some point making sure everyone knew that they had decided that he was “all right.” I would have been better off standing in the center with the actual fans, but I had to be able to get out quickly to make it to the next set.

I managed to improve my position to get away from these people just in time for “Here Comes The Night,” which turned me into a gigantic walking goosebump. Like, I know that he is 71 and he doesn’t have that voice but he still has SOME of that voice, and he can conjure it up in moments like that. And the blues set, where he worked in “Parchman Farm” was enough to convince me that I would be willing to go see him in a proper venue. 2

I really wanted to not have to sprint to the Primavera stage, but there was a chance he could do “Gloria” and I wanted to be there if he did. And, sure enough, BOOM, and I’m singing “G-L-O-R-I-A” along with the guy who sang the song, after all these years of singing it with Patti. Once the band shifted into extended vamp mode, I took my leave, walking through the crowd who were all singing and dancing along to “Gloria” in their own way. I mean, no matter what side of the barricade you are on, that song belongs to all of us.

Teenage Fanclub were Teenage Fanclub, I haven’t seen them in years but they were just lovely, soft and floating. I walked by Angel Olsen on the way over and was sorry from just one song that I hadn’t seen her, but I made the choice based on knowing that I hadn’t been willing to pay $$$ to see Van because of all the rumors of how awful he was, while I can see her with ease. Then it was time to head back to the gravel pit for Grace Jones and Arcade Fire, me trying to guess by how people were dressed which stage they were heading to. (It was worse than playing “Hipster or Halloween? back home.).

If the Heineken stage was terrible for Van Morrison, it was a zillion times worse for Grace Jones, who at least got to take up the entire stage, and had the lights and staging to fill the space. The drama of her set came through, but I just could not help thinking how exponentially better the experience would have been for everyone had this been a smaller stage or the indoor venue. It didn’t help that her set fell just as a storm blew through – we didn’t get any rain, but we got all the wind, which carried the already uneven volume at that stage out to sea, and raised up all of the dust.

Over on the other side of the field, the wind damaged the corner of one of the screens on the Arcade Fire stage, meaning that THERE WERE NO SCREENS VISIBLE for a good chunk of the set. My carefully chosen spot turned into garbage, and I would have been better off finding a place on the edges of the crowd. Once I realized that it was going to be largely the same set as the surprise show, with still only two new songs, I bailed to get some food and grab some water and a soda from the press tent, and to find myself a spot for Japandroids. I do not regret this decision.

When I reached the Primavera stage, there were still many side rail spots available, and when the set started, it was heavenly because everyone who was there made a deliberate decision to be there, whether it was skipping (or not caring about) Arcade Fire, and NO ONE WAS TALKING. Everyone was dancing or singing along. This lasted about four songs until everyone heading out after AF decided to stop by and carry on their loud and important conversations in the second row.

When you are loud enough for me to hear you over Japandroids in front of the speaker stack, you are too loud.

But nothing was going to ruin this set for me, and it was gorgeous, it was raw and honest and flawed and loud and they were SO GOOD, they were just everything in that moment. I realized I wouldn’t need notes and could put my phone away and could just jump and sing and scream for an hour. It was a balm for my heart and soul. They just killed me.

And then it was 3 a.m. and time to turn into a pumpkin. I went back to the hotel, wrote until 6, slept until 2, and am here in a cafe writing this now, before it turns into a glorious blur.

But I am not ever ever ever doing this again.


p.s. Please save me your smartphone tirades. In a dark crowded space, taking notes on my phone is a much better solution than trying to hold a pen and a notepad and come out with something legible.

  1. They are dead to me now, but six years ago I still liked them and rooted for them.

  2. Yes, until he turned into not only a giant asshole, but a giant asshole and vaccine denier.