- Hugo Lima / NOS Primavera Sound
It’s starting to be too common: no matter how warm and sunny it is in the week leading up to the festival, NOS Primavera Sound (NPS) is doomed to be ruined by at least one day of rain. The first day did not look promising after the announcement of the passage of depression Miguel (no, not the rnb star who performed there a couple of years ago) through the north of Portugal. Flights were cancelled, Ama Lou and Peggy Gou could not reach Porto in time to perform, strong winds and rain showers threatened to turn Parque da Cidade into a muddy mess, the gates were opened almost an hour later than it was scheduled.
- JARV IS…. Hugo Lima / NOS Primavera Sound
But then there was music. Under a temporarily clear sky, and in front of probably the smallest crowd ever in the 8pm slot at the main NOS stage, Built to Spill performed what was one of the longest shows in NPS history. In over an hour and a half, they have not only revisited Keep It Like a Secret in full, but have also played selections from their 25+ years long career, from the marvellous “I Would Hurt A Fly” off their 1997 masterpiece Perfect from Now On to Untethered Moon’s “Living Zoo”. At times, the stage looked too big for a quartet of introverts playing for other introverts, but their set was engaging enough for us to have to miss a few songs off Jarvis Cocker’s first solo show in the country in nine years. JARV IS… a six-piece band complete with guitars, a harp, sax, keys, and, of course, a rolling-all-over Jarvis, agile and charming as ever. A couple of new songs were the highlights among songs off Further Complications (“Homewrecker!”, “Further Complications.”). There was also time for a single incursion into Pulp material (“His ‘n’ Hers”) that left everyone nostalgic for one of the best Portuguese festival shows in recent history: Pulp’s takeover of the Paredes de Coura festival back in 2011.
- Allen Halloween. Hugo Lima / NOS Primavera Sound
At the green, lush Pull & Bear stage that once was sponsored and programmed by ATP, and after another surprise rain shower, local hip hop hero Allen Halloween was on. Although he has struggled to gather a big crowd as headliner Danny Brown prepared to take over the NOS stage, and his Portuguese lyrics clash into a language barrier that drove most foreign visitors somewhere else, his devotees seemed to be delighted after his short set (we know we were). In “greatest hits” mode, he and his two fellow Kriminal crew MCs dropped hit after hit, starting with the catchy “Drunfos”, a song off A Árvore Kriminal about prescription painkillers that miraculously solve back pain. The most recent album Híbrido got plenty of love throughout the show, too, as Allen strolled through “Bandido Velho”, “Youth”, and “Mr. Bullying”, the best revenge song of the 2010s. But the highlight of the show had to be set closer “Fly Nigga”, off 2006’s Projecto Mary Witch.
- Stereolab. Rita Carmo / BLITZ
Back at the SEAT stage, a blast from the past as Stereolab performed for the first time in ten years. The long, jammy, jaw dropping “Metronomic Underground” was the highlight in the first half of the show that had to be cut short so we could witness the full extent of Tommy Cash’s odd world. The Estonian rapper/producer combines the funniest visuals of the whole festival with nonsensical lyrics in a seemingly faux-Eastern European heavy accent, but it’s when the Russian hardbass-influenced tracks drop that the Super Bock stage crowd properly erupts. But the greatest moment of the night was still to come, as Solange took the NOS stage by storm. Not in a bombastic way, as we know her sister would do, but through a meticulously prepared, aesthetically spotless show. The finesse of the performance, focused on her latest record When I Get Home, was only interrupted in the semi-ecstatic, early-career banger “Losing You”, before an epic, copious rain shower sent half of the audience home halfway through the encore. We wanted to see Yaeji later on, but perhaps she shouldn’t have ordered all that rain.
- Courtney Barnett. Hugo Lima / NOS Primavera Sound
Friday started with yet another major headache for the organisers: a radar problem in the airport has led to major delays and flight cancellations, and Mura Masa’s show was also cancelled, but the rest of the festival ended up going on as planned. Major headache for us, then: a somewhat tedious Aldous Harding show didn’t let us see what was one of the highlights of the festival for everyone who saw them (Jambinai); on the other hand, the triumphant return of the Basque rock powerhouse Lisabö (two drummers, plenty of guitars, beautiful, beautiful noise) made up for our choice of dropping our favorite Nilüfer Yanya, who we have seen earlier in May. We haven’t seen Courtney Barnett ever since she released her latest record Tell Me How You Really Feel, and we feel like we made the right call on this one, even though that means snubbing another marvellous Sons of Kemet show. Unlike Built to Spill the day before in the same exact time slot and stage, the Australian singer-songwriter’s trio knew exactly how to fill up a big stage. And how can something go wrong if you start off with the addictive “Avant Gardener”, the song that made us quit the Slowdive reunion show ten minutes into the concert so we could see her perform for an half-empty Pitchfork tent back in 2014? With a setlist that drew equally from both her LPs, plus a couple of oldies (good to know “History Eraser” is still part of the show) and non-album tracks (“Small Talk” and the very recent RSD single “Everybody Here Hates You”), Courtney Barnett’s band is a well-oiled machine destined to make new fans in every single festival show this season.
- J Balvin. Hugo Lima / NOS Primavera Sound
Speaking of well-oiled machines, do we really need to review Shellac’s show yet another year and tell you it was the best hour we spent in the festival? This time around we got a few funny lads in the pit, including one dressed like Mickey Mouse (the true MVPs), and Steve Albini dropping some Ed Sheeran diss lines during “The End of Radio”. Wash your bedsheets you pig. And then the little, sad, grey world of “underground” indie purists that can only dance to “Blue Monday” fell apart as reggaeton giant J Balvin took the stage; the word “Reggaeton” filling up the screen as he performs the song with the same name. It looked like a foreign power taking by force a territory that will be their colony for the next hour and a half, sticking a pole and hoisting their flag as high as they can. But, this time around, it’s not a bossy bunch of Europeans landing in a tropical island; it’s the “tropical island” folks biting back, as the sound of Latin barrios becomes, at least temporarily, the lingua franca at the NOS stage. The show itself could have used more tracks off the excellent Vibras, released last year, and both “Machika” and “Ambiente”, two standout tracks off that record, could have gotten the full treatment instead of being only partially played; some songs in which Balvin features are perfectly discardable. But the apotheotic finale with his biggest hit to date “Mi Gente”, featuring a colorful bunch of cartoons, both on stage and on screen, has to be the highlight of the day and possibly of the whole festival. Dios bendiga el reggaeton.
- JPEGMAFIA. Hugo Lima / NOS Primavera Sound
Elsewhere, Interpol has recovered from what was possibly the worst trainwreck we have witnessed in NOS Primavera Sound history (not sure if the 20 minutes long Neil Michael Hagerty show a couple years back was as terrible or the best thing we’ve ever seen, so there’s that) by performing a pretty solid show, anchored in what they know are the most vital records they’ve released: Turn On the Bright Lights and Antics, going fifteen and seventeen years back in time to bring us some of the most iconic guitar-driven of that decade (“C’mere”, “Take You On A Cruise”, “Leif Erikson”, “Obstacle 1″, “Roland”…). If you know when to avoid any recent tracks – although we have to say new single “Fine Mess” did not sound as bad as anything else they have released in the past decade – it’s a fine moment to see Interpol for old times sake, as Paul Banks apparently learned how to sing. With his sunglasses on at midnight, of course. Our night ended at the Pull & Bear stage with JPEGMAFIA wishing Morrissey was dead, rapping, jumping and crawling around the stage as a one-man-show should, and with a late night SOPHIE live act. If the more atmospheric, less interesting first half of the show threatened to send us all home with the feeling we could have went home earlier instead of freezing to death, the “Whole New World”/“Ponyboy”/“Faceshopping” combo was enough to bring us back to life.
- Shellac of North America. Hugo Lima / NOS Primavera Sound
Saturday was the most guitar-driven day of the bunch, and our decision to have lunch in a nearby restaurant paid off when we learned Shellac was playing an extra 4pm show at the entrance of the festival for a handful of lucky people, including Low’s Alan Sparhawk, who sat at the floor as happy as any of us. Hop Along had the tough task to open the big stage as a dozen of Rosalía fans were already lining up for her much later show on the same stage. The Saddle Creek-signed indie rock quartet spearheaded by songwriter Frances Quinlan is always great live, as we have recently seen as they opened for the Decemberists on a recent European tour, but we soon had to hop to the SEAT stage to check out post-punkers Viagra Boys. You wouldn’t tell from their looks (frontman Sebastian Murphy is up on stage half-naked, showing a full-tattooed torso) that this funny group of Swedes loves taking the piss of macho men (and, apparently, everything else), but that’s just what they do.
- Viagra Boys. Hugo Lima / NOS Primavera Sound
Coming up next was Big Thief, our favorite new band of the past couple of years. This meant we had to miss both Lucy Dacus and Tomberlin, who we would be obviously excited about, if only we had three sets of eyes and ears (and another couple of brains to process it all). We seem to get plenty of Masterpiece songs every time they perform in Portugal, and we’re not complaining. From “Paul” to “Real Love”, with the sad but hopeful “Parallels” thrown in the middle, there was plenty of songs off their debut to enjoy until the whole crew joins the band for one last performance of the title track to finish off the European leg of their tour. There was even time for guitar player Buck Meek – finally back with the band – to shine and play one of his solo songs, and for a couple of unreleased songs. Please release a studio version of “Not” ASAP, guys. Thanks. Still on the SEAT stage, Guided by Voices tried their best to stuff 36 songs in one and a half hours – and although we did not count them, someone else did. I cannot seem to memorize half of my passwords, and yet Robert Pollard can go through lyrics of three dozens of songs from eleven different albums (with a focus on the most recent albums – both released this year – Zeppelin Over China and Warp and Woof), including semi-hits “Game of Pricks”, the highly celebrated “Tractor Rape Chain”, and set closer “Glad Girls”. A lesson of what we now call “indie rock” for newcomers to learn from.
- Kate Tempest. Luís Sousa / Música em DX
The 10pm slot of the festival was one of the busiest. We’re sad to know Tirzah was playing for less than a hundred of people at the Pull & Bear stage and decided to check out Rosalía, way closer in the NOS stage. It was the busiest we saw the main stage during this edition of the festival, and the Spanish singer seemed to have full control of the big stage as she, accompanied by half a dozen of dancers dressed in white, performed her duet with James Blake, “Barefoot in the Park”, a new flamenco-inspired song (“De Madrugá”), and “Catalina”, a highlight from her debut album Los Ángeles. Too bad we cannot be near Kate Tempest and not go see her, even though we were at one of her ‘trial’ shows for the upcoming new album tour less than a month ago, and we had to go back to the SEAT stage, where Tempest was already performing “Europe Is Lost”, one of the standout tracks off 2016′s Let Them Eat Chaos. She’s on stage with only her keyboard player and a very simple setting: some sort of circular canvas where her figure is sometimes projected as she delivers the heaviest, the most hopeless, but also the most hopeful lines you’d hear all festival. Especially on the second half of the show, as she focuses on her yet unreleased new album, The Book of Traps and Lessons, from which she draws tracks like the “singles” (if we can call it that) “Firesmoke” and “Holy Elixir”, plus “Hold Your Own”, one of the most beautiful moments of the whole weekend. We do not deserve Kate Tempest, one of the best artists of our generation.
Along with the fantastic Shellac/J Balvin sequence, the last three shows of the festival ended up being the best we’ve seen. There were legitimate concerns that Low’s music was too quiet and solemn to be played simultaneously with the likes of Modeselektor and Neneh Cherry in nearby stages, but although some of the sound from other stages made its way into the surroundings of the Super Bock stage as the Duluth band played their set, we wonder if people in the other stages were not equally affected by the whirlwind of sound Low has managed to produce during a breathtaking and extra loud “Do You Know How To Waltz?”, the majestic, noisy long track off 1996′s The Curtain Hits the Cast, complete with a maelstrom of strobes and visuals that were absent from the arguably quieter European 2018 fall tour. Although the setlist was more focused on their recent Double Negative, an album with a radically distinct production but that sounds exactly like classic Low when translated to a stage, there were a couple of trips to older records (“Lazy”, from debut I Could Live in Hope) and some of the most interesting tracks off their albums from the 2010s (Ones and Sixes’ “No Comprende” and C’mon’s “Especially Me”). If we knew the show would be as good as it was, we would have hugged Alan Sparhawk as much as he was hugging Bob Weston halfway through during that extra Shellac show.
- Yves Tumor. Hugo Sousa Photography
But the real surprise of the night (and of the whole festival) came on our final show: as Erykah Badu was already more than half an hour late at the main stage, Yves Tumor took the opportunity to steal the show with one of the most energetic concerts of the festival. The androgynous performer, some kind of 22nd century glam-rock inspired Prince, completely dominated the stage from the moment he sets foot on stage and starts giving out signed tour posters (“nobody buys them anyway, just have them for free”). And off-stage too, as he was carried in the arms of an army of fans trying to avoiding being hit by his large heels. He performed only four (very celebrated) songs off his latest record, Safe in the Hands of Love, including the sing-along masterpiece “Lifetime”. Instead of being safe in the hands of his familiar old tracks, Tumor chose to focus on unreleased songs instead, completely suiting his band (guitar, bass, drums, and electronics) that sounds like has been playing together for ages. No video can truly capture what it was to be there, but here you go (Thanks Campainha Eléctrica for doing the Lord’s work).
- NOS Primavera Sound
All in all, we left Parque da Cidade with the feeling we have witnessed what was, against all odds (weather included), the best NOS Primavera Sound edition of all time. It was the only time since we first visited the Barcelona festival, back in 2009, that we could not find half an hour to sit down, relax and have a long chat with our peers because there was nothing interesting going on (and, in that regard, we have to thank the recent decision to open all stages during the first day of the festival). Sure, some overlaps of artists that appeal to the same groups of fans (Allen Halloween vs Danny Brown, Big Thief vs Lucy Dacus vs Tomberlin, Hop Along vs Viagra Boys, Amyl and the Sniffers vs Guided by Voices, Tirzah vs Rosalía vs Kate Tempest) look like they could have been avoided. This could have attracted more people to the festival, especially those who feel the organisation have somehow “betrayed” them by focusing less on indie rock and guitar music on the festival’s prime time slots. That being said – all the bands we could not see could have easily filled another full day of the festival. And, at the same time, we feel the smaller amount of festival attendees has ultimately benefited and rewarded whoever still decided to go to the festival, as less people also means less queues, better views of the stages, a friendlier environment, less people chatting over the artists – we have never experience such a quiet festival in Portugal, with no one to argue with. Except those four girls who couldn’t turn the volume down during Kate Tempest’s quiet songs – you know who you are, and, well, your loss! Maybe we have hit the ideal spot, and entrances could and should be capped to 2019′s levels. See you at Porto’s Parque da Cidade in June 11-13 2020, where Pavement is scheduled to perform one of the only two shows of the second coming of their long awaited reunion. Tickets are available next June 17 for a short period of time, only for 2019 ticket holders, and from July 4 (for a period of 48 hours) for everyone else.