It was the first weekend of June and summertime should already be hitting the shore of Matosinhos beach. However, the chilly wind still raised some eyebrows and a few hats.
“We are gonna get rain again this year,” some of us cursed, recalling the first Primavera Porto Edition in 2012, when pouring rain broke down the main stage, canceling a show and sending home a lot of heartbroken festival-goers.
This is the exact spot where the Douro River meets the Atlantic Ocean. The birthplace of the (in)famous Port wine and the ‘francesinha’ (bread served on a plate with egg and a mixed filling of whatever meat you can find, although you can find an exquisite veggie version also, topped with melted cheese slices, a delicacy everyone should try at least once in a lifetime).
This is the neighborhood that welcomed Primavera Sound – Porto Edition for the third time, Thursday to Saturday, June 5th to 7th. Three days of pure music and gathering for music lovers, still makes this event unique in Portugal, regarding the quality of the bands and of the surrounding area.
As in the Barcelona counterpart (QRO recap), regarding its main audience, the Porto festival welcomed mainly Brits, Italians, French and, of course, Portuguese, making this year a bit less effective in ticket selling than in previous years.
Troika effect, or maybe not.
The headliners weren’t that popular? They hadn’t put out a brand new record in a while? The last minute change and corporate fusion of the main sponsor’s name?
Come on! Pixies? Ok, brand new album, great rock comeback and trip down the nineties memory lane, but nothing new there, really.
The National have been touring for almost two years now and Caetano Veloso had already shown Abraçaço at the Lisboa Coliseu earlier this year.
Newcomers like Courtney Barnett and HAIM saw their efforts pay off with huge crowds and positive reactions, strongly underlined at the local media.
Also local acts like Os Da Cidade and You Can’t Win Charlie Brown made their way through rock legends like Television, Pixies, Lee Ranaldo, and soul giant Charles Bradley quite grandly.
We kicked off with the Portuguese mixed band, Os Da Cidade, with members of several Portuguese musical projects, where António Zambujo was clearly in evidence, presenting his southern Portuguese influenced roots as the crowd sang along.
Getting into the NOS Primavera Sound park area is very similar to walking into some kind of lost paradise: a natural amphitheatre, green grass, people relaxing and laying on the grass, children playing around and girls showing off their huge red lipstick smiles, hair covered with flowers blowing in the wind.
The perfect set for Rodrigo Amarante to come up on the other side stage, of the only two active on the first days of the festival.
The Brazilian, former Los Hermanos, showed a genuine laidback attitude, delicate tunes, showing in between the tropicalia some melancholy drops as the concert enrolls in front of a very welcoming crowd.
Singing in Portuguese, English and even French (“Mon Nom”), his hoarse deep voice still lingers as we move on over to the main stage and to Spoon.
Spoon is about to launch a new album and brought to this festival a greatest hits set list, singing about the anguished urgency of love, on a subtle approach over the obvious tunes: “I Turn My Camera On” and “Kill The Moonlight” got the best reactions, waking up the crowd with some cheers that got them ready for dinner.
Up next was Sky Ferreira. She wasn’t very fortunate, with some technical problems for a newcomer in Portugal.
It was her first time here and the terrible stage sound conditions tormented her throughout the set. “That’s why I wear sunglasses,” joking about her shyness and making emends regarding the sound imperfection, comparing it to her own.
This is the representative of the new misfit generation of the strange-beautiful. Not quite comfortable and nervous about her own moves and claiming.
Electronic-pop, posing for photographers with the same self-indulgence as she sang “I Blame Myself” for a satisfied audience that was finally understanding who she was after all.
Later at night on the main stage came the anti-festival star, Brazilian veteran Caetano Veloso and his Banda Cê (C Band). He made an exception for NOS Primavera Sound due to its unique conditions and crowd.
It’s hard to speak of the classics when we talk about Veloso. Almost all his songs are recognizable or a part of someone’s life soundtrack. The stronger ones he sang last, “Leãozinho”, “Reconvexo” and “Você Não Entende Nada”.
Every single person in the crowd was by now dancing to the samba and getting a partner closer to whisper passionate verses in their ear. Warm, hot, steamy to forget about the cold and windy night.
More newcomers up next: the HAIM sisters. Rock influenced by Fleetwood Mac and a certain nineties girls band attitude presented a quite sensual and powerful stage trio.
Alana, Danielle and Este showed us “Oh Well”, a Peter Green original but made popular by none other than Fleetwood Mac, blues inspired in a natural and easy-going transparency and they move on to “Honey and I”.
Este, the bass player, speaks in Portuguese, or at least tried and to end a huge party the three girls assumed a percussion riot that made the crowd go wild and experience an amazing show.
“Thanks for bringing hip-hop back,” said a sign supporting Kendrick Lamar, the rapper who also performed for the first time in Portugal at NOS Primavera Sound. Seen as an outsider at an alternative rock festival, the audience was kind of divided between those who saw him as one of hip-hop saviors and simply curious music lovers on how he could fit in such a headline.
He made way through his main hits: “m.A.A.D City” assumed an epical performance and the rapper stamped his premiere at the festival and the country as an obvious great bet for future music events of the same nature.
He even had the time to confess that Porto reminded him of his hometown, in California. Why? “As soon as I landed, I smelt the weed”.
On his own words, he had faced in Porto the loudest crowd of the tour. We believed him. We had witnessed one of the best shows of the kick-off, by King Kendrick, even if that was just for a day.
Jagwar Ma finished off the hostilities with Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa on drums, entertaining the few residents still dancing on the premises, leveling up their energy reserves to zero until the music made way to silence on the late hours of this first day in between two stages.
We started the second day at NOS Primavera Sound at the ATP Stage, to take a look at the atmospheric psychedelics of Follakzoid, just long enough to approve their rising tunes, before heading off to Midlake.
As in Rodrigo Amarante the previous day, choosing Midlake showed perfect to watch the sunset as the rain threat finally ended up not happening at all, and everyone could stand attentively and warm wide open towards a great band and a great set list for a perfect day ending.
The crowd was still lazy as the multi-instrumentalist Jesse Chandler also pointed out how lucky we were the skies weren’t pouring over our heads. Married to a Portuguese lady and speaking fluently in our mother tongue, he introduced the band and the lead singer Eric Pulido made jokes about not being fluent as his band mate.
“We Gathered In Spring” (as in the festival) played as the crowd celebrated the happy coincidence in the song and the moments passed on to great memories to come.
Next to ATP, where we would witness the legendary Television perform. The main reason of this Television tour is the integral performance of the classic and revisited album Marquee Moon. The band members grow old, but the guitar riffs are eternally young, conquering the crowd, although some breaks between the songs would cut the vibe for some, who eventually headed up to Warpaint, at the main stage.
The LA girls Warpaint had a quite cold performance. Only “Undertown” brought some warmness to a quite lethargic performance, probably due to playing in daylight on such a big stage and not so many people.
The Bowie cover “Ashes to Ashes” sent some chorus up in the air, but a too long and not fortunate version of “Elephants” ending the performance lost us and we decided they weren’t very inspired on that particular day.
Slowdive at the Super Bock Stage had a very consistent performance. Sonic atmosphere, much similar to Mogwai and their disciples, Explosions in The Sky.
Great timing to check out the also newcomer Courtney Barnett, at Pitchfork stage. The Aussie young rock star presents herself with a Bruce Springsteen attitude, surrounded by a natural charm and simplicity that only a natural could exhale.
Making time to Godspeed You! Black Emperor (GY! BE), we headed out to ATP stage where the band took some time to step up front.
Minimalist at first, the violin player opened the set and led the way to the rest of the Canadian band, for the next hour of sonic post-rock instrumental melodies, long and enduring, sometimes tense, other times longing and intimate.
The crowd easily got into a trance, and the performance was one of the most intense and epic of the festival.
We had planned to only stay for one song, but realizing that just one song lasted for 40 minutes, when we left, the Pixies were already high and charging full speed on hits, back from the golden days of punk and surf rock in the nineties.
The importance of being the Pixies led Frank Black and friends into a too much relaxed performance, in a way that you could feel that he was more on an agenda than giving out his best to really charge the audience with great energy and make them have the time of their lives.
A very positive remark to the mythical drummer David Lovering, who made the honors in speeding up the rhythm and sending us memories of how the Pixies sounded like back then.
The new album Indy Cindy (QRO review) convinced but not exactly blew our minds.
The importance, weight and quality of the Pixies’ songs saved the show from being boring, as the tunes everyone knows and talks about leaded to a small party among the most enthusiastic fans.
The Pixies were still on and still 40 minutes or so left for Trentemøller to start at Super Bock stage and the fans were already gathering at the front.
The Danish musician and multi-instrumentalist brought his inspired electronic to Porto to an exhilarating performance. From the smooth hit “Miss You” to the Pulp Fiction-inspired “Silver Surfer”, he still presented the audience with a great show from his band members and set, covering The Talking Heads and The Cure’s samples.
Great set, super strong tunes and the energy flowing all over the Super Bock for an hour, was all it took to get everyone ready for Mogwai, next at the main stage.
The Glasgow-born post-rock band came back to Portugal for a very inspired performance. Explosive tunes for an hour and ten minutes of pure bliss, as they met the crowd in a single experience of beautiful songs and total devotion to what was happening on stage.
Probably for the second time (only predeceased by GY! BE) at this Primavera Edition, the crowd wasn’t lingering in conversation or distant from the performance. Instead, the band and the audience formed a unique force of communion, gathered around the sonic adventures of these veterans, who are always more than welcome at an indie rock festival like Primavera.
You get to fly high in space, in a storm of sounds and images that keep following you for days after the show has ended.
“Take Me Somewhere Nice” summed it up.
And that closed the second day for us.
Portuguese band You Can’t Win, Charlie Brown opened the main stage at 17h55, making it an endurance challenge for festivalgoers, who were supposed to stay up until late at night to check on their favorite bands or get to know new ones, until almost 4 am.
One of the most interesting Portuguese bands, on stage they show they truly deserve the fans admiration they’ve been having so far. Presenting the album Diffraction/Refraction, new songs like “Shout”, “After December” and the hit single “Be My World” made fans happy, but also older ones like “Chromatic” and “Over the Sun, Under the Water”, remembering everyone that there was a life before their new release.
Somewhere between happiness and melancholic songs, the melodic details travelled in and out from smoothness to epic force. The perfect soundtrack to another daylight ending and perfect sunset among the misty seaside cotton candy clouded sky. “Heroin”, by The Velvet Underground, called many ears to the band as they ended the performance into an irresistible dance to some.
At Super Bock stage, right next to us, former Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo brought Dust and latest album, Last Night On Earth, to the frontline. Ironically waving the photographers goodbye, Ranaldo gave us the guitar, star of the show apparently in an explicit flirt with the drums all the way up “The Rising Tide”, “Last Night On Earth”, or “Blacked Out”.
With no high expectations, he ended the performance in a crescendo, making sure this was the peak and closing in a grand finale.
Neutral Milk Hotel, on a great comeback after being absent for 14 years, hate pictures and don’t want anything to do with them. On his first words to the audience, singer and frontman Jeff Mangum pleaded everyone to turn off their cameras and iPhones, and on either side of the main stage both giant screens had been switched off also. No photographers on the pit. Just the band, the audience and, as Mangum himself claimed, the experience was going to be “from here” pointing to his own heart “to there” pointing to the crowd.
Their folk indie-rock filled with bells and jigs was raised some lullabies up in the air as the most devoted fans sang to their favorite tunes, sending some chills up our spines on “King of Carrot Flowers”, “Oh Comely” or “Two Headed Boy”.
Celebration, almost religiously devotional. Afternoon dusk and songs pointing towards the most shinning light so far. For some, this was the NOS primavera Sound ultimate experience, the top show of the whole festival.
Short trip to the neighbor stage and we meet John Grant, who made us very happy at the Vodafone Mexefest last year in Lisboa.
Wherever you meet him, there is always a sense of encountering a long-time, no-see friend. The kind of friend that travels a lot, gets into trouble and his love life accidently gets into a mess. But the best part is that the same friend always ends up running into your shoulders crying over a lost love or a newfound disillusionment in life.
“Pale Green Ghosts” was quite danceable, though, and among the melodic and melancholic songs, we also find remixes and great catchy tunes to shake your hip to. “It Doesn’t Matter To Him” showed evidently the power of this amazing voice, and with that same warm tone in which he sang “Greatest Motherfucker”, also talked about the amazing “azulejos,” the Portuguese typical tiles in blue and white shades, which cover some of the ancient buildings and wonderful churches of Porto. At the end, “Queen of Denmark” stayed somewhere between the restrain and anger explosion, closing yet another chapter on our certainty when we claim that darkness is way more beautiful on John Grant’s own words.
The National have been visiting Portugal a lot more than any other band we’ve seen recently (QRO photos previously in Oporto). They have grown accustomed to our wine, our food and our always sunny cities and beaches. The thing was, at NOS Primavera Sound’s last day, the crowd was so anxious to see them that probably one would assume they had never performed here before.
Matt Berninger and friends fired up “Don’t Swallow the Cap”, “I Could Live in Salt” without warning and when they got to “Sorrow”, Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent (see below) was called on stage to help sing the chorus with Berninger so perfectly, we could believe the song was cut made for them to sing it in a duet.
The energy between the crowd and the band made everyone forget the not-so-warming audience on their last performance in Portugal.
“Conversation 16” brought everyone’s voice to an impossible pitch, as they cried out, “Cause I’m evil” and ended the possibility to be having a regular conversation with anyone on the next day (whether 16 or not). The chaos and strain caused by a microphone chord rolled up by Berninger on his closest fans legs, as he entered the crowd in “Mr. November”, left everybody wild and desperate to get a hand on the lead singer, whatever the consequences may be on their own and Berninger’s safety.
It was sharing, pure and simple. Wild, screaming with fury. We were passionately embracing the destiny of being a grown man, sometimes entrapped in the body of a rock star with a warm soul, seasoned on soft red wine.
The detailed description of a “television version of a person with a broken heart”. We should all live in salt for leaving them behind. Yet again.
St. Vincent, or Annie Clark’s (QRO interview) claim on “where poetry goes to die,” went on stage again, now alone, after enjoying a bit of The National’s spotlight a few minutes before.
She made her appearance and probably stated for the most powerful female presence at the festival. She was singular, robotic, sensual, girlish, revolutionary, protester, lover all in one.
Starting with “Digital Witness” from her new self-titled album (QRO review), and “Cruel”, from Strange Mercy (QRO review), were captivating, before the singer started on a story about the things she has in common with the Portuguese crowd, which includes kangaroos, their love for The National, and on how they fail to fly although they both have wings. In “Surgeon”, Clark climbed up to a small podium, looking superior like.
“Cheerleader” and the clock was ticking. An hour has past and soon St. Vincent’s colorful world was coming to an end.
At the Super Bock stage there was still time for a major party, led by !!!’s lead singer Nick Offer, in shorts and rendering some funk as he saved his microphone for later inside those shorts, quite warmingly.
ATP Stage still had time for Ty Segall, who celebrated his 27th birthday. Expectations were high, and Segall confirmed every single one of them. Punk velocity, smashing rhythm, at every second being struck by a thunderstorm of guitars and on “Tall Man, Skinny Lady”, we could hardly take a break to breath.
Running against time and low on energy already, we got to Cloud Nothings at Pitchfork Stage.
Same atmosphere as in Segall, except for an irritated Dylan Baldi almost striking a security guard on grounds that he treated the crowdsurfing fans as animals.
All in all, it was a great show, sending us all home with a mixed feeling of exhaustion and of mission accomplished on such a rollercoaster of emotions, sounds, images, music, and discovery of new and old bands, as a part of yet another great primavera Sound – Porto Edition!
-words: Carla Ferraz
-photos: Jayne Yong