Pop Culture

5 Highlights From Primavera Sound 2024 Friday, May 31

It was a gloomy day at Barcelona’s Parc del Fórum on Friday; though the sun was out when I got there, clouds soon loomed over, and it was raining by the time I left. It felt strangely fitting, in part because while there was as much variety as on the first day of the festival, day two at Primavera Sound seemed to orbit around Lana Del Rey’s headlining performance. The crowds that got there early were almost overwhelming, and the organizers were smart to book acts like Ethel Cain and Chelsea Wolfe, who have received their fair share of Lana comparisons, on the same day. Thank God we had the National to lift our spirits! Here are five memorable moments from the night.


Ethel Cain’s ‘A House in Nebraska’ Echoes Through the Forum

Ethel Cain. Credit: Clara Orozco

As I arrived at the Forum a few minutes late on Friday afternoon, Ethel Cain’s ‘A House in Nebraska’ was already booming out the venue, which felt sort of fitting. I kept hearing the sweeping echo of Hayden Anhedönia’s voice as I made my way to the Santander stage under the blistering sun, though by the time I got there, I’d missed the live debut of a new song called ‘I Keep the Angel’. Fortunately, the rest of the set was nothing short of transcendent; wearing a Free Palestine shirt, Anhedönia’s connection with the audience was unwavering, intense, and utterly genuine. She played a brief harmonica solo during the twangy ‘Thoroughfare’, which kept the crowd in quiet rapture; a lot of people may have already been camping out to see Lana Del Rey, but they sure as hell cheered at “God loves you, but not enough to save you” during ‘Sun Bleached Files’, screamed along to ‘American Teenager’, and knew exactly what to sing when she pointed the mic to the crowd during ‘Gibson Girl’: downright iconic. Bearing witness, even for just a few songs, was a real gift.

Chelsea Wolfe Lingers in the Darkness

Despite the distance between the Santander stage and the Auditori, heading over to see Chelsea Wolfe after Ethel Cain was the obvious choice, which Wolfe proved by actually dedicating a song (‘The Culling’) to none other than her. The indoor setting was perfect, allowing her to be shrouded in darkness as she shred and drifted mostly through songs from this year’s She Reaches Out to She Reaches Out to She, punctuated by lighting that consistently matched not just the solemn mood but intensity of her music. “I will run through the fire/ To get to you,” she sang on ‘Dusk’, bringing to mind yeule’s set from the previous night. The feeling lingered as she closed the set with the simple intimacy of ‘Flatlands’: “I need your arms/ Wrapped hard around me.” Dark, yes, but an embrace nonetheless.

Lana Was Late, and We Had a Ball?

Credit: Sharon López

This happens. In fact, the exact same thing happened a couple of months ago at Coachella: Lana Del Rey was 30 minutes late. A week ago at Hangout Fest, she was 20 minutes late. When it happened last year at Glastonbury, where she was escorted away by security after her set was cut off, she explained herself by saying that her “hair takes so long.” (It looks like it.) The truth is that we don’t know what’s happening off stage during that half-hour; if it’s the same issue every time, if it’s really on purpose. We don’t know a lot about pop stars. Lana Del Rey doesn’t perform like one – right before her, Troye Sivan had clearly put so much effort into every part of his, becoming one with his dancers instead of gracefully whirling around them – but her show is staged like that of a pop star. Do people expect an immaculate performance from Lana Del Rey, an idol to worship, or poetry? Maybe my thoughts would be different if I had paid instead of being paid to see her, but if you’re going to see Lana Del Rey, messiness, not efficiency, is par for the course. I heard some boos, but of course people waited, and of course they sang their hearts out.

At times you could barely hear Lana Del Rey; some wondered if she was okay, which had me thinking if we’re really to worry about the well-being of a pop star. How much of it is a show? And if so, what does it mean to still scream along – no, over her? Like every one of her concerts, this happened last night at Primavera, and that kind of adoration is also to be expected, even if it conflicts with the nature of her songs. If you want to be poetic about it, there’s something to be said about the whole thing mirroring Lana’s commentary on the fragility of glamour and the disillusionment of fame, especially as she began her performance with an unflinching ‘Without You’. She tried to sing at least a couple of songs from most of her albums (though not the one referenced in this subheading), let the audience do a lot of the heavy lifting, and granted the spotlight to her incredible dancers and backup singers, who were particularly stunning during ‘The Grants’. She sounded best during piano ballads like ‘Bartender’ and ‘Norman fucking Rockwell’ because it was clear what mattered wasn’t how big her voice sounded but how affecting when it was vulnerable and elastic. She cursed strict curfews, shortened ‘A&W’ so she could take time interacting with fans out front over an eerie jazz outro, and finished with the song so many were dying to hear: “Will you still love me when I got nothing but my aching soul? I know you will, I know you will.”

The National, Raucous and Vulnerable

Credit: Clara Orozco

For a lot of attendees, Lana Del Rey’s tardiness was as disrespectful to the fans as it was to the band that followed her on the adjacent main stage. But unlike Lana Del Rey, the National’s popularity is directly correlated to their reliability, and they did not disappoint. I missed them when they played the festival a couple of years ago, but their two-hour set last night delivered everything a fan could ask for. It was raucous and propulsive when it had to be, peaking in intensity when the climax of ‘Fake Empire’ bled into the seven-minute epic ‘Space Invader’, a reminder of how much power there is in Bryan Devendorf’s drumming. Bryce and Aaron Dessner wrangled noise out of their guitars as much as they held it down, and Matt Berninger had a dozen ways to communicate the existential angst of his lyrics: gesticulating, clutching at his hair, prowling the stage, heading into the crowd, tangling the mic like it’s thoughts in his head. At one point, he called out to the one person who bumped into him at William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops performance the day prior, saying it was like meeting Santa. (Who knows if it really happened – he also talked about the band members buying apartments in Barcelona and promised everyone New York pizza slices.) “It was great and terrible,” which sounds a lot like the love in their songs. The show itself, at least, was just great.

Arca the Pop Star

Credit: Sharon López

After all the doom and gloom of pretty much every set I caught yesterday, Arca’s rapturous live show at the Amazon stage felt necessary and worth staying up for. The crowd greeted the Barcelona-based Venezuelan artist like the magnetic pop star that she is, even as she didn’t play so much as perform to her own music, her voice and stage presence by turns sultry, otherwordly, and glamorous, but always captivating. When she fractured the glitchy, mutable pop of her recent albums for the avant-garde operatics of her past work, it was a reminder of just how far her sound and influence stretch, never lingering in one style for too long. While pierced through the veneer of pop perfection, not too unlike Lana’s set seemed to do, Arca’s show was a whole other spectacle, and she knew to have fun with it.


Follow along with our Primavera Sound 2024 coverage here.

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