Live Music + Gig Reviews

Primavera Sound 2023 Barcelona review: part 2 – Blur, Sudan Archives, Emeralds

1 June 2023

With all the stages now open, the festival’s first day proper presents clashes and variety alike at the seaside Parc del Fòrum venue

Blur at Primavera Barcelona 2023

Blur at Primavera Barcelona 2023 (Photo: Christian Bertrand)

Following the days of city centre and free show build-ups, the 21st edition of Primavera Sound Barcelona properly kicks off and our first show is indoors. The Auditori, set within a spectacular building that looks like a cooled volcanic rock extruded from the very core of the Earth, plays host to Emeralds who bring dense layers of drone, with bass to vibrate nasal hair and resonate in bone structures you’ve only been vaguely aware of possessing. The trio send synth and guitar signals to a console to be morphed, sequenced and repeated into a cacophony that’s as loud as it is unexpectedly soothing, but to characterise it as a set of mutating drone noise would be to do this music an injustice. There are proggy elements to the arpeggiated patterns, and clear notes wheeling under and over it all, but the density is something to behold. One of only two shows they’re playing this year, this was special.

At the opposite side of the site we enjoy a sunny outdoor set from Sudan Archives who, despite the name, is no archival Sudanese project at all. Brittney Parks’ album Natural Brown Prom Queen in its title alone indicates some buttons she’d like to push: but then she asks if anyone here is Irish; there are cheers; and she goes full folk hoedown. All of this takes place beneath an otherworldly fuck-off-oil photovoltaic panel array of epicness that might well be powering her. There’s no ridiculous park decibel restrictions a la London in this place in which artists may flex. Sudan Archives flexes. Cherish her: violin solos might just be the new guitar solos. Pusha T helpfully performs a significant portion of his set a few feet away from where we are, which helps with photos. Half way through he sheds the indigo jacket that matched his trousers so well, revealing a crisp white t-shirt, and just as the sun’s warmth leaves us. His set loses none of its heat however and, as the man himself intimates, if you know, you know.

Pink Pantheress at Primavera Barcelona 2023

Pink Pantheress at Primavera Barcelona 2023 (Photo: Christian Bertrand)

PinkPantheress’s tiny songs, never quite reaching the three minute mark, rely for their origin on the samples of others and their success on a TikTok world of the instant payoff. Less a magpie and more an evolutionist, the British artist takes what she finds around her and bends it to her will. The seaside vibe suits her well, for here is an artist well equipped to soundtrack summer. The same could be said of Alison Goldfrapp, sparkling in blue sequins as she provides a set equal parts of sparkling new disco-pop solo album The Love Invention and choice cuts of the Goldfrapp back catalogue. She works in Ooh La La and Strict Machine alongside excellent new tracks So Hard So Hot and Gatto Gelato as she evolves into her most pop guise yet.

Over at the far side of the site, New Order, Halsey and Blur take it in turns on the huge twin Estrella Damm and Santander stages; as one goes dark the other fires up. New Order have been at this game for long enough now to know that the hits are what people want to hear. While theirs was a set that seemed to take a while to hit its stride, when they close out the triad of Blue Monday, Temptation and Love Will Tear Us Apart, a mass singalong is their just reward. Singer and poet Halsey in contrast is at the other end of her career and wasted no time in winning over the audiences for the English establishment acts either side of her. Having worked with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross on her album If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, she is aiming decisively away from her billion-streamed teenage songs decidedly towards rock, but clearly intent on taking fans along on her journey.

At just gone 2am yet in front of comfortably the biggest crowd of the festival so far, and following four UK warm-up gigs, Blur’s first big show in eight years starts curiously with new track St Charles’ Square from upcoming new album The Ballad Of Darren, which noticeably nonplusses the assembled masses ready for a greatest hits set. Blur in their pomp at a festival would have a whirlpool of a mosh pit formed with within minutes, but here all is for the moment attentive, polite and dare we say reflective. But definite signs of movement are detected when Graham Coxon fires up the guitar hook to kick off There’s No Other Way, and from there we’re on safer ground with a slew of timeless songs in quick succession, punctuated only by scarcely recalled B-side Luminous, not played live for decades, and not yet landed recent single The Narcissist.

Bespectacled sometime poster boy Damon Albarn is soon geeing up the crowd at the barriers, and Dave Rowntree and Alex James anchor it all with a still solid rhythm section. It’s a shorter set than their recent UK warm-up gigs, but includes one surprise extra those audiences didn’t get, in the form of Country House, criminally the band’s only UK Number 1 single. Yet in a set heavy on Parklife tracks and huge singalongs – with space too for Popscene, Beetlebum and of course Song 2 – arguably the finest moments are on the slower numbers. The always beautiful Out Of Time, the Coxon lead vocal Coffee & TV, the psychedelic trip of Trimm Trabb, To The End and This Is A Low are all unutterably glorious. It’s fine indeed to have them back, and good too that another new album is keeping them away from becoming a tribute act unto themselves just yet.

As sets continue at the smaller stages until dawn, with Warp mainstay Hudson Mohawke, French touch proponent Folamour and The Comet Is Coming (see yesterday) amongst those with the stamina to get there, we take our leave to rest awhile, ready to fire up to do it all again tomorrow.

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More on Blur
Blur @ Hammersmith Apollo, London
Blur – The Ballad Of Darren
Blur @ Wembley Stadium, London
Primavera Sound 2023 Barcelona review: part 2 – Blur, Sudan Archives, Emeralds
Blur @ City Hall, Newcastle