Live Music + Gig Reviews

Primavera Sound 2023 Barcelona review: part 3 – Depeche Mode, Sparks, Christine And The Queens

2 June 2023

Basildon’s finest, charting septuagenarians and startling new material featuring Madonna play out in Day 2 of Barcelona’s big music weekend

Sparks at Primavera Barcelona 2023 (Photo: Christian Bertrand)

Sparks at Primavera Barcelona 2023 (Photo: Christian Bertrand)

Friday night in Primavera Sound is a mood of being simultaneously spoilt for choice and rueing horrible clashes in consequence, an inevitability at a festival showcasing no fewer than 317 performances. Everywhere you look there’s something happening, the twin stages concept extending from the Estrella Damm and Santander monsters to the slightly smaller Amazon Music and Ron Brugal stages near the centre of the site, and smaller stages elsewhere. There are no dead spaces here, and with capacity for 120,000 and numbers comfortably lower, there’s never a sense of being squeezed. Not only that but everyone, simply everyone, looks amazing.

Early on we pass Lilium from Taiwan, who have the thankless task of playing the Night Pro stage, situated at a crossroads near the site’s main entrance, guaranteeing many people will walk past them while they play. If this bothers the trio at all they show no sign of it, noodling happily away. Shellac, on the small Dice stage down by the sea backdropped by yachts, offer a longwinded explanation about killers of fun and defenders of guns by way of introducing a theme song for a film that has not been made. Steve Albini and co are an incongruous scuzzy proposition in this setting. “Does anyone have a question for me in English?” the small crowd is asked. If this is your first experience of them, you’ll be nonplussed. You get the sense they’d not have it any other way.

There’s a huge queue outside the Boiler Room x Cupra stage – think Tina Turner’s Bartertown arena in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome – for Yves Tumor’s DJ set, which can easily be heard outside the venue, the bass rumbling off the concrete walls for ages. We’ll hear more of him later on when he plays his own set. Along the seafront a few minutes further we find David Gedge’s The Wedding Present playing the first of their two sets this evening at The Vision by Pull & Bear, a stage set on a small island platform in the harbour. There’s restricted capacity on the island itself, but standing nearby affords a decent view and the sound carries clearly, even if they seem to be one of the quieter, lower-key bands here. Two people traipse away down the gangway, and at the head of a small queue of eager fans awaiting entry the next two are let in – one dances his way towards the stage, to good-natured whoops from the rest. At their later show, Gedge and co have a bigger stage to play on.

On the day they’ve been told they have their third consecutive UK Top 10 album with The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte, Russell Mael of septuagenarian siblings Sparks asks: “So may we start?” The audience finding this an agreeable proposition (and song), the set gets underway with Russell bouncy out front in a black and red ensemble, accessorised with a red flower. His voice is in fine fettle as they plough through Angst In My Pants, Balls, We Go Dancing and the new album’s title track. Ron Mael meanwhile mixes jacket, shirt and tie with trainers and track suit trousers and is as expressionless as ever at his keyboard. Then they swap about as Ron deliberately approaches the lip of the stage and enunciates the spoken words of Shopping Mall Of Love to audience giggles. The infectious The Number One Song In Heaven has Ron out again, this time to dance madly (there’s always a Ron dance) for about a minute before sombrely returning to his place. With material from 26 studio albums to pick from, they could have played all night, but all good things must come to an end, and thus it is that This Town and All That close out a set which has been a communal joy from start to end.

Yves Tumor at Primavera Barcelon 2023

Yves Tumor at Primavera Barcelona 2023 (Photo: Paco Amate)

The Moldy Peaches and Swans suffer one of the worst clashes of the whole festival, both unforgivably up against one of the main draws, and if only we were more than one person. Gah. But it is to Depeche Mode we go, along with an absolutely vast crowd for the Martin Gore and Dave Gahan show, their first since the death of band mate Andrew “Fletch” Fletcher, and astonishingly the Basildon outfit’s first time at Primavera Sound. It’s also a chance to road test material from recent, death-centric album Memento Mori

Huge portentous bass thumps out with the band backlit in yellow for the foreboding opener My Cosmos Is Mine, with another new track, Wagging Tongue, following. Walking In My Shoes cranks things up with Gahan, eyes outlined in kohl, doing his trademark ballerina spin, the audience hollering along and Gore strumming away on guitar. In Your Room, from the same album Songs Of Faith And Devotion, comes with a markedly different arrangement which seems somehow to expunge it of all its drama, and Everything Counts gets a similarly curious treatment. But Ghosts Again, a single from Memento Mori, holds its own with I Feel You, the arrangement for which is more familiar, Gahan giving a little whoop at the end.

World In My Eyes plays with a huge picture of Fletch beamed out of screens, a nice touch, with Gahan giving him a shoutout at the end. For John The Revelator, Gore sports a guitar in the shape of a star, one of this band’s showy touches that’s of a piece with Gahan’s bum wiggles and animated mic stand wielding. Enjoy The Silence sees all the phones raised aloft to capture the moment, and they return for an encore, the Vince Clarke penned I Just Can’t Get Enough as ever sounding more like an Erasure track than something from what’s become the Mode canon. As Personal Jesus closes, the truth is realised: you come to the Depeches for the hits, and the Depeches do not disappoint.

As their stage goes dark, its neighbour fires up. Following his cousin Baby Keen’s set on the same stage earlier, Pulitzer Prize winning rap figurehead Kendrick Lamar soon appears with only occasional pyrotechnics and a backdrop drape as accompaniment. His set was of course never going to be about witnessing a band’s technique, but rather his flow and his words that look both outwards and in. In such a setting they draw focus. He crams something like 20 tracks into a set of just 80 minutes and underlines that rap deserves its place at music’s top table, though one wonders if there’s much fan crossover between his work and the longstanding electrorock legends who preceded him.

Christine And The Queens, ahead of curating this year’s Meltdown at London’s Southbank Centre, are showing off upcoming new album Paranoïa, Angels, True Love, which takes as its inspiration Tony Kushner’s Aids-era play Angels In America and, on three of its 20 tracks, features actual Madonna (she does some readings). In a set that begins after midnight at a festival and without prior explanation, and with the album not out till the week after, this is a tough proposition to sell, especially as Chris treats the whole thing as an extended poetic narration of events beyond our ken and in the most artsily dramatic fashion imaginable, with words about being trapped in a prison of flesh. Not everyone there at the start remains at the end, despite Chris’s powerful voice – arguably a match for any diva out there – and flamboyant stage presence, at one point sporting white angel wings. Some of the set is surprisingly rocky relative to what this outfit have put out before, and the phrase “lords of music, please take me there” is repeatedly brought to bear on the backing band; as Chris utters the closing words “this is a poem by Christine And The Queens” it’s hard not to giggle. And no, they didn’t play Tilted. Certainly different, in another setting – a concert hall full of people who’ve heard the album and had a chance to discover what it’s about, say – it will surely work better.

Elsewhere, fashion vision in hat and chains Yves Tumor’s mic is set very low, and they are unintelligible. “Turn that shit up!” the Miami native demands of the sound gods, which is not quite what the finger-pointing audience were gesturing about, but they can’t hear them any more than they can hear them. This is a pity as new album Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) has, as its title suggests, very many words to impart. At one point a lady appears for a duet and her mic is fine, but we don’t hear Tumor’s introduction so can’t guess who she may be. When finally the mic starts to behave the set gets into its stride, the guitar-heavy sound contrasting with their voice which sits somewhere between Lenny Kravitz and a door creaking open. Tumor mock-bangs the lead guitarist towards the end and then, at the close of final track Kerosene, tries garrotting both guitarists with their jacket. As they chaotically roll about on the floor of the stage, the house lights are slapped on. It’s been unique.

On the other side of the site, Skrillex’s set – on the same stage as Kendrick Lamar’s pyrotechnics earlier – is somewhat interrupted by sparks flying from a lighting rig, necessitating staff with fire extinguishers to show up. Let it not be said that the DJ is anything other than incendiary. And fully 14 hours after the first bands took to stages, as Dan Snaith’s Daphni soundtrack the sunrise, shut-eye is needed; in a few hours Day 3 will begin.

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Primavera Sound 2023 Barcelona review: part 3 – Depeche Mode, Sparks, Christine And The Queens
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