Live Music + Gig Reviews

Primavera Sound Barcelona 2023 review: part 1 – Pet Shop Boys, The Waeve, The Comet Is Coming

31 May 2023


A free show on site and city venues performances warm up for the returning Catalan behemoth, in the first part of our coverage 

Pet Shop Boys at Primavera Barcelona 2023

Pet Shop Boys at Primavera Barcelona 2023 (Photo: Christian Bertrand)

In 2022, two editions of Barcelona’s Primavera Sound took place in back to back weekends, making up for the lost pandemic time and the postponed 2021 event. Fast forward a year and things are beginning to return to some semblance of normality. For Primavera however, normality is extraordinary. Even before the 21st edition of Barcelona’s Primavera Sound three-dayer at the spectacular Parc del Fòrum fires up, gigs are taking place in venues in the centre of the city in a strand called Primavera A La Ciutat, with many of the artists set to play the festival proper staging club shows. Then there’s a free show at the site itself, headlined by none other than Pet Shop Boys. The morphing shape of what amounts to a week of live music, concluding with Brunch Electronik, is quite unlike anything the UK manages, and gives this Spanish behemoth a very special character.

We ease in at the clubby surroundings of Razzmatazz 2, where Blondshell brings the sort of loud-quiet-loud college rock from Stateside for people who miss Pixies and Nirvana; the guitarist even has ‘90s curtains. At times Sabrina Teitelbaum’s vocals paired with the shimmering bass call to mind Throwing Muses. It’s one of three shows she’ll play across the event. Later, Yuné Pinku is a rather different proposition. A solitary presence with a Bicep/imperial phase of rave feel, she has a keyboard and assorted wires plugged into devices, with hi-hats clattering like a train over a huge boomy bass as she breathes words into the space between. Fans of Peggy Gou will likely take her music and run with it.

Graham Coxon and Rose Elinor Dougall’s The Waeve, who are not playing the main festival, follow, and start with keyboard issues. The Blur axeman mumbles some words as filler while it’s being sorted, making for a slow start. But then it ramps up with changes of pace and some frenetic guitaring… and tambourining. There’s a sax player, but Coxon wields a sax too – and at one point a quacky harmonica. The set stumbles along in an amiably ramshackle manner, with Dougall’s keyboards centre stage and her vocals grounding the mix, brought to bear with Juliette Lewis levels of don’t-mess charisma. “You can see him on Thursday in his side project,” she deadpans of Coxon, with Blur indeed set to headline on that day.

The Comet Is Coming, who are named after a Radiophonic Workshop track rather than specialist knowledge of a guaranteed future cosmic apocalypse, bring more sax, of course, and here’s a chance to see them at a civilised hour rather than the dawn soundtrack they’ll provide at the main festival. The sinewy shape of breathtaking sax master Shabaka Hutchings, together with his Soccer96 chums – on synths and drums – change speeds and moods at a dizzying rate and provide quite mad jazzy rhythms to an electronic whole. There is, it must be said, some incredibly complex parping. 

The Waeve at Primavera Barcelona 2023

The Waeve at Primavera Barcelona 2023 (Photo: Christian Bertrand)

The following day sees the gates of Parc del Fòrum open for a free concert taking place on just one of the stages as the finishing touches are applied to the others. Australian Heavenly signings Confidence Man have evidently discovered the ‘90s had dance music, remixed Groove Armada and had a nice shimmy-bout. To this music they bring a vibe that’s somewhere between Eurovision party and alien landing, segueing between moments that recall Fatboy Slim to something that sounds suspiciously like Renegade Master, ahead of a medley of music referencing ‘90s rave that calls to mind 808 State and other such time-specific luminaries. At one stage Janet Planet sports a cone bra, reminding of Madonna’s iconic outfit of the period, and Sugar Bones, often topless, shimmies under her legs, lifts her up and spins her about. They’re very silly and lovely, but there’s no doubting the work – both on music and physiques – that’s needed to make it seem so. Hooray for pop.

Pet Shop Boys, playing their first concert of 2023 and gearing up for the release of their compilation album SMASH! The Singles 1985-2020, couldn’t have asked for a more appropriate warm-up. The flag of Ukraine dominates the stage before bemasked Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe open with Suburbia, lit by streetlights, moving on to Can You Forgive Her. Confirming what is rightly going to be a spin through their long and illustrious career, Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money) is next up. Tennant introduces the pop art concept behind their fantasy dreamworld, referencing West End Girls and New York City (Boys) before launching into their medley of U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name and Andy Williams’ Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, surely one of the more inspired pop covers of all time. Rent’s video is broken up in montage behind as they play the song, the younger Tennant contrasting with his more experienced self in front. 

As the curtain hiding the full band is raised, and costumes change, the hits keep coming; Left To My Own Devices ramps it up, with Tennant now in a fetching white hat. Audience participation is encouraged in Domino Dancing, and then Tennant walks alone slowly across the stage while singing Love Comes Quickly. Always On My Mind – of course another inspired cover – is greeted with hollers even before a word of a verse is uttered. Dreamland – sans Olly Alexander, busy this weekend at London’s Mighty Hoopla – finds Tennant in a tinfoil cape. Heart is a highlight for mind and body, all dramatic crescendos, while the Stuart Price produced Vocal is better still, a work of genius demonstrating why the Pets have made three albums with him. 

Go West is sedate in comparison but the hollerings in the chorus are present and correct, making the place sound like a football terrace. And their best single, It’s A Sin, is saved till last, with its own extended intro. Returning for a short encore, West End Girls factors Mariupol and Kyiv into the lyrics, importantly reminding a pop festival audience of Ukraine’s ongoing plight. Dedicating the show to the memory of the late Tina Turner (“who we made an album with,” Tennant notes), the duo play out with one of their best narrative numbers, Being Boring. And they’d do it all again a few days later at a club show at the Sala Apolo. Primavera Sound was well and truly warmed up.


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