You’d have to resort to some serious pushing and shoving not to get caught up in the stream of people snaking through the gates on the final evening of Primavera 2016. Even though last night’s Radiohead set was the weekend’s the biggest draw, it’s heaving and the crowd is only going in one direction. It flows past the bassy strains of U.S. Girls’ early set, towards the main stage to hear The Beach Boys‘ ‘Pet Sounds’ in full. The sun’s out and it feels, obviously, like a big deal. Waiting in the wings to play it – and occupying the twilight last day slot Patti Smith so elegantly filled last year – is the Californian band’s leader, Brian Wilson. This year’s old timer.
Emerging alongside a 10-piece band featuring founding Beach Boys guitarist Al Jardine, he sits at a piano wearing a dark button-up shirt and a blank expression. It’s immediately clear that the scars from the various breakdowns he suffered between his LSD-addled 1960s and ’90s reemergence still remain. But once he gets going – with Al Jardine’s son Matt capably handling most of the vocals – the talent, personality and desire that drove him to strive so painstakingly for perfection while making the 1966 album resound. His eyes are hooded, his cheeks droop and his voice lurches between grizzly and just plain sad, but the sound of the band gliding through songs as perfect as these is sumptuous. ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, ‘I’m Waiting For The Day’ and, particularly, ‘Let’s Go Away For A While’ gloriously summon isolation and sadness, the spirit of a lonely man seeking happiness through music.
It’s impossible not to grin at his enthusiastic between-song outbursts (“My band are so good!”) and a closing sequence of non-‘Pet Sounds’ hits including a magnificent ‘Don’t Worry Baby’, ‘I Get Around’ and ‘Fun, Fun Fun’ might be the most uplifting 45 minutes of the weekend. But despite the evening sun shining as it surely did when Wilson worked on these songs in Hollywood, ‘Pet Sounds” loneliness coupled with his forlorn appearance make it all a little hard to swallow. This is rumoured to be his last tour, and even though this appearance brings so much happiness, the tinge of melancholy is inescapable.
A couple of hours later, PJ Harvey‘s band line up along the lip of the same stage and completely transform the atmosphere. It’s time for Primavera to get dark and ominous. Toting the saxophone that characterises her latest and first chart-topping album ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’, Polly Jean Harvey is mesmerising. She’s up there for nearly 90 minutes, fingers twirling, sax swinging, black dress fluttering. Her voice submerges this corner of the festival, particularly during a slithering version of the title-track from 2011’s ‘Let England Shake’.
The 17 songs the band play feel more like a suite than a set, from the pounding drums of ‘Chain Of Keys’, through the spike and punch of the 23-year-old ’50 Ft Queenie’ to the closing ‘River Anacostia’. The doomy, epic new album dominates, but older songs – including a sludgy ‘To Bring You My Love’ and ‘Down By The Water’ – are made to shift and coalesce accordingly. If Radiohead were watching, they’d have been worried as to whose comeback was best.
Away from the main stage, this edition of Primavera hurtles to a close as it seems to every year – smooth and loud. There’s Sheffield steel from Richard Hawley and his band – all burliness, Brylcreem and denim – whose greasy rock ‘n’ roll makes for an enjoyable contrast to the concrete, sun and sea surrounding them.
Speaking from somewhere under the brim of a huge beige safari hat, Deerhunter frontman wants everyone to know how much he loves two things: PJ Harvey and Primavera. In return, the glut of fans before him bay after each song of a set that – unlike their performance here in 2013 – is more groovy than trippy, a reflection of last year’s excellent ‘Fading Frontier’ album. Even though the older, blearier likes of ‘Revival’ and ‘Agoraphobia’ make everyone agreeably woozy, ‘Breaker’ and ‘Snakeskin’ pop hardest.
As Saturday turns into Sunday, Action Bronson arrives on the Primavera stage teaming velcro flip-flops and socks with his massive beard. He looks brilliant and when his feet flash up on the big screens, the cheers are as loud as those prompted by fierce a cappella ‘Never A Dull Moment’.
Before Barcelona local DJ Coco’s traditional closing set ekes out our every last drop of serotonin, Parquet Courts are out to start a brawl by the Pitchfork stage. The setlist demonstrates the muscle of this year’s ‘Human Performance’ (‘Berlin Got Blurry’ and ‘Dust’ thwack and clatter joyously), but the breakneck transition from opener ‘Master Of My Craft’ into ‘Borrowed Time’ from 2012’s ‘Light Up Gold’ can’t be beaten.
In a few hours the gates will close, the crowd will exit much, much slower than it entered and Brian Wilson’s evening kick-off will feel a long way in the distance. It’s always painful when the music stops at Primavera.