Tyler, The Creator at Primavera: astroturf hills, big pyro and a new sense of contentment

He's come a long way since Odd Future's first visit

Photography by Clara Orozco

Blame it on age-associated memory impairment or on the altered state I was inevitably in at the time, but I don’t have many memories of Primavera Sound 2011. Sufjan performing Age Of Adz in giant angel wings. Animal Collective’s ‘My Girls’ sounding glorious at sunset. The pioneering electronic pre-payment system that tanked so spectacularly. What I do remember vividly is Odd Future’s brilliantly scrappy set in the shadow of the site’s imposing solar panels, culminating in a stage invasion in which half the site seemed to be involved.

Suffice to say a lot has changed since then, with Primavera Sound now hosting an estimated 400,000 people on-site per weekend versus 140,000 people in 2011, and former Odd Future enfant terrible Tyler, The Creator now carrying the kind of cultural clout he can comfortably headline the festival on consecutive weekends. It helps, of course, that the 31-year-old rapper is no longer the out-and-out provocateur he one was. Indeed, that youthful nihilism has all-but disappeared in recent years, replaced by glimpses of real vulnerability on his last three LPs, Flower Boy, IGOR and Call Me If You Get Lost. But if his second swing at Primavera proves anything, it’s that Tyler is still anything but a safe or uninspiring choice.

Bringing his record-breaking Call Me If You Get Lost tour to Barcelona, tonight’s spectacular staging features an astro-turfed hill centre stage, brushy shrubs shooting up from the monitors, a plethora of pyrotechnics, and a giant video screen displaying a succession of hyperreal, often mountainous vistas that wouldn’t look amiss in a Wes Anderson movie. Tyler, meanwhile, bobs and weaves around the stage, dressed as dandyish alter-ego Tyler Baudelaire in his white fur trapper hat and pale lemon puffa.

The vast majority of the set is pulled from that record, with the album’s fluid, mixtape-feel replicated via seamless transitions between songs. An eclectic mix of jazz, funk, serrated electro, and shapeshifting freestyles, it’s not an album packed with obvious crowd pleasers, but the likes of ‘Lumberjack’ and ‘Wusyaname’ are greeted like greatest hits.

It’s the emotional moments that really shine tonight. Flower Boy single ‘Boredom’ feels weirdly beatific, prompting the entire audience to bellow back Rex Orange County’s chorus. Similarly ‘Earfquake’s “Don’t leave, it’s my fault” refrain makes for a beautiful moment of mass catharsis. There are odd glimpses of that old insurrectionary spirit too: a burst of breakout single ‘Yonkers’ – which sees him supine at the foot of the hill, spitting bars at the sky – and an incendiary blast through ‘Who Dat Boy?’, which comes complete with serial killer strings and a barrage of fireballs. Mostly though, Tyler’s content to bask in soulful grooves, and as the first day of weekend two draws to a close, so are we. 

Sure, it might have been a lot less incendiary than Tyler’s performance with Odd Future in 2011, but tonight’s spectacular production feels every bit as memorable. Just ask me about it in 11 years’ time.