We nearly had as much fun as Pavement did during their Primavera set last night

Aren't bands like this meant to look like they're hating every second of hanging out again?

Photos by Clara Orozco

Pavement are back! OK, they look a little different, with Stephen Malkmus’ lanky, buttoned-down frame contrasting with the more casual appearance of the rest of the band, giving off the impression that you’re watching a supply teacher jamming with a bunch of hockey dads, but this is the most comfortable the ’90s cult indie rockers have looked in three decades, and the band and crowd bask in an ultimate “good vibes only” set.

So far, Primavera has gotten off to a bang. In the short time we’ve spent at the festival pretty much every act we manage to catch is going all out to deliver the most audacious, bombastic show possible. Whether it’s been Shygirl’s set of head-nodding club bangers or Les Savy Fav’s Tim Harrington climbing the frame of the stage like a white-suited superhero, it feels like everyone is reaching deep into their locker to dazzle and impress. So it’s a bit of a change of pace to see Pavement shuffle on stage almost apologetically. A simple, stripped-down set-up, that sees the band perform in front of a simple backdrop of discarded photographs and with the addition of keyboard player Rebecca Cole to add a bit of textural heft, they manage to shrink the massive main arena into something that feels like an intimate, homecoming club show.

Straight out of the gate the band warm up the crowd with some heavy hitters. Opening the show with a back to back salvo of  ‘Frontwards’, ‘Silence Kid’ and ‘Gold Soundz’, the crowd greet the playful guitar licks that introduce each number like long-lost friends, whooping with delighted recognition and singing along like former teammates reminiscing about their glory days. It’s a nice touch, everyone gets their time to shine. Bassist Mark Ibold patrols the centre of the stage with a face furrowed in passion and Scott Kannberg delivers a high point of the show. Hoiking a towel around his neck across the stage and clutching his guitar close, he delivers a heart-wrenching rendition of ‘Kennel District’ that drips with pathos. The final refrains of “why didn’t I ask?” are roared out with a mixture of stoicism and regret, and deliver the first really touching moment of the festival.

Bob Nastanovich, in particular, looks as if he’s having a great time. To be fair, as  Pavement’s in-house percussionist, hype man and relief lead singer, it’s kind of his job to get the crowd worked up, but tonight he bounds about like a man on a mission. From the first song, he injects a feverish level of energy, skipping across the stage with a tambourine and grabbing Malkmus in a warm embrace, but he grows into it as the show goes on. His big moment comes when the band transitions from crowd pleaser ‘Cut Your Hair’, through a rare performance of ‘Zurich Is Stained’ and into a spiky version of ‘Two States’. Nastanovich is like a man possessed, leaping down to the front row to hand a tiny tambourine to a girl clutching the railings and leading the assembled masses in screaming “forty million daggers!” into the misty Barcelona night.

After a solid 90 minutes, the band finish their set by wheeling out the big guns. The slightly surreal experience of watching the kids sway their hips to the undiscovered B-side turned TikTok sensation ‘Harness Your Hopes’ is followed by ‘Stereo’, ‘Folk Jam’, ‘Shady Lane’ and ‘Range Life’ in rapid-fire succession. From there, Pavement slowly spin down to the end, with in a wistful take on ‘Major Leagues’ and a version of ‘Summer Babe’ that strays into full lighters in the air territory. With our time coming to an end, Malkmus finally gets round to introducing the band, which leads into a wonderful, almost ad-libbed cover of Jim Pepper’s ‘Witchi Tai-to’. “Water spirit feelin’, springing round my head / Makes me glad that I’m not dead”; it’s a lovely, subdued and genuinely emotional climax to an evening spent with old friends.