Live Music + Gig Reviews

Primal Scream @ Brixton Academy, London

7 December 2002

Few bands can get London’s fashionista dancing to the lines “parasitic, syphilitic” (Swastika Eyes) on a Saturday night, but Primal Scream are no ordinary band. Their seven-album career has taken them through baggy to dance to rock and back to what they do best, blending aggressive rock with techno. Their Brixton Academy show, packed with a stylish crowd donning military get-up a la Marc Jacobs, demonstrated that Primal Scream have returned to the cutting edge of cool.

The band’s coolness might partly be attributed to their associates (lead singer Bobby Gillespie’s partner is Alexander McQueen’s right-hand woman Katy England and Kate Moss guested on Evil Heat), but is more likely to be down to the music. Primal Scream understand the importance of reinvention and continue to break boundaries with their music after more than 10 years in the business. This was very much in evidence at Brixton, making for an edgy and exciting live show.

Despite his fashion connections, Gillespie is something of an accidental fashion icon. A startling number of audience members were sporting Bobby-esque hairdos yet the man’s pencil-thin frame looked like it was clothed in the same black outfit that he’d been wearing all week. For someone with such a skinny physique he can still manage to command huge presence against the vast and ornate surroundings of the Academy. And although he gave a slightly more animated performance than is usually witnessed from him, he still had that natural ‘don’t give a fuck’ aura which is why he’s so intensely watchable. Rarely letting go of the microphone he’d often bend over like an abandoned puppet, creating a striking tableau against the beams of yellow light that would make the perfect rock photograph. His political chants in between songs suggested that he hasn’t mellowed by fatherhood and serve as a reminder that Primal Scream are one of the few bands to carry an air of unpredictability about them while remaining truly rock’n’roll.

Although few would cite Gillespie as the world’s best singer, he gives an impassioned and distinctive performance, and his versatility is overlooked. From the falsetto in Kill all Hippies to the aggressiveness of Pills, or the sinister whispering in Miss Lucifer through to the mesmerising trippiness of Higher than the Sun, Gillespie’s vocals are as integral to the atmosphere of the music as Mani’s thumping basslines or the trademark loops.

Most of the material performed was from the last two albums, Evil Heat and Extermin8r – and indeed it was this stuff which sounded the most exciting, demonstrating that there’s plenty mileage to be had from a band whose frontman is old enough to be the father of some of his fans. Stand-out tracks included the latest single Autobahn 66, Rise, which was originally titled Bomb the Pentagon, and City, all from Evil Heat. This is an album that should be heard live.

The same could be said of Extermin8r, which critics didn’t quite know what to make when it was first released. Its sound was more aggressive and less accessible than its acclaimed predecessor Vanishing Point, yet hearing it performed live it suddenly makes sense.

Although the latter material shone, the encore demonstrated that the early stuff still sounds fresh. Judging by the average age of the crowd, most had been loyal to the band since the seminal Screamadelica and they won’t have been disappointed with the renditions of Higher than the Sun and Movin’ On Up. Loaded, which has tragically been turned into a stalwart of student discos, was absent, but not at all missed. Rocks was one of the few songs to get an airing from the bluesy rock album Give Out But Don’t Give Up, which could have easily been subtitled “A Tribute to the Rolling Stones”. But once again this material would have been out of place demonstrating the sheer breadth and diversity of the band.

It is difficult to pick out highlights and even more so to find flaws with a gig that was a pure adrenalin rush from start to finish. With their genre-defying sound this gig confirmed that Primal Scream are one of the most forward-thinking bands to emerge from Britain. If there’s a musical hall of fame for originality, innovation, excitement and plain old longevity then Primal Scream deserve to be a permanent fixture.

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