Live Music + Gig Reviews

Primal Scream @ Brixton Academy

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 noordinary band. Their seven-album career has taken them through baggy todance to rock and back to what they do best, blending aggressive rock withtechno. Their Brixton Academy show, packed with a stylish crowd donningmilitary get-up a la Marc Jacobs, demonstrated that Primal Scream havereturned to the cutting edge of cool.

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

Despite his fashion connections, Gillespie is something of anaccidental fashion icon. A startling number of audience members weresporting Bobby-esque hairdos yet the man’s pencil-thin frame looked like itwas clothed in the same black outfit that he’d been wearing all week. Forsomeone with such a skinny physique he can still manage to command hugepresence against the vast and ornate surroundings of the Academy. Andalthough he gave a slightly more animated performance than is usuallywitnessed from him, he still had that natural ‘don’t give a fuck’ aura whichis why he’s so intensely watchable. Rarely letting go of the microphonehe’d often bend over like an abandoned puppet, creating a striking tableauagainst the beams of yellow light that would make the perfect rockphotograph. His political chants in between songs suggested that he hasn’tmellowed by fatherhood and serve as a reminder that Primal Scream are oneof the few bands to carry an air of unpredictability about them while remainingtruly rock’n’roll.

Although few would cite Gillespie as the world’s bestsinger, he gives an impassioned and distinctive performance, and hisversatility is overlooked. From the falsetto in Kill all Hippies to theaggressiveness of Pills, or the sinister whispering in Miss Lucifer throughto the mesmerising trippiness of Higher than the Sun, Gillespie’s vocalsare as integral to the atmosphere of the music as Mani’s thumping basslinesor the trademark loops.

Most of the material performed was from the last two albums, Evil Heat andExtermin8r – and indeed it was this stuff which sounded the most exciting,demonstrating that there’s plenty mileage to be had from a band whosefrontman is old enough to be the father of some of his fans. Stand-outtracks included the latest single Autobahn 66, Rise, which was originallytitled Bomb the Pentagon, and City, all from Evil Heat. This is an albumthat should be heard live.

The same could be said of Extermin8r, whichcritics didn’t quite know what to make when it was first released. It’ssound was more aggressive and less accessible than its acclaimedpredecessor Vanishing Point, yet hearing it performed live it suddenlymakes sense.

Although the latter material shone, the encore demonstrated that the earlystuff still sounds fresh. Judging by the average age of the crowd, most hadbeen loyal to the band since the seminal Screamadelica and they won’t havebeen disappointed with the renditions of Higher than the Sun and Movin’ onUp. Loaded, which has tragically been turned into a stalwart of studentdiscos, was absent, but not at all missed. Rocks was one of the few songs to get anairing from the bluesy rock album Give Out But Don’t Give Up, which couldhave easily been subtitled “A Tribute to the Rolling Stones”. But onceagain this material would have been out of place demonstrating the sheerbreadth and diversity of the band.

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

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