Live Music + Gig Reviews

Primal Scream @ South Facing, Crystal Palace Bowl, London

4 August 2023

Scottish indie travellers deliver their uplifting hits with raucous abandon alongside support from The Jesus And Mary Chain

Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream

Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream (Photo: Sam Christmas/PR)

Friday night is rock night in the series of long weekend concerts making up the South Facing festival at Crystal Palace Bowl this summer. Following on from the Mancunian double act of Noel Gallagher and Johnny Marr the previous week is another celebration of British indie rock rooted in the ’80s and ’90s, but this time with a Scottish flavour: Primal Scream supported by fellow travellers The Jesus And Mary Chain. As well as their mutual love of psychedelic garage rock, in the early ’80s the two bands not only shared a manager (Alan McGee) and record label (Creation) but a band member – Primal Scream’s singer Bobby Gillespie also once playing drums for The Jesus And Mary Chain.

Indie darlings The Jesus And Mary Chain were notorious for their combustible live shows in the ’80s. But the aggression and even violence that surrounded them is long gone now as the band – headed by the Reid brothers Jim (singer) and William (guitarist), now in their early ’60s – get a warm reception from a relaxed crowd, including many of a similar age. The sibling rivalry that led to the older William walking off stage during a 1998 gig when Jim was drunk – effectively breaking up the band until they reunited in 2007 – has seemingly faded with age. It has to be said however that their static performance does lack a bit of edge.

Their 75-minute set features songs from all seven of their albums – including three from their most recent, 2017’s underwhelming Damage And Joy. They kick off with a couple of tracks from the most-represented album Automatic, the menacing post-punk Blues From A Gun and more melodic, Ramones-influenced Head On. The psyched-up Some Candy Talking meanwhile is the band at their most Velvet Underground-like. Three duets with Isobel Campbell – including a softly yearning account of Just Like Honey from debut album Psychocandy – offer some variety in a rather samey, downbeat show that ends with Jim wailing “I wanna die just like Jesus Christ” in Reverence before an abrupt exit.

Of course The Jesus And Mary Chain have self-consciously never set out to “entertain” audiences – if people don’t like their cool, feedback-drenched, noise pop/shoegazing sound they don’t care. But – despite some dynamic energy from former Elastica drummer Justin Welch – there is a feeling of disinterested lack of commitment here with little effort to reach out to a big, receptive crowd. An open-air concert on a light – albeit not particularly warm – August evening is not their forte – a smaller, darker indoor venue suits them better.

There is a huge contrast in movement and colour when Primal Scream bound on for their uplifting, chameleon-like 90-minute set that showcases range of musical influences, from blues-rock and rocktronica to dub and industrial. They are fronted of course by the irrepressible lone original survivor Gillespie, who may not dance so energetically now but moves as sinuously as ever, tirelessly working the stage as he gets the crowd involved in hand-clapping and singing along.

The ever-evolving band includes the long-term guitarist Andrew Innes and drummer Darrin Mooney, and the more recent Simone Butler on bass, plus Terry Miles on keyboards in place of Martin Duffy who sadly died last December. They are boosted by the presence of Fat White Family’s virtuoso Alex White on saxophone (and also flute!) and a harmonious five-person gospel choir dressed in all white.

The latter’s soaring vocals make a major impact in the rapturously received opening number, described as a “gospel song” by Gillespie: Movin’ On Up from the band’s breakthrough, decade-defining 1991 album Screamadelica. Emblazoned on the screen is the famous brightly coloured sunburst cover image, which also adorns the T-shirts of many in the crowd. But this show is by no means all about the hits – there are a number of lesser-known tracks that display Primal Scream’s willingness to diversify, such as the off-kilter jazz-rock Sideman and the mystical, droning Deep Hit Of The Morning, a lovely soulful performance of Big Jet Plane, and the samba-grooved It’s Alright, It’s Okay (with the crowd joining in with the ‘ooh-la-la’).

Come Together does exactly that as the gospel singing rises to a crescendo then Gillespie encourages the crowd to sing the chorus unaccompanied, while on-screen multi-coloured concentric circles beam out from the eye at the centre. Jailbird (from the retro-rock Give Out But Don’t Give Up) is belted out, while the irresistible grooves of Loaded echo The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil with an acid-house twist. Primal Scream’s biggest hit single Country Girl is delivered with raucous abandon, then everyone sings along to the up-tempo, raunchy Rocks as the stage blazes with red light to end the evening on a high.

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