Music: Review: Primal Scream, O2 Academy
Bo Ningen are not only a force of nature but have a fiercely unique sound and are, indeed, a unique looking band. Between the four of them there’s more hair than Zep, Sabbath & Purple combined and they took to the stage wearing some kind of kimono man-dress robes and expressions that remained both inscrutable and focused throughout their set. They’ve developed a sound that really is quite special…all of their influences can be identified but at no time whatsoever did they sound derivative or like cheap plagiarists. They summoned up a vast monolith of sound, powerful but not ponderous; heavy riffing built over precision tooled hell for leather drumming (Monchan Monna, powerfully funky) and bubbling bass topped off with vocals that were, well, splendidly off the wall. Taigen Kawabe (purveyor of bass) is a singular vocalist, superb range but hardly a crooner – wailing, the odd yelp and full throated roar mean unconventional and decidedly non-Cowell friendly vocals, meant as a massive compliment. He’s a captivating presence too, often illustrating the lyrics with a crazy hand jives before returning to the bottom rattling bass.
The band’s style has been referred to as noise rock, but that’s somewhat disingenuous as surely all music is noise and besides which it’s clear that far from just “noise” the music is thoughtfully constructed and beautifully structured. The set started out a little shaky but as the band warmed up and responded to the crowd’s reaction the music built and grew in to an incredibly attractive melee. Both Yuki Tsujii and Kohhei Matsuda conjured up all manner of styles on guitar, classic fluid metal leads; so dumb it’s clever Stooges riffing and punk velocity; thrash riffs and tunes decorated with pedal treated leads that suggested an alternative universe where The Edge had grown up a Satanist rather than a god botherer. The uninitiated would have left without a chorus or melody ringing in their ears but anyone with an open mind would have left wanting more, this is pure music, 21st century shamanic grooves that were irresistible and inspired a pleasingly raucous response from the crowd.
The set climaxed with Tsujii wind-milling his guitar by its neck, Kawabe over the barrier and perched above the crowd whilst Monna pounded away along with Matsuda’s wall of noise. Tsujii finally dispensed with his guitar completely to “play” his lead, generating feedback as the set imploded. The crowd were suitably impressed and it has to be said this band deserves an audience, there are very few bands genuinely melding extreme music in such a user friendly blend of headbanging and raving and as such they deserve your support.
Returning for a third time this year (Six Music Festival and Massive Attack’s monsoon festival) Primal Scream opened with Moving on Up an uplifting tune on record elevated to a rapturous anthem live with the crowd taking the lead on the vocals from the opening verse. The Scream are on a powerful roll right now, their most recent LP Chaosmosis is the work of a revitalised band that has fallen back in love with making music and live they are on ferocious form. Their set on the Downs was marred by a piss weak sound but no such problem tonight – drums of mass destruction (Darrin Mooney); a guitar set to stun(ning) (Andrew Innes); keys and synths ranging from gospel to house, coupled with samples and weird shit (Martin Duffy) and as for the bass…fluid, melodic, forceful – anyone care to dispute a proposition that Simone Butler is the best four string slinger to have graced the ranks of the Scream?
Of course the Scream are one of those bands that are defined in many ways by one person, so much like Lynott defined Lizzy and Lemmy defined Motörhead, Bobby Gillespie is the heart and soul of Primal Scream. There are more gifted & technically adept singers; there are plenty who have a more dynamic stage presence or who work the crowd with more bonhomie but not one of them could front Primal Scream. He embodies the spirit of the band and is in a class of his own, lost in the music every gig and inhabiting his tunes with the spirit of plenty of other unconventional yet iconic frontmen.
In the past there has been praise for the Scream when they push the boundaries with art-rock-dance-noise mashups, but there’s been equal amounts of criticism for the band’s forays in to more traditional rock music, especially the tunes that (in the eyes of the critics) ape the Stones at their most derivative, decadent & sleazy. This condemnation has never chimed with the public however, as many of the derided tunes are incredibly popular with the fans. (I’m Gonna) Cry Myself Blind was not only a welcome break in pace but elicited an outpouring of misty eyed singing in the crowd. Meanwhile Country Girl (retitled West Country Girl by Gillespie this night) is a decent studio cut, but live it was transformed into a stomping pogotastic juggernaut of a beast that came to stomp our city in to the dust. Likewise Jailbird is another transformed tune, the crowd jiving and singing as Innes sprayed jagged guitar all over the room.
Whilst the rockier tunes got the punters moving and grooving, the band really ramped up the vibe with the dance numbers. Swastika Eyes was absolutely relentless the crowd pounded not in to submission but in to a dancing frenzy; (Feeling Like a) Demon Again was less frantic but every bit as danceable whilst 100% or Nothing matched it as a joyful sing-a-long dance number par excellence. Meanwhile Shoot Speed / Kill Light and Accelerator were nasty industrialised disco songs and by contrast Trippin’ on Your Love was frankly heavenly with a euphoric Bollywood vibe and gorgeous wah-wah guitar splashed over the tune. These numbers really show Primal Scream at their best, glorious grooving tunes with incendiary guitar, a genuinely sympathetic merging of rock and dance music.
Screamadelica was represented again mid-set with the less obvious choice of Higher Than the Sun, Gillespie’s reference to it as a drug song greeted with knowing cheers by the crowd and its trippy pace and trippy light show induced much skanking and rocksteady grooving. The encore was never in doubt but didn’t happen quickly, no problem for the crowd who kept the noise levels up and then managed to find more volume as a trippy Come Together was lifted by the probably the biggest audience vocal of the night, a cappella for several choruses before the final song of the night. Of course it was Rocks, a storming swaggering version that induced one final free-for-all in the crowd as the band drove the song in to the red, matched by the dancing, singing crowd anxious not to let the night end without one final frenzied freak out.
Primal Scream have come in for some unfair criticism since Screamadelica, accusations of a lack of consistency, of treading water whilst trading on the legacy of said LP and their (alleged) glory years but their current live form – coupled with Chaosmosis – put that criticism to the sword. This was a band in its prime – powerful, engaged with their music and engaged with their crowd, enjoying the show and showing off their chops during a dynamic, crowd pleasingly eclectic set. The criticisms say more about the naysayers’ expectations of the band than the fans’ expectations of a Scream show or album. Many of the band’s peers are now defunct, touring greatest hits or ploughing the same old musical furrows but Gillespie and co are still pushing the boundaries and confounding expectations. Best rock band in the UK right now? I wouldn’t bet against ‘em.
All pix John Morgan