Music review: Primal Scream

Like one of their inspirations, the Rolling Stones, Primal Scream have been a band blessed with the most unlikely longevity. A full 34 years after Bobby Gillespie and Jim Beattie founded the group in Glasgow, they've proven to be a resilient and chameleonic presence, having recently released their 11th (and probably worst-titled) studio record, Chaosmosis. It's not their ability to keep going in the face of a debauched history and various line-up tweaks that defines them, however, but their genuine and continuing vitality.
Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 21 November 2016  PIC: Calum BuchanBobby Gillespie of Primal Scream at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 21 November 2016  PIC: Calum Buchan
Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 21 November 2016 PIC: Calum Buchan

Primal Scream 4stars

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Playing the first of a week’s worth of Scottish dates, they at once offered a solid greatest hits set and something altogether more invigorating. Their refusal to call it a day is best embodied by the taciturn Gillespie himself, 54 years-old and clearly temperamentally unsuited to any job bar rock star. He makes a flared red trouser suit look unnaturally good for a guy of his age, performing against a backdrop of neon pipes, and the most striking difference about Primal Scream in 2016 is their separation from the old macho rock clichés they’ve revelled in before.

Gillespie looks like a disco dancing champion and sings midway between a barroom rocker and a choirboy; the ever-stylish Simone Butler is both a fierce bassist (she replaced the long-serving Mani when he returned to the Stone Roses) and the Scream’s first female member; and the new music is lighter than any they’ve played in years. These songs included the synthesiser disco of recent single Feeling Like a Demon Again and the baggy-era psych-indie of Trippin’ On Your Love. Classics from 1991’s upbeat and feel-good Screamadelica included Movin’ On Up, Loaded and the cathartic closer Come Together.

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Yet they’re a group who haven’t just survived, but tried to push themselves further while doing so. Buoyed by the musicianship of the long-serving band – guitarist Andrew Innes, keyboard player Martin Duffy and drummer Darrin Mooney – they also explored tracks from 2000’s dark and political XTRMNTR album, including Swastika Eyes and Kill All Hippies, through to the big, bona fide pop hits Rocks and Country Girl. No-one onstage was just a musician going through the motions, a jobbing timeserver in their chosen career, and it paid off in the finished show. They have been criticised in the past for raiding the catalogue of rock music sounds and styles, but it’s a legacy the entire band clearly lives and breathes, and seeks to channel.

*Primal Scream play the Grand Hall, Kilmarnock, 25 November and the Alhambra, Dunfermline, 26 November.