Report: Primal Scream, Brisbane 2012

Primal Scream
The Tivoli, Brisbane
Monday 3 December 2012

In a word: loud. Forgive me for starting at the end, but it’s all I can think about right now.

The last thing we heard from Primal Scream tonight—the band's first show of a five-date Australian tour that includes this weekend's Meredith Festival—was five minutes of looped instruments and vocals cranked up way beyond anything resembling a sane volume. A wash of unintelligible white noise, essentially, which—combined with incessant strobe lights—has the unique effect of inducing both awe and nausea. Leaving the venue after the loop is finally, mercifully sped up and cut off, it feels like my hearing has been sliced in half. It’d be funny if it weren’t so serious; there’s not much comedy in tinnitus. It’s the deafest I’ve ever been after a show, and that includes witnessing My Bloody Valentine three nights in a row, as well as seeing this band in the same room nearly four years ago. If I’m this damaged even with plugs shoved deep into my ears, I don’t envy those without.

It says a lot about the quality of the preceding two hours, though, that during that final wash of sound, a handful of people are still dancing to the ‘beat’, such as it is. There’s a strong argument to be made that Primal Scream are the complete package as far as modern rock bands are concerned. With a remarkable back catalogue of quality tracks spanning at least half a dozen genres, there aren’t many acts who can match them on a good night. Fortunately, this evening is one of those --  a masterclass in musicianship and performance; an audio-visual assault that relies on little more than strobe lights and fearsome volume during key moments, yet packs just as much power as Radiohead’s wall of interlocking screens, or maybe—just maybe—U2’s giant, 360° ‘Claw’.

The intimacy of the Tivoli crowd helps, here. The band probably aren’t stoked to be playing to a half-full room; the 400 or so in attendance would barely fill smaller venue The Zoo. But these concerns disappear quickly once the Scottish six-piece lock into a well-balanced set that contains more than enough classics to satiate the fans, with enough new material peppered throughout to keep the band interested. Sixteen tracks by my count; three of them unreleased, including effective set opener ‘2012’. Their 1991 classic Screamadelica features prominently: they air a fantastic version of ‘Loaded’ during the five-song encore, seamlessly transitioning from ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’. It’s an equal set highlight, alongside ‘Shoot Speed/Kill Light’ from 2000’s XTRMNTR. Frontman Bobby Gillespie dedicates ‘Accelerator’ to Brisbane punk rock legends The Saints -- it’s the first time that the guitars are pushed high in the mix, where they stay for the remainder.

The band end with ‘Jailbird’ and ‘Rocks’, two songs that they could surely play in their sleep, yet neither feels rushed or rote. Besides writing compelling new material—something Primal Scream has struggled with in recent years—this is arguably the hardest part of remaining vital after more than 25 years in existence: making old tunes sound fresh. It's not a worry as it happens: their electronica-inspired tunes sitting comfortably amid acid house, pop and straight rock-and-roll. The band’s sheer versatility their best asset.

Though they haven’t always hit the target with their experiments, tonight Primal Scream’s aim is true. It’s an inspiring performance that’s probably worth the ringing ears and potential hearing loss. Probably.

Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok)
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