Primal Scream, Apollo, Hammersmith, London

Gillespie's rock'n'roll triumph
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The Independent Culture

It's no secret that Bobby Gillespie's mind is addled with rock'n'roll history. Obviously, then, the significance of the venue he's playing in tonight is not going to be lost on the straggly, laser-eyed Primal Scream front man. "Ziggy played guitar," he croons by way of greeting (in his Mark E Smith slur, though, it's more "gitahhhh"), as a reminder that this is where David Bowie put his Ziggy Stardust alter ego to bed just over 30 years ago. The question is, then, could one of British rock music's most reliably virile bands be about to make history themselves, by calling curtains on their career in the same spot?

Well, the signs are there. The release of singles collections recently signalled the end for two other great British groups, Pulp and Suede, and the Scream are touring on the back of their own retrospective, Dirty Hits. What's more, their latest single, a cover of Lee Hazlewood's "Some Velvet Morning" featuring Kate Moss on co-crooning duties, might be their weakest yet. They've kept ahead of the game since making the classic rock-on-MDMA Screamadelica album in 1991, but you have to wonder whether it's time for the Scream's considerable head of steam to finally dissipate.

So, how long does it take for them to nix any such nightmarish thoughts tonight? Oh, about a minute. They kick in hard and fast with the punk-ish "Accelerator" and the rapid-fire, electro-pop one-two of "Miss Lucifer", Gillespie's echo-laden exhortations to "Shake it, baby" on the latter met with much shaking, baby. By the fourth song, "Shoot Speed/Kill Light", with a lively looking Gillespie slapping front-row flesh, and the former Stone Roses bassist Mani Mounfield punching the air, it's clear that the band are on full throttle and then some. They're all 40-ish, sure, but alongside the White Stripes, they deliver as enthralling a re-assertion of rock fundamentals as any that you're likely to see live right now.

Initially eschewing an obvious run-through of hits, the set is largely focused on their career kick-starter from 2000, the wired and fractious Xtrmntr album, and its follow-up, 2002's under-rated Evil Heat. It's a similar set to the one they've been playing for the past three years, sure, but there's no way the band seem tired of the songs. The mantra-like "Rise" and garage-fired skit on "Suffragette City", "Sick City", are spat out with venom and vigour, Mani's bass making its chest-rattling presence firmly felt on the former. Thankfully, too, they've dropped "Pills" (Gillespie's unfortunate attempt at rapping) from the show and replaced it with the far better "Exterminator", in which fidgety electronica and brutal bass abuse coil snakily around Gillespie's protest-rock rants about "civil disobedience".

Taken on its own, Gillespie's fascination with the relationship of rock'n'roll to notions of outlaw cool seem a little dozy. In context, though, the sheer urgency of this gig vindicates him, particularly on the home stretch of a corrosive "Kowalski" and the Donna Summer-influenced electro tantrum of "Swastika Eyes". Mixed with banks of lights, a huge sound and a none-more-tight band, Gillespie's immersion in his performance packs a wallop. The sheer diversity of the set, too, amplifies the man's passion for rock music in all its capacity to agitate and excite. From the stealthy dub-psychedelia of Vanishing Point's "Burning Wheel", to the Stonesy lollop of "Jailbird" and the electro-funk rumble of Xtrmntr's "Kill All Hippies", the set bustles with more energy and ideas than most bands half the age of Primal Scream can muster.

By the time Screamadelica's rave-rock classics, "Movin on Up" and "Loaded", swagger into ear shot, they've pretty much pulled off a blinder. Band and audience put it all into partying like it's 1992, enough to make this feel more like a definitive, of-the-moment Scream gig than a nostalgia trip. As for what the future holds, they gave nothing away. For now, though, tonight played less like a rock'n'roll suicide than the finest show in town.