Primal Scream, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Not quite a roof-raiser, but the band are on evil heat

By Steve Jelbert
Thursday 26 December 2013 02:55

In nearly two decades of his performing, we haven't previously seen Bobby Gillespie looking like this. Appearing on stage wearing a white sports jacket over jeans, he might, perhaps, be aiming at the slept-in look of Neil Young circa Tonight's the Night, the sort of rock touchstone that Primal Scream so affectionately cling to. But as the singer, well, sashays across the stage to the thundering opener, new single "Miss Lucifer", arms swinging in an uncharacteristically co-ordinated manner, one can't help but think of, ulp, Bryan Ferry.

Not that the Scream have gone all lounge lizard on us yet. Their seemingly indestructable reputation as the UK's finest live act has been sustained through numerous line-up changes, notably the addition in the last two years of the scientific (third guitarist Kevin Shields, the sonic extremist behind My Bloody Valentine) and the emotional (the irrepressible Mani, the bass heartbeat of the Stone Roses). Their last album, the fabulously abrasive XTRMNTR, saw their critical and commercial stock rise to a new level, and hopes for their next release, Evil Heat, are just as high.

It's a great record, too, wildly imaginative and yet oddly reassuring, as the influence of the new members makes itself apparent, notably in some dramatic mixing by Shields. None the less, kicking off the set with three tracks that are as yet unavailable is something of a risk. "Rise" (played at an Astoria gig last year under the title "Bomb the Pentagon", before 11 September) is a doomy but effective piece, influenced by Joy Division, while "City" – a reworking of "Sick City", a track that appeared on a David Holmes album – is traditional, lowlife Scream rock'n'roll fare.

They're followed by cracking versions of "Shoot Speed Kill Light" and a boogiefied "Burning Wheel". And if the mood droops with the new "Autobahn 66", which so far lacks the fragile grace of its recorded counterpart, "Medication" and a pounding "Swastika Eyes" manage to raise it up again.

It's easy from then on. "Rocks" turns the place into a school disco, while Jim Reid, formerly of the Jesus and Mary Chain, appears for encores of the new "Detroit" (a timely title, though the Scream's obsession with the city's scene goes back years) and Johnny Thunders' "Born to Lose". Finishing on a high with the fearsome "Skull X", a rewrite of the Velvet Underground's "Foggy Notion", their job is done.

To be honest, they've played better shows. Their best nights are small-hours celebrations, something never likely to occur at a venue best suited to filming, where much of the sound disappears into the ether. The set seemed to sag in the middle, too, with the crowd twitching during the unfamiliar "The Lord is My Shotgun".

Yet this current line-up is perhaps their best yet. Shields's deceptively languid guitar style stirs up a sound like that of a million bees attacking, while the band are tighter than ever. This was good, but probably a warm-up for great things to come.

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