Primal Scream have long held firm to the belief that the past is a hostile foreign country, much of it best left unvisited. It’s a condition that extends, for the most part, to their first two albums. Rarely – if ever – do they perform any of those tracks live, while 2004’s Dirty Hits compilation did a very good job of pretending nothing existed prior to the band’s self-declared Year Zero: Screamdelica. But it’s a strange policy, really. After all, without that self-titled second album – in particular the ballad “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have” – Screamadelica arguably wouldn’t exist, and we wouldn’t be here tonight.
But here we are, in the cavernous Olympia hall, on a freezing November night, celebrating the album’s – er – 19th anniversary. Most people are still sensibly wearing overcoats – Sienna Miller aside, who has clearly put fashion ahead of practicality by favouring a haltertop – when the band take the stage for the first of tonight’s two sets, an 8-song romp through their post-Screamadelica catalogue. Starting with “Accelerator” and finishing with “Rocks”, it consists of what Bobby Gillespie is prone to describe in interviews as “high energy rock’n’roll”. Despite the critical shellacking sporadically dished out to the band records, Primal Scream have always been tremendous live. “Jailbird”, “Shoot Speed Kill Light”, “Swastika Eyes” are ferocious, while what might not always work on record (take a bow “Country Girl” and “Suicide Bomb”) just sounds a whole lot better when belted out at full volume. Even in a sub-zero exhibition hall.
I have a couple of abiding memories of seeing Primal Scream around the time of Screamadelica. There was a show at Hammersmith Palais and a murky all-nighter at Brixton Academy, with Andrew Weatherall – the record’s co-architect – DJing at both, a role he returns to tonight. As one of the key figures in Acid House, Weatherall’s own trajectory has often proved as fascinating and contrary as Primal Scream’s. Unlike peers Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling, Weatherall’s never chased commercial glory, preferring instead to tinker around with a number of different and arguably more satisfying endeavours – the chugging dub of Sabres Of Paradise, the minimalist explorations of techno and electro in Two Lone Swordsman, or more recently producing electronic noise duo Fuck Buttons. So it’s something of a treat to find Weatherall tonight dusting down the records that inspired Screamadelica, from The Undisputed Truth’s psych-soul version of “Ball Of Confusion” to Chairman Of The Board’s “Life And Death”.
The hall is full – and, thankfully, significantly warmer – by the time the band return for Screamadelica. The idea of revisiting an album in its entirety is part of the cultural fabric now, regularly practised by everyone from Lou Reed to the Wedding Present. What makes this arguably so special is the thematic and sonic palette that runs through the record, so pleasingly consistent and perfect for this kind of event. It’s cute, too, that there’s a handful of tracks from the record – “Damaged”, “I’m Comin’ Down”, “Shine Like Stars” and “Inner Flight”, lysergic ballads all – that have never been played live before. They’re grouped together – an ambient interlude, if you like – after a rousing opening salvo of “Movin’ On Up,” “Slip Inside This House” and “Don’t Fight It Feel It”, with session singer Mary Pearce replicating Denise Johnson’s tremendous soul diva vocals from the original.
The band, inevitably, look tiny up there on such a big stage. Much of our attention is drawn to the backing screens behind and to the side of the band that runs through numerous iterations of Paul Cannell’s Screamadelica logo, each bleeding gloopily into the next in an old warehouse rave stlye. What we can’t see of the band, though, doesn’t detract from the noise they whip up. Mani’s discoid bass on “Don’t Fight It Feel It”, particularly, throbs loudly through the hall, and Andrew Innes’ psychedelic guitar on “Slip Inside This House” is thrillingly unsettling. Even the cluster of downtempo numbers still expand gracefully outwards beautifully to fill this space.
So what’s left, then? To close, we get “Higher Than The Sun”, “Loaded” and “Come Together”; jaw-dropping stuff. “Higher Than The Sun” – never previously known for its hard-rockin’ qualities – morphs from its beatless ambient splendour into a mammoth 10-minute psych-rock space jam. On “Loaded”, Gillespie is particularly affecting, shouting “Don’t wanna lose your love” over and over as he bounces around the stage. Admittedly, I’ve seen better versions of the song live – a particularly memorable one was in Glasgow around 1999, when Kevin Shields was in the touring line-up, that went on for 15 minutes – but none where Gillespie was so engaged. To finish, a spectacular version of “Come Together” that seems to go on and on. It’s incredible stuff, and I look forward to seeing these shows again next March, when the band take Screamadelica back out on the road.