Not Just the Ticket — #35, Primal Scream, March 7 1992

Primal Scream, Palladium

Then-current album: Screamadelica

Opening band: …don’t think there was one.

Back of ticket ad: 97.1 KLSX, the Classic Rock Station! Which would have made more sense had this been a show from three years later.

I admit I’m starting to be as tired of the color scheme of this run of tickets as I was of the earlier one. Still, there’s something…soothing about the pastels.

Meanwhile, the all over the place show by the all over the place band. I’m sure they would have it no other way.

Weird band, Primal Scream, more in retrospect than anything else. Bobby Gillespie is someone I honestly can’t quite figure out — I don’t think he’s a genius but he’s no slouch either, and if he is as perfect a specimen of record-collector/cultural-recombination rock as anything else, it’s in a way that always feels…off. He’s clearly trying to be the guiding force/focal point of a large organization that keeps mutating a bit, like he really wants to be George Clinton or James Brown — hell, Mark E. Smith — but will never actually be that person, not even close. Yet here it is almost twenty-five years on from the first Primal Scream releases and he’s still around (and the band’s working on a new album), and I’ve seen the band a number of times now over the years, slightly to my surprise, and there are a clutch of songs I’ll always enjoy. He manages aural comfort food brilliantly at his best — it’s stuff you all pretty well already know but he dresses it up nicely with the help of everyone pitching in on the music and then all he has to worry about is singing lyrics that are all random signifiers. Figures.

Still, for a while there — if you were young and impressionable and not quite aware of what he’d already done beyond knowing he was in the Jesus and Mary Chain once, a description that summed me up nicely at the time — he seemed to be some sort of avatar of the future, if only because he was apparently loving the present, at least in a UK context. When I first heard “Loaded” in 1990, I didn’t know a damn thing about his earlier releases and the trebly garage rock love and the paisley and the leather trousers and whatever. Didn’t even know that was him on the back of the single that was eventually released over here with that and “Come Together” and a few other songs and remixes kicking around, certainly didn’t realize that was him singing for a grand total of two seconds on “Loaded.” “Loaded” was its own universe, “Loaded” was something else.

Which of course was Andy Weatherall. The lesson of Primal Scream and the eventual release of Screamadelica was hardly a new one for me by this time, but it was one of the first conscious examples of it that I had been aware of — and that lesson was that it was less about the band or musician and what they sung and performed, but how the end result was eventually put out there, or what someone did with that end product, that mattered. Remixes, edits, airplay versions, all had been something I hadn’t merely noticed but by default had grown up on and with, being a member of a populace that encountered music in this fashion without being aware I was, unless I ended up with an album or a single or whatever and noticed that something was different somehow. In this case, something was, contextually, more radical — the remix was the song, the original song “I’m Losing More Than I Ever Had” a mere curio and irrelevance, Weatherall’s work essentially creating a nonexistent identity for Primal Scream that they suddenly were expected to fill. To my mind, Primal Scream were, for that brief moment, always just a primarily instrumental band, and always sounded like that, and always used movie dialogue samples and half-heard vocal lines and big, slow beats.

The following run of singles are still fun to think about, really, because you can pretty well audibly hear a band thinking that the neo-garage/psych/biker rock revival was surely just around the corner think “Well, maybe we were going about this a bit dully before, and it should be something a little…more…this?” Gillespie started singing all over the place — no more disappearing acts for him — but he started singing over things that he hadn’t really done before, culminating with the still wondrously blissed out “Higher Than the Sun,” where the Orb did the music/production business and introduced a huge, sweeping stomp and hush that frankly the band could never have come close to on their own. Still wonder a bit what it would have been like if he and the rest of the band said “Fuck it, let’s just go from here” — Gillespie would have been the weak link in the chain in the end, maybe, but I think they could have found a way to be as truly distinct as their heroes instead of retreating to recombine and recombine them again endlessly.

All of which is prologue because honestly I really don’t remember much about the run-up to this show. I had (and had played to death) Screamadelica from the previous fall and it was little surprise that this was going to be a big production at the Palladium; they had already built up enough of a reputation that a club show wasn’t going to be enough. Further, all the coalescing rave strains from the previous couple of years in the area understandably regarded the band as fellow travellers at the least, full inspirations at the most — I can name at least a couple of friends that were pretty much first introduced to techno, however unusually or to the side, due to “Loaded” — and there were rumors that the show was going to be less of a show and more of an actual rave, just with a band playing somewhere in the middle of it.

Not too surprising that this didn’t really pan out as advertised — Gillespie and company apparently were thinking more that it should be something like an old soul revue, a full hint at the slow retreat already starting to play out even on Screamadelica, what with the Jimmy Miller production jobs and all, plus the Dixie-Narco EP from earlier that year, with Dennis Wilson covers, recording in Ardent Studios, the whole kind of strained reverence that still makes me think of Rattle and Hum aka the album that utterly destroyed my U2 fandom. (And I did have it.) But unlike that misbegotten album Dixie-Narco works as a gentle treat and if it had been a part of their approach instead of the signpost to the next album through and through then who knows how I might feel.

And yet I’m still talking around the show than about it — partially because, the memories really are pretty dim. I think I was up in the balcony for at least part of it though not all, and it was a packed out house and everything, and “Loaded” and “Come Together” and “Higher Than the Sun” and “Don’t Fight It Feel It” and “Movin’ On Up” and etc. etc. all went down well enough. I have vague memories of Bobby Gillespie’s utterly stick-like and ass-less frame not exactly dancing on stage, but then again my own moves as such aren’t much better so I can’t hate the guy for it. I think we all left — whoever we all were at that show, again, dim memories here — when they were still on stage for the encore doing some endless jam/medley which might have been amusing at the time. Or not, thus the reason we left.

It’s a little hard to be dismissive about the show, but I think the reason was slightly alluded to already — they were touring something that they were no longer believing in fully, or perhaps never did believe in to start with. It’s another old story — not just that the breakthrough album cast such a long shadow, but that said album turned out to be the most creative they ever got. Later releases and tours allowed them to be ‘themselves’ more, maybe — and I’ll yet talk about those shows I saw, and all of them were indeed more immediately memorable than this Palladium show turned out to be in the end. But they essentially gave up on a chancier situation to be their own internalized ‘we’re more THIS now’ kaleidoscope, and I still think it was a retreat. Ah well.

2 Responses to “Not Just the Ticket — #35, Primal Scream, March 7 1992”

  1. AZ Says:

    I don’t disagree at all re: your thoughts on Gillespie. But: from 15 feet in front of the stage, being at this show felt like Zeitgeist Central, in the best possible way. And if you left early, you missed the “Kick Out The Jams” encore, which was great both musically and because it confused the hell out of all the Cat-In-The-Hat-hat-wearing, whistle-blowing, MDMA-peaking raver types who’d been blissfully bouncing around for the previous two hours. (Also: I think Gillespie managed to top Screamadelica twice, on Vanishing Point and–especially–Xtrmntr.)

    • Ned Raggett Says:

      Both those albums are excellent but I ascribe that more to the involvement of Mani and then Mr. Shields ultimately raising their game as a performing band but not necessarily as a consistent creative force. To my mind this is proven by how every album these past ten years has been a wash but every live performance I’ve seen (even without Shields) has been a barnburner. I think I like Echo Dek more than either of those examples, actually!

      I…might? have seen the MC5 cover. Not sure.


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