This is your captain speaking. It’s not hard for me to confide that on this, the twentieth day of the goddamn year of our lord two thousand and fifteen, I am not my usual, chipper self, dear friends. Instead, I’m sorry to share scenes from a saga of distinct familial disfunction, my fingers bumbling about the keyboard in the evening’s humming afterglow. Mine is a home where the offhand comment regularly devolves a pleasant conversation into a dangerous, scorched earth spat too brutal even for the likes of General Sherman. Together, we are almost always on edge. And though I have grown up with many a blessing and much to be thankful for, my file on “family cohesion” offers but a blank index card. Not surprisingly, I guess, in keeping with said beloved tradition, tonight’s planned family dinner is a bust. Oh, and its my twenty-third birthday by the way. I can cry if I want to. Yip, yip. Hurrah!
Sinking into my desk chair, I listen to some music from the seclusion of my poster-ed room. “We’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” by The New Seekers comes first, having reentered public consciousness via last Sunday’s clever Mad Men series finale. Such marks my latest sad-yet-sincere attempt to conjure the fleeting happiness of self-loathing and fictional characters, especially by way of song. Sipping on my fourth or fifth Pacifico, however, I begin to think on the opening lines of “Shakermaker” by Oasis, which famously stole the aforementioned oldie’s melody: I’d like to be somebody else and not know where I’ve been… Happiness isn’t a light switch, folks. And I’m suddenly slipping into a dark, drunken, punishing patch of the mind when out of the blue I get a text from an old friend inviting me to see Primal Scream at Irving Plaza. Talk about a welcome distraction.
The seasoned, Scottish outfit takes the stage to cheers from a packed house. Though considerably more in-demand back home, Primal Scream maintains a strong cult following in the United States today, more than thirty years after their inception. Frontman Bobby Gillespie prances and dances from the moment the show rips into gear with “2013,” shamelessly channeling Mick Jagger as he has throughout the entirety of his career. It’s uncanny, actually. Where anybody else would look at a lazy, no-good, heavy-handed, imitator hack and balk, Gillespie performs with an effortlessness that forces one at moments to question who came first: Mick or Bobby?
Though once considered a cutting edge player in the world of acid house, these days, Primal Scream might best be described as a straight up, old time, rock n’ roll band. While such often leaves much to be desired in regards to studio recordings and songwriting, for instance, (with those aged and predictable fuckers from AC/DC) such can also afford some of the most energetic and exciting shows in the business. Look no further than guitarist Andrew Innes, dressed like some foolish, fading hippie, and yet still managing to deliver delightfully self-indulgent, high-octane solos undeniably primed for Guitar Hero and the ilk.
Primarily playing singles from throughout their extensive career, the limitations of conventional rock n’ roll becomes increasingly apparent as the set continues on. Riffs and chord progressions are repeated on the reg, choruses featuring the repetition of a short phrase are plentiful, and guitar solos begin to feel expected and even routine. Does a more withering blast than that even exist against rock n’ roll? Routine? Check, please.
But everything changes when the band plays tracks from 1991’s Screamedelica, their most celebrated record to date, in the later half of the performance. An epic meditation on acid-house, this expertly crafted cocktail of parts–British Invasion, techno, psychedelic rock, and otherwise–rightfully proves to be a fan-favourite. The entirety of the plaza erupts moments into “Damaged,” a Stonesy acoustic number and the first ballad of the night. This change of pace is transformative and welcome, offering the audience an immersive tenderness notable even for an intimate setting such as this. Though out of mind earlier in the set, I now feel completely free from the shit storm that has been my 23rd birthday. Free from the harmful words thrown around in ferocious fights, from the tumult and the strife of it all. And the way I felt inside made me feel so glad to be alive… Sometimes singing the blues is the best cure for a hurting heart, cliché though it sounds. Christ, I know it also sounds sappy but I don’t care. You can either deal with it or kindly move along, old sport.
At some point near the very end of the performance, they finally play “Loaded.” This groovy, dance/rock crossover hit prominently highlights the exceptional talents of Simone Butler, the band’s beautiful bassist as well as those of Darrin Mooney, the skilled if typically anonymous drummer sitting in the back. Here and now, the entire audience dances with Gillespie as he boozily swings and swanks with a pair of black maracas loosely in hand. The crowd joins the jam in a choir of “ooh, oooohs”on beat for the remainder of this divinely funky instrumental which is somehow even better live than on record. This is exactly what I needed tonight. This and a whiskey. And by the way, my sister, Pauline, wrote me a lovely birthday note, fuckers. Goodbye 22, Hello 23. Over and out.
Photo by Carolina Faruolo