There’s always a problem associated with reviewing bands that are – what’s a nice way of putting this – a little bit passed their prime. For rock musicians, more so than others, age is the enemy of success. Nobody wants their favourite rock god to grow old gracefully or to mellow into their twilight years. We still want to see them charging around the stage breaking shit and banging out the hits.
That’s another problem with seeing old bands – the songs themselves. The best songs are invariably from a time passed when the band were in their pomp. And Primal Scream are no exception. You’d really have to go back to the year 2000 to find Primal Scream’s last decent record (the creatively titled XTRMNTR) and you’d have to go back almost another decade again to find the band’s true creative peak. Their masterpiece, the epic 1991 album Screamadelica. 20 years is quite a long time for anyone, but for rock ‘n’ rollers, it’s practically an age.
I’m queuing at the bar when Primal Scream take the stage and I’m already beginning to feel uneasy about the whole thing. The average age of the people in the line with me had to be about 70 (a slight exaggeration, perhaps) and I couldn’t help but think that just by being here I am doing somebody, somewhere a disservice. My father, for a start.
I missed most of the band’s opening song (because for some reason The Enmore chose to have only two bar staff working on a night when the majority of the crowd were middle aged men who were keen to party like it was the 20th century again) but as I made my way up the stairs to my seat I could hear the cacophonous racket thumping through the walls. Say what you will about Primal Scream, but they’re definitely still loud.
I made my seat in time to see Bobby Gillespie and the band launch into a most spirited rendition of Swastika Eyes and found myself nodding along happily. The sound quality was great; Debbie Googe (of My Bloody Valentine fame) was taking her bass for a walk and everything seemed right with the world. Well, nearly everything.
I can’t remember the last time I sat down at a gig, it might actually have been the time my mother and I went to see The Wiggles when I was about eight years old. It rankled with me, particularly when the energy, rhythm and verve I’d been promised was being delivered. I felt penned in, trapped like a bear in a cage. I needed to be free!
I raced down stairs and (via the bar for another quick beer or two) shouldered my way into the standing area. The place was damn near at capacity but I managed to make my way in towards the centre from the wings in order to better see the band, clutching my $8 cans of lukewarm Heineken. By the time I got to a decent spot (and I stress the word decent, not good) the band had peeled off another classic tune in Loaded and the motley assortment of middle aged English ex-pats and stout baby boomers around me began hugging one another. Somewhere in front of me a couple of paunchy, bald looking chaps had lit up a doobie and were merrily passing it around like they were at Woodstock or something. Good for them!
That, however, is when it all went wrong. It was around this time that Primal Scream began to play songs off of their new album… I don’t know what this album is called, or why it exists but suffice to say, it’s not really for me.
That’s the sad part about seeing a lot of old bands, once great bands: the new music. It’s always the worst part of any old band’s set; the songs none of the fans want to hear and none of the band want to play but have to due to contractual obligations, record label etc etc the list goes on. The energy visibly fell out of the room, both on stage and all around me in general admission. The paunchy blokes smoking weed and the 55 year old father of three in his best going out shirt next to me all tried their best to enjoy it but the light had gone out of their eyes, the illusion was broken. The idols of their youth had grown old with them and it didn’t make for a particularly pretty sight.
From a purely technical standpoint I also didn’t understand why, considering the size of the stage at the Enmore and the standing of the band in question why Primal Scream chose to have all the back-up vocals and horn sections (yes, brass on a Primal Scream record… Groan!) played on a backing track. Why couldn’t they just have found themselves some female vocalists and a quartet from the local jazz society? It was annoying, really annoying.
At the end of their set, before the first encore I quietly slipped out and sat with a friend in the bar having a quiet drink and not saying much. The encore was all hits: spiky synthesizers, electronic drums and wailing guitars but I just couldn’t face it. I was never a great fan of Primal Scream to begin with and yet the beer was still ashes in my mouth. The disappointment was palpable.
It could have been absolutely excellent, but in the end it was just a little bit sad.