As a longtime music journalist and even longer-time music fan, I’m often asked to list my favorite concert experiences of all time. It’s a daunting task, considering that I see more concerts in a week than most people see in an entire year, and so of course my list changes weekly, daily, or even minute-ly, depending on my mood and that particular evening’s post-concert high.
But one landmark gig always lands somewhere in my top five: Primal Scream at the House Of Blues, August 2000.
Yes, pretty much everyone who was lucky enough to attend the Scream’s two-night stint at the Sunset Strip club almost a decade ago recalls it as a life-changing and life-affirming live event, in the same way American music fans of previous generations remember seeing Elvis or the Beatles on Ed Sullivan or Michael Jackson‘s first moonwalk on that famous Motown TV special.
It’s hard to explain what made it so magical, but it really was one of those legendary, you-just-had-to-be-there kind of concerts.
That hot August night, Primal Scream’s onstage lineup boasted more live instruments than most straightahead rock bands even know how to play. First of all, sharing the HOB stage were no fewer than three guitarists (including My Bloody Valentine‘s then-recluse Kevin Shields), and then the Sex Pistols‘ Steve Jones later emerged and brought the total number of electric guitars onstage to an almost ridiculous FOUR. Plus there was a full horn section whose playing somehow evoked both Kill City-era Stooges and the Average White Band (though never in an average way), a flautist, a turntablist, and of course former Stone Roses bass ace Mani. The eight-piece band not only recreated the sinister sound of the Scream’s current album at the time, XTRMNTR, with incredible pinpoint precision, but also held down the proverbial fort by playing cacophonous, eardrum-splintering instrumental jams whenever Bobby Gillespie wandered offstage for several minutes at a time to do/ingest God-knows-what.
Several wowed concertgoers were overheard to pronounce afterwards that it was the best show they’d seen in a “long-ass” time, and my guess is most of those spectators have not witnessed a better gig since. Especially since Primal Scream’s Southern California concerts have been few and far between post-2000, save for a Coachella appearance or two. It’s been a long-ass time, indeed.
Well, I’m glad to say “I was there” back in 2000, and that I was there again last night when the band played their first L.A. show in “a million fucking years” (Bobby’s words), ready to live up to their legend. Their appearance at downtown’s new Club Nokia was THE most anticipated gig of 2009 so far (if all the excited, expletive-laced Facebook status updates among my screamadelic friends were anything to go by), and it was probably the only show that could convince me to go out on the Monday night before I left for South By Southwest, when I should have been resting up and packing.
Sure, Kevin Shields and Steve Jones weren’t in the lineup this time (although Bobby did cryptically dedicate “Swastika Eyes” to Jonesy), and the horn section was M.I.A., but Mani was still there–as was the real rock star of the evening, dizzy Gillespie himself, still oozing jaded superstar glamour from his every milky-white pore. (All Bobby had to do was cock a bony hip to one side, lazily drape his spindly arms over his mic stand, and stare down the crowd with those nasty swastika eyes of his, and he was completely compelling.)
Whether it was the Giorgio Moroder-on-PCP groove of the aforementioned “Swastika Eyes,” the Altamont-friendly (or is that Woodstock-unfriendly?) “Kill All Hippies,” the hypnotic and hallucinogenic “Higher Than The Sun,” the gospedelica of “Movin’ On Up,” or the sleazy Memphis-style party anthems “Rocks,” “Jailbird,” and “Country Girl,” Bobby and company proved once again that there ain’t no band that can rock, rant ‘n’ rave like Primal Scream.
They in fact rocked so intensely and intently for two hours beneath Club Nokia’s seizure-inducing strobelights (and the diehard Angelenos in the audience had been sadly Primal-deprived for so damn long) that no one in the venue even seemed to notice or care that the band’s two biggest U.S. radio hits, “Loaded” and “Come Together,” had been left off the setlist completely. Everyone just kept on dancing. Hell, even too-cool-for-school Bobby Gillespie couldn’t help but shake his own skinny little groove thang in earnest.
Let’s hope another nine years doesn’t pass before a Scream show this awesome comes to L.A. again.