Primal Scream : London Shepherd’s Bush Empire

Even the models were cheering...

Anticipation fills the Shepherd’s Bush Empire as tangibly as the Motorhead records blasting from the PA. Tonight marks the grand unveiling of Primal Scream mark 8 (at least): a lean, mean, sex disco machine, premiering new album ‘Evil Heat’ but probably not ‘Bomb The Pentagon’, the song they debuted last time they played in Britain, three months before the Pentagon actually was bombed.

Yes, Primal Scream are less avowedly ‘political’ in these difficult times (although their backstage pass features a picture of Fidel Castro) but they’ve never been more fiercely trendy – the balcony is crammed with fashionistas. A moustachioed Alexander McQueen punches the air, ponces in asymmetric haircuts waft left and right, and someone who may or may not be old Stones squeeze Anita Pallenberg perambulates unsteadily through the front row. It’s all a bit reminiscent of John Lennon’s famous remark at the Royal Variety Performance: “those in the cheap seats, clap your hands; the rest of you, rattle your jewellery”.

Only feral rock ‘n’ roll can unite the fash pack with the mosh pit downstairs, and Primal Scream deliver. Crucially, they both sound and look amazing. Rather than the knackered husk of a man of a couple of years ago, Bobby Gillespie now looks like a glossy-haired advert for hard drugs, clad in fantastic Mick-Jagger-circa-1975-meets-The-Strokes white dinner jacket.

The electroclash-tinged opener ‘Miss Lucifer’, decidedly camp on record, is transformed triumphantly into slash ‘n’ burn pogo disco, accompanied by blinding magenta lights. There’s only one suitable follow-up: ‘Bomb The Pentagon’ itself, now in new, lyrically toned down incarnation ‘Rise’. Powered by the newly shorn Mani’s killer bass, it’s now a rabble rouser about a “death’s head factory suicide”, Bobby ranting like a funky Mark E Smith. The somewhat cliched ‘City’, last heard on the David Holmes album but now retooled for ‘Evil Heat’, ends the first clutch of new songs, before ‘Shoot Speed Kill Light’ brings the Joy Division motorik thunder.

‘Pills’, excruciating on ‘XTRMNTR’, becomes brilliant when enlivened by a siren noise and introduction of a tune; ‘Burning Wheel’ a blast from Primal Scream‘s underrated dub reggae period, billows into the audience like opium smoke. A couple of dreamy instrumentals culminating in new tune ‘Autobahn 66’ threaten to start a drift to the bar, but Bobby regains our attention with his famed Jake The Peg-style dancing and a graceless, if musically apposite cry of “Germany for the World Cup!”

A ferocious ‘Medication’ pisses all over the album version; superb anti-anthem ‘Swastika Eyes’ brings the wildly enthusiatic mosh pit to boiling point. ‘Rocks’, sounding incongruously trad in the electro-punk surroundings, is dedicated to “all the drug addicts out there”, before Bobby cuddles Mani, gasps “I’m fucked” and staggers offstage. Unfortuntately, NME’s dream encore (a heavily pregnant Kate Moss coming onstage to smoke Capstan Full Strengths through ‘Some Velvet Morning’) doesn’t come to pass, but we do get ‘Accelerator’ – accompanied by a geniune smell of burning rubber! – and ‘Kill All Hippies’. Abruptly, Bobby’s old Jesus And Mary Chain compadre Jim Reid is brought on to sing ‘Detroit’. Unlike Bobby, who has clearly made a pact with the devil, the years haven’t been kind to poor Jim and it’s all a bit wonky, but a well timed cover of Johnny Thunders’ ‘Born To Lose’, dedicated to DeeDee Ramone, resurrects the show’s slick, sick spirit. ‘Skull X’, some truly heroic posing, a flash and a bang and it’s all over. It’s been a triumph, so much so that the ill-advised politics, weird fashion following and outrageous drug rumours seem like mere side issues, burned in the crucible of incendiary rock ‘n’ roll. Even the models were cheering.

Alex Needham