Sheffield Octagon

Sheffield Octagon

Frankly, this is a remarkable gig...

“The human race is becoming a DISGRACE!”. So now it all makes sense. If the rhetoric has sometimes seemed self-righteous, if the arrogance has tended to outpace the achievements, the [a]Primal Scream[/a] All-Star Militia 2000 are the end that justifies the means.

Within minutes of [a]John Lydon[/a] and [a]Afrika Bambaataa[/a]’s futurist polemic ‘World Destruction’ being lifted from the decks, as the death disco of ‘Swastika Eyes’ whirls into action, they’re already home. What Bobby Gillespie has achieved this time is the complete transformation of his ideas into action. Through the tentative beginnings, to ‘Screamadelica’‘s hedonistic high, ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up’‘s hedonistic low and ‘Vanishing Point’‘s bruised and bruising self-absorption, [a]Primal Scream[/a] have always been consumed by the idea of being rock’n’roll to the exclusion of everything else, of celebrating their own continued existence. Now, though, there’s a radical new channelling of energies.

Frankly, this is a remarkable gig. There are currently nine men in [a]Primal Scream[/a], including the extraordinary Kevin Shields, a blank, consumed presence triggering ultrasonic apocalypses with merely an occasional touch of his frets, leaning back once, heroically, in the pulverising overload of ‘Accelerator’. Other faces may be more familiar – Innes and Throb and their punk and hard rock iconographies, Duffy behind the equipment banks, the perpetually excited Mani, Gillespie, of course – but, unavoidably, it feels like a different, improved band tonight.

What’s most apparent is the sheer blitzkrieging purpose of it all. Through all those years of leather-trousered conspicuous consumption and studied devotion to The Good Time, the last thing you could ever accuse [a]Primal Scream[/a] of was discipline. But that’s what we’re confronted with: a ruthless control that sees wild songs clipped and focused, utterly shorn of indulgences, programmed to destroy rather than self-destruct.

The ascetic’s explanation for this brilliant new drive would be something to do with the band’s much discussed reduction in drug intake, but let’s match their idealism. It’s as if ‘Exterminator’‘s hard left agenda – global corporate takeover, extreme social exclusion, swastikas, syphilis, repeat ’til fade and/or revolution – has provided an explicit cause to empower them. The setlist stretches across time from ‘Movin’ On Up’, through ‘Rocks’ and its evil twin, ‘Medication’, to practically all of ‘Exterminator’, but the steely-eyed determination remains constant.

Even ‘Higher Than The Sun’ is transformed, its reverie imbued with tension, the ambience now one of approaching menace rather than opiated drift. But, significantly, it pales next to the ferocious digi-rant’n’roll of the new tracks. The Scream 2000, like all their previous incarnations, are still in thrall to the massive archive of outsider music they’ve loved and absorbed. Again, though, there’s a fresh tightness that hammers the influences into a clenched, streamlined form. ‘Shoot Speed Kill Light’ is exceptional, a looming, motorik rhythm adorned with layer upon layer of riff, hum and Shields‘ momentous barrage of effects. Above it all, there’s Bobby, notably less ludicrous than before, glaring and clapping proof that rock’n’roll shamanism comes less self-consciously when you’re on a mission to proclaim something other than your own transcendence. His voice – always the critic’s first point of attack – is changing, too. The distant coos on the recorded ‘Shoot Speed Kill Light’ aren’t attempted, substituted for a bulletproof snarl, a yelp that’s much closer to [a]John Lydon[/a] than the soul mystic tones he’s strained towards in the past.

When it ends, with a psychotic, heroically predictable lash through ‘Kick Out The Jams’, it’s apparent that all of Bobby Gillespie‘s unwavering pronouncements about his own band’s greatness currently sound entirely accurate. An eventful 15-odd years down the line, they are, officially, better than ever. Which leaves no room any more for scepticism: if rock’n’roll is an article of faith, [a]Primal Scream[/a] are writing its liberation theology.