(Previously published by Skyscraper Magazine)
As a disclaimer, I’m normally not a fan of concert films or live albums, having suffered through the likes of Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same (Warner Bros., 1976) as a kid when they were my favorite band, or more recently, The Stone Roses’ Blackpool Live (Windsong, 1991). The former was chock full of all the rock’n’roll clichés exposed so well in Spinal Tap, while the latter exposed what all of us kind of knew, namely, that Ian Brown just cannot sing! I am, however, intrigued by the recent spate of bands performing classic albums in a live setting (All Tomorrow’s Parties’ Don’t Look Back series, et al), so after waxing poetic over the 20th Anniversary edition of Screamadelica (one of my all-time favorite albums) recently for Skyscraper, I jumped at the chance to review Screamadelica Live.
Filmed on November 26, 2010, at London’s Olympia Theatre, Screamadelica Live finds Bobby Gillespie and company in stellar form. Complete with a super tight horn section, a phenomenal gospel choir, a spectacular light show, and looking sharp in black suits, white shirts, and black ties, this was obviously a fantastic night out for the packed audience. Directed by George Scott, the cinematography is great; lots of really good close-ups of the band and not too many clichéd audience shots, apart from the occasional guy/girl breaking the cardinal rule of not wearing the concert t-shirt at the concert!
Although billed as a performance of Screamadelica in its entirety, the set list deviates slightly from the original album. But the sequencing makes sense here, with two blocks of upbeat material sandwiching the ballads. The concert opens with the same trio of tunes that kickstarts Screamadelica. “Movin’ On Up” sounds great with Martin Duffy’s honky tonk piano, the twin Rolling Stones-fueled guitars of Andrew Innes and Barry Cadogan, and the pristine horn section and choir stealing the show. Gillespie’s vocals here and elsewhere aren’t always up to par with his band’s performance, but the lead singer’s voice is greatly aided by the choir who tend to hit most of the high notes. That said, Gillespie does stand out on some of the ballads in the middle of the set, especially the bluesy “Damaged.” “Slip Inside This House” follows, and it is highlighted by some amazing psychedelic lighting effects. “Don’t Fight It, Feel It” keeps the party going with Mary Pierce taking on the lead vocals (Denise Johnson performed on the album). After that the band takes it down a notch, as the aforementioned “Damaged,” the spacey “I’m Coming Down,” “Shine Light Stars,” and the trippy instrumental “Inner Flight” provide some breathing room before the spectacular finale.
The concluding three tracks of the set are worth the price of the DVD alone. Because Screamadelica contains two versions of “Higher Than the Sun” (the single version and The Orb’s dub rendition), it was unclea how Primal Scream would approach it on stage. They manage to combine the two and then some, as the band delivers a stellar rendition of the standard version before bassist Gary “Mani” Mounfield sets off on a captivating dub journey, spiced with some electrifying guitar work. The trio builds to a crushing finale that rivals the power of Mani’s old band, The Stone Roses, on “I Am The Resurrection” and “Fool’s Gold.” “Loaded” is even better, as a “Sympathy For The Devil”-like groove and the famous Peter Fonda samples drive the crowd into a frenzy. The concluding “Come Together” is fittingly the highlight of the set. As with “Higher Than the Sun” the group opts to combine the best elements of the Andrew Weatherall-produced sample-heavy version that is on the initial UK (and 20th Anniversary) edition with the more conventional Terry Farley mix from the US version of the album, which features extensive Gillespie vocals. Personally, I actually prefer the latter version for its uplifting lyrical message, as well as the fact that it features one of Gillespie’s finest recorded vocal moments, which he nails pretty well here too.
As a bonus, Screamadelica Live also contains a 40-minute “rock and roll” set which the band played earlier that evening. The eight songs here are all pretty amazing, especially the hard psych meets techno fury of Vanishing Point and Xtrmntr standouts “Accelerator,” “Burning Wheel,” “Swastika Eyes,” and “Shoot Speed/Kill Light.”