It’s a cold, cold, COLD November night. It’s a Sunday. I’m standing in the O2 Institute, on the same dance floor where I’ve dropped a Bez sized batch of pills at Club Andromeda in the mid 90’s, watching Bo Ningen ROCK THE FUCK OUT. As support act for Primal Scream you’re always going to be singing from the shadows, but this Japanese ‘four piece noise rockers’ are throwing themselves into the room. Literally, at one point.
It’s all a little stadium for my liking, and the solos seem to be an extended masturbation without any real input to the songs, but after about four unflinchingly high energy tracks I am probably the only one not transfixed. Although that could be the silver flares. But if you want to see something outrageous and committed, check out Bo Ningen.
The room fills out and starts clapping the sound technician, as the poor bastard flits on and off stage with an air of addled urgency. Primal Scream have been on tour since the end of the festival season – with dates in each month, before the main crunch came in November. They’ve been to Japan, they’ve been to Canada. They’ve been to North and South America. Now they’re in Birmingham, just over half way through a nineteen date UK tour. And it’s a Sunday.
But the crowd wants blood, some of whom perhaps literally; the four middle aged, fat skin heads behind me start throwing plastic glasses at the tall, scarf waving glam rocker at the front. The mum-dad-daughter to my right start twitching into their beer and orange juice, whilst the people sat down on the balcony start to lean over and stare precariously around the stage. Tension, builds.
Then, to the soundtrack of a more confident cheer, Primal Scream take the stage; the room foot stamps so hard I wander if the Kate Tempest gig downstairs can hear it. Without any need of introduction, the guitar riff and keys from ‘Movin’ On Up’ sweep across the hall. Bobby Gillespie grabs the mic, perches one foot one the wall of monitors at the front of the stage and croons out into the crowd. Suited and booted a pink polka dot shirt.
Beat, beat, beat goes the backing track, and we move from ghost of LPs past to the lead single from Primal Scream’s latest album – the fast paced, techno pop rock ‘Where the Light Gets In’. As far as I can see (there was a big speaker stack making me both blind and deaf) Gillespie is the only vocalist, with no Sky Ferreira stand in on stage.
Without pause we go back to the back catalogue, as the bluesy drawl and strut of ‘Jailbird’ swaggers around the room, giving the crowd a chance to play along. ‘I’m Yours, Your Mine’ echos through the O2 Institute in a rare show of Birmingham crowd participation. Reminiscent to the sampled beginning of a popular Primal Scream track, people are clearly here to ‘have a good time’; by the time the first guitar solo of ‘Accelerator’ kicks in, most of the beer is now on the floor.
The set jumps across Primal Scream’s significant portfolio, Gillespie jumps across the stage – bouncing from Innes to Butler and back over the monitors. And apart from a small shout out to the founding members of Jackbites, all that comes off stage is music.
The band look fueled, but tired; it’s been months on the road, across many far flung territories. Bobby Gillespie looks like… well, Bobby Gillespie. On a Sunday. His vocals painfully weak at points – especially in the down tempo blues ballad ‘Cry Myself Blind’, which sounds more like a 3am wedding reception karaoke attempt. As a child of Screamadelica I keep my fingers crossed they don’t play ‘Damaged’.
But the energy is ferocious; the whole room, from balcony to bar, is alive and focused. Even the fat skinheads are dancing – elbow jostling in a circle, like a race hate hen party on Broad Street. And I still can’t work out which side of the mum-dad-daughter triptych is the reason they’re here, and whose been dragged along because ‘I bet you’ll enjoy it’. But it’s not often you get to see a family dance it out at a rock concert so who the fuck cares. Even the much older couple at the back of the balcony are now dancing arm in arm, wrapped around each other in metronome unison with broad grins on their faces. I think the pills have kicked in.
Standout moments come from ‘100% Or Nothing’ – the last single from Chaosmosis – and the bass slapping relentless mess fest (and government health warning) ‘Shoot Speed Kill Light’, as Butler points her axe to the sky and leads a demonic grin charge into the crowd. Eventually the continued (and somewhat obvious) heckles to ‘PLAY LOADED’ are finally answered, and by the time Peter Fonda stammers out his call to arms the room is already lost; Gillespie left to do nothing more than watch over his flock and shake those maracas.
‘Country Girl’ brings the main set to a close, with a somewhat messy start – that “shows we’re not true professionals” – and the most enthusiastic moment of audience participation Birmingham has probably seen in a while. The house lights stay down so we know there’s an encore, but for much longer than it takes to wring out a shirt and rack up.
I begin to wonder if this really is it and edge my way to the back of the room – not to get out early, but in case there’s a mini riot. Mercifully the slow sample start and electro riffs of ‘Kill All Hippies’ comes rolling off stage, before the pillar shaking finále of ‘Rocks’ throw this Sunday service crashing into the walls of fuck you.
Then it hits me. I remember standing in this and other venues as a drug rinsed, precocious teenager asking ‘you reckon on day we’ll all be old but still coming and raving, like they do at tea dances and stuff?’
The answer is yes.
We still party hard.
And if Gillespie wants it, and can smooth out them Sunday vocals, there’s still a place for a front man.
For more on Primal Scream, visit www.primalscream.net
For more on Bo Ningen, visit www.boningen.info
For more from the O2 Institute, including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit www.academymusicgroup.com/o2institutebirmingham
For more from Gigs and Tours, including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit www.gigsandtours.com