Primal Scream

Primal Scream live in Toronto, Friday November 4th 2016, Danforth Music Hall

Words by Jacqueline Howell,  Photography by Dave MacIntyre

“I was blind, now I can see

You made a believer out of me
I was blind, now I can see
You made a believer out of me

I’m movin’ on up now
Getting out of the darkness
My light shines on
My light shines on
My light shines on

I was lost
Now I’m found
I believe in you
I got no bounds
I was lost
Now I’m found
I believe in you
I got no bounds

I’m movin’ on up now
Getting out of the darkness
My light shines on” (Primal Scream)

It’s the weekend we set the clocks back, when the shorter day pre-winter blahs start to creep in.  The weather may have changed forever on the globe, giving this city a ridiculously long and ridiculously hot summer, but the creeping darkness comes on like always. And just in time, 18 months after their last stop in town, Primal Scream is back to give the city a needed November injection of innate cool, psych swirls, steady beats and maraca shakes.

For my part, I’m holding up the barrier keeping time with my empty cider can like a tambourine. When I catch myself doing this, I stop and put it down, but for once, choose the barrier over the nearby bar because this intro is too good to not be front row for. Well known fans of so many Indie/British Rock bands as we are, my co-pilot and I have already decided in advance that tonight’s gig seamlessly fits our notion of a private kick-off for our upcoming trip to Somerset, U.K. in a week’s time, to the season defying, weather indifferent indoor Weekender known as Shiiine On, a very good, immersive 3 days at a special and strange place called Butlin’s. And all that’s before we even hear Bobby Gillespie launch the gig with “Movin’ on Up”, and its perfect refrain “my light shines on. My light shines on. My light shines on.”

The crowd is eager to welcome back The Scream and Bobby Gillespie, stalwart musician and band founder, with an uncharacteristic level of almost teenager-like vocalization. Cries from around the venue come “BOBBY!” “BOBBY!” all from men. And no doubt, among them are returning fans from last year’s gig and all who came to wish the singer well after his serious 7-foot high fall from a speaker stack while performing last June in Switzerland. Gillespie looks and sounds in fine form, still early-20s slim and ageless. People who can remain the same, as time does a number on us all, are to be applauded, and cherished, especially up on our musical stages. It’s not always possible, and it rarely comes easily (like it did when our twenties implied we’d live forever on three hours sleep and fast food). Gillespie seemed, quite naturally, as if he fell out of a late 60s fold in time when The Scream hit the scene, and all these years later that timeless Brian Jones cool is intact. And nothing keeps Bobby from visiting and leaning over the edge of the stage as ever. He’s fine, he’s great. And with time, the 1990 moment of Primal Scream’s biggest hit has become as important to a generation as the 60s was to musicians forming in the 1980s. We are among that generation, and will always be flag-bearers. 

A lot of bands aimed to hit a very specific musical mark with shared references in and around 1990, but the precise few who landed the arrow squarely and firmly, like Primal Scream, created out of nostalgia and musical love a new form, a new mix of sounds that is alchemy: a dash of gospel vocal, but just the right amount. A horn section that feels real even though it sometimes comes out of a machine, as it does on most stages of modern music. A front man we can believe in, as the years roll on. A cool that is well-earned, not fabricated. That sometimes blooms out of sitting behind the drums of one iconic band and deciding how you might do it differently, in your own band. A band whose roster music fans follow as close as the football news, because more often than not, the fill-in and guesting musicians that come to town have been in other iconic bands and are always a thrill to hear. 

The Scream play four songs from their newest, Chaosmosis, the well-reviewed March 2016 release they’ve been touring. These fit quite well into the must-play classic Scream tracks like “Swastika Eyes” and “Loaded”. (I-D Magazine quotes Gillespie as classifying the new music as “Ecstatic Depressive Realism” which sounds about right for these strange times we are in- and illustrative of this mood are titles like “Trippin’ on Your Love” and “(Feeling Like A) Demon Again”. 

Primal Scream ends their main set with a long and fantastic arrangement of “Loaded” that is absolutely perfect. They come back and do an encore ending with “Come Together”, leaving a music hall full of people with a vibe we once publicly celebrated, without embarrassment, as “loved up”. All of it is eaten up by the crowd, none barreling for the exits, all knowing what’s good for them, they stay until the end. As they finally spill out to the laneways and pubs of The Danforth, on a beautiful Friday night, the mood continues along this way, in good cheer, in good times. It all reminds us that Toronto is very fortunate to be a good music city in difficult times, in large part, because so many iconic British artists continue to visit us year after year. Because how often can we get over to see them?

Primal Scream in Toronto May 2015

Leave a Reply