There’s this Dismemberment Plan song I find myself thinking of often, particularly whenever I head to a gig with a less than stellar crowd reaction. It’s called “Do the Standing Still” and in it singer Travis Morrison directly calls out his band’s own fanbase for being too pissing boring to dance at their shows, giving them no energy to feed off of because the crowd who had paid money to be there were either too self-consciously cool or dull to display any feelings towards the music on stage. Now, of course, neither I or Travis are saying that you have to enjoy and dance to live music, especially if the band are turning in a crap performance that night, but the sentiment is one that I have always been bewildered by whenever I turn up to well-attended and pretty expensive gigs to see large amounts of the crowd in the general designated dancefloor area stood doing sod all: why are you here? Probably a good thing I’ll never go to Coachella, it may give me an aneurism.
Sure, that’s accusatory, but it does raise the question of what good is a dancefloor if nobody’s dancing? And, more pertinently to our subject, is a dance-rock band objectively doing well at their jobs if nobody is dancing? This brings me to the curious case of Primal Scream, perhaps one of the premiere names in British dance-rock whose iconic 1991 breakthrough Screamadelica still wins over new converts to this day judging by the vastly varying age range who have turned up to Asylum tonight, in the middle of an extensive celebratory greatest hits tour spending almost the entire opening third of their set playing largely to a standstill. I found this utterly perplexing, particularly since it wasn’t like the band were starting slow and ramping up.
“Don’t Fight It, Feel It?” OK, I can maybe see the reticence given that its arrangement has been reconfigured for the core five line-up which has settled in from More Light onwards in a way that does fundamentally change the song. “Swastika Eyes?” I guess maybe politics right now is too terrifying for anyone to fully lose themselves in the still-urgent charging revolution clarion call. “Miss Lucifer?” A song that absolutely slays live as Simone Butler’s bass boogies with even more ferocity than Mani’s digitised one did on record, so much so that relentless hip-shaking comes on like being put under a trance-like spell? “Can’t Go Back?” Soundtrack to Match of the Day montages for a near-decade by this point? “Accelerator?” Where Andrew Innes shreds with such disregard for his equipment that there’s a chance he could blow the speakers at any second? And people are still just fucking standing there?
Admittedly, I’m a fan of much of the Scream’s output rather than just their mid-90s commercial heyday, but this dissonance still boggled me. Bobby Gillespie’s vocals are in strong record-quality form, the setlist pulls tracks from every single album bar More Light, and the band as a whole are in lock-step with one another albeit not so much that there isn’t also room for the odd solo and playful camaraderie dancing, so it’s not like the Scream are putting in a bad night’s work or anything. Although, to be fair, they don’t always help their case. Crowd engagement is minimal to non-existent, Gillespie mainly resorting to frequent clap commands and only addressing the club twice, once for a stumbled reminiscence of them playing the university 30 years prior and once to ask the crowd to act as a gospel choir for main set closer “Movin’ On Up.” (Despite the band’s continued radical activism with the general election a week away and several XTRMTR-era cuts on the setlist, there’s not a single mention of politics tonight.) There are really long pauses between the intro track and the band coming on stage, plus an extended encore break, which stalls a fair bit of momentum.
And, in an apt metaphor for the band’s notoriously inconsistent career trajectory, when they do finally manage to get some movement on the dancefloor thanks to a groove-tastic rendition of “Kill All Hippies,” the setlist inexplicably chooses to grind to a screeching halt for Give Out But Don’t Give Up’s simpering blues-rock ballad “(I’m Gonna) Cry Myself Blind.” Not only does this not at least bring out a collective singalong from the crowd, as it did when I saw them pull the same move on the Chaosmosis tour, there was so little attention given that everyone instead focussed on security having to jump over the barrier and escort two people who’d presumably fainted out the building. Despite this happening in front of them, the band plays on.
As the home stretch kicks in, the thought occurs that maybe the concept of a Greatest Hits tour for Primal Scream is fundamentally flawed. Theoretically, it’s really sound. For a band with such a relentless varied discography, this allows everybody to hear a bunch of the most famous cuts from their personal favourite incarnations of the Scream, often unfairly underrated recent cuts get a chance to be recontextualised as part of the broader career arc, and nobody has to stand around pretending for a third of the set that they’re here for the new stuff. In practice, there’s a tangible lack of connection from the crowd to almost anything released post-1997 – aside from the unwelcome appearance of not one but two Riot City Blues cuts, which I hope Gillespie doesn’t take as a sign that he needs to get back into extremely bad Rolling Stones rip-offs again. Vanishing Point opener “Burning Wheel” surprisingly (and on a personal note since it’s one of my favourite albums thankfully) goes down a storm, but follow-up “100% or Nothing” from the solid Chaosmosis cools everybody right the heck off again.
Instead, it takes until the final main set run and the encore for a sustained crowd reaction to really kick in. Unsurprisingly, this is where all the other Screamadelica and Give Out cuts (plus Riot’s “Country Girl”) line up one after another for a series of home-runs. “Loaded,” “Movin’,” “Country,” “Come Together,” “Jailbird,” and finally, with curfew well past blown, “Rocks.” Asses are shaken, choruses are happily screamed, arms are wrapped around friends and strangers alike, several students loudly announcing to those around them that they are currently on acid start peaking. Finally, the crowd stop doing the standing still. The change in the room’s energy is palpable. On stage, Gillespie, who had otherwise spent much of the night up until then with his perpetual stone-faced rock star scowl on, breaks into a wide-eyed smile which remains until the bitter end.
Primal Scream’s Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll tour concludes at Glasgow Barrowlands on the 18th December. They will be back on tour next year supporting Hollywood Vampires.
Don’t Fight It, Feel It
Can’t Go Back
Kill All Hippies
(I’m Gonna) Cry Myself Blind
I’m Losing More Than All Ever Have
Dolls (Sweet Rock and Roll)
100% or Nothing
Movin’ On Up
Come Together [w/ Ivy Ivy Ivy snippet]