DVD Review: Primal Scream, Screamadelica Live

It's only in retrospect that I realized how big a year in music 1991 was. It was my senior year in college, and I spent much of that year listening to Metallica's Black Album and the newest Skid Row and Great White albums. I remember going to parties where EMF, Jesus Jones, and the DiVinyls were playing, and the big concert draw in town was Garth Brooks. A couple little bands from Seattle released some albums that year you might have heard of, but at the time they didn't hold a candle to Achtung Baby or that crazy Michael Jackson video where everyone’s heads morphed together at the end. The single most important musical event of the year for me was the release of Use Your Illusion I & II, which I stood in line for at midnight to buy. I had no idea that a week later a Scottish band would be putting out a modern masterpiece: Screamadelica.

It was years later that I picked up Screamadelica at a used record store in Tempe, AZ, on a whim. I was by myself and driving up to Sedona to hike for the day, and wanted something new for the ride. It was a leap of faith, really; I'd never heard the band, just heard of them. I was probably halfway there when the first chords of "Movin' On Up" burst from the speakers, and for the next 45 minutes I was utterly mesmerized. The music was at once progressive and timeless, straddling the chasm between rock and club effortlessly. You could just close your eyes and escape into your head with it, although I thankfully chose not to do that on an Arizona highway. I saved that for the hours and hours of listening that followed.

And now, 20 years later, Primal Scream is releasing a new concert video, Screamadelica Live, in which the older but still spry band plays Screamadelic in its entirety (although not in order), as well as a host of other songs.

Um, yes please.

Filmed at Olympia in London in front of the whitest audience ever assembled, the concert doesn't start off on the best note. "Movin' On Up," my favorite song on the album, lacks the punch it had coming out of my car speakers, and my wife comments that they look like a "poorly filmed wedding band." I even fiddled with the settings on my stereo, worried I’d set the equalizer for maximum Call of Duty carnage. But once the third song, "Don't Fight It, Feel It" kicks off, things change dramatically. Denise Johnson steps up to the mike, and the band snaps into a groove that never lets up. It's a thrilling moment that brings involuntary rhythmic motion to your head and feet, and the concert and convincingly becomes a rave circa 1992, in all the right ways.

Things slow a down a bit in the middle, as Bobby Gillespie gently sings some of their more subdued tunes like "Damaged" and "Shine Like Stars." But "Higher Than The Sun" and "Loaded" draw you back to your feet, and the band seems to gain energy as they feed of the excitement of the crowd. And the closer, "Come Together," with its gospel chorus and call to arms, brings the show to an ecstatic (if overlong) close.

As an added bonus, Primal Scream reminds us all that it could leave the beats and loops at home and fucking rock as hard as any band in the '90s. This set, performed earlier in the night of the Screamadelica show, includes classics like "Country Girl," "Burning Wheel," and "Swastika Eyes," and is a powerful reminder of how diverse and talented this band is. And it proves definitively that whatever "it" is, this band still has it.

Make no mistake: this is not Gimme Shelter or The Last Waltz. It's a concert on film, not unlike something you'd stumble across on Palladia. But for any fan of Primal Scream--or frankly, any fan of music--this is a marvelous document that celebrates a musical achievement that left its mark on hundreds of bands that followed. And it's music that still sounds as glorious and relevant as it did 20 years ago.

Or at least as I assume it sounded that glorious 20 years ago. My Ugly Kid Joe album sure hasn’t aged this well.

Screamadelica Live will be released in both Blu-Ray and a CD/DVD set on May 31, 2011.

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