Primal Scream’s show at Club Nokia wasn’t as safe and sterile as the metal detector at the door would suggest—it was full of musical savagery, literal violence, and strange rules of etiquette regarding who could get green wristbands and who couldn’t, and at what times Tony Presedo of Tee Pee records would acknowledge I existed. (Definitely not when young freckly girls were around.)
We missed the first band entirely. Parking at the venue meant $15, so we’d scammed around for street parking, then ambled slowly down the newly-condoed streets so my friend could chug two Fat Tires on the way—she wanted a nice buzz, but not at the exorbitant prices that fall within the shadows of the Staples Center. Once in front of the spanking-new Nokia Theater, we got our “VIP” tickets, a status albatross that meant we had to labor through a cheesy line of fellow schmucks, go through said metal detector, ride an elevator up to the Logan’s-Run-meets-Nawlins “VIP” room, where cruelly soundless TV monitors showed us the Brian Jonestown Massacre already in progress.
If the VIP lounge was like a retro Tomorrowland ride, seeing the BJM with Matt Hollywood and Joel on stage was a full-on flashback to shows I’ve only experienced via Dig and the hearsay of aging hipsters, albeit augmented by a few love-handles here and there. It was the real deal. The denim threads were a-flyin’, Stone Roses haircuts were a-flappin’, and eye contact was utterly avoided. Matt Hollywood still looked as pissed-off as he had the day he unplugged Anton’s mike at the Viper Room, though this time Anton was behaving himself. (To his bandmates, anyway, though not to us—his new song written “on a plane from Iceland” stunk like decade-old bong water in the sober light of day.)
Joel was in top form, though—he introduced one song as Matt Hollywood’s “big hit… an underage groupie song!” Some stupid young thing later was like “What is that tambourine guy about?” And I wanted to grab her by the scruff of the neck and shout, “What the fuck was Bez from Happy Mondays about? About fucking magic, you dumb bitch!” But that would be sexist, ageist, and beside the point—the BJM was overall pretty great, the only real tragedy being the relative sparseness of the crowd. Perhaps the 8:45 start time meant most of their fans were still out scoring dope.
Things were a lot more crowded and bizarre when Primal Scream took the stage. Techno laser beams jutted out from above at vision-correcting viscosity, whilst veteran rockers such as RTX’s Jennifer Herrema, former Pistol and DJ Steve Jones (with his harem of aluminum-hatted rasta crones tottering around confusedly) and Leighton Koizumi of the Morlocks looked on, over the heads of hipsters too young to remember when blending psyche with trance was still one of the many novel ideas Primal Scream somewhat spearheaded.
I don’t know if Primal Scream remembered that, either. They sprinkled their set with only a couple numbers showcasing the Orb-infused Can-tasity of Screamadelica, like sprigs of mint in an otherwise safe soufflé. Four-on-the-floor stompers from XTRMNTR and Riot City Blues left little room for the shimmering opiate dreams that once flooded a thousand chill rooms with good vibes. Just back from recording with the Queens of the Stone Age dude, Primal Scream came to L.A. to rock, rock, and rock, even on the more techno numbers.
Didn’t these Scot-pop idols still have something to teach us about the dubby sojourn through ecstasy’s Land of Truth? I found myself gazing back at the crowd, and became fixated on Leighton Koizumi’s eyes, the eyes of a man Bobbie Gillespie’s age who started the Morlocks around the time Primal Scream got going. Koizumi looked distracted—he himself lived through the Paisley Underground, spent years in prison on drug-related charges, and probably knew more about vintage Americana than any of Primal Scream’s Black Crowes chords could convey. Perhaps he wondered what might have been if Voxx Records’ Greg Shaw had pushed his protégés in the direction of Detroit techno instead of Downliners Sect.
Primal Scream had returned to rock through the back door, man. While on album they’ve made a few stumbles in this decade, somewhere around the second half of last Monday night’s set, their argument in favor of straight-ahead rock started to convince me a whole lot more. It was adorable seeing don’t-you-know-I’m-loco guys with big pants and ball caps going apeshit in the crowd, throwing up their hands in the devil-horn, hang-loose position, screaming “Get your rocks off! Get your rocks off, honey!” I looked down at my stomping feet and realized my rocks were getting off, even in this sterile shrine to New Downtown. (Bet it looks like the Knitting Factory in five years.) A Chill Room this was not, but a good time it definitely was.