Bobby Gillespie has long held a reputation as one of rock’s more curmudgeonly characters (Van Morrison currently holds the title, following the recent death of Ginger Baker). Indeed, his unimpressed glare is an indispensable component of a Primal’s gig. However, the entertainment-hungry folk of Perth rarely see bands of this calibre in their hometown. On this bitter, dreich Sunday night, two days after the Tories were re-elected, they had decided they were going to…ahem…have a good time, do what they wanna do and be who they wanna be.
Support act The Illicits stoked the fire with a pleasing cacophony before the main event, by which time the place was packed. The stage was bare except for a graffiti’d white sheet. The band were dressed in monochrome except Gillespie, who loped on wearing a neon pink suit, shirt and shoes. This bold sartorial choice suggests he is aware that he is the centre of attention, and that rock stars need to look the part, even if that means resembling a giant ambulant highlighter pen.
The graffiti said ‘Maximum Rock’N’Roll’ and that is exactly what they gave us; a pumped up guitar-heavy noise assault. It was loose, richly textured, heavy on the drum and bass (but not Drum’n’Bass) complete with sound effects, rave whistles and lots of guitar solos. It was a marvellous mess. This suited the more nihilistic tunes like Swastika Eyes, and weaponised the more melodic ones like Come Together, re-energising a back catalogue that goes back (blimey) thirty years.
This is essentially a ‘Best of…’ tour, and the band included all their biggest singles, including three tracks from Screamadelica. This willingness to please the audience was unexpected and might have been a form of reward for the crowd’s unrelenting enthusiasm. If not overtly hostile, Gillespie remained deadpan throughout the first half (a more cynical observer might have assumed he was very stoned). But then, during Country Girl, as the crowd sang loudly enough to drown out the band, Bobby cracked a smile. Shocked that his own gob had betrayed him, he covered it with his arm. But we all felt it – we had worn him down.
Perhaps despite himself, Gillespie is a magnetic front man, even when scowling. To paraphrase Michael Gove, whatever charisma is, Bobby has it. Gillespie is the AntiGove. As the hits got bigger the crowd got louder and jumped higher. By the last song (Rocks, of course) the roof was off and Bobby was allowing himself sustained bouts of grinning. Perhaps he wanted to please us as much as we wanted to please him.