Last Night: Primal Scream and Brian Jonestown Massacre at the Fillmore

Categories: Last Night
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Scott Caris www.circleonedesign.com

Primal Scream, Brian Jonestown Massacre
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
The Fillmore

Words by Jennifer Maerz
Photos by Scott Caris

Better than:
Dig! meets Laser Floyd

I had to keep reminding myself that last night's show wasn't a comeback tour. Neither Scotland's Primal Scream (who've been around since the '80s) nor our own Californians Brian Jonestown Massacre (who came along a decade later) ever really went away. But it sure seemed like it. They both fell under the radar for a long time, releasing forgettable albums (or, in the case of BJM, cracking up) so that all but the most passionate fans flat out forgot about them. Last night, however, the musicians' persistence was rewarded when the groups sold out the Fillmore and delivered a spectacle for the eyes and ears--with surprisingly none of the tantrum shenanigans from BJM's moody frontman Anton Newcombe (he even dedicated the band's final song to "All you people who lost your jobs." Awww.)
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If you wanted to know who the real star of the evening was, though, you should've been standing in the back of the Fillmore when Brian Jonestown Massacre came out. As soon as the band gathered its lineup together, everyone around me was focused center stage, where the dude with the giant chops and dark sunglasses was holding a tambourine.

"That's Joel!" One Brit near me exclaimed to his friend. "He works at Amoeba!" Indeed a whole crew of strangers started spontaneously gesturing at Joel Gion, excited to see the friendly guy who works behind the buy counter at the Haight St. record store (a popular place to hang out in a poor economy) was in front of them on stage.

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Scott Caris

Gion wasn't the only old school Massacre'er to rejoin the fold. Bassist Matt Hollywood also earned an introduction from Newcombe and a round of applause from the crowd. Although the band's Web site boasts some "40 members" have rotated through BJM over the years, the neo-psychedelic act somehow whittled its instrumental entourage down to eight for this performance, digging into songs that referenced the Jesus and Mary Chain on the heavy shoegazing side and 13th Floor Elevators on the acid garage tip.

Having seen some disastrous BJM shows at Bottom of the Hill back in the day, I have to say the music's come a long way. When things came together last night, it felt great to be pummeled by such loud, sexy, dramatic rock 'n' roll. When things didn't come together, it sounded like a murky barrage of way too many guitars playing on top of one another (or, put differently, using over a half dozen people to do what Black Rebel Motorcycle Club does with three). But the group luckily had more stunners than stinkers in the set list, so perhaps it really isn't down for the count quite yet.

If there was any doubt as to who the headliners were at the Fillmore, though, Primal Scream took care of that with an arena-sized light show. The green lasers, white strobes, red spotlights, and background fog machine kicked off the minute the Scots hit the stage imprinted permanent tracers into our lines of sight by the end. It was, to say the least, very visually intense.

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The band gets an A for effort for the visuals. It also gets an A for attitude. In an era where the predominant vibe from the hyped up rock acts is an earnest, stripped down, from-the-bedroom-to-the-club style delivery, it was fun to see a balls out, blown out performance from the band that helped usher in that big wave of over the top, dance-driven '90s Brit pop. But the problem is Primal Scream got caught up in a giant genre scramble over the last decade. Hearing that mess laid out live confirmed that the group lost its focus by cramming so many divergent colors into what it hoped would be a wild sonic kaleidoscope.

One thing's for sure, though, the band dabbled in nearly everything that was popular in the '90s, from adding a little Stooges dirge to its dance numbers to tossing off an obnoxious alt pop confection like "Rocks" (which got the fists raised in the air last night) to the hardcore rave anthems of XTRMNTR ("Swastika Eyes" brought out the air raid sirens and doused the crowd in blood red stage lights). But for all the pomp, there just wasn't enough pump. Everything sounded so well manicured that the ferocity Primal Scream desperately tries to channel comes out too tamed in the end.

It was the music from that early age of ecstasy that sounded the best last night. 1991's Screamadelica was an awesome collision of the Stones and acid house, and the hits Primal Scream pulled off that classic--"Higher Than the Sun," and "Movin on Up" --sounded revelatory still, even with the gospel singers on the latter being reduced to synth samples at the Fillmore. With all that money going to the laser show, I guess you've gotta leave the ladies at home.
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By the way: Brian Jonestown Massacre added a last minute show at the Independent tonight, with an opening set by the Flavor Crystals.

Appropriate drinking game for the night:
Drink every time the ageless Primal Scream frontman Bobbie Gillespie says, "Come on!" (That one from my friend Keith. Although I warn you, if you play this game, you'll be wasted by the third song, no matter the set).
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