Primal Scream, Wolf & Cub @ The Tivoli, Brisbane (05/02/09)

The Tivoli’s mezzanine is closed as an early crowd trickle in to the sounds of Adelaide’s Wolf & Cub. The four-piece have been working on a follow-up to 2006’s Vessels, and their forty minutes is spent confidently performing a wealth of new material. Recent single Seven Sevens opens the set, while the saxophone-led melody of One To The Other is an early highlight. Though their October performance in support of The Vines felt claustrophobic and rushed, it’s clear that the few extra months of rehearsal and songwriting have allowed the band to renew their musical focus.

Joel Byrne’s vocals still feel like an afterthought to their tight compositions, which are augmented by a transfixing dual drum attack. Thomas Mayhew concentrates on the bottom end and sways before his bass amp like a primitive swamp creature as Byrne’s right foot flutters away at his wah pedal. The decision to re-introduce the frenetic two minutes of Thousand Cuts from the band’s 2004 debut EP is masterful: it appears between Vessels cuts This Mess and Steal Their Gold. If tonight’s excellent warm-up set is indicative of their forthcoming second album, Wolf & Cub can look forward to a proficient and successful 2009.

Scottish rock overlords Primal Scream greet us with Kill All Hippies from 2000’s XTRMNTR after a nine-year absence from Australian stages. It’s a stark, caustic opener to a set overwhelmed by bleak themes and imagery: the groove summoned by former Stone Roses bassist Mani Mounfield is immense, as frontman Bobby Gillespie deadpans “You’ve got the money/I’ve got the soul”. Tracks from that album work best tonight, though their more popular singles earn the biggest crowd response: the optimistic Movin’ On Up from 1991’s Screamadelica is accompanied by gospel singer-samples that are echoed by the crowd, while the taut snare beat of Rocks finds Gillespie directing handclaps and a capella sections from the seething mass.

It’s at this point that Gillespie is closest to smiling all night: though he plays the part of the disaffected, disinterested frontman better than any, his flaccid performance detracts from the vital sounds that his bandmates coerce from their instruments. The electronic gunshots of Exterminator connect like bullets to flesh, while fellow XTRMNTR track Swastika Eyes lingers in mediocity until Gillespie’s bored drawl submits to the soaring trance-instrumental rhythms of the song’s later stages.

This dichotomy between the singer’s invariable apathy and the band’s unrelenting energy has been central to the band’s ideal since their inception in the 1980s, yet it remains frustrating. Through constant changes in musical direction and nine albums, Primal Scream have captured the ears of a legion of fans across the globe. This tour is ostensibly in support of 2008’s Beautiful Future, which saw the band embracing pop while retaining the dark, sarcastic edge that permeates their sound. Though second song Can’t Go Back packs fuzz-guitar power chords, frantic drumming and a great keyboard melody into three-and-a-half blissfully meaningless minutes, this is the extent of exciting material taken from Beautiful Future. The chime-filled title track is a prime example of the band’s newfound tendency to latch onto a tentative song concept and push it toward five minutes’ duration: Beautiful Summer, first encore Uptown and the utterly lackluster Suicide Bomb are downers amid an otherwise engaging set.

2002’s Evil Heat is represented by Miss Lucifer, City and the atmospheric Deep Hit Of Morning Sun, which is one of several tracks that finds a green laser scanning the theatre’s space just above our heads. Early 1990s hit Jailbird appears between Suicide Sally & Johnny Guitar and When The Bomb Drops from 2006’s Riot City Blues, the latter of which allows plenty of room to breathe for guitarists Andrew Innes and Barrie Cadogan. Martin Duffy’s keyboard and sampling contributions are integral to the six-piece’s sound, yet he’s hidden down the back, hidden entirely except for his bobbing hat.

Duffy is adjacent to long-time drummer Darrin Mooney, who’s inexplicably wearing his band’s red tour shirt and a determined grin. Riot City Blues cut Country Girl appears in the encore before a characteristically distorted performance Accelerator decimates the audience. Gillespie and most of the band leave the stage, while Mooney continues to pound his kit and Innes amasses a massive feedback drone that encompasses the room. The crowd are forced to either leave, or attempt to withstand the sonic extremes by plugging ears with fingers. It’s a marvellous spectacle of musical dominance, and a fitting end to a powerful performance by a band of rock stalwarts.