By Hollister Dixon // Primal Scream and The Cult photos by Yousef Hatlani
Following the move to cease production of the podcasting arm of Faces on the Radio, I found myself just not going out to shows as much anymore. This is mostly a consequence of paying much less attention to the calendar, a part of my programming that vanished surprisingly fast. At least a couple nights a week, I would find myself looking at my Facebook notifications, and saying, “SHIT! That’s tonight!” about one show or another. To get back into the swing of things, I decided the best way was to throw myself into the deep end and double-book myself: I would see Scottish deities Primal Scream (inexplicably supporting England’s The Cult, rather than the other way around – but that’s neither here nor there) at the Crystal Ballroom, before crossing the Burnside to the Doug Fir where Tim Kasher’s Cursive offshoot The Good Life were making a triumphant return. In the process, I learned and realized a few things.
Primal Scream, The Cult – Crystal Ballroom
This is an obvious statement, but if you’re the singer in a band that plays a lot of quasi-instrumental music, you’re going to have to do a lot more to exercise the “stage presence” muscle. Stage presence is as much of a muscle as anything in performing, and if you’re in a band like Primal Scream, and you’re someone like Bobby Gillespie, you’re going to have to figure out what to do with your time while the rest of the band is going nuts. Primal Scream are a few year’s past their 30th anniversary as a band at this point, long enough that you’d be able to forgive Gillespie for not bothering to move around as much as he does. At this point, though, he’s got enough energy to make Mick Jagger watch his back: during longer, more instrumentally-driven songs, he bounds across the stage, posing at the edge for fans, preening like an unsung sex icon with his mic stand (note: Bobby Gillespie truly is an unsung sex icon). Joyfully, the rest of the band matched his energy step for step and turn for turn, putting on one of the single best Crystal Ballroom performances I’ve seen since the triumphant and transformative performance by fellow Creation Records stars Slowdive.
Partway through the band’s hour-long performance, Gillespie dropped a minor bomb nobody could quite believe: this was, in fact, the very first Primal Scream show in Portland. This was a source of joy, but also one of annoyance bordering on anger for the people I was with: despite the caliber of the talent onstage this evening, the Crystal Ballroom was – and I’m being generous here – roughly half full by the time the band had finished. It seemed that the band failed to notice this (or noticed and simply didn’t actually care), however, as they sailed on with enough passion and fire that I genuinely felt bad for the evening’s headliner. To be honest, I’m still a little confused as to why this bill wasn’t flipped – I feel like advertising a “first time in Portland!” performance by Primal Scream would have sold out the Ballroom months before the show actually went on.. but, again, that’s a minor trifle. I say this without a drop of hyperbole, but I feel blessed to have gotten the chance to see this band play, even if they only played for an hour.
The unfortunate part of my double-booking is that this was a very good opportunity for me to finally get what people enjoyed about The Cult. During a conversation with friend/former guest Shelley Bowers, I tried to figure out what I was missing about The Cult, and in the process realized that I was simply just a little too young to really, truly get the band. Having said that, the songs I did see The Cult perform were fantastic. Just like the aforementioned Bobby Gillespie, Cult frontman Ian Astbury knows how to get a crowd eating out of the palm of his hand, and just like Primal Scream, he’s used the last 30 years to really figure out how to be a terrific performer. Had I stuck out the performance, I feel as though I could have found myself converted. Next time!
Unfortunately for Astbury, I have an unofficial standing order to see Tim Kasher perform whenever I get the opportunity. After a brisk trek across the Willamette, I got to see The Good Life‘s return from hibernation. It has been a jaw-dropping eight years since The Good Life released Help Wanted Nights, and their return with this year’s Everybody’s Coming Down came with a surprisingly nonexistent amount of fanfare. It could simply be because of Kasher’s status as an indie rock lifer – it isn’t as though he himself has been inactive, having released four records since Help Wanted Nights (two with Cursive, two under his own name) – but it was clear by the joy in the crowd that everyone in the room was overjoyed to be able to belt out those songs.
Kasher is at his best when he sings about emotional turmoil (“I’m at my best when I’m at my worst”, he aptly sang on “From the Hips“) and despite his kind and affable stage presence, The Good Life is just a less angular (and sometimes more angsty) version of Cursive. That’s not a knock at all; The Good Life have the benefit of being a more dynamic band, where Kasher is bolstered not only by the standout bass work of Stefanie Drootin (who also performed a stunning and tear-enducing rendition of Album of the Year cut “Inmates”), but by the workmanlike drumming of Roger Lewis, who was damn near impossible to look away from at times. It may simply be the result of working with Kasher (Cursive is, as it happens, a devastating live act), but band maintained a state of constant tightness throughout their hour onstage, even during an Everybody’s Coming Down cut that was prefaced with “Here’s a short one that we’re going to try really hard to not mess up!” and during the band’s more chaotic and expansive tracks (namely the title track from Album of the Year, a song which goes in approximately 20 directions during its five-minute span). Despite the somewhat short set (short by some metrics, I mean), seeing The Good Life perform was a wonderful reminder of why, exactly, I have that standing order to see Tim Kasher perform every chance I get: he’s one of indie rock’s best frontmen, no matter what band he’s playing with.