For a band the emerged with pop art riots, sullen interviews, a fuck you attitude and a single strewn with the sonic skree of feedback that didn’t quite mask its melodic beauty The Jesus And Mary Chain are a band well suited to veteran status.
Maybe it’s the timelessness of their music that was always built around a love of the classic pop or maybe the fact that they were not kamikaze teenagers even when they made it but the modern Mary Chain, who still make a glorious pop/noise, have something of the Leonard Cohen style wisdom about their music as they tour their new album ‘Damage & Joy’ where the new songs sit perfectly at ease in the set with their noisier standards.
Virtually the only band member visible on the dry ice strewn stage is Jim Reid who stands stock still, intoning the perfect melodies and those deceptively simple, yet complex slash slogan lyrics of self loathing and love over the impenetrable wall of sound. Lost in all the dry ice that masks the terror of playing life, the Mary Chain are still honing down that artful dislocation between beauty and violence that has always been the core to their enveloping spectral sound.
It’s this artful tension that creates the molten core to their music that exists beyond time and sounds as perfect now as when they emerged in 1985 full of culture disgust that had somehow turned inwards and was unleashed with a punk rock fury for their ten minute sets around the country. They have survived that moment – that moment of provocation, of dissonance, that moment of being wild and cool and crafted their way beyond all that kind of pop – art – noise – sex – danger thing. So many bands would have burned out, destroyed by the rollercoaster, but the Reid’s were always a bit more than ‘fuck you’ merchants.
Their glacial and powerful set tonight proves this, projecting something beautiful and spectral, time has enhanced these songs – as the years roll by they are sugarcoated with classic and if the modern Mary Chain play for well over an hour then that’s a good thing. This is a pop music that is both classic but still full of the noise and fury of their inception but can switch to the honey dripping glistening beauty of Just Like Honey like a switchblade.
Jim Reid is framed by dry ice and the iconic stained glass windows of the backdrop of Leeds newest venue – the breathtaking Church – a converted holy space that makes for the perfect gravitas for hallowed music like this.
The Mary Chain always occupied a fascinating space between the noisenik underground of the time with a dash of the emerging American sonic youth as well as finding the inner beauty of Einsturzende Neubauten who nodded back at the Mary Chain with their Spector drenched cover of Lee Hazelwood’s Sand that saw them take five minutes off their own thrilling trip of percussive noise and silence. Added to this was the classic three chord rock n Roll shuffle of The Ramones and the girl groups as well as the psychotic whine of the Sex Pistols or early PiL from a time when John Lydon really mattered, and a nod to Joy Division and the dark heart of the surrounding neo Goth culture like the Cramps graveyard shift. Going forwards and backwards at the same time was their trick – a contradictory notion that makes them feel future classic to this day.
They still make everything feel so effortless, those glorious chord changes, those dark emotions, that inner turmoil, that claustrophobia and frustration contrasted with the sheer romance and beauty of three chord rock n roll or the heart break ballad strewn with tantalising noise and an avalanche of guitars like on the still astonishing You Trip Me Up.
Jim still has a gorgeous voice – velvet and maybe Velvets smooth that slips around the melodies whilst William is lost somewhere in the ice with his shock of silver curls like a sonic wizard cooking up layers of great sounding guitar. For a band that deal in the deceptively simple there is so much going on here. The guitars sound crystalline perfect – post Cramps fuzz with William combining Poison Ivy’s genius of simplicity and the late Bryan Gregory’s one fingered perfect feedback drones. There is surf violence, chiming post rock melancholia, spectral atmosphere or filthy sex. The Mary Chain still sound guitar-urgent and still find new places to take the six string.
The set list slips from classic to modern, the new album gets an outing as they open with Amputation, a track that may have been around for a few years but has been vamped up for the album with producer Youth’s mystical magic touch. Head On still leers danger whilst Blues From A Gun is still a huge grinding anthem – a track that should have been huge and perhaps one the greatest goth anthems it feels even more fitting with its dark lustre being played out in Leeds the birthplace of that kind of drum machine, grinding bass, ghost rider filth.
The Mary Chain occupy a curious place in the lineage of all things high decibel. They were once the most dangerous band in the world, they now sound like guitar classic but retain some of that surly distance. Their audience reflects their reach, ranging from goth industrial heads hooked onto the dark sex and violence inherent in the band’s music and the indie kids who dig the stripy T-shirt surf cranked through a fuzz pedal trip of the band and also somehow feel the Mary Chain’s massive influence on the Stones Roses who borrowed their soft/hard template to create their own magic.
Tonight the Mary Chain still feel urgent and powerful, like their last tour their live sound is quite astonishing. They sound far from tired and jaded – someone has kept their fire burning and their new album proves that they are still on a creative high. Their songs are still full of cascading melody and the band still sounds Pistols heavy. There is noise, beauty and confusion and there is the thrill of danger on the set ending Reverence with its ‘I wanna die like…’ refrain. It’s like being planted into the middle of Metal Box or the last Pistols gig in San Francisco but through the suffocating Glasgow outlying towns of the late seventies when the Reids grew up and when they briefly went to school with Ian Astbury (weird pop fact of the night!).
The Spector with a fuzzbox wall of sound is still so compelling and the venue’s stain glass adds an aura and glow of belief to the band’s decades old sound and it’s this eternal that suits them well.
Somehow, incredibly, the Jesus And Mary Chain still sound like the future.