Manchester Academy 1
20th Nov 2014
John Robb reviews The Jesus And Mary Chain as they hit peak form on their Psychocandy tour. The Membranes frontman was also label mates with the Mary Chain on Creation Records in 1984 / 85 and did the first ever interview with the band – read that story here.
Glasgow and Manchester have always had a musical love affair.
Madchester nights are still a part of the Scottish city’s culture, Glasgow Green was the greatest Roses gig of them all and in return Manchester has always embraced the Scottish city’s music and incorporated it into its own culture.
And tonight is a perfect example of this special relationship with perhaps the key band in the whole equation, The Jesus And Mary Chain, playing their defining album in the city that was a big part of the story even from the start and that wet and cold autumn night almost exactly thirty years ago when Alan Mcgee brought the young band up on the train to do their first ever press interview with me. They stayed over in my freezing house where my band the Membranes lived after a night out watching Lee Scratch Perry at the Hacienda which I blagged everyone in for and delivered a debut interview in the dark gloom of the gear room of my battered rented house. (which was four doors down the road form Bonehead’s house that featured on the classic oasis album cover).
But first there is a new generation of beautiful Glasgow psychosis to deal with, with tonight’s support band, The Amazing Snakeheads who are quite a proposition.
The tough wee guy singer, Dale Barclay, is exploding with angst and killer guitar riffs as he slashes at his six string with all the anger and pent up rage of the now. The songs brood and prowl like all great rock n roll and fit firmly in that howling lineage that kinda started with the bastardised blues of the Birthday Party and packs the same feral rage and firebrand malevolent poetic rush as the Australian crew.
It’s somehow fitting that the Glasgow band are on the bill with their fellow Scottish heroes and with Alan McGee lurking backstage their must be thick with those great Glasgow voices cussing at the world.
The Snakeheads are a band always on the verge of self destruct with what seems members coming and going and with their Gun Club in a bad mood stripped down bluesy rock n roll set on permafire. The rhythm section kicks out the jams with a great groove whilst the guitar slashes over the top. Dale has a wired intensity as he lurks on the stage and this is what makes the band so fascinating to watch. It’s that air of danger, that fug of intensity that fires the band as they get their ya ya’s and their demons out.
When the Mary Chain arrive with the minimum of fuss it’s their avalanche of sound that instantly sweeps you up. There is something relaxing about that wall of sound- that zen surfing on the huge enveloping tidal wave of feedback and classic guitars sweeping out their perfect sound. When the Mary Chain first appeared on the scene they somehow managed to straddle the cultural divide between the Swans/Sonic Youth and UK noisenik underground and the classic three chord trick of great rock n roll and changed the landscape.
Tonight they are imperious.
This is loud, loud and urgent in a way that they didn’t manage to capture on their last comeback in 2007. Tonight they are so loud and so perfect that they have wiped away any memory of other comebacks and they make those sullen and fragile songs explode into life.
There is a salvation in noise like this and stood in the middle of the maelstrom is Jim Reid who still does that rag doll in a wind tunnel thing, hanging off the mic with that mixture of nerves and innocuous cool that was so much his trademark from the liquorice leather early days.
He still has that gorgeous sexy voice, the lazy laconic drawl that oozes classic cool as he intones the nihilistic lyrics over the roller-coaster songs.
When they first appeared they were a necessary blow touch who appeared from the overspill estates of Glasgow. They were the perfect moment and even if the only released one single on Creation they defined the label for ever with their mixture of reverence for the classic and their punk rock attitude and their shock of the new. That sheer twisted wall of sound can be found everywhere on Creation from My Bloody Valentine’s sonic experiments and to even Oasis’s brawling brothers and big sound.
Pyschocandy was the moment.
It defined indie rock that year but was a far darker and more dangerous record than its place in rock’s rich pantheon would admit. Tonight is a reminder of the raw power of the record and it’s a perfect update of a key album that has never dated. This is a thrilling rush of sound perfectly delivered and even if the guitars sound sometimes perfectly slightly out of tune then that somehow works as well.
The early part of the set is a run though a mini workout of classics kicking off with the twisted melee and sullen genius of April Skies which perfectly matches their beauty and violence. The ‘psycho’ and the ‘candy’ in fact- that genius touch they always had for combining the noise of the Swans/Sonic Youth/Neubauten axis with the classic melodies of pop history as they walk like the Shangri Las and talk like the Swans. Many have attempted this synthesis and few have succeeded. Like a stark meltdown of Spector, Ramones, Beach Boys, the Stooges, Velvets Suicide – all the dark hearted classics.
The Mary Chain are the lovelorn romantics who acted street tough but wore their broken hearts on their sleeves.
The opening salvo is the perfect representation of the legendary Mary Chain- those short, sharp shock sets of feedback and sweet melody and it sounds fantastic. Age had not withered their assault and if anything they sound louder and more perfect than ever before. The guitars are set to chainsaw but the sound is crystal clear and they are at the peak of their form with the songs pouring out. Head On sounds mean, Some Candy Talking is sweet pop brilliance and still heart breakingly perfect whilst Psychocandy lays out the manifesto Up Too High and Reverence are maybe lesser known songs in their canon but sound perfect whilst the mini set ends with the defiant and blistering debut Upside Down before they leave the stage with their surly attitude intact and everyone holds a breath waiting for the return and the classic album.
Now this album run through thing has got a bit boring but sometimes in cases like this it makes a real sense. Especially in Manchester where Psychocandy laid out the template for the city’s favourite sons the Stone Roses and by extension Oasis – you can hear all the echoes of the Mary Chain in the Roses from the softly softly vocals, the classic pop touches, the sullen bravado and the generation defining rock n roll- not counting the leather trouser look that both bands shared for a brief period.
The Mary Chain deliver Pyschocandy in the same order- there is no fuss, no nonsense and of course there is no communication with the audience- no phoney showmanship, the songs speak for themselves and you can see who invented the so called ‘stillism’ that was so key to the stand off cool of classic Ian Brown or especially Liam Gallagher – that fronting a wall of sound that does all the talking.
Jim Reid still hangs on his mic like a waif like version of primetime Pistols Johnny Rotten whilst brother William stands sideways dealing out the barrage of guitar brilliance. The Reid brothers remain self contained in their own world- they are the yin and the yan and the inventors of this brilliant sound that arrived fully formed before they signed to Creation and released their first single with no outside meddling with the feedback riven pop perfection pouring out of their fingers and onto that classic first seven inch single.
Pyschocandy was their moment. The moment when they dominated the pop discourse and even if their later records were equally as good this was the time when everyone wanted their hair like them and their guitars turned up to full. They were the last roar of the original punk wave – the last time it was still cool to make that much beautiful noise and gate crash the charts before that world got all tidied up.
Tonight’s gig is a reminder of just how important this band was and cooly they still sound urgent and brilliant with their melancholy and sound and fury still intact and as urgent as ever. The nihilism still makes sense and the scouring attitude is still cranked to full whilst the heartbreak songs still hit the target with melodies that break hearts and the sound and the fury is still set to fire the outsider soul.
I was praying for their brilliant run through of Syd Barrett’s genius Vegetable Man in their first set and that would have made the evening complete but that’s splitting airs.
The Jesus And Mary Chain could have returned with a flat indifference but this time they are on fire and defied everything to turn in one of the greatest shows of their career- god knows how they came back with the sound and fury this time. Maybe they were just ready for it or maybe it was that cordite combination of the Reid brothers and arch droog anarchist Alan McGee that makes all the difference – after all he helped to create the original myth from the brilliant blueprint that the band themselves invented in their wee Scottish bedroom.
God knows and who cares, what really matters is that it sounded like ‘total genius’ as their manager likes to say.