The Jesus And Mary Chain | Rev Magnetic
19th November 2021
With their Darklands tour, the iconic noiseniks The Jesus And Mary Chain turn on the engine of the time machine. They take their London audience back to 1987, the year of the second’s album release.
From within, the dome of The Roundhouse looks like the inside of a spacecraft. A circular construction that once served as a turntable engine shed was converted into an arts venue in the ‘60s. Historically, such buildings contained rotating platforms with rails to turn locomotives in the direction where they came from. Perhaps both metaphors – that of a turntable and spaceship – are fitting to describe the mental journey, driven by the powerful noise engine of The Jesus and Mary Chain. Deriving from the earthly principle of physics and technology, this music overflows with an extraterrestrial drone.
With a fair degree of excitement in the air, the audience is visibly reluctant to express their feelings directly. There is no excess applause or chanting. Perhaps, this is a code of conduct for long-term JAMC fans. Many of those present seem to have had a history of fandom or at least a personal connection to the band’s music. “I remember seeing them at the University of London Union in 1985, they smashed up the equipment on stage”, says Irsh, one of the followers, standing in the first row. Would they smash it up this time? “No, they have calmed down a lot since then”, assures Irsh.
Indeed, the Reid brothers fill the space with a somewhat more pacifying presence. They walk on the stage, accompanied by the chorus from Summer Wine by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. Jim Reid greets the audience with a casual hand-waving and concise description of the “programme of events”: “We are playing Darklands, you know that. Then we’re gonna go off and have a cup of tea and then come back and do a bunch of more songs”. Their trademark sound is in place though. William Reid, whose hairstyle is unmistakably recognisable, plays his Gibson ES-335 with a similarly distinguishable ringing intensity.
While at the Roundhouse, it is hard not to think of The Velvet Underground, both as an influence and a constant reference. On the playlist filling the gap between the support act – the fellow Glaswegians Rev Magnetic – and the headliners, Lou Reed’s Pale Blue Eyes is an unmissable choice. All Darklands songs sound like a sonic love letter to the Velvet Underground and rock ‘n’ roll influences that fed into their concept. Transposed to a higher key, Deep Perfect Morning, with its lulling blues-y pace, and particularly the vocals of Reid bear striking resemblance to Reed. No pun intended.
In one of the interviews from 1992, Jim Reid articulated the idea of American music and culture as a major inspiration: “Blues music was rock ‘n’ roll, before it had a name, before people called it rock ‘n’ roll. I suppose a lot of the things of interest [for us], like television, books and movies, also come from America”. Despite being defined by some writers and particularly by Richard Riegel in Creem magazine as “naked and unadorned with feedback”, Darklands maintains the rock ‘n’ roll continuity.
After the Darklands part is done, the band generously performs songs from most of their albums – Stoned & Dethroned, Automatic, Munki and Barbed Wire Kisses compilation. Such numbers as I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, Can’t Stop the Rock (a cover of Linda Reid’s song) and Moe Tucker remind me again where this all is coming from.
As the show continues, the level of white noise grows. Embellished with occasional splashes of guitar feedback, Kill Surf City lavishes the waves of distortion and fuzz on the excited listeners. Playing simultaneously, the guitarist Scott Von Ryper and William Reid build up a wall of sound, a metaphorical portal to various decades of popular music history. In that world of distorted harmony, one can pick up on the references he or she likes, whether it’s Phil Spector or The Psychedelic Furs. Nevertheless, this repository bears the name of The Jesus and Mary Chain who also defined the time in music history.
As expected, they return for the encore to play two more from Stoned & Dethroned and two from Psychocandy. The debut 1985 album has been massively quoted in popular culture. When the drummer Brian Young starts playing the inspired-by-the-Ronettes pattern of Just Like Honey, some younger members of the audience inevitably mention Lost in Translation by Sofia Coppola. With Isobel Campbell providing backing vocals, the song maintains the expected balance between bittersweet pop and rock ‘n’ roll. Finishing their set with Never Understand, they give more balm to noise-craving souls. A post-factum gentle ringing in one’s ears is the best memorabilia.
The Jesus And Mary Chain will shortly continue their Darklands tour in Europe – the dates are available here.
All words by Irina Shtreis. More writing by Irina can be found in her author’s archive.
Photos by Mel Butler, you can find Mel at her website here: