A very long time ago, nearly thirty five years ago, a friend in the UK sent me a 7” single called Upside Down by a new Scottish band called The Jesus & Mary Chain. A glorious slab of thumping drums, Velvet Underground-esque alternative pop swimming under a sea of screeching feedback. I fucking loved it. It was the start of a beautiful relationship. Those records were electrifying. Some of them sounded like Jan & Dean jamming with Suicide in a warehouse full of people using metal grinders. There were tales of smoke filled gigs that ended after 25 minutes and ended in riots.
The first time I saw them was at Le Rox what seems like a hundred years ago. I say ‘saw’ because there was a lot smoke machines going and not much light, so it was all shadows and bright lights and the occasional glimpse through the fog, but the music was astounding. After a while in their music there was less feedback and more rhythmic beats, growling bluesy guitars, and lyrics and vocals that showed the Reid brothers (Jim and William) to be incredible songwriters and performers. Never concerned with being pop stars they nonetheless, found themselves topping the charts, appearing on Top of the Pops and the pages of Smash Hits and No 1 Magazines between Spandau Ballet and Howard Jones. What a gloriously broad time is was for music in the 1980s.
From 1984 til they split in 1999, they made consistently great records (Psychocandy, Darklands, Honey’s Dead to name a few) and toured endlessly. The brothers didn’t tour well together with Jim famously saying ‘ After each tour we wanted to kill each other, after the final tour we tried’. After being invited to reform to play the Meltdown and Coachella festivals in 2007, there was talk of an album of new material. It took ten years to arrive but 2017’s Damage & Joy (their seventh) was well worth the wait. In the meantime there has been lots of touring, box sets, compilations and expanded re-issues. A packed Gov is here to pay tribute to one of the most innovative and unique bands to ever walk under April Skies, The Jesus & Mary Chain.
Opening proceedings Flyying Colours were an inspired choice and their psychedelic rock went down well with the JAMC audience. They promised to return to Adelaide in ‘A couple of weeks, or a couple of months’, which was a bit vague but keep an eye out for those days (whenever they might be).
By the time JAMC take the stage the room is full of smoke, and packed with people. They open with the opening track from Damage & Joy, Amputation, a song that has all the classic Jesus & Mary Chain vibe. It is clear they still favour operating in the shadows as the smoke billows and the blinding lights give us little glimpses of the Reid brothers and their excellent three piece band. Chugging rhythm guitar leave, Williams to shine with jingle jangle perfection over April Skies. They crush Head On, famously covered by The Pixies, but a quintessential Mary Chain song and Indie Rock anthem. Like Head On, Blues From a Gun is breathtaking (both from 1989’s Automatic LP). Throughout the night they do play five songs from Damage & Joy, including Black and Blues, Mood Rider, All Things Pass and War on Peace, nicely spaced between the songs more familiar. But some great treats for the die-hards also. Far Gone & Out from Honey’s Dead , Between Planets from Automaticand a delicious pair of ecstasy inducing Psychocandy gems in the shape of Taste of Cindy and The Living End.
The smoke, volume and lights are slightly disorientating but it’s strangely appropriate. Teenage Lust (Honey’s Dead) is a swirling slow paced , atmospheric highlight. When they get to Some Candy Talking people are going crazy. Originally a stand-alone single Some Candy Talking (it was added to the CD release) I always thought Roy Orison could have done a great version of it. Williams brittle guitar work tonight is fantastic, and all around me are dancing and filming on their phones. Another Automatic gem in the form of Halfway To Crazy, helps round out the set with Reverence from Honey’s Dead.
They leave the stage before returning for a glorious Just Like Honey, the song that most people fell in love with first. Conjuring the spirit of The Velvets, Honey builds with unbelievable cool. A female vocalist has appeared from nowhere and adds the ethereal backing vocals so iconic on the single. I have no idea who she was, but she did a great job.
Cracking Up (Munki) sees Jim declaring ‘Some said I was a freak….I am’. The band have been amazing all night, the drums are hypnotic and the bass and rhythm guitars form a rock solid, dark and deep canvas for Williams eclectic guitar to fly with and Jim’s vocal to sore and dazzle. A fourth and final song from Psychocandy, In a Hole leads to War on Peace (I see what you did there) from the latest album before an ironically ‘rockin’ version of the 1995 single I Hate Rock’n’Roll. Fuzzes and swirls and wails us to the finish line.
Still one of my favourite bands thirty years and counting. Bloody great gig.
Live Review By Ian Bell
Amputation (Damage & Joy 2017)
April Skies (Darklands 1987) Head On (Automatic 1989)
Blues From a Gun (Automatic 1989)
Black & Blues (Damage & Joy 2017)
Mood Rider (Damage & Joy 2017)
Far Gone & Out (Honey’s Dead 1992)
Between Planets (Automatic 1989)
Taste of Cindy (Psychocandy 1985)
The Living End (Psychocandy 1985)
Teenage Lust (Honey’s Dead 1992)
All Things Pass (Damage & Joy 2017)
Some Candy Talking (non-album single 1986)
Halfway To Crazy (Automatic 1989)
Reverence (Honey’s Dead 1992)
Just Like Honey (Psychocandy 1985)
Cracking Up (Munki 1995)
In a Hole (Psychocandy 1985)
War on Peace (Damage & Joy 2017)
I Hate Rock’n’Roll (Munki 1995)