Hypermodern International Congress 2175

Remember, it wasn't raining when Noah built the ark.


Jesus & Mary Chain review (Webster Hall 5/21)

image courtesy of the Village Voice, which still blows....

There's always the chance, when you drop $45 for a ticket (plus god knows how much for booze) and spend an hour standing around marveling at the other rubes who allegedly have the same tastes you do, that your favorite band who hasn't performed in almost ten years will quite simply suck. Fact of life - most things suck, and the things that don't usually find a way to start. Lucky for me, this cynical attitude is shared by the infamous Reid brothers of Jesus & Mary Chain.

Fresh off years of anonymous sucking with their solo projects, and a Coachella performance overshadowed by a cameo of former Hollywood jailbait Scarlett Johansen, JMC gave a rounded fan-pleasing performance, peppered with barbs of wit and ear piercing feedback. The "tasty-but-you-might-choke-on-it" mix of pop-rock, noise and angsty lyrics shows not only the prevalence of their style over the last few years but also the lack of substance in those same years that set the Mary Chain apart.

By the time the lights went out it was 10:10 and JMC led off with two from "Automatic" - "Between Planets" and "Head On". As two of the most up-beat, sing-along songs in their oeuvre - they weren't bad openers. Jim Reid did his damnedest to thwart the crowd's enthusiastic nodding and singing by dropping notes and stretching the paces of his refrains. The result was amusing - as if a unique live cut of the songs were playing over the familiar Blanco & Negro cuts. JMC's new song "All Things (Must Pass)" provided a surprising and refreshing update to the "Automatic" phase of their career. More base and drum driven than most Mary Chain songs, "All Things" rings with Jim Reid's whiny twang for the refrain "I hope it doesn't last." It checks in at about a two-minute fuck you to The Strokes and other recent pretenders. In another sense the song is a statement on the JMC reunion - "Each day I wake, it's gonna be my last." Begging for the end and inviting death are hallmarks of the old candy fuzz JMC style and it was a treat to see them update it, while avoiding the lame pitfalls of favorite fan punching bag, the 1998 Sub Pop release "Munki."

With the exception of "Cracking Up" they scrupulously avoided "Munki" to my great delight. Although they remained fan favorites, the songs from "Psychocandy" ("Sidewalking" and "Just Like Honey") fall flat without the early JMC noise assault and the "Darklands" tracks ("April Skies" and the title track) proved likewise underwhelming without the studio note perfection. The exception was Psychocandy's "Never Understand" which crackled with feedback and played well at a slightly increased speed.

As might be expected, the real treats of the live performance were from "Honey's Dead". An extended version of "Teenage Lust" had the sound mixer working overtime to keep Jim and William from redlining. It was dirty, heavy, mean rock n' roll. With "Reverence" as a closer the band gave me pretty much everything I was looking for. Nothing says rock n' roll like a couple hundred young people screaming along "I wanna die!" Their performances signed the "Honey's Dead" aesthetic as the band's core philosophy - sex, death and feedback (not necessarily in that order).

After a spirited (but mannered) curtain call from the crowd, JMC came back with a song that really announced that they're still them. And nothing self-identifies like a cover, especially a hipster-loathing, ultra-short, thrashing, bass and lyrics driven song like The Soft Boys b-side "Vegetable Man." Calling out cool haircuts and poseur styling twenty years before The Dandy Warhols, The Soft Boy's tune positively throbs with violence against triviality and transparency:
"And what I wear/ is what you see/ It must be me / It's what I am / Vegetable Man."
The crowd seemed appropriately clueless. It warms the cockles of my heart that the JMC concert retained the the despair and clever misanthropy that made the band the the heirs of The Velvet Underground and Joy Division. It's enough to give one hope for the sick-of-you-all violence that fueled at least one revival for rock n' roll. Even if it is too late, maybe that's what we wanted to hear. And what better band to tell us it's time to die?

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