The Jesus and Mary Chain Vogue Theatre, Vancouver BC, May 13
Published May 14, 2015With lone remaining founders Jim and William Reid at their core, legendary Scottish outfit the Jesus and Mary Chain released one of the most influential alternative rock albums of all time in 1985's Psychocandy. Indebted to '60s rock anomalies like the Velvet Underground, the Beach Boys and the Stooges, the record's wash of noise over recognizable pop forms would go on to profoundly influence the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr., while drummer Bobby Gillespie would immediately depart after the album to form Primal Scream. It provided a spark that led to a thousand fires, and it clearly still resonates today, as the album's 30th anniversary tour filled up the Vogue Theatre to capacity.
First off, Jim matter of factly explained the format for this show, saying that they would do a mini greatest hits set first, and then take a small intermission before playing their seminal Psychocandy in its entirety. The intro set the tone for the evening: This would not be the 15-minute-long noise thrash and brotherly fisticuffs spectacle of lore. It would be structured and straightforward, if a bit boring aside from a sour note in "Some Candy Talking," at least up to their sixth track, "Reverence," from 1992's Mercury Prize short-listed Honey's Dead. In this song, the sonic intensity of William's guitar ramped up to match his sibling Jim's visceral lyrics and compelling delivery as he expertly toyed out his instrument's gnarl of controlled feedback, which carried through to the wall of noise on "Upside Down." Finally, the gravity of the event began to sink in.
Screaming feedback lingered as the band left the stage after their first set. A brief stock footage film rolled, then melted away, and the cover art of Psychocandy hit the screen as the old time pop drumbeat of "Just like Honey" started thumping. It ended up being a rather lackadaisical take on the track, refreshed in public consciousness by its inclusion in Sofia Coppola's award-winning comedy-drama Lost In Translation from 2003. Their touch came back for "The Living End," as roving biker images washed across the big screen behind them. Thankfully, the belligerent strobes and backlighting from their first set had mellowed out in favour of the lysergic projections, but their performance would continue to be hit and miss.
With William on acoustic guitar, "Cut Dead" came off cutesy, rather than melancholic, and its touch of unintentional feedback and lack of visual accompaniment didn't help. Yet, Jim got right back into his delivery and William bent distortion to his will for "In a Hole," as trippy circles and static sizzled on the big screens. "Sowing Seeds" didn't work very well, with the band sounding a little clunky, but then one could practically hear the birth of the Raveonettes in "Taste of Cindy," with its schizophrenic film scenes as distorted and processed as William's howling six string histrionics.
The presentation itself was also uneven. The visuals were seemingly knocked down for "You Trip Me Up," leaving the band performing one of its punchier tracks in almost complete darkness, further obscured by the encroaching fog machine blasts. "Something's Wrong" brought back the blinding strobes, rendering them practically invisible, but they didn't have a whole lot of stage presence anyway. Jim occasionally sauntered back to the drum riser to take a drink of water, and William was allowed a little wiggle room next to the kit, but didn't appear to sing at all, even on "It's So Hard."
Yet thrashing guitar, screaming and driving punk energy made "It's So Hard" a natural climax, the perfect note on which to close the set. Jim slammed the mic stand down, seemingly channelling its raw energy. When it was finished, the phrase "game over" flashed down the screens, and the balcony arose for a standing ovation.
Certainly, Psychocandy was the point of this tour, but it didn't seem entirely necessary to play the whole thing start to finish. Some album tracks just won't work live, and it would have been nice to see a bit of that old drama in there, to keep it all interesting. But they were undeniably cordial and professional, playing on time and like clockwork, for a combined length of 75 minutes, on the nose.
Maybe that's just the price of growing up. It's hard to fault people for getting their shit together. Perhaps it's not quite as entertaining for the average concertgoer, but it's probably a lot healthier for them as they avoid burning out or fading away.