My ruminations on shows or albums here aren’t reviews. They’re often me waxing about nostalgia and the idolatry in it. It seems to be a theme with most shows these days. I’m trying to make up for lost time too of not going out to live performances as a kid. As a teenager I was content to sit with my albums, body flush with the floor, and headphones at a frequency blasting volume. Psychocandy was one of those albums that I had to add to your essentials collection because it was in heavy rotation on Citylimits (the midnight alternative Much Music video show in Canada).
It’s apparently been thirty years since Psychocandy came out, but my heart wouldn’t know it.
Once darlings of the British press and still idols to many, the band formed in the outskirts of Glasgow, Scotland in 1983. Brothers William and Jim Reid aren’t just alternative rocker icons, they’re originals. William Reid’s thrashing guitar, a noise that the guitarist himself has been known to get lost in, attacks the body and screams out the listener’s ears. It’s a throbbing sort of fuzz that seeps into the bottom of the gut and settles somewhere between the stomach and the heart. Jim Reid’s vocals are soft, they kind of sneak up on you, as if he was calming the heart down from their guitars’ screeching crescendos.
“Moving up and so alive
In her honey dripping beehive
It’s good, so good, it’s so good
Was it all branding? Was this their hook? Back then, and mostly as a teen I guess, I didn’t care. Their honeyed words and devil may care attitude made me care only about that voice and the pulsing noise candy in my ears.
I had the luck and the great pleasure of seeing The Jesus and Mary Chain last night for their sold out show at The Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto. It was incredible.
Instead of headphones, I donned earplugs to prepare for the sonic onslaught. The crowd felt electric around me talking about shows past. William and Jim are notorious for their brotherly fallouts and combined tempers, onstage and offstage. Whether its money or the music that fuels their reunion, it didn’t matter to most of us though. There weren’t any big corporate logos last night except for the one on the beverage in my hand.
The show openers were L.A. based alt rock band Gateway Drugs. There are a few bands with that name and it was hard to find info on them beforehand so I didn’t know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised. They are neither a hip-hop band nor a retro analogue synth band. They’re a melancholic shoegaze outfit that not only delivered the rock, but the attitude as well. Comprised of Blues Williams and Gab, Noa, and Live Niles (children of The Knack’s Prescott Niles) the band played a tight set of garage rock with a bit of punk aesthetic to cleanse the audience’s palette. The bass was turned up way too high in the theatre, but there was enough in their musicianship and emo stances for me to decide that I needed to explore them further. The band sort of levitated around their drummer, Gabe, who was a hot chaotic mess. It was a wonderful sight. This is what a live show is: to present, engender, and elicit audiences. Gateway Drugs did just that.
Sugar, rock and roll doesn’t die. It waits.
The Jesus and Mary Chain are an efficient machine. First order of business was Jim Reid giving the audience the first order of business. They were to play a small set then return to play an even longer set. I think he wanted to assure us they’d be back after the break, lest we rush the stage (or riot – as in past live history) in disappointment. They didn’t disappoint at all. They sped through a lilting April Skies and crushed the audience with the title track, Psycho Candy. William Reid would veer his body towards the amps and lose himself for a bit, having his brother give him the occasional nod to come back to what they were doing. The second set (for lack of better words) drove me ‘crazy banana pants.’ Starting off with Just Like Honey (accompanied by Gateway Drugs’ vocalist, Liv Niles), Jim showed a bit more emotion, that is, if you count a desultory smirk as an emotion. You know what? You can, because overall Jim was very appreciative of the Toronto crowd. His vocals are still as sweet and as inviting and as he’d hit the upsurge in his notes, the crowd would meet him with an intensified frenzy. Jim would flash a slight smile behind the microphone and quickly revert back to seriousness. It was freaking adorable.
I died right at Taste The Floor. That song is in my top ten songs of all time. That list changes all the time, predictably expanding in size, but Taste The Floor remains and never leaves an empty spot.
“And the sun don’t shine
And all the stars don’t shine
And all the walls fall down
And all the fish get drowned
She’s singing to herself
As she’s singing in herself
And she walk right up to you
As she walk all over you”
Yes, she will Jim. Yes, she will. At my side, my best friend Jen jumped around like crazy, despite her back pain, as soon as they went into My Little Underground. By that time I think most of the audience had forgotten where they were and bounced around like teenagers. The band tripped its audience up and matched up their set with gorgeous visuals to create a subdued yet delighting spectacle. There was no pretension or allusions that they were better than their audience. Unique to The Jesus And Mary Chain is that after all this time, with this many fans who still anticipate new work from them, they still present an angry with the world demeanor. Sure, their pasty white pallor might have the hint of healthy times, but we’re all still down and managing it by staring at our shoes for respite. Nowadays their punkish attitude has mellowed out, but it doesn’t feel like age hammered the desolation out of them. Jim and William rocked out with their melodic wall of noise because in many ways, they’d invented it. But the Reid brothers have always exuded doom and gloom angst purely in their music. They just had a great audience last night to match their sweet revved up distortion and it was fantastic.
I’m still beaming.