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THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN - London Royal Festival Hall - 22 June 2007   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Saturday, 23 June 2007

Any band with "The” in their name owe at least something of their sound and their style to this under-rated modern day Velvet Underground...

They also say that Glastonbury is the place to be this weekend.  They also say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. They say. Whomever ‘they’ are. They’re wrong.


There was never any doubt about how much one can love The Jesus & Mary Chain. The spiky, abrasive brothers return to the British stage for the first time in nine years and return as the aloof, coolly received saviours they always were. How cool is coldness?


From a distance, the Mary Chain offer hymns to their own world : a secretive existence of motorbikes and drugs and girls in leather jackets. In love with the rock’n roll myth and yet also aware how absolutely absurd it is. It is absurd, this rock n roll thing, the pretence and the artifice and yet it’s easy to love a lie.



During tonights performance, The Mary Chain return to casually reclaim their crown with no shortage of aplomb. Having been away nearly a decade, a time that has seen the rise and fall of Tony Blair, the end of one millennia and the start of another, JAMC walk on stage to no fanfare, and win our hearts from the first strum of the noisy maelstrom that is “Never Understand.” Around us, the band step back and move away from things like showmanship and communication and let the songs speak for themselves.And what a lot the songs have to say.


In the space where a normal band would pout and preen, pirouette and pose, the Mary Chain retreat. Jim Reid’s expanse of showmanship is at best, understated : he crouches, leans over the microphone stand, stares straight ahead. It’s like a primevil pure Liam Gallagher without the childish, immature menace that is Oasis’ simian vocalist trademark. To his right, brother William Reid (slightly pudgier, but otherwise as he was in 1987) peels out abrasive feedback as if it were an old friend. Bobby Gillespie, ex JAMC-er Douglas Hart, and Jarvis Cocker look on. The space where the ego of the rock star would have lived is replaced by a unique combination of smoke and light. Shards of brilliant green and pink float across the venue, making the band mere ghostly shadows conjuring this otherworldly noise.


“Head On”, “Far Gone & Out”, and the wonderful “Catchfire” follow in quick succession. It takes six songs before the Mary Chain break with the veneer of professionalism. “Stop!” orders Jim Reid as the band abandon “Snakedriver” .. and start again. It’s an endearing moment. Even legends can be human.


Wrapped within a woollen blanket of comfortably searing feedback, the Mary Chain return as if they have never been away. Songs are welcomed as old friends – with a familiar abandon and gleeful dancing. Aside from the fact that we are in seats inside a classical concert hall, it could be 10.40 on a Wednesday in a nightclub with a sticky carpet on student night, in any University town, any time between 1985 and 1991, when just a handful of people knew what everyone else with their Mission albums and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin t-shirts didn’t.


In the meantime, there’s these songs. Fabulous, dirty, slinky things that are ripped with disease and motorbikes and rain. Two newish songs – the fabulous “Levitation” (at least, I think that is what it was called) and “All Things Must Pass” are placed within the set as if they have always belonged. Meanwhile, the virtual greatest hits set is practically a lineup of a indie DJ’s onetime playlist : “Happy When It Rains”, “Blues From A Gun”, “Just Like Honey”.


It’s also worth noting what they don’t play : “Darklands”, “April Skies”, “Rollercoaster”, “Almost Gold”, “I Love Rock N Roll”, “I Hate Rock N Roll” – and if these titles don’t mean anything to you, you don’t know what you are missing. “Just Like Honey”, with Nina Pearsson of The Cardigans on vocals, is attempted three times before the band finally make it all the way through to the end without screwing up. It’s part, I suppose, of the charm. Was Marilyn Monroe more beautiful for her beauty spot?



In the brevity of a 75 minute set - the whole thing is over by 22.03pm - it’s inevitable there will be some gripes about what is missing. But for now, let’s concentrate on the riches they flaunt in front of us. The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Kaiser Chiefs, (in fact any band with the precursor “The” in their name) and countless others owe at least something of their sound and their style to this under-rated modern day Velvet Underground.


The evening draws to a close with a romp through Pink Floyd’s still-unreleased final work with Syd Barrett – 1967’s “Vegetable Man” – and a barnstorming, fabulous exploration of the signature “Reverence” : all catchy pop hooks, squealing guitars, and dying on a bed of spikes. At the end, it’s been a long time since the Mary Chain were last here, and they should never have gone away – every song is familiar and loved with the recognition of nostalgia, and also, with the new material, the Mary Chain are still boldly going where no man has gone before. The human adventure is just beginning.




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