The Jesus and Mary Chain: Better Than Ever on Psychocandy Tour

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Bands performing classic albums in their entirety is hardly a new thing at this point. But it isn't every band whose material has struck a chord across multiple decades. When the Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy was first released in 1985, it was a piece of music out of step with the times both because it harked back to an older sound and because it created something new that proved to be incredibly influential on music nearly thirty years after the fact.

Why this show and tour seemed relevant now rather than merely some kind of nostalgia kick can be attributed to more than one factor. The Mary Chain is more musically strong and cohesive now than it was during its original run, albeit less chaotic. The band has had a major impact on the current generation of psychedelic, punk and garage-rock bands that aren't making a clear distinction between subgenres in their own songwriting. The band was a godfather of that creative impulse, and many of these musicians had to miss out on the Scottish group, both during its heyday and when it got back together the first time to tour. Maybe some of those musicians are now getting to see how you can stretch the boundaries of conventional rock while fully embodying what that music could be. For the Jesus and Mary Chain, attitude matters more than aiming for a classic sound. 

The first seven songs of the Mary Chain set sampled from the rest of the band's catalogue, and after a roughly five-minute break, the band came back on to play all of Psychocandy. And it felt like a pretty marked change in tone.

The first set was melodic and slightly quieter, and for the Psychocandy material, it sounded like the music had more than an extra layer of distortion and volume and that the band's performance, while still very controlled, seemed more frayed to suit the music. Even the supremely noisy “Reverence,” from Honey's Dead, was reined in a bit and reimagined to fit in with the vibe of the first set, while show closer “It's So Hard” found Jim Reid and his brother William crackling with intense energy.

Was the former tension within the band less? If not, it sure seemed channeled into executing the music in a way that more closely honored the songwriting. It also allowed the band's influences to shine more clearly, and it was fascinating to hear how well the Reids incorporated the music that inspired them into their own sound. “Reverence” before tonight never really seemed to be reminiscent of the Stooges' “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” The early song “Up Too High” had a guitar riff that could have been the cousin of the one in New Order/Joy Division's “Ceremony.” In previous years, maybe the sheer onslaught of sound warped out the musicality just a little, and this show highlighted not only how well this band has integrated musical ideas, but also how it wrote a remarkable number of tuneful songs in which a blasting, burning aesthetic was an expression of the experience of those feelings.

Critic’s Notebook

Bias: In 1990 or 1991, a friend gave me a video tape of some bits of episodes of Teletunes from Denver's KBDI/Channel 12. One of those videos was “Blues From a Gun,” and I got a copy of Automatic in the discount bin not too long after that. I've been a fan of the band since.

Random Detail: Ran into Harmony Star of Dangerous Nonsense, Rett Rogers of The Blue Rider, Garrett Brittenham formerly of Boss 302 and currently of the Buckingham Squares, Eric Lowe of the Christines and Hot Robot, Jake Lueck formerly of Spires, Kurt Ottaway of Twice Wilted/Tarmints/Overcasters/Emerald Siam, Ezra-David Darnell formerly of Hearts in Space, David DeVoe of New Ben Franklins, Tollund Men's Neal Samples, filmmaker Kim Shively, Misun Oh, formerly of French Chemists, and Kellie Palmblad of Eyes Caught Fire/Water Bear at the show. At a minimum.

By the Way: I last saw the Jesus and Mary Chain in 1998. This show was much better musically and in terms of the performance, and the Reid brothers seemed to actually be enjoying themselves. Opening act the Black Ryder was at its best when it went into weirder, atmospheric dream-pop territory, but its mix of psychedelic rock and shoegaze was a solid match for the Jesus and Mary Chain.

If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.

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