“Hiya. How ya doing?”
Well, hey! Someone's in a talkative mood tonight. In the first five seconds of coming out on stage the Jesus & Mary Chain have already chatted the audience up more than they might have in an entire North American tour in the late-80s.
But why shouldn't they be in a good mood? Alt-bands from the 80s lost in the wilderness for years have proved they can tour very profitably. Rather than dingy clubs they can play beautiful old theaters like the Wiltern, cashing a nice check while dusting off the never-quite-got-to-be hits, especially if they haven't tried to foist sub-par new music on us in the meantime.
At least, I'm guessing they were in a good mood. The Reid brothers didn't fight on stage, nor did they talk though, or even come within 15 feet of one another. It was all very business. They plowed through one song after another with nary a guitar tuning or little break in between, bringing out the best, or at least best-known, songs from their best-known albums. And they sounded fucking great.
It's not as if the vocal range of most JAMC songs was ever too demanding. Singing along with Jim Reid from my comfy little perch way up in the balcony to “Head On,” “Sidewalking” and “Teenage Lust,” I realized these slow, steady tunes, catchy and wonderful as they are, aren't exactly a heavy vocal workout. But Jim cranked them out, raising his skinny left leg behind him every couple of minutes, clinging to the mic stand, while William stood in front of stacks of Orange amplifiers, fat Gibson strapped to his none-too-thin frame, walking in and out of the lights.
The albums on which the JAMC committed their most grievous sins with drum machines (Darklands) and synthesizers (Automatic) contain their best songs, so getting to hear tracks like “Blues From a Gun,” and “April Skies” live felt wonderfully cathartic, as if the songs had finally found their perfect home.
It also seemed somehow very, um, clean. The band never really changed up the songs, or the tempo, or the feedback level, which was, admittedly, just about right – not too loud, not too soft, not so discordant that you'd grimace and squeeze your eyes shut. And certainly the unpredictability was gone. No aborted sets or drunken fights. They didn't play with their backs to the audience or entirely invisible behind smoke machines and audience-aimed spotlights. I guess we've all grown up some and treat our jobs more seriously now.
They hit a bit of a dead spot when they brought out a female singer for “Just Like Honey” and “Sometimes Always.” It might have been nice to hear a couple other acoustic songs from Stoned & Dethroned, like “Dirty Water” and “Come On,” something to cleanse the palate a bit before roaring back.
Instead, they plowed into more heavy hitters from Honey's Dead, like “Reverence” and “Far Out and Gone.” They even dug up the Syd Barrett/Pink Floyd track, “Vegetable Man,” which was the B-side of their first single, 23 years ago. Twenty-three years. Jesus indeed. Older, wiser, less exciting, more dependable. Not exactly what one would have thought Jesus & Mary Chain would become. But at least they're back, and they sound great, and that should be enough, right?