The Jesus and Mary Chain: 30th Anniversary of Psychocandy
Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, May 1, 2015 as part of Canadian Music Week
Jesus and Mary Chain fans have, necessarily, loved this band through the long lens of time, many of us having only heard them on vinyl and cds, most of us never seeing them live. The information we have about the band as a live act, then, is fairly distant or second hand, and includes the legends, infamy and folklore that follows a pivotal, pioneering band around through the decades, growing and shifting like a snaking game of “telephone” that somehow tries to cross oceans. The recent, excellent biography by Zoë Howe “Barbed Wire Kisses” (2014) fleshes out the faded clippings of the pre-internet age into a living entity, zooming in with a fresh eye. Howe also has the keen, thrilling, big picture grasp of a true music journo and true fan (something that the best journos always are willing to reveal they are, when it’s warranted).
Armed with all this information and apprehension, we excitedly logged on and purchased tickets for the Toronto show the very second they went live on a day three months ago, with the same fervor we would have lined up or even slept out for tickets as teenagers, before the autobots scalpers had ruined that right of passage. The excitement for this show was different than other formative 80’s and 90’s bands we’ve been fortunate to see or even see many times, as the Mary Chain have always maintained a mystique, a darkness and a distance that was an important and believable part of their image.
The Phoenix is smaller than I remember. Its been a while since I’ve been here, as many shows have recently shifted to the more favourable (and downright luxurious by comparison) Danforth Music Hall (where, incidently, I wish my ashes to be scattered many decades from now.) But there was a time when all my first standing room concert memories bloomed here, as well as nights of CFNY’s Club 102 where we always had a blast dancing and drinking, the crush of our young bodies making the place swell in size and glamour. I feel old. The murals, that once seemed decadently impressive, are gone or covered over with curtains like secrets. The fire escape looking balconies are devoid of Go-Go dancers these days. It’s all flat black. But that works for tonight.
Will The Jesus and Mary Chain play for 15 minutes, and storm or stagger off, as the legends would have it? Will the now ubiqutious, obnoxious smartphones drive them into fits of quiet rage and lead the band to silently, and unbeknownst to us, cut a few planned goodies of the show down, as the band decides they prefer to get back to their hotel for a nice supper? (I even annoy myself with my phone and camera, finally putting the shit away to live 80’s style for just an hour.) Will hecklers, hopped up on $8.00 cans of beer on a rare night off the chain, ruin EVERYTHING by yelling “Freebird”? The anxiety makes for a nice frisson in the air. A respectable number of people have joyously bought the t-shirt. We’re all buying into the robbery that is the price of the beer. Calm it down girl, here they come.
It’s simply elegant, right away. The years away fall and the modern noise that all my technology has caused in my head that very rarely quiets, is quiet. This, tonight, and on the best nights, with the rarest of gems on stage, is why I tell everyone I’ve known the longest, that you need to get out and see live music, even if you’re 35. Even if you’re 40. Especially then. Because the experience is like nothing else you can buy or imagine or watch passively on a screen. It’s every bit as healing as the vacations we think we need, and so much more the bargain. The Jesus and Mary Chain take the stage and with a brief introduction, launch into a set that is sort of an “encore first”, in order to play some other songs and then the planned Psychocandy album in its entirety. This format works well, and nothing is left wanting, even though they have so many more great songs than can fit into one set.
Having been a headphones, record and private ritual for so many years, the expected highlights for me are the favourites: “The Hardest Walk” & “Just Like Honey” These songs have never left my rotation in all these years. Other standouts are “Reverence” “I wanna die on a bed of spikes / I wanna die just like Jesus Christ” which has an anthemic energy that is the particular gift of the best post-punk bands with their gift for irony, and “Head On” with its straight ahead energy that I wish would go on for 10 or 15 minutes but this is not that kind of show, band or music. The vocals are pristine, it sounds like the record, only better. It exceeds all hopes and expectations. A decent percentage of 30 year olds have made the effort to come out and see something important and before their time, even though it’s a reach for them to know when to cheer, how to feel and when to leave without today’s confetti bombs and stage nonsense we’re used to from the gimmicky bands who threaten music today even with their anemic swaggar, by their sheer numbers.
Video projection accompanies the Psychocandy set, which adds a nice facet to the already perfect mood, and along with the perfect use of smoke, obscures any but the most impressionistic photos, allowing everyone to dial it back to one of the more 80’s authentic moods in a room I can ever remember seeing. And this is a very good thing.
Jim Reid hunches before the mike just as we hoped he would, silhouetted like an impressionist painting, and there are no on stage dramas tonight. The set is complete. It feels like about 20 minutes- but it’s 21 songs. They are men of few words but the words all hold special meaning to us fans. “Are you enjoying yourselves?” Reid asks us after “The Hardest Walk”, which of course results in affirmative cheers, to which he adds: “so are we”. We’ve all grown up. The songs still matter. And with that, the legend stands firm and stoic, silhouetted forever. By Step On Magazine Editors