The Jesus and Mary Chain at Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL, May 5, 2015 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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The Jesus and Mary Chain

The Jesus and Mary Chain at Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL, May 5, 2015,

May 08, 2015 The Jesus and Mary Chain
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For at least a decade, I’ve utilized overcast days as an excuse to indulge myself with the strain of fashionably alienated guitar pop that germinated in the U.K. during the mid-‘80s. As surely as I’ve relied on the post-punk austerity of Joy Division and Durutti Column to soundtrack bleak winter hours, I’ve continually called on the atmospheric gloom of Felt, The Wake, Echo & the Bunnymen, and (especially) The Jesus and Mary Chain to lend cinematic significance to dreary spring days.

It was rather auspicious, then, that the last-mentioned of that brood should be scheduled to play Chicago’s musty yet ornate Riviera Theatre on what was a Jesus and Mary Chain-esque night, if ever there was one; bleary and smog-swallowed, the city beyond my window was scarcely visible. The environment couldn’t have been more conducive to a successful live rendering of the band’s legendarily despondent debut LP, Psychocandy.

Which, to back up a bit, is the intention behind The Jesus and Mary Chain’s current North American jaunt. With their first and greatest record primed to turn 30 this year, the Scottish noise pop pioneers set out to faithfully recreate the unruly 1985 classic in a live setting. Speaking with me a couple of months ago for an Under the Radar interview, lead singer Jim Reid remarked that the band had never properly played some of their Psychocandy-era material on stage. Early in their career, they favored an anti-performance style marked by short sets, occasional bursts of violence, and a frequent refusal to even face the audience. But, by Reid’s own admission, he and his brother, guitarist William Reid, have “moved on from then,” and so this tour offered an opportunity to revisit landmark material without any of the anarchic hang-ups that once caused their shows to regularly drift into non-musical territory.

True to his word, Reid, who still convincingly looks the part of the sulky frontman, generally stuck to the script during this performance, only breaking the flow with a couple of false starts and a self-deprecating crack at his “funny accent.” After a set from The Black Ryder, who were about as simultaneously languid and loud as a band could be, the current incarnation of The Jesus and Mary Chain (the brothers Reid being the only founding members left) took the stage for what was described as an introductory “greatest hits” segment.

This career-spanning precursor to the performance of Psychocandy started with “April Skies” and “Head On,” perhaps the closest things in The Jesus and Mary Chain’s back catalogue to rafter-reaching anthems. Quick run-throughs of “Some Candy Talking” and “Psychocandy” came next, with excesses of manufactured fog and (probably hazardously bright) strobe lights brought in to approximate the music’s white light/white heat.

Following a fleshed-out version of the pretty fantastic rarity “Up Too High,” which received an unjustly muted response from the crowd, came an appropriately nasty rework of “Reverence.” Taken from 1992’s Honey’s Dead, this masterly slice of pop art sleaze likely came as a shock to anyone who thought this band lost their edge after Darklands or Automatic (sample lyric: “I wanna die just like J.F.K./I wanna die in the U.S.A.”).

Admittedly, as an all-too-cynical critic, my suspicions about fan pandering had been roused by the very idea of these iconoclasts going the best-of route. Thankfully, a mammoth take on The Jesus and Mary Chain’s first single, “Upside Down,” erasedmake that obliteratedany doubts that time or an enlarged budget may have tamed the Reids’ savagery. While an absurdly tinny recording quality has always been part of this superlative lo-fi gem’s distinct charm, there’s plenty to be said for the live version, which was a bit like listening to the original track while lying beneath a moving freight train. Bringing the preamble to a close, the recklessness of “Upside Down” proved to be an apt lead-in for the deafening assault to come.

Of course, due to the album’s sequencing, the live interpretation of Psychocandy started gently enough, with an impossibly dreamy reading of “Just Like Honey,” featuring guest vocals from The Black Ryder’s Aimee Nash. Upon Nash’s departure, however, the open road ultra-violence of “The Living End” set the tenor for the majority of the show.

While a lullaby like “Cut Dead” proved to be too perfect to warrant any real revision, most of the night’s performance was loose enough to allow Psychocandy to live and breathe on stage, rather than come off as a sterile reproduction of the record. During weightier moments such as “Taste the Floor” and “In a Hole,” it was exhilarating to hear William Reid expertly construct, and then seemingly lose control of towering walls of noise. Likewise, witnessing Jim Reid’s vocals be engulfed by his brother’s sea of feedback during “Never Understand,” all while looped clips from Alejandro Jodorowsky’s brilliant head movie The Holy Mountain were projected in the background, made for an enveloping sensory experience.

Over the years, plenty of words have been written about the band’s deconstruction of the pop form, but perhaps more compelling is The Jesus and Mary Chain’s knack for universalizing the obscure and unsavory aspects of rock and roll. They may have authored a song called “My Little Underground,” but the revved-up surf lick that powers that pop nugget has an undeniable aboveground appeal. Incidentally, that riff was transformed into a snarling beast during this performance, causing the decidedly un-hip stranger next to me (who sported, to invoke James Murphy, a face like a dad) to start playing air guitar. Perhaps it’s fitting to think of the Reids as the unscrupulous heirs to the Wilson brothers.

If there’s nothing about a pair of gangly, pouty Scots that immediately casts them as rock stars capable of filling sizable venues, there is something inherently, almost objectively cool about their songs. There’s always been a wish-fulfillment quality to immersing oneself in Psychocandy, something akin to donning a junky-chic disguise for an incognito stroll down an urban street. But it’s hard to imagine that any segment of the audience wasn’t reached in a much more visceral way by hearing this music played at the only volume that could possibly do it justice.


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