I picked up the boys – an eclectic but good bunch of gigging companions tonight! – for a drive down to Brizzle, parking up in good time for openers the Shimmer Band. I couldn’t recall them from their previous support slot here, with Jimmy Eat World about 18 months ago, but tonight they were awful; boring, plodding, self-indulgent post-baggy sludge being passed off as psych-pop, delivered with unjustified arrogant swagger and swathes of irritating keyboard. A poor man’s Kasabian – their penultimate number had a more apposite shimmering powerpop sheen, recalling early 70’s band The Raspberries, and showed their other poor material into sharp relief.
The place, quiet early doors, filled up quickly and considerably for the Mary Chain’s unannounced entrance, led on through the thick dry ice smoke by vocalist Jim Reid. “To give you an idea of what to expect,” he explained tonight’s proceedings would be a first set of hits, followed by a short break (“we’re going to go off for a cup of tea!” quipped Jim uncharacteristically), then the “Psychocandy” performance. However, it initially seemed as though they’d taken their break during the first set, as their performance was flat, disinterested and perfunctory, classic Mary Chain numbers such as “April Skies” and “Some Candy Talking” sounding leaden and frankly dull. Admittedly, completely losing the PA during second number “Head On” didn’t help, a restless crowd causing Jim to ask, “can you hear us?” to a resounding “NO!” at its’ conclusion, but even after its’ restoration, the set plodded on in a morass of ennui, the band, shorn of the bilious sneer and swagger of legend, sounding old and neutered.
“Upside Down”, their debut single and the final number of the opening set, thankfully changed all that. A palpable wall of noise, it fairly galloped along in a strident burst, powered by excellent drummer and old Posies/ Fountains Of Wayne favourite Brian Young, the squealing feedback augmenting this exciting rendition rather than smothering it, and giving us some hope for the second half. During the subsequent break, though, I pondered with some fellow punters, which version of Mary Chain would emerge for “Psychocandy”?
Thankfully, it veered much more toward the latter. Emerging to a backdrop of the cover of that classic album, opener “Just Like Honey” was a lustful late night balled from the 50’s milkshake bar from Hell, and “The Living End” a pounding hellride with turbos on full blast, capturing its’ fucked-up youthful thrill and carpe diem attitude perfectly. Lots of light and shade in this set too; “Cut Dead” was a slow-burn moody masterpiece, “Never Understand” approached “Upside Down” for its’ jagged, acerbic and vicious bite, and “Sowing Seeds” was a delicious, Lou Reed/ Velvet Underground NYC street cool tour de force. The 14 short, snappy bites of surf-garage rock’n’roll were soon over, the taciturn Jim remarking, “thanks for coming, hope you enjoyed it,” before tonight’s closer “It’s So Hard”, a creepy echoey psych-pop number underpinned by a Bunnymen-like undulating bassline.
Gathered our thoughts (but not a set-list – apparently the band didn’t want them handed out, due to “private notes” on them. I call bullshit, me) and then had a nightmare journey out of Bristol due to the M32 being closed, ending up tooling around St. Georges and Frenchay at a frustrating 20 mph (that is, when we weren’t stopped by every! Single! Fucking! Red light in town, I shit you not) and hitting the ‘don the wrong side of midnight. A definite set of two halves, this, but I suppose we should have expected nothing less from this band of uncompromising mavericks and non-conformists, The Jesus And Mary Chain!