May 1, 2015
Phoenix Concert Theatre
Four songs in to the Jesus And Mary Chain’s set at Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre there were… concerns.
There was a lot of pomp and circumstance behind the first show for the band’s North American tour honouring the Psychocandy album’s 30th anniversary. The show was to be the marquee anchor kicking off Canadian Music Week, a 10 day club level festival where the Chain’s relative undersell at the 1,350 capacity venue had made it a hot ticket for Toronto’s wealth of Creation Records nostalgists.
“April Skies,” the inexplicably popular “Head On” (the sixth best song on Automatic, tops), “Candy Talking” and “Psychocandy,” the song, were all performed with a simple, studied, and most uncomfortably, clean air of polish and professionalism.
Sure, if this was the way the Chain were going to play it — older, wiser, softer — it would still be a fine evening. But it wouldn’t have been a marquee evening. It’s not what anyone in the Phoenix wanted, though weighed against that vs. nothing, it was an acceptable compromise.
Then they played “Reverence.”
The manic highlight from the Chain’s 1992 album Honey’s Dead and the band’s biggest North American hit brought the single thing everyone in the building was craving — the noise. Jim Reid’s “I wanna die! I wanna die!” cued brother/lead guitarist William Reid to explosively reacquaint Toronto with the spiraling, undulating waves of white noise rock ‘n’ roll that have defined the Jesus And Mary Chain for all these years.
The assault continued with b-side “Upside Down” and that’s when the epiphanies began.
See, I love bands who sound like the Jesus And Mary Chain. So much so that for a music writer I’m worryingly close to lacking critical faculty once that slicy feedback bams up a song to make it all nasty sounding. Devotees like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Black Angels, The Raveonettes, Brian Jonestown Massacre… I love them all. I even, at least to a degree, usually enjoy the many, many, many middling noisy college and art rock bands who rise up out of the weeds before disappearing two years later because objectively they aren’t any good.
The Jesus And Mary Chain can fill a room 30 years later because they’re simply more adept at doing this noise-pop thing than anyone who’s ever come after them. Watching them work on Friday night, it became clear they’re still the kings because they have the one thing their many imitators can’t quite match — the songs.
When the band launched into the 14 song Psychocandy set what became most obvious was their appreciation for a simple pop song, a universal country ballad, a soothing soul song. Look past the squelching white noise and that musical appreciation is buried deep in the DNA of the Chain’s songs, whether it be the surfing safari edge to “The Living End” or the girl group shimmy underlying “Taste of Cindy.”
Sure, if you want to get technical about it, the back half of Psychocandy isn’t exactly the best, which was illustrated by the indifferently performed “Sowing Seeds,” the false start to “My Little Underground” and the placeholder quality of “Something’s Wrong.” But zoom the lens out a little further and you’d see how the buzzing takes on “Taste the Floor,” “In a Hole” and “Never Understand” were electric affirmations the Jesus And Mary Chain are undisputed masters of their craft.
If one thing became clear this night, it’s that 30 years later the Jesus And Mary Chain are still the best at what they do.
“Up Too High”
“Just Like Honey”
“The Living End”
“Taste the Floor”
“The Hardest Walk”
“In a Hole”
“Taste of Cindy”
“My Little Underground”
“You Trip Me Up”
“It’s So Hard”