The Jesus and Mary Chain
Irving Plaza, New York, September 13
by Stephen Slaybaugh

The Jesus and Mary Chain has been a notoriously iffy proposition since the band first strapped on guitars back in the mid-80s. In their infant years, the group, led by the Reid Brothers, Jim and William, and once including future Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie on drums, was just as known for the shows they didn’t play—which would erupt in riots—as the ones they did. Hell, I remember a tour in the late ’90s being cancelled because of a riff between the Reids.

As such, though my hopes were high, I knew better than to expect the second coming of Christ at the band’s recent gig in New York. Though the JAMC has reconvened since 2008, this was my first opportunity to witness the band in the flesh in nearly two decades. (I had last seen them at the Roseland Ballroom on November 5, 1992, with Spiritualized opening.) While it is ridiculous to expect one’s rock & roll heroes to not have aged, it was still a bit jarring to see William has gone from the svelte figure he once cut in leather pants to a bespectacled chubby who you would expect to be more at home stuffing his gob with Cheetos than erecting a wall of noise out of guitar distortion. Admittedly, I’m not as lissom as I was when I lost my virginity to Psychocandy some 25 years ago, but neither have I let it all go to seed.

But such mercurial matters dissipated once the band launched into “Snake Driver.” It was immediately evident that they were capable of taking this performance in whatever direction they so desired. Cuts like “Head On” and “Blues from a Gun” made it evident that the constant barrage of also-rans who spring up every year have got nothing on the band even as they approach their golden years. As those of us who were around remember, The Jesus and Mary Chain was thought to be aping those before them too, but time has shown the band to be particularly iconoclastic. By the time they got to “Sidewalking” mid-set, I was halfway to nirvana.

But then things started to fall apart. William was a mess during “Cracking Up,” returning to the same distorted chord repeatedly to ill effect. “Some Candy Talking” didn’t fare much better, and Jim seemed to know it, constantly peering over his shoulder at his brother, who seemed lost inside his own head. But despite the performance becoming muddled, there was something inherently dangerous about the seeming lack of professionalism. There was a sense that things could indeed collapse, and that inherent trap door was more provocative than all the contrivances that pass for risque these days.

Once the band brought on a guest singer onstage for “Just Like Honey,” though, they settled again into a mesmerizing mesh of atmosphere and noise. “Reverence,” with its refrains of “I want to die like JFK” still seemed edgy after all these years, even though Jim Reid is now probably as old as Kennedy was at his demise. There probably is an element in the reunification of The Jesus and Mary Chain that is just a cash grab, but when it comes down to it, it is impossible for the Reid brothers to disguise that they are as fucked-up as ever. Such faults and a degree of egotism created their cacophony in the first place. So though “Taste of Cindy” rang a little hollow, one could still hear the stained pangs that once pierced our psyches anyway. As they finished with “Never Understand,” I wanted more and knew it wasn’t coming. Indeed, I doubt we’ll see their likes again.