The Jesus and Mary Chain
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Better than: Any other show with so many mistakes.
Last night at the Fillmore, The Jesus and Mary Chain botched the beginning of three different songs, accidentally knocked over multiple microphone stands, and dropped many drum sticks. The Reid brothers, Jim and William, who comprise the group's core, bickered; additional guitarist John Moore was told to "shut up"; and the microphones fed back intermittently. Yet it was incredible how well all of this negativity suited the band.
The JAMC's aesthetic is marked by a duality that permeates every facet of its existence. Each hook is balanced with noise. Its catchiest tunes are usually the most depressing lyrically. During the band's set last night, this duality manifested itself in more than just the songs. Adorned in black blazers underneath minimal lighting, and enshrouded in gratuitous clouds of smoke, the group maintained a stoic attitude throughout the evening that was only broken by fits of frustration. Jim Reid in particular was a very reluctant frontman. He appeared uncomfortable, bantered awkwardly with the crowd, and clutched one ear while singing with a pained expression upon his face. The members' stern, obscured stage presence clashed with the majority of the band's set, which drew from its more restrained and upbeat mid-to-late period work.
The clash, however, made it even more riveting. During "Between Planets" for instance, the memorable hooks showed through gloriously, but the disparity between the basic pop was at odds with the group's attitude in a way that served to perplex and enrapture. The duality is evidenced by the lyrics of the song as well. It begins with the morose line, "Suicide standing sucking in her cheeks," which Jim Reid still delivers with startling poignancy above a major-key chord progression. The restrained pop of the verses in songs drawn from Munki and Stoned & Dethroned were usually followed by instrumental breaks in which William Reid and John Moore would tap their pedals and release sonic guitar oblivion from their signature hollow-body electrics in passages of unadulterated negativity. To observe the crowd's party antics come to an abrupt halt during the dirges was captivating.
The crowd was similarly confused during tracks like "Sidewalking," which were played exceedingly slowly. The most upbeat tunes were followed by the most mournful, and activity on the sold-out dance floor degenerated into a bog of underwhelmed fun-seekers. Seemingly in a reaction to the morose pace of "Sidewalking," one attendee clambered on stage and began crawling. For the duration of the song's final verse, chorus, and outro, the woman slowly crawled her way from one side of the stage to the other, uninhibited, and looked decidedly cool doing it. A frenzied stage diver would not have had nearly the same effect. Anticipating the inevitable plunge and capture, she donned shades and plodded along with the perverse determination of a cult ritual. Like the tragic heroine in a JAMC lyric, she made a spectacle before self-destruction.
When "Some Candy Talking" ended early in a false start, Jim Reid exclaimed, "You'd think after all these years!" and gestured toward William, who shrugged. William Reid commanded his guitar fiercely during the sprees of feedback, but when required to play the simple, clean leads burrowed so deeply in the psyches of Jesus and Mary Chain fans, he fumbled. The melody that binds together "Happy When It Rains" was nearly butchered between the bum notes and sloppy rhythm that elicited sideways glances aplenty from Jim Reid and John Moore. But the volatile tension between the Reid brothers actually enhanced the show. It revealed a humanity, albeit also a non-professionalism, that is usually lacking in concerts of this size. They are clearly songwriters before showmen, and the conflict illustrates a part of their relationship that the duality of their songs draws on.
The set ended with "Reverence," a controversial single from Honey's Dead with the morbid lyrical declaration, "I wanna die just like Jesus Christ." It was a good bookend to the volatile evening, but the group was resurrected for an encore. The feedback began mounting, and some confusion occurred between members, causing each to call for the other's ear while the crowd shifted in anticipation. Eventually, a flummoxed Jim Reid yelled, "John, shut up for a second" and Moore calmed his guitar. Things were sorted out and they dove into a riotous version of "Never Understand." Perhaps no other track could have encapsulated the evening better.
Openers: Above, we wrote about The Jesus and Mary Chain's duality and humanity. Magic Wands were the antithesis of those principles. Each of their breezy, electro-pop songs begun with prerecorded drum programming and sterile synth. The result was so synthetic that the performers may as well have been holograms. Their disingenuous crowd pandering wasn't calculated quite right, though. Amusingly, the guitarist's only attempt at banter found him declaring, "We recorded our new album here in Oakland. I mean, across the way in Oakland. Uh, but we hung out in San Francisco." The female vocalist's banter was indiscernible through the reverb.
Drugs: Magic Wands' singer accompanied Jim Reid on "Just Like Honey," but she appeared too altered to utter anything audible or even tap a tambourine in time with the music.