Not shockingly the Jesus And Mary Chain concert a few weeks back felt like a strange clash of generations; a milieu whose parameters constantly shift and become obscured by its inhabitants’ conflicting schemata, or really, their respective ideologies around music.
Attending the show were those who remember Jesus And Mary Chain as a group of kids from the early 80s who would sneak into venues and fool sound engineers into thinking they were the opening act for the night, play a set, and then quietly leave. Or those who’ve been fans for decades, and who saw them in 1985 at North London Polytechnic right before they became huge. There were those who discovered them in the 90s during an angsty teen phase, perhaps, after Stoned And Dethroned came out and everybody had a crush on Hope Sandoval. And then of course, we were there in hoards: ah yes, the Millennials, who more than likely started listening to them during sophomore year of high school in 2000, well after the band’s hay day was up. By then, their music had taken on a new meaning, and was no longer shaped by the sociocultural context into which it was born, but rather occupied an ineffable gray area, one in particular, that exists between the realms of nostalgia and reinvention.
In the year 2000, we listened to JAMC albums not because they were novel for whatever reason, and not because they represented something bygone that we never got to know or apprehend. We were too young for the former and too old for the latter. We listened because the songs are timeless. Boring, a bit, but ever so resonant.
Removed from the culture that inspired their creation though, they both lose and gain certain dimensions, thus allowing for new ways of experiencing them. Which is what it’s all about, right? This is what separates music that is bound to its age from that which lives, and continues to influence and herald trends to come. My early experience with the albums was one of deep, and in hindsight stupid confusion, about why all the guitars sounded so loud. Then I came across tracks that transcended my distaste for noise rock, like “The Hardest Walk”, for instance, which follows a simple and pretty accessible chord progression, but contains endless seeming layers of heavy distortion. It wasn’t grunge music because there was no yelling, really. It wasn’t new wave because there wasn’t tons of synth. It wasn’t anything that sounded like what “the future” would bring, i.e. all the electronic music I was listening to. There was no band to go see, to make it all more palpable. Yeah, I was confused, but I found the space for it, and subsequently developed a more generous understanding and appreciation for their sound.
I didn’t start loving their songs until 2003, when Lost In Translation came out. I needn’t say much, I’m sure. But the first time I saw the final scene, as she’s walking away and the opening chords of “Just Like Honey” start, with that marching drum beat, as Bill Murray’s character catches up to her, and whispers into her ear, and Jim Reid’s ethereal voice starts singing the first line, about taking on the world…I cried through the entire closing credits. It was that moment when the songs acquired context for me.
In any case, I still hadn’t actually SEEN this band until two weeks ago. They don’t release new albums. They don’t tour. I had always thought they were done. So I was excited, but had no idea what to expect. Their music had always been detached from even the idea of live performance.
We got to Iriving Plaza, which unfortunately is my absolute LEAST favorite venue in NYC, and walked up stairs to the stage. The opening act, Psychic Paramount was playing their set, shrouded in a haze of red fog, so heavy you couldn’t see any band members. Though I do like their recent album, I didn’t like how they sounded live because there was too much noise and no cohesion, and the mix in that room is always so muddy, it made it impossible to really hear anything.
Finally after what felt like eons, JAMC came on, Obscured by billows of multicolored smoke, apparitional, like ghosts of times past. It was exactly how I had always pictured them. They opened with “Between Planets”, which sounded pretty good for the most part, save some excruciating (for those of us with sensitive ears) feedback issues coming from the lead guitar, that ended up persisting for the whole show, that made me want to jump up onto stage and reposition the entire mic and speaker setup (please refer back to “Irving Plaza is my least favorite venue in NYC”). It ultimately didn’t distract too much from the songs, however, which sounded nearly identical to the studio recordings. This can be a good thing, because people generally like consistency, and it demonstrates the band’s technical competence as musicians, but it can also be a bad thing. It can make the music sound formulaic and monotonous even to those who are playing it. This, if anything, is my one criticism of their performance. There were times when they seemed on autopilot, or maybe even a little bored with themselves. Also, Reid forgot the lyrics to “Happy When It Rains”.
They’re lack of energy aside, it was a cool night. The woman who accompanied them on “Sometimes Always” and “Just Like Honey” had a great voice, and brought a vibe to the stage and to the songs that made both duets highlights of the show. They mostly played tracks from Darklands and Automatic, saving the louder, more raucous and distorted jams of Psychocandy and Honey’s Dead for the encore, during which I almost got trampled to death, when the theretofore mellow crowd started a circle pit in which I found myself. Up until that point I had pretty much forgotten how truly fanatical people are about this band. It was both heartwarming and a little scary.
Throughout the entire night, all I could keep thinking was that even as I watched them play, I’ve listened to their songs so many times without having a notion about what they’re like as a live band, that I couldn’t get specific references out of my head, that the tunes have always elicited–certain people, places, smells, drinks, etc.
And this alone made the whole thing so worth it.