The Jesus and Mary Chain resurrected
Somehow it seems morbidly appropriate that a band like the Jesus and Mary Chain would reappear in a year that has witnessed the sad demise of country tunesmith and pop maverick Lee Hazlewood and the grisly murder trial of überproducer and pop maverick Phil Spector. Siblings straight from a David Cronenberg film, William and Jim Reid had an obsession with classic pop music matched only bya lugubrious death drive. From their earliest three-song sets in Tottenham Court clubs to their studio squabbles at the aptly titled Drugstore to their final onstage collapse in 1998, the Reids always closely chased the black shroud of Thanatos.
"The Mary Chain used to regularly get their heads kicked in at that time," Creation impresario Alan McGee recalled, half boasting and half lamenting the group in a recent Q magazine interview. The JAMC "just brought out the violence in people." Whether with the premature effects of Vox guitar feedback or the cheap lager and drugs overrunning their native East Kilbride, the Mary Chain seemed almost religiously intent on martyring themselves like their titular messiah.
To paraphrase the Nicene Creed, the brothers Reid suffered, died, and were buried in 1998, but at Coachella 2007 they rose again in fulfillment of the scriptures and ascended onto the desert stage. They were seated at the right hand of nubile starlet Scarlett Johansson, who sang backup vocals on "Just like Honey." Thence they shall come again, with glory, to judge the noisy and the acoustic. And their distortion shall have no end.
But enough of the requisite Catholic allusions. Though the barbed wireandbubblegum magnum opus that was 1985's Psychocandy (Blanco y Negro/Warner Bros.) may well have ossified their legendary status in the underground pantheon, the JAMC released a half-dozen albums' worth of blistering pop some absolutely classic (1987's Darklands, 1992's Honey's Dead, 1994's Stoned and Dethroned [all Blanco y Negro/Warner Bros.]) and others of lesser beauty (1989's Automatic [Blanco y Negro/Warner Bros.] and 1998's Munki [Sub Pop]). Their sonic palette grew more nuanced than that of the screeching distortion of their debut. It was as rich and varied as those of forebears Spector and Hazlewood, metamorphosing from the girl-group rhythms on "Just like Honey" into the brittle balladeering of "Almost Gold" and the stoned country bliss of "Sometimes Always." Their evocation of '60s psychedelia, twisted with an insouciant outlaw pose, launched as many garage-punk imitators as did the Velvet Underground. Along the way the Reids incited onstage riots and nearly killed each other in countless drunken scraps, but the notoriety only increased their popularity in the press, bankrolling the fledgling Creation label and inventing the quintessential '80s genre of shoegaze.
Most critics cite the end of the band as the effect of a fraternal enmity equaled by the brothers Davies or Gallagher. But all of the excesses born of the '80s stormy collaborations with shady promoters, narcotized scenesters, and the maddest label bosses seem immaterial compared to the '90s alternative rock takeover that finally relegated the Mary Chain to a side-walking anachronism.
A cynic might wonder if the sudden reconciliation between the brothers might not have money as the bottom line. Neither Jim's solo work as Freeheat nor William's as Lazycame has garnered much critical or commercial attention, and in the intervening decade both men have settled down to marry and raise families. The new Mary Chain appears to be a matured set of blokes, complete with receding hairlines and bloat, not given to the temptations of lager binges or pissing matches possibly a reason that Primal Scream hell-raiser Bobby Gillespie wasn't redrafted on the snare. According to early word, set lists have included tracks from the band's 21 Singles collection (Rhino, 2002), which seems equally sensational and innocuous. Is the Mary Chain cashing in on the latest wave of rock nostalgia or is there still a violence simmering in the Reids that snakes like the whine of William's fuzz box? If they promise to dust off "Kill Surf City," all will be forgiven. Amen. *
THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN
Fri/26Sat/27, 9 p.m., $40
1805 Geary, SF