When The Jesus and Mary Chain debuted in 1985 with their powerful album Psychocandy, they set out to do something different then what they heard on the radio. Band leader Jim Reid has said there was so much electronic music at the time that he wanted to make a great guitar record.
And make a great guitar record they did. Psychocandy has endured as a much believed masterpiece that made people stand up and take notice of noise pop and set the stage for the rise of shoegaze throughout the United Kingdom within the next couple of years.
So it’s a very potent thing that The Jesus and Mary Chain chose to mark the 30th anniversary of the album with a world tour to commemorate it, playing the album from start to finish along with a handful of their other well-known songs.
The brothers Jim and William Reid, the two-part keystone of the band, and their bandmates brought the show to the 9:30 Club in DC on Sunday night to a very full house. The club never announced the show was officially sold out, but damn I’ve been in sold-out shows there that had a lot more elbow room!
Jim explained the game plan to the audience before the show started as if in a casual chat with friends. The band was going to play an initial seven-song set, take a break, and return to play the 14 songs of Psychocandy in full.
The Jesus and Mary Chain then launched into “April Skies” and before we knew it, the second song “Head On” was upon us. “Head On” was particularly exhilarating to experience live, as it’s a staple of many DC alt-music nights and an top-notch post-punk tune, particularly for the year 1989, underscoring how The Jesus and Mary Chain departed from noise pop after their first album. Jim sounded great and his voice soared appropriately where necessary when singing the song about being so excited about someone else that you can’t pay attention to anything else going on around you.
At this point, as my blog is wont to do, I would like to show you a video of the band performing the song, but the Reid brothers and company have been very good at not appearing in professional video in recent years!
So watch The Jesus and Mary Chain perform “Head On” live at Oyafestivalen in Oslo, Norway (in the year they reunited) on August 10, 2007, on YouTube:
After a few more songs including “Some Candy Talking,” which Jim noted was *not* originally on Psychocandy but included in later reissues of the album, the band launched into the main event. [Editor: We clarified the status of “Some Candy Talking” there.]
They borrowed singer Aimee Nash from opening band The Black Ryder (oh, she’s also the wife of The Cult’s Ian Astbury) to kick things off with “Just Like Honey,” nailing the stately cadence of the love song, which of course simply compares a girl to honey. The simplicity of the song, I believe, is the key to why it’s the favorite by the band for so many people. When Jim stops singing and the guitars take over, the song grows and swells and the noise in the noise pop is a living thing. Then as it enters its final minute of vocal, the female voice gives everything a sweet layer of added dimension, making the entire song an irresistible pop confection.
Watch the original video for “Just Like Honey” from 1985 on YouTube:
The Jesus and Mary Chain then traveled through the entire album, skillfully transporting the entire crowd through sonic landscapes of expertly crafted guitar work — “The Hardest Walk,” “Never Understand,” “You Trip Me Up” among the songs before closer “It’s So Hard.”
“It’s So Hard” was a perfect way to cap the entire set with its screeching reverberation and bristling guitars along with Jim’s haunting if minimal vocal. It is a song where the guitars howl like the wind and the singer provides contrast by coming in as gently as a breeze.
You know, at the show, I saw my pal Michael Darpino, former music editor of We Love DC and the man who recruited me into blogging about concerts. (He’s also a man with much wider music knowledge and tastes than me, so I take him very seriously!) Michael wondered aloud if this might be an “incomplete” experience for me, given that this was my first concert experience with The Jesus and Mary Chain and given that they didn’t stick to strictly noise pop for the rest of their career. Michael needn’t have worried, however, as I wouldn’t have had this show any other way. It was a perfect performance of a seminal album with a signature sound, and the band straight up owned the entire thing.
The Jesus and Mary Chain have only two dates left in the United States — tonight, Sept. 30 in New Haven, Conn., and Friday, Oct. 2 in Miami — before the leap to Japan to continue their global tour in November.
You absolutely must see this groundbreaking and tremendously talented band if they are in your city. Given reports that they are working on a new album — their first in almost 20 years — we hope to see them in DC again soon!
Let me leave you with the official trailer for the band’s Live at Barrowlands DVD concert film, released in July 2015 and available for purchase from multimedia retailers online and around the world: