Jesus and Mary Chain, Sugarmen: O2 Academy, Liverpool

By Paul Fitzgerald
Fri 22 September, 2017

The gig may have been downsized, but Jesus and Mary Chain triumphed regardless, according to Paul Fitzgerald. 

Perhaps it was inevitable, but after two Liverpool gigs in the last 12 months, the idea of putting third Jesus and Mary Chain show in The Olympia was more than a little ambitious.

In the event, the devoted but undeniably smaller than expected crowd in the O2 Academy would have struggled to fill the first couple of rows in the faded grandeur of the former circus theatre.

It didn’t matter though. This band bring out a special kind of devotion in even the most hard hearted and cynical music lover. Their latest album, Damage and Joy, is a strong record by a band who still have something to say and their own way of saying it.

It is imbued with a cool rock energy, and filled with sweeping layers of over-driven, buzzed out guitars. It’s a true rock & roll album in every sense of the word, finding the Reid brothers’ band in good form. It’s a record with insistent attitude, swaggering, snarled and stretched vocals, and songs that make you want to die back in for a second listen. Rock & roll. You can almost smell the black leather. It’s what they do. And they do it well.

The band arrive in a barrage of thick dry ice, and loud cheers from the devoted crowd, and burst immediately into new album’s opener Amputation. All the elements are there, its heavy on the dynamics and big of chorus. It absolutely sets the tone for the night.

A full two hours, hewn from their 30+ years, and almost every album (disappointingly, nothing from Stoned and Dethroned was included, which is a shame, as is the fact that I seem to be the only person in the room who cared). So many classic JAMC moments, though. Standout moments came in the form of Far Gone and Out and Teenage Lust, both from 1992’s Honey’s Dead, as well Halfway To Crazy and Head On from the 1989 album, Automatic.

Jim Reid spends the whole set centre stage, twisting, almost snarling the lyrics out in that characteristic East Coast US meets East Kilbride mid Atlantic rock drawl, while brother William gives all his attention to his guitar, hunched in to his twin Orange amps, face to face with the sound of his guitar, and slamming out waves of beautiful distorted harmonics. He’s in Humbucker heaven, and he’s not the only one.

Always Sad, again from Damage and Joy is as close as we get to mellow in this set. It is a call and response love song duet, performed with Bernadette Denning, whose delicious cool vocal lends a distinct Nico vibe to the guitar layers. Another special moment.

Speaking of special moments; Some Candy Talking. 1985 suddenly seemed so recent, it’s lost nothing over the years, still that raw, sinister brooding edge. Always there in the dynamics, the danger and chaos of the band’s legendary early years. Still utterly spellbinding. Still undeniably brilliant. And absolutely peerless.

They close with a stunning, almost singalong version of Darklands, and it is safe to assume that a band such as Jesus and Mary Chain wouldn’t feel the need for an encore. They did two. Six songs in total, and they left the stage at the end of I Hate Rock & Roll, still doing it, still doing it their way. A band still very much at the top of the game, leaving an appreciative room of reverent happy faces.

In tonight’s openers, Sugarmen delivered. Just as they always do. We have here a great new (ish) pop band, with all the flavours of Postcard Records, spiky guitars, and the best moments of cosmic Scouse jangle (and I’m using that phrase in its most positive sense) in the mix. The songs are all there, big songs, full of intriguing characters and pithy observation, and they’re as tight a live prospect as you’re ever likely to hear. This is a band who’ve worked hard on what they do, that much is clear. They’ve got the hooks and the looks. Everything’s in place. It all comes down to the question of how long a band can be ‘the next big thing’. Surely, the next step awaits. An album? Sometime soon?

Pictures by Graham Smillie