Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Jesus And Mary Chain, Royal Festival Hall, London (***)

Long before Noel and Liam Gallagher's spats made the tabloids, another set of siblings also signed by Alan McGee to Creation records were at loggerheads. For years, Jim and William Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain shared a bedroom at their parents' house in East Kilbride, where familiarity bred hate. "After each tour we wanted to kill each other, and after the final tour we tried," Jim told Mojo in 2006. But time heals, bank balances shrink, and the Reids are back on the Chain gang, as they appear at the Meltdown festival.

Introducing the band, festival organiser Jarvis Cocker talks of "a tidal wave of jealousy" emanating from Glastonbury festival-goers unable to witness this "legendary" band's first UK gig in nine years. The Reids are joined by former Ride drummer, Loz Colbert, and former Lush bassist, Phil King - an able rhythm section that breathes new life into the ode to gloom, "Happy When It Rains". The set also draws on the group's 1985 album Psychocandy, a near-perfect debut on which William's feral guitar feedback was the barbed wire garnish for some delicious pop melodies sung by Jim. When the band played "Just Like Honey" at California's Coachella festival in April, Scarlett Johansson - who starred in Lost In Translation, in which the song features - showed up to sing backing vocals. She's absent tonight, but it's probably just as well: it takes the band three attempts to nail the song, Jim stopping twice for reasons he only explains to his brother.

"Some Candy Talking" is a stark reminder that the Reids brought much-needed danger to pop in the 1980s. Their gritty, disaffected update on Suicide and The Velvet Underground was in stark contrast to the New Romantic movement's slick, dandified shtick. Beneath the sonic rubble, however, the Mary Chain were every bit as poppy as Duran Duran, and tonight's sole new song "All Things Must Pass" is a catchy piece of carnage, too.

For all the past riot-inducing gigs, Jim has become beatifically calm on stage, approaching performance as others might a quiet day's fishing. William, meanwhile, remains the shoegazing sonic alchemist, fixed upon coaxing thrillingly unhinged sounds from his instrument.

It's all over in an hour, a marathon compared to the 15-minute sets of their heyday, but the crowd's ageing punks seem gratified.



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