When Jesus And Mary Chain appeared in 1985, they had the look of something revolutionary but unsustainable. Their first album Psychocandy showed a knack for simple. effective hooks buried in frightening layers of blank-faced noise, but reports of this band that played for twenty minutes behind a wall of smoke, backs to the audience, then split, suggested an arrogant novelty act. Undeniably extreme, it’s also the kind of act a band can only pull off once. Thankfully, that initial blast of hostility was followed by a slight turn toward accessibility, and for the next decade or so, they had one of the most enviable catalogs in all of alt-rock. By the early nineties, they had even become a live act one could call “crowd-pleasing,” despite their lack of unnecessary movement.
2017 brings their first album in nineteen years, Damage & Joy, and the band’s Wiltern show spent a lot of time with the new stuff, while still touching on nearly their entire catalog. (Notably absent – anything from Stoned & Dethroned.) They still play through a wall of fog, and don’t say much between songs. I did hear a few friendly sentences, around the time he introduced the new album, making it a chatty night by Jim Reid standards.
But they do face the audience, they remain effortless and cool, and sound great. William Reid proves you can play really good, noisy guitar without ever resorting to guitar player face. There were moments, like during “The Hardest Walk”, where the PA seemed on the verge of exploding. A more conventional guitarist might have taken the moment to make a menacing gesture and walk from one end of the stage to the other while pulling off this sonic abuse. These guys might as well be reading the newspaper. Maybe the drummer is making really gnarly drummer face behind all that fog, who would know? I’d like to think he is… but I bet the brothers would fine him if they caught him doing it.
As always, the full band treatment did favors to the icy Automatic and Darklands material, but also brought clarity to the songs from Psychocandy. Time has given the Reid brothers a chance to reflect on and play to their own strengths. “The Two Of Us”, off the new album, sounded like a hit single to me, one of the most affecting songs of the set. It’s a pleasure to see any band treat its legacy as well as this – new records that are actually worth hearing, live shows that hit every note you want them to hit.