Since the inglorious public demise of the Jesus and Mary Chain in 1998, when William Reid quit the band onstage in Los Angeles, the brothers Reid have gone their separate musical ways.
Solo work under the creative moniker of Lazycame has had some critics convinced that William Reid is headed for latter day Syd Barrett-dom. Rumors of mental illness, as well as alcoholism, have only been exacerbated by his thwarted efforts to have a snapshot of his own erect penis featured in album cover-art. But while in live appearances he’s proceeded to do a Dylan in reverse—going more or less acoustic—Freeheat’s performance last night showed that younger brother Jim isn’t quite ready to surrender the volume-laden, electric-guitar-fueled spoils of the Mary Chain’s past victories just yet.
Following a star turn on Death in Vegas’ The Contino Sessions last year, Freeheat marks Jim Reid’s most substantial post-JAMC venture to date. Comprising Mary Chain alumni Ben Lurie and Nick Sanderson (ex-frontman for Earl Brutus) as well as former Gun Club bassist Romi Mori, Freeheat continue pretty much where the JAMC left off.
The Jesus and Mary Chain upped the ante on punk’s ambivalent dissections and parodies of pop and rock, treating those genres with an unprecedented degree of sonic (dis)respect. The JAMC rendered their love/hate relationship with rock and roll in songs that borrowed musically and lyrically from familiar formulae—but that also routinely punished them with exaggerated lashings of amplified menace, white (guitar) noise, and brilliantly performed lyrical angst.
1985’s Psychocandy made this point sublimely as the brothers Reid became post-punk’s answer to the Righteous Brothers (and the Ramones). Sounding like it was produced by a dissolute relative of Phil Spector caught in the middle of a standoff between melodic pop balladry and a phalanx of power saws, the wall of sound constructed on Psychocandy can still be heard reverberating in the efforts of the current crop of British guitar bands.
Despite periodic injections of techno beats and dark, acoustic tinges, one aspect of the JAMC’s equation remained constant: their ongoing, perverse attachment to the culture of pop, to which they returned time and again in numerous trademark guitar- and ennui-driven warpings of the sound of bubblegum rock. And that seems to be the blueprint for much of Freeheat’s material.
Although Freeheat is a more raw and stripped-down affair than the JAMC, it still vouches for Jim Reid’s well-deserved status—alongside his brother—among the architects of the guitar noise genre. While much of the new material is characterized by the feedback-drenched fuzz and buzz of Reid and Lurie, solidly backed up by the drive of Mori and Sanderson, more downbeat tracks like “Back on the Water” provide a little breathing space. Some indication of the success of the new material lies in the fact that none of it sounded at all out of place alongside the Mary Chain fare—“Teenage Lust” and “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”—which Reid et al. dusted off last night for auld times’ sake.
Admittedly, something of the attitude of the JAMC was lacking from Freeheat’s performance and things did begin to go awry around the mid-point of the set, as minor technical and guitar-tuning problems conspired to undermine much of the intensity that had been built up.
By the end, Reid himself seemed a little unsettled and—having to re-start the encore since he’d forgotten the words—ended up actually apologizing for the quality of the performance as the band left the stage. Still, you couldn’t help thinking that he was being too hard on himself. It’s still early days—the band has released no material yet and has only a handful of gigs under its belt—and, all in all, last night’s short, frazzled excursion into guitar garageland bodes well.
As an addendum, I couldn’t help thinking how un-punk and comic Reid’s sincere, parting apology was—and what a contrast to the early days of the Jesus and Mary Chain. I recall witnessing, fifteen years ago, the now legendary riots at the JAMC shows at the North London Polytechnic and the Electric Ballroom, provoked by the band’s unwillingness/inability to do anything more than stagger through a wonderfully chaotic 20 minutes of feedback and distortion.
The last thing you’d have expected on those occasions was an apology. On the contrary, after the North London Polytechnic debacle, the band issued the following unrepentant statement: “Friday night proved the people are crying out for the first division excitement the Jesus and Mary Chain provide. The audience were not smashing the hall, they were smashing pop music.” How times have changed.