There was no template for the Jesus and Mary Chain to follow. Pitting the melodicism of California’s Beach Boys against the grit of New York’s Velvet Underground and the Ramones, the Scottish brothers William and Jim Reid were leather-clad rebels ready for a knife fight. A volatile concoction of warring siblings, distortion and swagger, Psychocandy, their 1985 debut, gutted listeners who willingly laid prostrate while bleeding out to this sonic concoction.
Arriving in 1984 as the band that would ultimately fall in the middle of the triad of influential acts bookended by the phoenix that was New Order, rising from the post-punk ashes of Joy Division, and the otherworldly-cerebral lyrics and sonic dynamic of the Pixies, this trio, all formed within a six-year period beginning in 1980, brought forth the majority of elements that would comprise the alternative movement of the 1990s. Brothers Reid willfully borrowing from the former’s guitar tones on early singles “Some Candy Talking” and the jangly “Up Too High”, it was their buzz saw first single, “Upside Down”, that signaled their band’s influence on the latter, who went on to cover “Head On” (from 1989’s Automatic) two years later on the band’s Trompe le Monde. One needs look no further than “The Hardest Walk” to discern the Jesus and Mary Chain’s influence on the Pixies’ dynamic structure.
Whereas early Beach Boys’ early songs were a single camera take on surf culture, the Jesus and Mary Chain employed jump cuts into Wilson’s shift from mono to stereo recording, crashing waves of feedback down upon their listeners, stripping any color from the pinstripes and madras of the 1960s. Wholly black and white, the brothers Reid flirted on the same contentious edge as the Wilsons and Davies before them and the Gallaghers who followed, never achieving the acclaim of either. Yet, the influence of Psychocandy is evident yet today, having sewn the seeds of musical discontent that spawned fellow Creation act such as shoegazers My Bloody Valentine and Ride and more recent rock acts such Love and Rockets, Galaxy 500 and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Never a noted live act due to short sets at their outset, their frequent abuse of pre-show substances and contentious nature of the brothers, the Jesus and Mary Chain embodied the nihilism of rock and roll, stripping it down to a guitar, bass and dual snare drums which were always at the fore on their recorded output. Nearly a decade after their founding, the Jesus and Mary Chain joined the 1992 run of Lollapalooza, relegated to an early set which belied the band’s smoke and mirrors stage shows at indoor venues. Always a reticent front man, Jim rarely engaged in idle banter during sets, offering only snide retorts to the catcalls for brother William after he left the band during its 1998 US tour, leading the band to call it a day the following year.
After playing Coachella in 2007, the last eight years have seen the band release The Power of Negative Thinking, a box set of singles, b-sides, covers and demos; reissue its entire six-album catalog in 2011; and play a handful of live dates without issuing any new music. As if marking a rebirth for the band, November 2014 saw the brothers convene to play Psychocandy in its entirety for the first time. Taking the stage in their home country at Glasgow’s Barrowlands Ballroom, William and Jim (then 56 and 52, respectively) kicked off the festivities that would become 2015’s world tour commemorating the 30th anniversary of their seminal Psychocandy.
Opening with a cursory but nonetheless spirited set of early singles (“Psychocandy”, “Up Too High”) and the band’s later hallmark songs, Live at Barrowlands opens with the insolent “April Skies” before segueing into the classic “Head On”. Had the band played “Reverence” from 1992’s Honey’s Dead with the same vitriol on those Lollapalooza dates they would have rivaled Ministry as the most obnoxious band on the bill. After closing the initial set with “Just Like Honey”, the Jesus and Mary Chain return to the stage poised to pounce in defense of their legacy, tearing through Psychocandy front to back, ensuring everyone in attendance at the 2,100 capacity Barrowland Ballroom should have worn earplugs.
True to form, Jim offers little dialogue aside from the occasional thank you. Unlike the Pixies’ 2004 “Sell Out” reunion tour that, at best, felt clinical, the Jesus and Mary Chain’s insouciance at Barrowlands feels warranted as they deliver note for note. The always-droll delivery of Jim Reid is guttural, exuding enthusiasm for these songs almost three-decades old. From the blitzkrieg of “In a Hole” and sonic wash of “Inside Me” to the thrusting indictment of “Never Understand” and the raw power of “My Little Underground”, the Jesus and Mary Chain show why they were once heralded the “best band in the world” by NME. The brothers Reid — if for only one night — rise to reclaim this title, delivering their relentless rock and roll gospel with a middle finger and humble thanks, reminding us all of the power and influence they wield. Acting as if the dust never settled, Live at Barrowlands is as much a kick to the groin as Psychocandy was on its release three decades ago. Having had more drummers than Spinal Tap, the Jesus and Mary Chain were always Jim and William at its core; the Pixies and New Order — neither of which feature their original lineups on recent or forthcoming releases — are shells of their former selves. By reliving the past without sullying their future, the Jesus and Mary Chain are taking their well-deserved victory lap. Should it ultimately implode, that’s fine, too. Live at Barrowlands is a marvelous document of the Jesus and Mary Chain at the height of their influential power thirty years later.