You don’t watch The Jesus and Mary Chain to see rock and roll showmanship.
East Kilbride’s finest barely move an inch throughout Sunday’s gig in Islington: William Reid spends a bewitching hour hunched over his guitar and enigmatic brother Jim glowers at the people on the balcony with the frosty intensity of a suspect in a Scandi crime drama. He could probably pass for one, too, were it not for the Modern Lovers t-shirt. But the noise pop pioneers don’t need to jump around to put on a show; their back catalogue does that for them.
From the opening bars of April Skies, it’s clear we are in good hands: the Reids and four other members (three shadow-lurkers whose names you can Google, plus the hardest working smoke machine in rock) run through their fuzzy oeuvre with economy and purpose. Head On, Between Planets and Cracking Up thrum along before Some Candy Talking, its fluctuating drum beat a faint Scottish echo of The Velvet Underground’s Heroin, takes flight.
There are lulls: time hasn’t done the dirges any favours and the boyish crudeness of Jim’s lyrics occasionally grates. But when the pace ramps up and warped girl-group melodies crunch against William’s restrained arpeggios, there’s nothing like it. Happy When It Rains rings out like a lost manifesto for 80s gloom (“I wanna die on a sunny day,” Jim may claim on Reverence, but we all know that’s not true – the Mary Chain are about as compatible with the summer as ice cubes and Christmas) and the Psychocandy-only encore fizzes like a shaken-up can of cherry cola. Just Like Honey is the standout, boosted by a mystery female vocalist and a layer of fuzz as pure and pristine as fresh snowfall.
“Enjoying yourselves?” Jim enquires in a rare aside between songs. “Don’t worry, there’s still time for us to fuck it up.” 33 after they first screeched onto the scene, that’s starting to look unlikely.