Menu Subscribe Search



Subscribe for the Latest Music News

Enter your email address below to subscribe to a regular(ish) dose of AAA Backstage goodness direct to your inbox.

Live Review: The Jesus and Mary Chain Psycho Candy Reunion Shows @ 170 Russell St and The Forum

Jesus and Mary Chain

Reunion tours for heralded post punk icons usually go two ways; the band slog through a greatest hits compilation or they try their best to prove their contemporary relevance by shoehorning new material in-between the cult hits most of the fans came to see. The Jesus and Mary Chain are a band that have never done things by the norm. This is true to the present day, with the band defying these reunion tour tropes with their special Psycho Candy 30th anniversary shows at Melbourne’s 170 Russel St and the Forum. Nothing less could have probably brought the Reid brothers back together as notoriously temperamental personalities. Psycho Candy introduced the world to the Jesus and Mary Chain as the band’s daring debut defined by a clash of lush sixties-girl-group melodies with abrasive noise and feedback. The noise, of course, is what everybody remembers of Psycho Candy (and the Mary Chain) and what many were eager to hear replicated for their reunion shows. This is unfortunate, as one of the many reasons the Reid brothers transformed their sound post Psycho Candy was to enable the melodies of the songs to be more readily appreciated. The current incarnation of Psycho Candy does just this as a less chaotic interpretation that nicely smooths out the edges.

For many younger fans their first introduction to Psycho Candy and the Mary Chain may have been the inclusion of the album’s opening track Just Like Honey at the end of the film Lost in Translation. This would of course be a deceptive first impression as Just Like Honey features little of the feedback drenched chaos that made the band and the album famous, but it does serve as a wonderfully hazy overture to the mad bliss of Psycho Candy. At Russell St there is a hint of the disarray and sour attitudes the Reid brothers are famous for as Jim Reid makes the band stop a few bars into the song, thrown off by the sound mixing of the night. Understandably, the sound at Russell Street was somewhat uneven, with the vocals and the lead guitar drowned out by thunderous drumming. This was corrected soon after and Jim Reid’s temper settled down. They follow with the explosive The Living End, which bombards the audience with a taste of the gut-wrenching noise the band are famous for, complimented by throbbing strobe lights to accentuate the chaos.

One of the great things about the reunion shows is that they draw attention to the multifaceted nature of the band’s sound by going through the entirety of Psycho Candy. While this is clearly signposted with Just Like Honey, several lesser known tunes also exemplify the band’s debt to sixties girl groups such as the Shangri Las or the Ronettes. In this way, the structure of the album works great as a full live set, with the languid pacing of tunes such as Cut Dead and Taste of Cindy providing gentle relief from the noise.When people talk about Psycho Candy they often talk about the noise, but what really makes the album seminal is the contrast between songs that perfectly mirrors the tumultuous, unpredictable nature of being young and full of emotions and drive, but unsure of yourself. While it does seem somewhat incongruent to listen to the middle aged Jim Reid sing about the alienated youth-orientated topics explored on Psycho Candy, the themes of loneliness, insecurity and insatiable desire that dominate Psycho Candy are really timeless and ageless.

The second side of Psycho Candy starts with the band’s popular single Never Understand, a Beach Boys influenced melody swathed by a scratchy wall of noise. This tune inspires a mosh-pit like formation at the Russell Street show, which was luckily curbed at the Forum by the venue’s dedicated security workers. The tortured wailing of Inside Me only amplifies the chaos in the crowd, a perfect follow up to the frustrations aired on Never Understand. Although some of the lesser known songs on the second side of Psycho Candy feel a little redundant as stand-alone tunes, the seamless transition between tunes on both nights creates the feeling of one ongoing, feedback soaked reverie that justifies the unabridged presentation of Psycho Candy.

Eventually, the set draws toward a climax with You Trip Me Up. As one of the band’s popular singles, You Trip Me Up fully endorses all that Psycho Candy is famous for, with its sluggishly delivered, distorted vocals, back-to-basics sixties girl group melody and guitar sound akin to fingernails on a chalk board courtesy of the elusive William Reid. True to myth, William remains obscured in the shadows, barely visible except for his mane of frizzy hair. The last two songs on Psycho Candy, Something’s Wrong and It’s So Hard, stand in for an encore and feel a little like an afterglow in the wake of the phenomenal You Trip Me Up. Although fans congregate by the stage at the end of both shows in hope for another taste of the Mary Chain’s extensive and varied discography, we all know this is the natural end and that anything more would be a mere afterthought.

An encore is also unnecessary since the band had already previewed the full Psycho Candy set with a shorter snapshot of their career. These songs provide an excellent means of easing both the band and the audience into the explosive energy of Psycho Candy, while also enabling punters to get their money’s worth. Both shows open with the harder-edged rock n roll drawl of April Skies from 1987’s follow-up to Psycho Candy, Darklands. This is followed by the fan favourite Head On from 1989’s Automatic, a song that even more adequately demonstrates the band’s gradual embracement of a purer rock n roll sound. We get a couple more samples from these polarising albums with Blues From a Gun and Nine Million Rainy Days, both of which were originally sung by William Reid in his lower, more breathy vocal style. On both nights Jim takes complete vocal control. While Jim’s versions are interesting to hear, it would have been nice to see William take centre stage for at least a couple of songs as one essential half of the Mary Chain equation, arguably an even more prominent player as the band’s most prolific songwriter.

We also get to hear the in-between-albums ode to the confusion of adolescent love affairs with Some Candy Talking, which was included on the CD release of Pyscho Candy and is often mistaken as a Psycho Candy tune. The Reids set things straight once and for all by placing the song in the first, non-Psycho-Candy set. For Russell St’s show, the band blast through their first single Upside Down, which sounds just as big and promising more than 30 years later. Surprisingly, at the Forum the band play another, more obscure Automatic track with Between Planets. On both nights the mini set is closed with the baggy style neo-psychedelic track from 1992’s Honey’s Dead with Reverence, the perfect overture to Psycho Candy, with Honey’s Dead being the album that best compliments and builds on the raw sound of Psycho Candy.

It may seem like a bit of an overkill to go see the same band play the same set twice, two days in a row, but the energy of both shows and the venues themselves were very different, resulting in unique experiences. Russell Street’s show was far more intimate and rowdy, which enabled great views, but a somewhat unruly, overly-masculine dominated atmosphere made it difficult to enjoy many songs, with punters screaming at the band to get into a fight and trying far too hard to mosh to the un-mosh-able and wholly sacred Just Like Honey. Meanwhile, the Forum’s venue was vast in size and suitable for a band as important as the Jesus and Mary Chain. This was evidently reflected in the attitude of the band, who seemed far more comfortable on stage and more appreciative to be playing. In contrast, it felt like the Reids were going through the motions for much of Russel St’s show and at points possibly gritting their teeth at the rambunctious crowd and sound engineers. The Forum’s show felt more like the event the Psycho Candy reunion tours were meant to be, with the venue’s grand size, presence and facilities truly doing justice to the majesty of Psycho Candy and the Mary Chain.