As the silhouetted Jim Reid, microphone lead tightly coiled and back so hunched he's staring at the floor, yells "I wanna die, I wanna die, I wanna die, I wanna die" and his brother lets out another blistering screech of guitar it's hard to make a case for The Jesus And Mary Chain being anything like 'warm and sweet'.
Starting the set with a song called Amputation doesn't exactly conjure up images of flowers or chocolates either. But, from the very beginning, the JAMC's appeal has been in their duality. For every Teenage Lust or Reverence there's a Darklands, a Just Like Honey, or Some Candy Talking's paean to either love, drugs, or cunnilingus. You choose.
The Jesus And Mary Chain arrived at just the right time for me. I was hitting my late teens, starting to go to gigs, and devouring NME, Melody Maker, and Sounds with almost religious intensity every Wednesday morning (or Tuesday if I was in London). As The Smiths had done only a couple of years earlier they opened my ears to a new way of hearing, my eyes to a new way of seeing. They were a gateway drug that led me on to Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr, and The Butthole Surfers and even back to Can and Neu.
The feedback, the riots, the gigs cut short, the protests at pressing plants over a b-side called Jesus Suck. All of this fed into their legend but none of that would've meant anything if they weren't making the music to back up the outrageous claims of both the band and a then fawning music press. On debut album Psychocandy, the title making that aforementioned duality keenly explicit, they married feedback drenched blasts like The Living End and You Trip Me Up with the blissed out sadness of Just Like Honey or Cut Dead and the classic rock tropes, but fed through an industrial shredder, of Taste The Floor and The Hardest Walk.
On second album Darklands they dropped the feedback and if there was any fear it would expose their songwriting chops it was completely unfounded. Songs like Nine Million Rainy Days and Down On Me proved the Reid brothers to be consummate authors of anthems to teenage heartache even if they, and much of their audience, were long past those teenage years.
As the nineties progressed my tastes diversified and many of the bands that the JAMC had opened the door for, and some they resolutely had not, took precedence. I was listening to the likes of Pavement, Underworld, Primal Scream (fronted by ex-Mary Chain drummer Bobby Gillespie, of course), and Happy Mondays more but every now and then a Mary Chain track (Cracking Up, I Hate Rock'n'Roll) would cut through into my world and I'd be reminded of the sheer majesty of their utterly unique sound.
Since they reformed in 2007 I've caught a handful of gigs. From a wonderful evening at the Royal Festival Hall to a so-so experience in the Roundhouse a few years later where it felt like the wheels had come off this particular reunion. The fact that they'd sobered up, got it together to record a new album, and were receiving rave reviews again had tempted me along to the Forum in Kentish Town on a Wednesday night and the fact that I'd be spending the evening with such good friends as Ben, Simon, Pam, Kathy, and Chris sealed the deal.
After a couple of primers in the Grade-II listed Pineapple pub on Leverton Street we arrived at the venue just in time to catch the start of The Primitives set. The Primitives were yet another one of those bands I discovered in those wonderful and exciting first few years exposed to the live music scene. I'd seen them supporting James at the ULU before they went big with Crash and I'd adored their song Really Stupid. In fact I'd much preferred it to Crash.
I'd seen them supporting The Wedding Present some years back and had been surprised by how well their songs had aged. I'd expected Crash, and even more so Spacehead, to sound dated and silly but played back to back on Wednesday night they sounded urgent and vital, stripped of all extraneous fat and delivered as buzzsaw guitar sharp yeye blasts of pop perfection, Through The Flowers, Way Behind Me, and Really Stupid had lost none of their original oomph and the band looked, and sounded, lean and galvanized.
As did The Jesus And Mary Chain. Due to sibling rivalry and, let's face it, industrial levels of alcohol consumption gigs had been known to not end well in the past. Though that might've been exciting to begin with it soon, as with most pissheads, became tedious. Not least for the band themselves. Now fully in control they're able to stake their rightful claim as one of the most influential bands of theirs, or any, era. They didn't take long to stick a flag into the dying body of indie rock and, as ever, it was never quite certain if they were trying to kill it off or reanimate it.
About a quarter of the set was made up with tracks from new album Damage and Joy. Opener Amputation suggested the vast expanses of American deserts and long road trips in open top cars, Always Sad was pretty much the sound of a leather jacketed punked up remake of Grease, and All Things Pass could've come straight off 1992's Honey's Dead. Not one note sounded like filler.
Each one of them could, maybe, go on to be future JAMC classics but the bulk of tonight's crowd was, of course, waiting for the hits. A few bones were thrown out early doors:- the electric cool of Happy When It Rains and the television sick and television crazy Far Gone and Out had this happy customer screaming along at the top of his lungs. Head On's Duane Eddy turned up to eleven twangy guitars sent a chill shooting down my back.
After The Living End's frenzied, coruscating, blast of pure biker existentialism we got the catharsis of both Some Candy Talking and Darklands. Knee deep in that stuff and talking in rhyme with our chaotic souls before release was delivered in Reverence's iconoclastic dismantling of the American dream. A love/hate assessment of the USA, JFK, and Jesus Christ spat out with a combination of awe, bile, and contempt.
It was a pretty powerful way to end the set and the Mary Chain must've been in a good mood as we were treated to not one, but two encores. There can't be many bands around who could knock out a four song salvo as strong as Just Like Honey, Sidewalking, Cracking Up, and Taste of Cindy and still have plenty left in the tank. No time for Upside Down, the iconic Never Understand, or their biggest UK hit April Skies. The fact they can leave out these songs and people weren't complaining is a testament to an extraordinarily rich back catalogue.
They signed off with War on Peace's slow burning elegy to lost youth and lost love and, finally, the tongue-in-cheek, contrary, churning, vacuum cleaner guitar of I Hate Rock'n'Roll as if to further underline the essential dichotomy of the band and to stress that if that dichotomy was ever resolved the band would somehow, mysteriously, lose their power. Jim Reid's last words of the night may've been 'Rock'n'Roll hates me' but you know what? It really doesn't. It fucking loves him.