Jesus and Mary Chain
Stepping backward in the past through Bobbie Gillespie projects’ pathway, you bump into a key band, lead by two brothers obsessed by the Velvet Underground.
I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence or a choice. It looks like the Jesus and Mary Chain’s (JAMC) desire to match the Velvet Underground (VU) biography is continuing.
It begins with their music that, undeniably, tried and succeeded on transposing the ideas of Reed and Cale from the 60’s Warholean New York to the 80’s Scottish landscapes. But the parallel goes further. Similar to the VU, the JAMC are remembered for two fantastic albums, which went practically ignored by the public yet defined a sound that was the influence for many other bands since.
From the Sonic Youth to the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, their credits in the indie-rock panorama are countless.
Their recipe has got the simplicity of genius. Guitar noise and perfect pop songs are dosed from song to song in unbalanced ratios. Whilst Psychocandy contains music-scapes of feedback and walls of distortion that overlap beautiful songs, Darklands preserves that noise tension although emphasizing the melodies and the singing.
If it wasn’t for the Led Zeppelin that made all the other reunions history, This year JAMC would have ranked high on the “reunion of the year” award. To complete VU mimesis, in fact, they did it somewhere around 25th anniversary.
Let’s leave VU to history and move to JAMC news. Last September Brixton show, the second in London following the all-seated Royal Festival Hall gig as part of Jarvis Cocker’s Meltdown festival, was eagerly anticipated. The Academy is a rock venue that fits their proto-indie-guitar music much better than the jazzy RFH.
The Brothers Reid enter the stage showing that brotherhood is not only a genetic issue. While Jim is perfectly fit and is here to demonstrate that the research claiming rockers have shorter life is basically wrong, Williams looks much less fit and is a little more rotund. His frizzy hair a caricature of his cool 80’s haircut. But, despite their look, I’m here for the music, and that music is alive and unperturbed by the years. It starts from where they left, their successful recipe still works. This time the set is dosed with a large proportion of beautiful songs and a minor amount of strident feedback. Post-punk left its way to post-post-punk and brothers Reid left their twenties a while ago.
The 20 songs set contains 13 of the 21 singles the band released, leaving out the less interesting of them. An hour on, Vegetable Man homages Syd Barrett and introduced the Psychocandy end of the set with the immortal Just like Honey and the beautiful You Trip Me Up. It’s the best moment for the enthusiastic and thrilled audience, which was still singing when the band quickly came back for an encore dedicated to their second album. Starting with the atmospheric Darklands and followed by the lovely Nine Million Rainy Days (Scottish humour!). Both songs, not previously played as part of their reunion, sang by “fit Jim” who took all the vocal duties for the night. The concert closed class(icall)y with Reverence.
Oh, a last note. Among the hit fuelled set JAMC played a new single All Things Must Pass. Solitary as it was it didn’t spoil the stream of music, but as a signal that an entire new album might be on the way, it’s a bit worrying. Can someone in touch remind them that it was the Eagles and not the Velvet Underground that released a new album after their reunion tour, please?
Let’s talk about the Brixton Academy. I don’t think I have seen a better venue for medium-big size rock concerts, and I saw quite a lot.
Its shell shaped stalls, smoothly steep, allow anyone to see; its scattered barriers avoid front row fans to be squeezed. Acoustic is generally perfect. OK, the decorations are a bit on the kitsch side, but you are supposed to see the gig not the column, statues, temples lit with colourful lights and fake plants hanging from fake windows.
The photographers pit is usually very wide which allows the many shooters that are usually there to move freely. It is plenty of space to host photographers and security without getting hindered.
The stage is big and quite high, which is nice for the audience. Your pictures would suffer a bit from the sense of grandeur that comes out when your subject is elevated compared to you.
If the band is rather still and spread along the whole stage, it could be quite difficult to portray the whole thing, unless you want five spots coming out a very wide angle lens perspective.
It is a theatre that requires slightly longer lenses. If your favourite gig lens is a 50mm, let’s say you’ll find yourself using an 85mm at the Academy. Lightning is usually up to the band, but any time I went there I wasn’t very impressed, it is more on the dark side.
Backdoor entrance is useful and you’ll find yourself in the pit without having to cross a sea of thousand excited fans with your gear. Rules depend on the band, the security in London tend to be stricter than somewhere else, so if you don’t have an additional ticket, you are likely to be escorted out of the venue after the 3 songs and, even if you have the ticket, you have to leave your cameras with the security before going back into the venue.
All considered, among the most memorable concerts I attended, as a photographer or audience, those at Brixton always rank high.