Beautiful screeches from Jesus & Mary Chain

Jesus & Mary Chain played a ragged but thrilling set at Union Transfer that revisited the band's youth.
Jesus & Mary Chain played a ragged but thrilling set at Union Transfer that revisited the band's youth.
Posted: September 10, 2012

Sometimes, when a performer hasn't soundchecked properly or is careless, the audience gets subjected to a moment of screeching feedback that's startling, wince-inducing, and occasionally painful. In the mid-'80s, Glasgow's Jesus & Mary Chain made an aesthetic of those moments, combining them with Beach Boys melodies, Velvet Underground drones, and disdainful detachment, and at Union Transfer Saturday night, those screeches, between songs or within them, were ubiquitous. And marvelous.

The Mary Chain's debut album, 1985's Psychocandy, presented compact pop songs cloaked in feedback: "Just Like Honey" and "Never Understand" offered singsong melodies, sung in Jim Reid's baritone, propelled by simple drumbeats and amped up with his brother William's wall-of-sound guitar. They were equal parts Spector and Stooges, equally enticing and alienating, and influenced later groups such as My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth. The Mary Chain lasted until 1999, releasing consistently great singles and increasingly uneven albums until the brothers' volatile relationship caused the band - which had gone through numerous lineups - to self-destruct. Since then, they've done a few reunion tours and released one new song, 2008's "All Things Must Pass"; other new music is rumored.

Saturday, before a sold-out multigenerational crowd, the Mary Chain focused on those singles, although favoring mid to late tracks like "Blues From a Gun," "Snakedriver," and "Cracking Up" over early ones (only "Happy When It Rains" from 1987's brilliant Darklands). The 70-minute set was occasionally sloppy - it took the five-piece band, which included early member John Moore on guitar, two false starts before finding their way into "Between Planets," and "Halfway to Crazy" barely held together - but it was often thrilling.

"Head On" rumbled and rolled with splashes of surf guitar, reverberating power chords, and increasing volume; "Some Candy Talking" was somber and ominous, a strung-out Velvets homage; "Reverence," with its confrontationally irreverent opening line "I wanna die like Jesus Christ," was a heavy psychedelic workout (though not as epic as the opening set by the Psychic Paramount, an instrumental trio interested in feedback for feedback's sake).

"We're going to revisit our youth for a few minutes," Jim Reid said before the encore of three from Psychocandy, and those final screeches sounded great.

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