The Jesus and Mary Chain @ Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 27 Mar

The legendary Jesus and Mary Chain celebrate 40 years with a tight set that hits all the nostalgic sweet spots

Live Review by Lewis Wade | 03 Apr 2024
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain

Aircooled cut a curious figure as openers tonight. On the one hand, they're led by Justin Welch, the Elastica co-founder with stints in Suede, Lush and currently drumming with The Jesus and Mary Chain. Other members have done time with Miki Berenyi and The Wedding Present, so there's no shortage of 90s Brit-rock pedigree. Musically, however, they hew closer to a synth-heavy sound that wouldn't have been out of place in the dark days of 00s electroclash. A post-rock ELO? Mogwai fronted by Gary Numan? There's plenty of confidence and creativity – splashed a little too liberally perhaps – in these crack jams by a solid band. They may not have quite won over the curmudgeonly JAMC crowd, but who wants another lifeless Britpop revival?

There can't be many in the almost sold-out crowd who haven't seen The Jesus and Mary Chain before, but there's still a sharp feeling of excitement when they appear from the smoke and shadows. The band seem more polished and professional these days, compared to their dour or even antagonistic reputation. Workmanlike would be going too far, but there is a sense that they're an accomplished rock band now, rather than the ramshackle upstarts who blurred at the edges of the mainstream 40 years ago (as the subtitle of tonight's show reminds us).

This is no bad thing really, as years of refinement have done little to dull the classics. Happy When It Rains jolts the crowd to life, before Head On and In a Hole provide reminders that JAMC can run with the punks too. Some newer songs like All Things Pass capture that raucous energy well, but too many feel like paint-by-numbers retreads (Amputation, Chemical Animal), and even solid guest singers (Rachel Conte, The Rezillos' Fay Fife) fail to enliven the mercifully few cuts from this year's Glasgow Eyes.

Jim Reid's vocals are as good as they've ever sounded, more assured than previously but still possessing the cracks at the edges that allow the emotion to filter through, especially on gloomy, reflective bangers like Nine Million Rainy Days and brilliant encore opener Darklands. Brother William lurks morosely as close to the amp stack as possible, his greyed-out curly mop bobbing as he carves crystalline guitar lines and revels in swirls of feedback.

The Be My Baby drum riff announces Just Like Honey to close off the main set. The crowd cheers, Fay Fife returns to provide backing vocals, Jim Reid delivers the title over and over again with languid iciness that eventually melts to unabashed glee. It's an expected and wonderful end, though it always surprises just how such a murky and lurid song, lost in guitar haze, became such a hit. It sits in contrast to eventual closer  Reverence, which is as muscular and noisy as anything all night, and much closer in sound to where JAMC currently operate.

Despite nodding towards contemporary relevance, the band are at their best when leaning into the nostalgic glory days of Never Understand, Darklands, Head On and Just Like Honey. There might be less drunken brawling, but the brothers Reid can still conjure the magic that made their band such a revelation 40 years ago.