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November 27, 2014

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Despite slip-ups, the Jesus and Mary Chain inspire at House of Blues

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Bill Hughes

The Jesus and Mary Chain perform at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay on Saturday, June 16, 2012.

Las Vegas is a terrific city for concerts, particularly when it comes to alternative and independent music. While many such acts sell out large venues in big-city tour stops with thriving fan bases, here they’re more likely to play a scaled-down space with a smaller, but nonetheless enthusiastic, crowd.

It’s an intimate experience that’s hard to find in cities like L.A. and New York, and it’s what made seeing the Jesus and Mary Chain at the House of Blues on Saturday so memorable. The legendary Scottish shoegaze quintet played to a modest crowd of around 1,000 people, leaving plenty of room for dancing, jumping and pushing up to the front (by comparison, they played the previous night to a packed outdoor crowd of thousands at L.A.’s Hollywood Park racetrack).

That coziness was clearly to the joy of those in attendance, most of whom were men in their 40s enthusiastically cheering and raising their beers in the air. One fan later confessed that he had been waiting 20 years to see them after their last gig he attended was cut short.

The Jesus and Mary Chain have a complicated history, primarily due to the volatile relationship between brothers Jim and William Reid, the band’s core members. After the height of their success in the ’80s and early ’90s, the band reunited in 2007, but the tension still lingers. This was evident in Saturday night’s performance, which at times felt fatigued in its sound and the band’s onstage rapport.

The 75-minute set drew largely on songs from Jesus and Mary Chain’s seminal 1985 debut “Psychocandy,” so much so that it may have made more sense for them to just play the album through in its entirety rather than sporadically jump around. That also may have prevented some false starts as the band struggled to remember the beginning of songs like “Happy When it Rains” (“This was our best show of the tour,” bassist Phil King joked ) and as singer Jim Reid occasionally mumbled through forgotten lyrics.

For a band whose sound is defined by heavy noise and feedback, Saturday night’s performance was more mellow than expected; their breathy vocals and gauzy guitars amounted to more of a sigh than the growl of their early live performances. The sultry ballad “Just Like Honey” felt rushed and flat for lack of its signature chanting and backup vocals, though it still managed to elicit a collective swoon from the audience.

Despite the slip-ups, the crowd was nonetheless content to close their eyes and soak in the Jesus and Mary Chain’s echoing melodies and yearning, sensual lyrics; their songs are lullabies for the heartbroken, and if the set wasn’t perfect, there’s still an undeniable catharsis to hearing them performed live.

By the end of the show, the band had the crowd pogo-ing along to more aggressive numbers like “Reverence” and “Never Understand.” Onstage, drenched in strobe lights, the Jesus and Mary Chain struck at their instruments with a ferocity that harkened back to their snot-nosed youth roots.

And just as the show began to peak, it was over, leaving you with the same mix of longing and bliss captured in their songs; few who were there would likely have it any other way.

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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