Oh God, help me through this day. That line will probably have crossed the mind of Jim Reid, lead singer of The Jesus and Mary Chain, more than once last Tuesday. After seven concerts in the UK, the originally Scottish band gave its second show on European soil. Munich was the kick-off and now it was Berlin’s turn.
A while back I spoke with Jim Reid, who instantly put The Jesus and Mary Chain on the map back in 1985 with Psychocandy. Together with brother William, he launched this album full of strong melodies covered with screeching feedback. When I asked him about the second album Darklands, the foundation of this tour, he replied: ‘We wanted to uncover the tunes, to take the noise off and make this a song album.’
What the audience of the rugged, graffiti sprayed Astra Kulturhaus doesn’t know is that things had seriously escalated that morning. It is a well known fact that tour buses can be ‘pressure cookers’, but this particular incident led to the immediate departure of drummer Brian Young. Extra complicated, because it requires an extremely skilled drummer to bring Darklands to a good end: the album was recorded with a drum machine in such a way that it is humanly almost impossible to reproduce. All hopes were pinned on the skilled and experienced Young, the band its longest serving drummer to date and formerly part of Fountains of Wayne and The Posies.
In the sweltering venue, only accessible with 2G, the Glaswegian band Rev Magnetic kicks off. Then, after a considerable pause, William and Jim Reid, Mark Crozer and Scott von Ryper emerge from the smoke. Rev Magnetic’s drummer Sam Leighton reclaims his place behind the drum kit. The audience does not seem to realise Young is not there. And much to my surprise, the young drummer plays the first set, in which Darklands is presented chronologically, almost flawlessly.
After a short break The Mary Chain start the second set with yet another drummer, one of the techs, who kicks off energetically. The set entails tracks from roughly the same period, including some B-sides and several songs that I’ve rarely heard live before. But at the start of the third, Taste of Cindy, things go wrong. After the fourth restart Jim Reid decides to move on to the next song. However, the fear is there to stay. I spot the bassist gesturing a few times, somewhat panicky checking the set list.
Things remain a bit wobbly throughout the remainder of the second set. Towards the end Jim explains: ‘You might or might not have noticed, but we had to sent our drummer home. This had nothing to do with COVID. I am sorry if there were moments where it didn’t quite click, but I think both drummers did a pretty good job.’ Earlier in the tour, the encore consisted of four songs, but this time they wisely stick to two. The very last one, Never Understand, manages to bring the venue, with its fairly modest German audience, to a boil.
Meanwhile, the sun grows cold and the sky gets black as pandemic clouds are slowly gathering over the rest of the tour.