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Peer Review: Jesus & Mary Chain

With their Coachella performance still fresh chatter among the blogosphere, a reunited Jesus and Mary Chain sauntered into Gotham last night (May 21), for their first pair of New York City performances in nearly a decade. Seasoned JAMC concertgoers had an inkling of what could ensue: Would the brothers Reid play with their backs to the stage? Would they simply not give a shit, and perform “Head On” three times in a row? The sold-out audience spanning two generations swelled amongst the sweat-drenched walls of the dim and dank Webster Hall didn’t seem to care; most just wanted to see the brothers Reid get along enough to deliver fans favorites such as “Just Like Honey,” “Sidewalking,” and “Never Understand.”

Sune Rose Wagner, vocalist/guitarist for Danish garage rockers the Raveonettes, and Michael Jurin, guitarist for NYC’s stellastarr* — both massive JAMC enthusiasts — attended the near 70-minute gig with mixed enthusiasm and uncertainty. Talking with at a nearby East Village pub, the two axemen gushed over the evening’s best moments, the shoddy sound system, William Reid’s fantastic head of hair, and why the Jesus and Mary Chain remain one of the greatest pop bands, ever. MACKENZIE WILSON / PHOTOS BY DAVE GUSTAV A reunited Jesus and Mary Chain — initial thoughts?

Michael Jurin: I flew out to Coachella purely to see them, so I already had a pre-game of what tonight’s show might be like. Jim looked amazing and William has rounded out a little bit, but he still has that amazing hair, truly a trademark. But he’s not wearing that leather jacket that he’s plays with the zipper anymore.

Sune Rose Wagner: I wasn’t so excited tonight like I was when the first time I saw them. I’ve seen them twice before…maybe it’s like the first time you see something, you’re really excited. It wasn’t until they played “Happy When It Rains” that I got really excited. What an amazing song! Why is that not one of the top ten best songs ever written? That’s truly how I felt when listening to it — it goes through all these great melodies and stuff within one song, and it was just powerful and beautiful. I was just completely blown away — you get the goose bumps, and you’re like “Jesus, what the hell, what’s going on?”

MJ: With reunion shows, you always have sit there and go, “Okay, they’re older now and the sound is a little different, it’s a lot cleaner and there’s a lot less reverb and a lot less distortion.” Tonight, I actually kind of wanted to go up to the sound guy and say, “Uh, I don’t know if you’ve heard their records, but put a lot of reverb on everything and turn up William’s guitar — A LOT. When it squeals, it’s supposed to.” At the same time, there’s just moments, in my opinion, where music feels like a cognitive jump to a point in time when it hit you first. On various songs, sad to say, I had to fight back tears. “Some Candy Talking” threw me off.

SRW: That’s what I’m talking about! They hit that right after “Happy When It Rains” and those two songs were like, “Oh my God! That was the shit!” That was the pinnacle of the show right there. I wouldn’t mind if they just played “Happy When It Rains” three times and said. “That’s it.” I’d be happy. Scarlett Johansson joined JAMC on backup for “Just Like Honey” at Coachella last month. Tonight, the Comas’ Nicole Gehweiler added her vocals. What did you think?

MJ: I’ve seen them a bunch of times and I’ve seen them play that song once in a blue moon, but never with a backup singer. That was something completely new.

SRW: But that even sounded weird because they don’t have any reverb on it anymore. It’s gone. It’s like Do do do, thump. It’s like, come on! But the reverb — that’s my main thing. They were so good with using reverb, and they were such a huge reverb band, and the fact that tonight’s show had absolutely zero reverb, it was a bit of a downer for me, personally.

MJ: It’s not quite the same sound. I could have used a bit more fuzz and feedback to be honest. But at the same time, they went down a hit list. It was bang, bang, bang — they just nailed it out. It seems as if it took a bit for JAMC to find their footing. A weak sound system or a nervous band?

SRW: There was this thing where they started a song and stop, then start it again kind of thing. The band seemed really shady — just hired off the street or something. The drummer seemed like a really cool drummer, but the guitar player would start a couple of frets up and they he’d go down. There wasn’t a lot of communication… But I mean, they probably always just ran their shows like that. If one band can do it, they can do it.

MJ: The beginning of the show is always the balance of the sound system. The first two or three songs are always the sound guy going, “Uh, now it sounds better. Okay, that sounds right.” So “Head On” going on second was a bit of a rush because it could have sounded better two songs after it was played. Additional highlights?

SRW: I liked William’s hair, I have to say. I actually thought he’d have short hair, but when he walked out [with his big curly mop], I was like “Alright!” He wore a Scotland T-shirt, and I loved that. But I also think it was great that they played “Reverence” because Honey’s Dead is one of my favorite albums, too.

MJ: And they closed with a song that I don’t think most people would really know [Syd Barrett’s “Vegetable Man”]… Their little encore was for the geeks-only kind of club, which is the B-side to their first 7″ ever [“Upside Down”]. It was one of those things where half the audience was sitting there going “What?” My jaw just dropped — there is no way they’re playing this. For those who didn’t make it out, recap why they should have been there?

SRW: Everyone should see the Reid brothers because it’s a picture of two brilliant songwriters along with Richards and Jagger and Carole King and Gerry Goffin. If they had worked in the Brill Building back in the ’60s, they would have been huge.

MJ: When I was high school, my brother and I had a discussion that basically concluded that if you looked up the word “cool” in the dictionary, there would be a photo of the Jesus and Mary Chain, in their swagger stance. That’s basically it. That is the sound of cool. They’re much older now, but they still have that stance. They have this thing — that is what cool is.

SRW: They just don’t give a shit. I mean, come on! Any band that would sell out Webster Hall two days in a row — don’t you think they would be a little nervous? They don’t give a fucking shit. They just go in, and say “Okay, we fucked up, let’s try this from the beginning please.” They don’t give a fuck. They never gave a fuck.