(Planet Me)
Monday, November 14, 2011
 
SISTERS OF MERCY - “XXX” - London Camden Roundhouse – 13 November 2011


Thirty years since they thundered tinnily into the arena and nudging (if not past) 50, The Sisters Of Mercy – the name for the peculiar rock vehicle Andrew Eldritch has commanded all his adult life – can still, 21 years and 21 days since their last album, bring 1,800 people to London on a cold Sunday night. And for the few that still care, The Sisters are still one of the most important bands that ever existed.

“What do they sound like?” asked my partner, whose tastes are perhaps slightly more modern. I stumbled and said “Motorhead backing Leonard Cohen”. After her initial curled lip, I suggested maybe “Lemmy fronting Leonard Cohen's backing band?” hesitantly. Whatever they sound like – an explosion in a factory narrated by God – they sound glorious to my ears.



Were this a new band, would you like them? That's the question you should ask yourself of every single old band you love. Some older bands – those I never mention anymore – I can say I wouldn't. Those bands have become forgotten postcards. I was carried away then, by time and youth. This lot, yes. Absolutely. They still burn like they did back then.

As Eldritch wrote more than once, its the band where you can lose or find yourself in the space just below or on the stage. Where the colour flash and the lights blind, where smoke obscures, and where guitars roar. Tonight is everything that brought me to the band over twenty years ago and kept me there. This band are a gonzoid amphetamine filth hit of pure, dirty, clever rock. Albeit, rock done in a very singular way : defined by huge guitars, lights, drum machines and words. There is a genius in the idiocy of rock. A particular cleverness in their brand of big dumb guitars. An intelligence in the way one wields a mike stand or points into the crowd during the choruses.



And it is, to the learned ear, as good as their legendary-if-you-were-there Birmingham show of summer 1992 which stands to many as a high watermark of their live existence. I keep coming back because The Sisters can be a wonderful experience in the right circumstances, where the lights are low and the guitars set on high. Tonight is pure, undiluted, concentrated Sisterness.

The Sisters have played some awful gigs over the years – and some stonking hours of music that go like a freight train on fire through your quiet village. The Astoria five years ago still rests as legendarily limp. There the sound was far too quiet, technical problems plagued the mix, and the vocals were an apologetic muble. Here, the Sisters roar. Guitars serrate. The vocals are sharp, passionate, and correct. Eldritch preens and poses and even, at one point, smiles. Behind him, songs are executed with a ruthless precision. And the songs. It might be the same band, but this a far stronger version. HULK SMASH.



Anyone expecting a carbon copy reproduction of 1985 must be dreaming. The Sisters may never be a museum piece ; albiet they evolve slowly. These are the songs of the past thirty years reinterpreted for here and now – years of performance honing them into the same songs, but different. Some of them have never sounded so good.

The somewhat predictable Sisters setlists of the past have also been revamped : For the first time in twenty six years, London gets “No Time To Cry” and “A Rock And A Hard Place”, whilst new covers of “Pipeline” and Red Lorry/Yellow Lorry's “The Gift That Shines” are present and correct. “More” and “Logic” have also been absent from most setlists for over a decade, so their welcome return is greeted with open arms. With five songs each from each album, as well as a couple of classic early singles, two covers, and four new songs, even though it is all over in 100 minutes, you would never feel shortchanged.



Everything changes, even the Sisters. And nothing changes. The lineups we long recognised dissolved 18 years ago, and the current configuration – Eldritch, Chris Catalyst on guitar, and Ben Christo on guitar – is the longest, most stable line up the band have ever had. And the songs may remain the same, but each is moulded in the image of the here and now.

In a state of absolute radio silence, The Sisters are a band that don't do interviews often, play live with a frightening regularity, and release records in dimensions that don't exist to mortals. Having washed their hands of the corrupt and incompetently asinine industry, the band are a cottage industry. The only way you can legitimately hear their canon of new work is if you get to stand in a room the same time as The Sisters, and they feel like playing it. And when Eldritch introduces the band as “We come from Leeds. We live in space.”, perhaps he hints that this is no ordinary band.

So. The Sisters Of Mercy are my favourite unsigned band of all time. Existing outside of the system, fiercely independent in their workings, intolerant of the wretched trench of the music industry and pursuing a touring ethos that would shame lesser, and younger bands, The Sisters are their own nation. As song after song falls from the stage – the relentless “Lucretia”, the utterly timeless “Vision Thing”, and the final, obligatory “Temple Of Love” - The Sisters disappear having accomplished again their mission, and we are spat out into the cold Camden streets on a Sunday night. As the T-shirt says : “Entertainment Or Death”.



First And Last And Always
Ribbons
Train
Detonation Boulevard
Crash And Burn
Marian
Alice
No Time To Cry
The Gift That Shines
Arms
Dominion /
Mother Russia
Summer
A Rock And A Hard Place
Logic
This Corrision
Pipeline
Neverland
Flood II
Something Fast
More
Lucretia
Vision Thing
Temple Of Love


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