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Thursday, December 7, 2023

an intimate gig at Chalk, Brighton

The Jesus and Mary Chain live at Chalk, Brighton

Seemingly aware that I couldn’t make it to the imminent Primavera Weekender in Barcelona, the Reid brothers kindly chose my hometown, Brighton, to stage their one-off warm-up gig. Not every day does one get to see a band like The Jesus and Mary Chain under such intimate circumstances, so all prior plans were dropped like dirty kecks when I heard they were swinging by. 

Garbed appropriately in my Velvet Underground t-shirt, I strolled down to Chalk, a medium-sized venue just a pebble’s throw from the centre of Brighton Beach. Alas, I didn’t have a pebble, so I hastily joined the entry queue. The queue in question was discouragingly short, but I had yet to realise just how unfashionably early I had arrived. 

I’m not one for arriving late; besides, I had ample time to grab a pint and scout out the merch stand, where Psychocandy t-shirts and the recent Munki reissue beguiled myself and a modest scattering of middle-aged men. As I returned to the main room, tinkering with my DSLR, a fellow attendee approached me, asking if I was the official photographer.

I explained that I’m merely a music journalist and hobbyist shutterbug: a jack of both, master of neither. In return, he told me he was a relative of the supporting act’s frontman and to expect great things. He also informed me that the band, London slowcore act Deathcrash, was both very quiet and very loud. When, shortly after, they began to play, I understood what he meant.

The remarkable four-piece performed a set of transcendent tracks, each taking Pixies’ quiet-loud-quiet approach to its extremities. Intricate drum fills and guitar arpeggios developed gradually into intense frenzies of quaking noise, ensuring my ears were still ringing as I wrote these words. My lug-holes hadn’t been put through such paces since I saw Mogwai at the Brighton Dome in February. It was all well worth the damage.

Deathcrash vacated the stage to rapturous applause as we dug in for a lengthy soundcheck, teeming with anticipation. A few screeches and buzzes radiating from William Reid’s gigantic Orange amps, conjuring the ghost of Psychocandy, but when the band finally took the stage, it was ‘Blues From a Gun’ from 1989’s Automatic that kicked off proceedings. 

Following up swiftly with ‘Head On’ from the same album, it was clear The Jesus and Mary Chain wanted a heavy lift-off. These tracks and the similarly bold and uncompromising Damage and Joy singles, ‘Amputation’ and ‘All Things Pass’, were particularly memorable in the live setting. The audience, which had thickened out with fashionable youngsters in the interim, bopped heads in unison, entranced by the strobes.

Throughout the performance, I was hemmed in front and centre among the band’s more enthusiastic and energetic fans. Onstage lighting mainly beamed from behind, casting the Reids’ timeless, iconic silhouettes towards the audience: Jim’s lithe, inanimate frame leaning over the mic and William shredding effortlessly beneath a dense canopy of frizzy locks indigenous to the Highlands.

As the set progressed, the Mary Chain exercised the full breadth of its discography with highlights from all seven studio albums. A strong rendition of the early classic ‘Some Candy Talking’ elicited a particularly effusive reaction from some of the older members of the congregation.

After ‘Nine Million Rainy Days’, one of my personal favourites, the band left the stage. Jim had warned earlier on that they could possibly be tempted back for an encore; this half promise teased a chorus of wailing pleas from my more inebriated neighbours. I have to admit, the drunkards did us proud, securing four more tracks to close the evening.

As the band reappeared, Jim welcomed Lush vocalist Emma Anderson to the stage. Justin Welch, another Lush alum, began to drum the intro to ‘Just Like Honey’, but ‘Sometimes Always’ was actually next on the menu. This false start, one of a couple on the evening, could be forgiven for the quality of each ultimate performance and for stirring an exceedingly rare smirk from Jim as he exchanged a glance with Welch. This underpinned the gig’s intimate nature and undoubtedly helped tighten the band before their upcoming dates in Spain. 

As Jim and Anderson exchanged sonorous, youthful verse for the encore’s first two tracks, frontal lighting cut the silhouette illusion for the first time, exposing Jim’s T. Rex Electric Warrior t-shirt. The show was finally laid to rest on a beautifully morbid note: the Honey’s Dead cut, ‘Reverence’.

In a 2022 interview with the Telegraph, Jim claimed, “I am terribly, terribly shy. I was not cut out to be the singer in a rock ‘n’ roll band.” The frontman’s ice-cold onstage demeanour is a failsafe veneer for any such shyness, but if that part of the statement is true, the second part certainly isn’t. 

As I walked home with an ‘April Skies’ t-shirt in my jacket pocket, it struck me that, beyond innumerable hits, The Jesus and Mary Chain have shown a generation that shy misfits can not only be immovably cool but can make a hell of a noise while they’re at it!

See the full setlist from the show below. At the top of the page is a composite image formed from three of my shots. Although the lighting wasn’t sympathetic to amateur photographers, I think the silhouette effect is very on-brand.

The Jesus and Mary Chain live at Chalk setlist:

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