Just Like Candy

by

The Jesus and Mary Chain Live in Singapore, 26 May 2012, Esplanade Concert Hall

“It was perfect timing because there weren’t any guitar bands. Everybody was making this electronic pop music,” That was how William Reid, guitarist and one half of the songwriting partnership of the Jesus and Mary Chain (JMAC), described the character of the music scene in the United Kingdom in the late seventies and early eighties. Seeing the musical stratosphere as bereft of guitar noise was perhaps what led to William crafting his famed hyperdistorted, fuzzed out sound

Noise, so heady and cloying, becomes pleasurable and  sweet, even. Just like candy. That is the watermark the band has left on the history of music. These are men who have taken the main elements of the idiom of pop music and (re)presented them amidst a backdrop of snarling, screeching noise that is robustly held together by a propulsive and expertly accommodating rhythm section and commandeered by the phlegmatic and disenchantedly amused voice of Jim Reid.

And so it was, that JAMC rolled into Singapore to tear into the walls of the Esplanade’s Concert Hall with their rapier-point songs. Did that happen? Yes and no. They were thrillingly loud, but too blasé about it. Hype and fanfare aside, the fact that the principal members of the band are pushing 50 has to be taken into account. I can see why the “old age” argument may not pass muster with diehards or dyinghards but we can’t expect every aging rock act to be as springy as Bruce Springsteen. And JAMC’s is not a sound of spry, accessible melodies. Angst and disaffection form the bedrock of JAMC’s musical outlook and the three-chord carnage that ensues from their music is a reflection of their worm’s eye-view of the world around them. Dark when happy, darker when not. To carry the attitude of morose defiance across time and into their advancing years is a bit much to ask, especially if one isn’t hoping for something contrived. What the audience got, then, was a credible performance by capable musicians whose zest for playing has weathered by time (leaving out the typical perils of being a rock star like the catalogue of addictions). From the first song, “Snake Driver” to the last, the audience was privy to sheer cool and not quite enough heart. One might not have been faulted for thinking that Jim Reid seemed disinterested, almost bored, at times.

The band did deliver, though. The hallmarks of their critically and cultish acclaimed debut album Psychocandy were a significant portion of the band’s setlist. While JAMC could not be relied upon for something approaching feeling, they can be trusted on making the best of volume and fuzz. Through and with seething guitar chords, the band wielded VOLUME to tell their stories. They may not have been evocative as we would’ve liked them to have been, but no one can deny that their stories were pretty damn good.

—Indran Paramasivam

 

Indran is a freelance writer especially interested in culture and the arts. In this age of speed and connectivity, the relationship between art and society and between art and culture is complex and dynamic. Situated in Singapore, Indran is actively involved in exploring how art, particularly, music, is produced and received amidst a backdrop of ever-evolving trends and influences.
Contact: indranparamasivam@gmail.com