the jesus and mary chain
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Water Rats, London
Ian Watson / Melody Maker
There have always been four steadfast rules regarding the Jesus And Mary Chain live experience. They don't talk, they never smile, they'd rather die than look nervous, and... the fourth is obvious, really. And, tonight, in true iconoclastic style, they contravene every given in the book while keeping true to the spirit of what initially made them great. Thus Jim Reid berates the crowd at this music biz showcase for being quiet when there are "free drinks", William shoots his brother a knowing smile, there are worried glances every so often, and... yeah.

Welcome to the Jesus And Mary Chain's unique reading of a comeback, where they take a new approach to knocking out more of the same. All of the familiar elements are present - the driving bass (duties tonight performed by Phil, ex-Lush), the fuzzed-out rock'n'roll guitar, the pained vocals, the reverb'n'heroin cool - but they're presented with a friendlier, sharper, showbiz attitude. Look at Jim and the boys in their hand-me-down Tindersticks suits. They know the best way to sneak their set-in-stone style past a tough audience is to loosen it up, give it a dash of self-mocking arrogance.

So, by sailing close to self-parody but retaining a vital air of conviction, Jim and co attain a Keef Richards plane of cool where persistence and self-belief are the ultimate virtues. You can tell they're still the sharp bastards of legend by the way they submit to the indignity of a secret biz gig and then refuse to play any nostalgic favourites. If you want the Mary Chain, the message seems to be, you're going to have to embrace a truck load of unfamiliar material... and clear heart space for some exhilarating tunes and choruses that rule the world.

The new stuff, then, is much like the best of the old stuff - decadent, with a pop heart and steeped in f***ed-up tradition. Fans will recognise recycled riffs and much-loved melodies from old Mary Chain LPs and smile at their cocksure audacity. "I Love Rock'n'roll', replete with trumpet from JAMC devotee Terry Edwards, is brilliantly dumb, while new single, "Crackin' Up", with the unshaven-yet-supersuave-in-a-Bob-Dylan-stylee William on vocals, sneers and preens with class. It's all a pleasing reminder of how exciting mock rebellion can be.

And no, they don't do an encore.

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