the jesus and mary chain
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White Knuckle Sandwich
"I wanna die like JFK / I wanna die in the USA"
The Jesus And Mary Chain

"Most people go to their graves with their songs still in them!"
Ed Foreman, inspiration behind the "Heath, Wealth & Happiness" 'life-enrichment program'

Chicago, Chicago - so good, they named it after some onions. Fifty-three museums! Twenty-nine miles of shoreline! In 1871 it burned down, 17,000 buildings were consumed, and a third of the city lay in ashes. It's f---ing windy, too. That fire never stood a chance in hell.

"I WILL", boasts an elegantly calligraphed message on the side of a subway train. This is "THE SPIRIT OF CHICAGO", apparently. I WILL thrust splendidly into the cut-glass sky, flanked on the east by Lake Michigan, a convincing fake beach if ever you saw one; I WILL inject the Indian summer glare with a brittle but somehow reassuring fake coastal wind; I WILL present a clean front, a scrubbed facade for the city's countless visitors, and at least one vegetarian take-out that's big enough to accommodate all of Consolidated. I WILL be your kinda town; I WILL host the first leg of this year's most significant 'alternative' rock event, and I WILL send my splendid, scrubbed, windswept children to worship at the feet of its various missionaries.

Rollercoaster USA. Roll up! Roll up! Oh yeah, the onions. Chicago is named after the Indian word for the wild onions that flourish on the banks of Lake Michigan - Checagou. Now wake up, it's time to cry...

Godammit! You've already been denied access to two travelling rock circuses called Lollapalooza as they wound their weird and wonderful way across The Land Of The Free (sic). And now, as if to add injury to insult, America's getting treated to a cleaned-up, reshuffled, supercharged version of April's truly disappointing UK Rollercoaster tour. Rollercoaster USA takes in 23 cities from DeKalb to San Diego, mostly hallrooms and ballrooms, until the end of November, and it is, quite simply, the finest piece of rock theatre I have witnessed in 1992.

I hate to say you should be American, because of course, no-one should, but this one single evening of Great British Music - Spiritualized, Curve, The Jesus And Mary Chain, in that fixed order - is three and a quarter hours that compounds and crystallises everything that is vibrant and clever and downright sex-mad-filthy about what squares call 'alternative'. And you should be American, because there is no God and only Americans get to see it. Remember the awful time you had at Rollercoaster UK? Blur, the Valentines and Dinosaur Jr on in the wrong order, at the wrong time, in the wrong place, before the wrong place, before the wrong crowd, using inappropriate sound equipment and putting you in the worst mood you could hope to be in for the Mary Chain? Forget it.

I've had my reservations about all three acts at one time or another but, standing here, grgipped and pulsing, in Chicago University's Mandel Hall, my veins pumping nothing but Dr Pepper and fatigue, it becomes obvious that I WAS WRONG ALL THE WAY. Over three and a quarter hours, in almost medically precise measures, about 800 Windy kids and myself are, by turn, massaged, soothed, picked up and shaken, sexually aroused and punched repeatedly about the face. There's a Chicago joke in here somewhere - we are blown away. Killed dead and reborn. And you thought Curve were contrived goth nonsense, Spiritualized curduroy dullards and the Mary Chain old bastards in young trousers...

You talk a lot of wind. You talk an awful lot of wind. FORGET IT!

We are stowed away on Curve's tour bus - for YOU, for death, for glory, for kicks - for a brace of early Rollercoaster rides, and, in a very short time indeed, we have become disfigured by the spirit of rock'n'roll - which isn't I WILL, it is I KILL. As the news of 'that' exclusive Sinead O'Connor interview is wired to me form London, England, it becomes diamond-bullet clear that Sinead is a mere music biz appendix - surplus to requirements, but potentially very painful in the side - and the three bands that comprise Rollercoaster Mk II are its guts.

I wanna die on a sunny day."

Wil-maaaaahh! A vagrant jazz trio have set up their tattered equipment on a grassy knoll and are tearing into the theme from The Flintstones with commendable gusto. Coins are chucked, shoe-shined toes are tapped, we have a gay old time. This is just what I thought it'd be like on the streets of Chicago. Two hours later, I pass by the exact same spot on Michigan and East Walton and they're still playing The Flintstones! Perhaps it's the only one they know. Perhaps it's an encore. Perhaps their set is two hours long.

You can't expect too much of music. The fools that we are, we expect everything of it. We demand that it changes, we beg of it to alter our lives, we leave it for two hours and assume it will be different when we get back. Here we are now, entertain us, music, you bastard. We complain if a band stays away too long; we complain if they outstay their welcome.

And then, occasionally, once in a blue moon, music gives us what we want, and we quit complaining... for about, say, three and a quarter hours.

They tell us it's one of the rougher districts of an otherwise antiseptic-looking Chicago, but the flat, green, well-lit area that surrounds Mandel Hall on 57th and University (dontcha just love American addresses?) belies such hysterical briefing.

Once inside the auspicious building, an eerie, closed-shop sense of something-not-quite-right hits us. The foyer is abuzz with joshing studes and the final doof!-doof!-doof!-doof! of Spiritualized's late soundcheck filters through from behind the main hall's heavy oak doors. Normal. And then the last item on the NOTES pages of Curve's itinerary comes back to me: "At a few shows, mainly the universities, alcohol is going to be a problem".

Ouch! It's a 'dry gig'! Diet Kool-Aid Lite all round! The place is devoid of alcoholic recourse, even the bands' riders are untroubled by hard liquor, shit, we're all going to have to take crack instead! Perhaps this alc-free atmos is pertinent, when you consider that the auditorium is your classic Dead Poets Society assembly hall, all carved balconies and high arches, church-like to the point of intense God-fear! So, this is where we come to be anointed, is it? As sober as judges and as reverent as pilgrims, we are gathered here today to witness the marriage of disco and rock, the funeral of Sinead O'Connor, the birth of cool. Take a pew.

Downstairs, in the crypt, Toni Halliday is carefully painting a red dot on her forehead while Curve guitarist Alex regales us with unlikely tales of cockroaches the size of dachshunds in his flat at home after spotting a standard one moving about their dressing room 'john' and a dead one upturned next to the lockers. We consider smoking it - no, really - and there is a good joke about 'roaches'. Across the hall, Spiritualized huddle, Jason Pierce has a rotten throat infection and has been forced to lay out $70 on antibiotics, drummed Jon Mattock has spent half an hour going round the college with a marker pen, adding Spiritualized's name to the day-glo posters. I wondered why it was spelt correctly.

This Pepsi tastes like Brasso with Canderel. When does the ceremony begin?




Strap yourself in; the Rollercoaster is off. Naturally, Spiritualized crank the whole shebang into life without a word. Row upon row of Alternative Youth give the barely visible figures onstage a rousing reception just for (virtually) existing. It is truly - and intellectually - heart-warming that music as hook-free and unfeathered as Spiritualized's could elicit such a sporting, involved response from a bunch of lumber tops and nose-pin rebels. It's chamber music, to all intense and purposes, and they're receiving it like a home run.

Pivot and glummo Jason Pierce says nothing; he doesn't even look at his adoring audience. What's going on behind the long face and the short, practical crop is nothing we're going to see through his eyes. That music is the window to Jason's soul, that gently rippling, occasionally magnificent music with its brazen synth chords, its complex geometric drum patterns and that methodical, weeping guitar.

Jason's cracked voice, too, rises like smoke from a smouldering heart into the spotlight above him, pained and pin-pricked like a distressed choirboy. One can't help but see Jason, stage-right, and keyboard empress Kate Radley, left, as Shakespearean lovers kept apart by some imaginary sea, pining poetically for one another... alright, alright, I used to think Spiritualized were horsewank.

I could never bear to imbibe; I used damned their seated oeuvre as a clutch of mere self-conscious, cerebral doodlings in the margins of rock's phone book. I found it my calling to be the one in the NME office who flinched at the very sight of their wibbly-wobbly figurines and pretend four-track album which was really 12 tracks, the over-educated jessies! But that was then, and this is... the future.

It's Jon's drums that drag me in initially - precise, soft-stick, cymbal-heavy, to-the-letter and oddly hypnotic. Fingers of light poke about in the back of the hall, casting Spiritualized's five members (plus Will Gregory on sax) as shadow puppets in an incredibly static play. Slow and hefty strobes challenge the eye, the incredible heaving breast of a number like 'Medication' or 'Shine A Light' lifts and separates your (all too bloody sober) mind. 'Run' provides the trad R&B relief (as close as you're going to get), elsewhere, it's black sheets of pain, laser guided malady and genuine, heart-tearing beauty.

All aboard the Travelling Sonic Cathedral Medicine Show, then! If corporate rock is the disease, then this is the cure. And Spiritualized are the preparatory aromatic balm. Mmmmmmm.

Take me, Lord, I have seen the lightshow! I am a convert! I am walkin' with Jesus. Pierce on earth and goodwill to all men! Now, all we need is some glamour, some sex, some amphetamine... Hmmm, let me guess.

A single shoe is thrown into the air. Human bodies, apparently etherised on a sturdy table of outstretched arms, are passed across the throng like courses at a great Medieval banquet; no surreptitious groping of tits occurs whatsoever. Curve do this to folk. That phenomenal five-piece you still insist on calling 'false'. Well, get a load of their new, de-sampled sound and run it through your Real Music computer, because, unveiled here for (ah well) the Americans, it requires no wind maachine to create a storm.

Curve's new lighting designer, Lawrence, is soon to join the police force. The band and crew have a month to talak him out of it. In the meantime, just look at those gigantic revolving blue lights!

This band will not go to their graves with their songs still in them. Their music is, as David Lynch described Eraserhead, "a dream of dark and troubling things". Pitch and enveloping, it still manages to thunder along now that Dean Garcia has binned a large chunk of the previously dominant rhythmic backing tracks, thanks to drummed Monti, whose role in the group was always criminally hidden before. 'Doppelganger' and 'Fait Accompli' pummel and pound, Toni's scarlet voice twinkling and cutting above the sex dream noise terror, Dean and twin guitarists Debbie and Alex scuttling about the stage like possessed arsonists fanning a terrible flame.

Dressed down in T-shirt, torn jeans and thermal long johns, Toni keeps disappearing between songs, agitated, at one point actually scolding soundman Kevin over the mic. They can't hear themselves, we discover afterwards. They missed out. All part of the perfect prescription, Curve's set is a dose of Temazepan - on a drip - a series of electric spasms and inner highs that courses through your body like dry ice, vodka and fear. Hold a candle to that, all-comers.

More Coke. More Dr Peppers. More Snickers. I love these products. I'll tell you about the Mary Chain tomorrow. I'm split into fractions, and I need to pull myself together.

"I wanna die / I wanna die / I wanna die / I WANNA DIE!"

Hang On. We lost a day here somewhere. Yesterday, Friday, a Rollercoaster day-off, Curve, Ed Sirrs, myself and PR Phil went on what you might - in a Curve piece - call a blender. Halloween approacheth, you can tell by the plethora of promotional Budweiser pumpkins and bats hung from every spare bit of Pippin's 'pub' on Rush St, so we drowned our mortal fear in the spirit of Chicago (I WILL!) and said a dozen Hail Bloody Marys until we could feel the city's chill wind no more. Daisy Chainsaw and Therapy? played the Metro Club, but I don't remember them at all. I've got this bit of hotel notepaper upon which Toni has kindly reviewed Rollercoaster for me - "The Mary Chain are the greatest pizza ever served; Curve are the greatest sex; Spiritualized are sugar being licked by Sylvia Plath". How pleased she'll be to see that in print.

Tonight, Saturday, a Rollercoaster day-on, the gig is at a 2,300 theatre called the Riviera, where blue-satin-coated bouncers rather unsportingly separate the punters into two queues outside the venue, one for guys, one for ladies. Cheers. Spiritualized go onstage at the vibeless hour of 6.25, but miraculously manage to turn their truncated 30-minute slot into a further mindblast, give songs only, one brand new one, untitled and spectacular, the closer 'Smiles' (very old) rendering the term 'epic' a spent match. Jason is still surly, ill and suspicious, as any quiet genius might be.

Toni unveils a new look for the show unforgiving black Vivienne Westwood bodice and Calvin Klein knicks hoist to her armpits. Debbie sports a Medicine shirt, to remind us that the difficult West Coast noiseniks were once to play Rollercoaster, but would've had to go on at about three in the afternoon to meet some venues' childish curfews. Shame. The Curve sex metaphor holds up, with a daring quiet passage mid-set ('Sandpit', 'Today Is Not The Day') that expertly separates from the furious foreplay and the steaming climax. Excuse me...

We view the Mary Chain's victorious headline cure-all from a royal box with the Smashing Pumpkins, D'Arcy looking every bit the ghost of peroxides past, Billy Corgan grim-faced soul in terrible cardie whose utilities have been cut off in his apartment.

No fashion statements with the Mary Chain. Jim and William Reid don't dress for dinner. It's been seven long years since they ran the riot act, but there remains a threatening air of petulance and possibility about their onstage demeanour that throws a star-strangled spanner into the works. Jim just sort of leans intently into the mic stand, gently thrusting. Red lights bleed from behind wire mesh, ankle-height, like the burning eyes of something in the sewer out of a John Carpenter film.

'In A Hole', 'April Skies', 'Reverence', 'You Trip Me Up', 'Kill Surf City' - homogenised, inevitably, by the mechanics of a touring five-piece band, these stark moments of tortured soul music form the final stage of Rollercoaster's treatment. This is just sweating it out in your bed, the simplest rememdy of all.

Film of a speeded-up supermarket trip and Clockwork Orange puts us in the mood - a kind of delirium, happy when it pains - and William is our entertainment for the 60-minute duration. Master of his own hardware universe, pedals and effects spread before him like an airline pilot's bewildering cockpit or the useless junk at some bum's feet on a New York sidewalk, this little lot transforms him from frizzy-head potato face misery into a full-blown magician. If his guitar is his lower, watch as he beats her, caresses her and apologises to her in one fell swoop of his arm. It's bloody and frightening, but no-one gets hurt.

Down in the photographers' pit, a battalion of WWF security gentlemen keep the writhing, crowd-surfing mob back by redirecting those two-minute messiahs that get passed too close to the barrier. From above, this is a surreal sight - a dozen Canutes holding back a flesh ocean.

During 'Sidewalkin'', when the song is reduced to just a bare skeleton and Jim repeats "Chilled to the bone / Chilled to the bone" with a single frozen blue light painting the backs of his jeans from the sewer, the world stops. Can't ask for much more than that.

Only arch professionalism and a lack of clean underwear dragged me home after Chicago. I wanted to die in the USA. If the first two days were this good, what of Denver's Gothic Theatre, New York's Roseland or Salt Lake City's 20,000 capacity Delta Center?

This flawless, corkscrewed white-knuckle ride should roll and roll into 1993 and your back yard. Write to your MP. Burke & Hare are on the road with the Addams Family and the cast of Macbeth - all the funeral of the fair! - and you're stuck with the Inspiral Carpets, The Real People and Family Gotown.

There is and alternative. It could take your breath away.

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