the jesus and mary chain
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Fire and Ice: Pop Music From Poles Apart
Robert Hilburn / LA Times
Rock's Jesus And Mary Chain Leads a Chain-Saw Assault on the Status Quo

The Jesus And Mary Chain is not a gospel group. That much was clear Thursday night at Safari Sam's in Huntington Beach.

Less certain for many of the curious who turned out for this controversial Scottish band's local debut (it'll also be at the Roxy on Monday night) was whether Mary Chain was a legitimate rock group.

Several members of the audience, commenting on the show at its conclusion, branded as sloppy and unacceptable lead singer Jim Reid's "man possesed" actions - including stumbling about the small stage so much that he twice knocked over the band's drum kit.

"Sham," one irate non-fan shouted as the Chain gang left the stage after scarcely 30 minutes of music.

"You guys are pathetic," cried another member of the audience.

But that verdict was far from unanimous.

Dozens of fans followed the quartet outside the club after the brief but draining set to offer words of approval - or simply to learn more about these visitors, who may just be mounting the sharpest attack on the status quo by any British act since the Sex Pistols in 1978.

Most pop attractions court audiences by giving just what the fans want - or what radio thinks they want. Like the Pistols and the earlier New York Dolls, the Jesus And Mary Chain separates itself defiantly from the rest of the rock pile to affirm its individuality - and the audience's as well.

But it's more than simply a case of I'm different, therefore I am.

On record, the Mary Chain has a frequently compelling, if sometimes unsettling vision. The band balances melodically seductive tales about searching for things and people to believe in against a steady stream of feedback that underscores the difficulties of that quest. Most of the tracks on the "Psychocandy" album tear at you with a chain-saw assault reminiscent of the German machine-shop band Einsturzende Neubauten.

The feedback is, the band members have admitted, a decice to attract attention, but guitarist William Reid layers the sound so artfully on the record that the "noise" becomes an integral part of the musical statement, adding commentary and emotion.

The album, which will be released in this country early next year, is among the best rock LPs from England in years: a hauntingly personal and powerful work that speaks with the urgency and heart of musicians who take too much pride in what they do to simply join the cold, commercial calculation of most recent British rock.

On stage, however, the band was more troubling than convincing. The musicians - especially vocalist Reid - went about their work with an uncontrolled demeanor that underscored the darker implications of the "Psychocandy" title. The Lou Reed-like studiedness of the album's vocals gave way at times to desperate ravings more reminiscent of Jim Morrison.

Through either shyness or total musical passion, singer Reid looked like a man in his private dream - or was it a nightmare? He didn't say anything to the audience, or even appear to look at the crowd.

He seemed equaly oblivious to his guitar; he strummed it occasionally, but hurled it to the floor after failing to get the proper notes or volume. He then dropped to the floor himself, dragging the microphone stand down with him. He later picked up himself and the guitar, only to drop the instrument again and proceed to pound on it with the microphone stand. Three times during the set, Reid threw up his hands and yelled "Stop!" to the other musicians.

The last time, he wandered off the left side of the stage, signaling the end of the show. Unfortunately the exit was on the right side, so he was just sort of stuck in the middle of the crowd until one of the band's road managers finally rescued him.

As the band's van sped away, the audience was left trying to piece it all together. To be sure, the music didn't work as well live as it does on "Just Like Honey" (one of the band's most appealing numbers) failed to define the epic, Spector-style romanticism of the album version, and guitarist Reid's feedback lacked the power of the record. The stumbling, on-the-edge behaviour of Jim Reid also tended to overpower the music by drawing too much of your attention to what he's going to do next.

Still, this is a special band in the best, radical tradition of the Dolls and Pistols. It seeks to redefine boundaries in rock by getting audiences to stretch their own musical imaginations and tolerances.

That's a risky path, as the early demise of the Dolls and Pistols indicates. The challenge with Mary Chain is to put more discipline into the live show without sacrificing the heart of the musical vision. As it stands now, 90% of the rock audience would dismiss the Jesus And Mary Chain's concert as sloppy and indulgent. But remember: 99% of the U.S. rock community rejected the Sex Pistols in 1978.

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