the jesus and mary chain
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Powerful 'Chain' Shows Weak Link
Robert Hilburn / LA Times
review of Santa Monica Civic March 30, 1986

There's a reason the rock band Jesus and Mary Chain finished first or second in four key categories - including best group and album - but failed to make the Top 10 in the best live-act category in the latest New Musical Express readers' poll in England.

In its first swing through Southern California last December, the Scottish group - whose "Psychocandy" is the most exciting rock album so far this year - ranged on stage from hopelessly sloppy (at Safari Sam's) to hopelessly distant, though more disciplined (at the Roxy).

Returning Sunday night to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, the Chain moved a bit closer to the power of its album. The drum sound was more potent than the first time around, and William Reid seemed more in control of the fried edges of his chain-saw guitar style - the heart of the band's uniquely compelling, hauntingly personal emotional intensity.

But technical problems and the band's relentlesly aloof manner left the show short of its potential.

The band exited after a mere 32 minutes, and few in the crowd of 2,800 were in much of a mood to call them back. Perhaps they knew the band rarely does encores. More likely, they recognized that this band is still very much in the incubation process.

"This is the first time a band looked more bored than its audience," quipped one member of the audience midway through the concert.

Offered another sarcastic observer at the end of the show, "What was it that you liked best? When the lead singer fell down or when he started the wrong song?"

It's clear by now that the Jesus and Mary Chain, which is offering perhaps the sharpest attack on rock's status quo since the Sex Pistols, doesn't have a front-man with the blessed charisma and/or stage savvy of a John Lydon.

Indeed, the band's live show may never achieve the greatness suggested by its album. If, however, it is frustrating to witness the Chain reaching for that goal, I'd still rather watch a great band struggle than sit through hundreds of mediocre ones that have eliminated all their rough spots.

Speaking of mediocre bands, England's Specimen - whose ghoulish but likable "Rocky Horror Show"-influenced attitude and playful pop-rock rebellion had a bit of momentum a couple of years ago - seemed horribly passe.

The bonus was the B.H. Surfers, a band that is almost as radical as the Jesus and Mary Chain. The Texas group's psychadelia-cum-blues style would be the ideal sound track for a horror film; there's even a touch of humor in the music and presentation that makes all the more intriguing the Surfers' excursion through darker regions of the psyche.

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