Sunset 666 by The Jesus & Mary ChainRelease date: August 4, 2023
Label: Fuzz Club
Live albums tend to come with limited appeal baked in. They’re for hardcore fans, a pointed example of the equivocal reviewer’s ‘the sort of thing you’ll like, if you’re the sort of person who likes this sort of thing’ position. That is to say, Sunset 666 is probably of little interest if you don’t already like The Jesus and Mary Chain, and maybe even if you do. I mean, who on earth wants or expects a live album, let alone a double, from this pair of miscreants?
Born of chaos, the myth of the Mary Chain was built on drunken twenty minute sets of howling feedback and palpable ill will towards both the audience and each other. Even as they shook off the early hype and violence they were always combustible, driven by a nihilist love/hate relationship with rock ‘n’ roll itself. Bad attitudes and sheets of distortion obscuring a surprising songwriting gift. Given the brothers’ volatile relationship they probably lasted longer than anyone expected. Burning out at the end of the twentieth century after yet another fight while touring an album bookended by songs called ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and ‘I Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll’, was almost too perfect. They seemed among the least likely to reanimate as a heritage roadshow.
Or maybe it was always going to be like this, The Mary Chain are a very Hollywood kinda band aren’t they? Certainly for East Kilbride. Here at the source of so much that fed them, ten minutes from Capitol records, squirming in the California sun. Iconoclasts devoted to the history of rock ‘n’ roll. In some ways actually about it, cut ‘n’ pasting its multiple pasts into their own overheated aesthetic, juggling clichés and borrowed poses. The groovy hate garage band with the golden heartbreak ballad and the ‘Be My Baby’ beat. They’re from a time when rock was still quite fast moving, but nostalgic for a time it was revelatory. Sullen about cheering on its death. Always a band apart, they’ve come adrift in the twenty first century, analogue thrills in a digital hellscape, a band out of time. It’s just as well they’re good songs ‘cos all that other stuff that held them up has fallen away.
This set comes to us almost by accident. A bootleg of quality and good provenance. From a 2018 run of support shows with Nine Inch Nails at the Hollywood Palladium. There was no plan to record but their sound engineer just noticed he could plug his laptop into the desk and let it go. The first three sides are one complete set with the last adding other material from an earlier night. The results are strong. Keeping things raw and honest, there has been only minimal editing to cut out William tuning his guitar. As the crowd weren’t mic’d up their response sounds subdued or distant but despite the pauses between songs the set has a steady momentum.
It’s odd to hear Jim, who rarely used to speak on stage, introducing Isobel Campbell here as if they were on a TV variety show. She does a fine job although this version of ‘Sometimes Always’ is unlikely to supplant the studio one in your affections. The three songs from underwhelming comeback record Damage and Joy fair well, sounding rougher and more energised. Again it feels out of character to hear Jim politely thanking the audience before they end with a driving nine minute ‘Reverence’, William firing off nods to the Stooges, the drums thundering away and Jim lost in visions of his own heroic death.
The fourth side sees them running through a few tunes from Automatic in loose and noisy style as if they’re joyriding down the pacific coast highway. Jesus, they might even be enjoying themselves. Finally they wrap the whole thing up with a totally perfect version of ‘In A Hole’. Last year Fuzz Club reissued their Barrowlands/Psychocandy set and this one is notable for the absence of anything taken from Darklands or even ‘Sidewalking’ so perhaps there is more still to come if you want to slowly match your Mary Chain collection with live versions. If that’s your thing, there’s some great stuff on here.