Ever since the 2019 tour was announced, I’ve been suffering from a grim premonition about The Sisters of Mercy. Some gnawing suspicion that their touring days would soon come to an end. That I might not have a chance to see my favourite band perform live ever again…
Often, the Sisters have announced a short-notice gig in their spiritual home of Leeds under some hilarious nom de plume – my first encounter with them was in 2005 at the Joseph’s Well as Near Meth Experience. This time however, the ‘secret’ gig was in Antwerp! I realized it would be easier for me to reach the capital and so I set my sights on the Roundhouse in Camden for the 20th and 21st September.
No band in the entire goth scene has been more plagued with erratic performances. The quality of The Sisters of Mercy’s live performances have oscillated wildly over the years. Many have had their fill of uneven sound and inaudible or incomprehensible singing. Even so, this gamble was preferential to never hearing them live again.
And I’m pleased to report the gamble paid off. Alongside stalwart guitarist Ben Christo and flamboyant newcomer Dylan Smith (not to mention the venerable Doktor Avalanche and acid casualty Ravey Davey), Andrew Eldritch led the band through a faithful performance of the Sisters catalog.
If anything I felt the venue let the band down on Friday, where the music was all treble and pitiful bass (a sore point for a band who steadfastly refuses to recruit a live bassist). At times Ben’s guitar skipped, and Andrew was sometimes only a whisper in the maelstrom of noise that is the live experience, with a few lines mixed up here and there.
There were still glowing high points though – the unreleased track Crash and Burn came up early, thrilling me with its slick aggression. The title track from their first album went down a storm, with a crowd I realized was stuffed full of old-hand fans who had never seen the band live before!
We were also treated to an outing of all three ‘new’ songs – yes, you read that right! The band premiered in Antwerp an instrumental track tentatively identified as Kickline, a moody reflective number called Show Me and a searing, sneering rock number called Better Reptile which has me absolutely sold.
It was a delight to hear the 1985 single No Time To Cry, and the band delivered a fan-favourite encore by crashing through Lucretia, Vision Thing, Temple of Love and This Corrosion to widespread appreciation.
And it really was widespread. The venue sold out – that’s over 3000 people, a mass of young and old but mainly older, mixing faded grey classic shirts with brand-spanking new ones from the merch table. Whilst opinions on the sound quality were starkly differing online, the overall mood of the crowd seemed satisfied. Time would tell what Saturday night would bring…
What it brought was even more people. The crowds absolutely mobbed the venue, as well as the Enterprise pub and caused havoc with traffic on the road in between. Many more people were prepared to attend mid-weekend, it seems, and many of them were also first-timers.
I caught some of support act Amenra’s performance this night, and was startled by the difference in style between them and the Sisters. I’ve always enjoyed more familiar support acts like Ulterior or Goldblade, so I don’t know if the intention was to play up the contrast – but they were intense!
The Sisters rolled into action punctually, opening proceedings with More, Ribbons and their Detonation Boulevard / Doctor Jeep medley. Oddly enough, I have no recollection of hearing the Doctor Jeep section but am assured it happened.
I’m deeper in the crowd tonight, closer to the pit – and when Dominion kicks off later, I’m dragged off my feet and across the boiling nexus of the hardest, oldest and often baldest fans!
We’re treated to the sublime Suzanne – once the flagship of the ‘new’ Sisters sound, and then Dylan Smith grabs an actual acoustic guitar for Something Fast! It’s a guilty pleasure of mine, and always a surprise to hear it played live. As the set draws to an end, we’re treated to I Was Wrong, for me a peak-Eldritch anthem, all sex and resentment and deceit and a catchy tune. It’s then we realize he’s played every song from the 1990 album that most agree is the weakest from the Sisters arsenal!
Yet the crowd are well pleased with the set, and after a darkly delicious performance of Flood II, The Sisters of Mercy return for an encore with heavy hit after heavy hit, concluding with a suitably overblown intro to iconic This Corrosion. The band take a long bow as the audience erupts in cheers, and then melt into the backstage having gone above and beyond Friday night’s performance.
I came away with a new shirt, a bootleg shirt and a sense of true enjoyment. The Sisters of Mercy delivered a solid performance to an adoring audience under some initially challenging conditions. I expect their tour will continue to delight worldwide.
Do I think the sudden appearence of new songs heralds a release from the guerrilla musicians of Goth Rock? Not really.
We Are The Same, Susanne has been in the live repertoire since 1998 without appearing physically. The election of Donald Trump to the US presidency was meant to stimulate a new album, but it hasn’t. The Sisters of Mercy can command vast audiences internationally with just a sprinkle of new music – they’re under no obligation to any record company to do anymore, so I doubt they will. Ever.
Except… that isn’t completely true. Very high on my list of unexpected developments is an announcement to release a remastered version of GIFT – the poisonous EP published by The Sisterhood in 1986 as part of the vicious struggle between Eldritch and guitarist Wayne Hussey during their acrimonious split.
Short of deciding to publish SSV again this is an incredibly left field decision. An obscurity produced under duress in a particularly low period of the band’s history? I can think of another Sisters experience with that exact description I’d prefer far more as a remastered release…
These are strange days to be a Sisters fan. I listened to Gift on vinyl last night and it’s a wonderful oddity but it’s nowhere near what we want. Is this Eldritch at his most contrary? Some kind of legal requirement? A transparent moneymaking effort?
One thing I know… Answers are never forthcoming from the most mysterious band we’ve got.