The Sisters Of Mercy

Concert Review by Mark Bayross

The Kentish Town Forum, London – 6 September 2000

Few groups are as special as The Sisters Of Mercy and very few frontmen have the presence and iconic status of lead singer, songwriter and centre of the Sisters universe, Andrew Eldritch. Given the number of women flashing their breasts at him in the packed Kentish Town Forum tonight, it’s pretty clear to everyone how much The Sisters Of Mercy have contributed to almost every genre of dark music in existence.

Before the ghoul show, though, we are treated to the rather bizarre choice of support act in Sona Fariq. Widely tipped as the Next Rage Against The Dub Foundation, Sona Fariq are a multi-cultural thrashy, funky, noisy, punky blast of adrenaline and raggamuffin bile. They leap about the stage like men possessed and seem to relish the confrontational nature of playing to a room packed with (largely) disinterested goths.

“Who ‘ere’s got their f**king Hallowe’en make-up on tonight, then?” spits the lead singer, as the band stomp their way through DROP THE BOMB, DO NOT RETURN and WE BE ON FIRE. As soon as Sona Fariq leave the stage, the crowd start to move forward.

An interminably long bleepy electro tune does a good job of building tension while the stage fills with enough dry ice for the Sisters to make a requisitely dramatic entrance, then the crowd’s patience is rewarded with the opening bars of FIRST AND LAST AND ALWAYS and, through the fog, Andrew Eldritch’s wiry frame.

If, like me, you have spent the last ten years quaking at the sound of Eldritch’s tremor-inducing baritone delivery, then actually witnessing the man in the flesh is a surprising experience. The fact that he is “a lot shorter in real life than on record” has been well publicised, but what is really unexpected is that every bit of him looks smaller than you’d think – small body, small head – and, for the Prince of Darkness, he moves around the stage a lot more than you would imagine.

This is not helped by the fact that, in typical contrary Eldritch fashion, he has chosen not to play the sartorial goth game – no black leather, no cape, no hat – instead he is wearing what looks like a baggy red tracksuit! And one of the two guitarists either side of him is decked out in a rather fetching Hawaiian shirt. What the Hell is going on? At least all three of them are still wearing the trademark Sisters shades; they’ve spared us that much. I guess what they are wearing is not too relevant, except that The Sisters Of Mercy were always a very visual band – their music is full of rich imagery, and everything from their videos to their record sleeves was always, to quote Nigel Tufnel, “none more black”.

They race through DETONATION BOULEVARD, then launch into the awesome RIBBONS and suddenly the power of The Sisters Of Mercy is upon us. The room shakes and the lights go wild. This is what we’ve come for. Then, having conquered the Forum, they proceed to play a selection of, gasp, new material. Now, new Sisters material is something really special – in the last decade, they only released one new song, and that was the rather un-Sisters ballad UNDER THE GUN. Tonight, we are presented a number of typically hard-hitting new tunes, along with what would have been their comeback single, SUMMER.

Interspersed with new songs like WAR ON DRUGS and the melodic WE ARE THE SAME, SUZANNE, are a couple of cult-status B-sides, such as ON THE WIRE, as well as the odd classic like AMPHETAMINE LOGIC and TEMPLE OF LOVE. Smiling at the rapturous reception to songs that are nearly two decades old, Eldritch looks like he’s really enjoying himself, leaning into the crowd and jabbering away in German. Fully aware that we are here for the classics, the thumping beats of DOMINION start up and the audience go wild. Bodies climb over each other, and arms flail everywhere. Goth boys and girls climb onto each other’s shoulders, happy to offer themselves as target practice for the beer-cup throwing crowd behind them, whose view has been obstructed.

I always thought that trying to play THIS CORROSION live was a bit of a pointless exercise – recreating the New York Choral Society on stage, along with an orchestra, would test a man of even Andrew Eldritch’s ambition. Nonetheless, they pull it off with just two guitars and a truckload of energy, Eldritch leading the crowd in a euphoric singalong for the chorus.

The Sisters Of Mercy are famous for their encores, usually pulling out a one-off irony-soaked cover to suit the occasion (“Here’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” at Reading, “Confide In Me”…). No such shenanigans here. Instead, we get the hauntingly beautiful SOMETHING FAST, the monumentally epic FLOOD 2, and, for a second encore, a new guitar-driven instrumental, then the crunching VISION THING.

Without doubt, The Sisters Of Mercy have lost none of their quality and presence. Eldritch may be trying to distance himself from the legions of batcave-dwelling misfits he helped to create (Lord knows, I’m one of them), but the Sisters 2000 still flick all the right switches. A few more classics would have been nice tonight (there were some very high profile omissions: no “LUCRETIA, MARIAN, or ALICE), but the sacrifice was worth it to hear the new material.

Apparently, record company problems have delayed the release of the new album, but in the meantime, I advise you to visit The Sisters Of Mercy website, if only to amuse yourself with their acerbically witty comments on guitars, goths and music biz woes.

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