“What’s so fucking good, what’s so fucking good about candy?” asked Pop Will Eat Itself back in 1986 or thereabouts, back when they were noisy grebo satirists questioning the sudden indie obsession with the word. Prime culprits of course were the Jesus and Mary Chain, with their seminal 1985 debut album Psychocandy.
What was so fucking good about it? It was released when I was 14 and pretty much changed my life. It was the beginning of that second wave of indie music, much less twee and precious and middle class than the one that came before, that I grew up on; their screaming feedback wail opening the door for Loop, My Bloody Valentine and Spacemen 3, as well as the House of Love, Primal Scream and the Stone Roses, and the messier likes of Gaye Bykers on Acid, Birdland and the aforementioned Poppies. They briefly made leather trousers cool again, writhed and wailed and threw names like the Velvet Underground, Can and the Shangri-Las at me for the first time in the pre-internet, pre-CD reissue eighties. They were the British, snot and acne equivalent to Sonic Youth and Husker Du across the pond, and if they had one motorcycle boot in Goth and Punk then the other was playfully kicking pure pop and classic rock in the head. They were dark and noisy and romantic and nihilistic and had great three chord Ramones / Ronettes / Beach Boys melodies buried beneath layers of distortion just like our pure teenage feelings of love and joy were buried beneath so much confusion, anger and hate. They had great beat poet alienated lyrics like “how could something crawl within my rubber holy baked bean tin?” and they looked great, all in black, always off balance, mess of unacceptable hair, scrawled words, mumbled loser mythology that was the very antithesis of shiny triumphalist Thatcher-yuppie materialism.
I saw them once at the very end of the 1980s, when they were touring slick third LP Automatic; twice in the nineties, on the legendary Rollercoaster tour with My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr and a fledgling, out-of-their-depth Blur, and then years later in a half empty tent at Glastonbury, by which time the world had turned its back on them and the Reid Brothers seemed like two old bluesmen, still howling furiously into the void. When they reformed in the 2000s I saw them at Jarvis Cocker’s Meltdown and at Brixton Academy, both times playing efficient, career spanning greatest hits sets. And then in 2015 we finally got the album that started it all, Psychocandy played live in its entirety, and last week they turned up in Brighton.
How could I not go? I went. Despite my more-than-mixed feelings about these ‘classic album played live’ shows, that can surely only ever be a nostalgic retread of past glories, a certification of museum status devoid of any of the spontaneity, creativity and danger that makes live rock music great in the first place. But seeing the Stooges play Raw Power at Hammersmith a few years ago remains one of the best shows of my recent memory, so go figure.
It didn’t start particularly well. They opened with a short set of non-album songs, a sort of reverse encore before the main course, like a starter, or an appetiser, or an overture, or a fucking prelude. Or just a warm-up, as it turned out, and a pretty shaky one at that. They came on with ‘April Skies,’ one of my favourite songs ever, and I didn’t feel a thing. We’d been discussing in the bar whether we’d need earplugs, but this just sounded as though I’d cheekily nudged the volume on my home stereo up to 3. Worse, the band- Jim Reid, slim and healthy and not drinking anymore in jeans and jacket up front and William Reid lurking uncertainly in the background stage right like a grey front of drizzly bad weather approaching from the west, plus 3 ringers on rhythm guitar, bass and drums-sounded like they were just going through the motions. ‘Some Candy Talking’ similarly failed to ignite, and it was only when they cranked up the distortion on ‘Reverence’ and ‘Upside Down’ that they really shifted into appropriate gear.
The main set of course was the album itself, in order: so starting like it or not with a subdued ‘Just Like Honey’ before a somewhat louder take on ‘The Living End’ (“his head is dripping into his leather boots”) propelled me into the sweaty, good-natured, all-ages moshpit. There I stayed- hell, it beats going to the gym- through highlights ‘In A Hole’ and ‘Never Understand,’ reliving the joys of being punched in the head by a young man in a Big Black t-shirt for the first time in 25 years. “I’m 48- I need oxygen!” called out the big guy beside me in a lull between storms, before the set ended, as it had to, with the Mogadon blitz of ‘It’s So Hard,’ the numbing, hammering, machine-like drums and the blanket of feedback like the static of analogue TV from the days when TV actually ended and you could sit up all night staring at the white fuzz of the empty screen, or like your pounding hangover on a Sunday morning when all the shops and pubs were closed and no-one did anything but wait for school and work and all you could really do was dig your own boredom. The eighties were shit. Which of course was why the Jesus and Mary Chain sounded like they did, and why they were so glorious. So is this anti-nostalgia? And are things really any better now?
There were teenage kids slam-dancing furiously to ‘Never Understand,’ spitting the chorus back in the faces of the middle-aged men reliving their youth: “You’ll never understand me.” Just as, I guess, I was able to identify with the anger and passion of twenty year old songs like ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’ and ‘You Really Got Me’ as a kid and claimed them for my own, using them to rail against the by-then complacent generation they originally belonged to. Sun comes up, another day begins. Candy still tastes sweet.