The Sisters of Mercy + Black Moth – Leeds Beckett SU, Leeds, 14th October 2015

Posted: 15 October 2015 in Live

Christopher Nosnibor

When it comes to writing about music, I often do so as a fan first and foremost, and this is particularly true of The Sisters of Mercy, a band I’ve seen more times than I can count, and whose comparatively slight body of work accounts for a disproportionate segment of my record collection. But I do appreciate that The Sisters of Mercy probably shouldn’t exist in 2015. It’s now a full quarter century since their last album, and their sporadic tours are often met with a mixed reception. The press don’t go near (although in fairness, the press aren’t invited or welcome). They may have some of the most dedicated fans you’re likely to meet, but those selfsame fans are often amongst the band’s harshest critics, and the last 25 years have seen forums packed with debate over how Eldritch’s voice is shot, how the reworkings of old classics are inferior, how the new material doesn’t hold up against the old, how whatever lineup is touring lacks this, that, or the other. But of course, it’s because of those fans that they do still exist in 2015, and several of the shows on this five-date UK tour were sold out in advance.

Some of the ever-critical fans may have questioned the choice of support: on the face of it, Sabbath-inspired riffers Black Moth aren’t a very ‘Sisters’ band. But The Sisters of Mercy have a long tradition of playing with incongruous acts, both in their early years as a support themselves, and latterly as headliners. With Black Moth, well, it’s probably a Leeds thing: Eldritch has never lost sight of the band’s roots in the city. Moreover, Black Moth are an outstanding live act, and at tonight’s homecoming show, they own the stage. New guitarist Federica has slotted in nicely, and the barrage of riffs hits with full force. Harriet’s performance – both in terms of vocals and presentation – is hard to fault, making for a strong set.

Black MothBlack Moth

A looping electro track – none other than ‘Shut the Fuck Up’ from the Sisters / Not Sisters ambient techno album ‘Go Figure’ by SSV – prefaces the emergence of three shadows on stage amidst a dense smog and blinding white, pink and blue lights, to a jubilant cheer. Jesus loves the Sisters, and so does Leeds. They open in vintage style with ‘First and Last and Always’. It’s a rousing start, and it’s immediately apparent there’s an energy not seen in a long time. ‘Ribbons’ is swiftly dispatched and the customary ‘Doctor Jeep / Detonation Boulevard’ medley gets a good thrashing. If ‘Crash and Burn’ suggests business as usual, then business is good, and fact ‘Body Electric’ gets an airing, immediately followed by ‘Alice’, means things step up a gear remarkably early.

Eldritch doesn’t so much struggle with the high notes as avoid them completely, but those who decry the loss of his vocal range fail to take into account the fact he never really could sing especially well in the first place, at least not in technical terms. I’d suggest he’s simply learned it’s a lesser aural affront to go low or otherwise sing within a ‘safe’ range than hit duff notes all over the place (and let’s face it, the countless bootlegs of the band’s ‘classic’ era circa 83-85 attest to myriad howlers, not to mention missed cues, drop-outs and general ropiness on behalf of not only the front man but the band as a whole). In fact, tonight found him in fine voice, that resonant baritone rumbling out from the fog while you wonder if he’s lurking toward the back of the stage or actually having a crafty fag somewhere in the wings (I suspect both happened at various points during the set).

DSCF1853The Sisters of Mercy

‘Summer’ was always one of the strongest of the unreleased songs and tonight its lean, wiry and taut in execution. Meanwhile, ‘Arms’ feels more developed, and the band sound more confident playing it than on previous outings. In fact, while Ben and Chris respectively pose and bounce around and Eldritch prowls the stage, they seem not only to be on top form, but to be enjoying themselves.

The surprises and rarities invariably provide the highlights of any Sisters show, and ‘No Time to Cry’ and ‘Blood Money’ played back to back – and done justice – is definitely cause for excitement. A boisterous take on Larry Willis’ ‘I’m a Police Car’ provides the customary cuckoo cover, but it’s the pairing of ‘Valentine’ and an instrumental guitar-led rendition of ‘Jihad’ (‘I have nothing more to say on the matter,’ Eldritch says before leaving Ben and Chris to it.

DSCF1863The Sisters of Mercy

“You’re gonna hate this”, Andrew forewarns us before a synthesized piano tinkles the intro to ‘1959’. And then… they play ‘1959’. Reworked as a slow-building power ballad. Yet for all that, quietly contained yet quavering emotion of the studio version, is retained in the vocal delivery – before a big guitar break even Jim Steinman would consider audacious, and Eldritch cracks a smile as he revels in the glorious absurdity of it all.

Where do you go after an encore containing ‘Temple of Love’ and ‘This Corrosion’? Home? Not the Sisters, who return for a second encore consisting of the most muscular take on ‘Lucretia, My Reflection’ I’ve witnessed in all the years I’ve seen them, ahead of and an all-guns-blazing version of ‘Vision Thing’ and a stormingly ferocious ‘More’ to finish.

Instead of rushing from the stage, they hang around, hugging and waving, with even the nurse to the Doktor coming to the front to receive the ovation. It’s overtly rock, and on any other night you’d be forgiven for thinking it was just another ironic gesture, a parodic posture derived from the cliché canon the Sisters so love to plunder. But while such camaraderie simply isn’t in the Sisters’ repertoire, it looks and feels absolutely genuine, Eldritch cracking yet another grin. And rightly so: having turned in one of the best performances in some 20 years, he’s got a lot to smile about.

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