The Sisters of Mercy / A. A. Williams – Leeds O2 Academy, Leeds, 10th March 2020

Posted: 19 March 2020 in Live
Tags: , , , ,

Christopher Nosnibor

Despite having seen The Sisters countless times since their 1990 comeback at Wembley Arena, and despite their performances being spectacularly patchy (true also of their early years and even cult heyday up to ’85, if you believe the evidence of the bootlegs over the fans who were present but often under various influences) and often disappointing, I was still mega-revved to see the band that, when push comes to shove, will always rank as my favourite act of all time. I make no apologies for this.

The city’s half-deserted – which was also true of York on departure – even in rush hour in these COVID-19 paranoid times, but the O2 is packed with goths and lesser goths of all ages, shapes and sizes.

I’m here as a paying punter, and I’m here on my own, and manage to see almost none of the many people I’m connected with via social media who are also present as I hunker down in my usual spot in the front row by the speaker stack to the left as facing. I’m determined to guard it so fiercely, I adopt the resolve of the Birmingham NEC ‘92 gig: no beer, no nipping off for a pee. Pee trips can take 15 to 20 minutes in venues like this, and the beer is dismal and expensive, so screw that, although the three pints I had in a pub up the rad beforehand begin to press harder about halfway through the set.

Having not had much time to investigate beforehand, A. A. Williams is something of an unknown quantity beyond being a purveyor of ‘doom gospel’. Going on the presentation and first few bars, I was expecting her to be an addition to the bracket occupied by Chelsea Wolfe and Emma Ruth Rundle, but as the set progresses, it’s apparent that Williams is less given to pushing the weightier end of things. She leads her band – a standard enough rock set-up with a second guitar alongside her own to fill out the sound and add depth and texture – through a proficient and suitably dark-hued set. But without any significant dynamics, sonically or in terms of performance, it all feels a little flat, samey, and contained, lacking in drama. I want MORE!

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A. A. Williams

The Sisters do give us ‘More’, and lots more besides, and while ‘More’ is reserved for a blistering hit-filled encore, the set packs plenty of bangers and more energy than we’ve seen in some time, elevating this well above what’s become something of a standard semi-obligatory exercise in merch-pedalling and showcasing a new song or two.

Having watched the latest new songs ‘Show Me’ and ‘Better Reptile’, aired on the mainland leg of the tour a few months ago, countless times already, to the extent that they’re both etched into my brain, am I keen to hear them for the first time properly? Hell yeah. But that doesn’t blunt either the anticipation or the thrill, and while there’s no ‘Better Reptile’ tonight, the buzz of a set that launches with a new song is cerebral and physical but not necessarily one ready articulable in words. After an atmospheric intro, ‘But Genevie’ slams in and is an instant classic, and better still, the mix is crisp and clear and Eldritch’s vocals aren’t only up in the mix, but he’s singing up with a vocal strength that’s not been displayed in far too long.

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The Sisters of Mercy

While he doesn’t sustain it throughout the entirety of the set, reverting to the subsonic grumbling, growling thing he’s become prone to over the last decade for many of the songs – and at times very much to their detriment – there are moments where he really does go all out, not least of all on an extended ‘Flood II’ that has to be up there with any performance since their return to the live circuit in 1990.

The standard of the new songs – with ‘Show Me’ being aired along with ‘I Will Call You’, ‘Black Sail’ and instrumental number ‘Kickline’ – is up there with the reinstated ‘rash and Burn’, and it’s elating to hear – although the elation is tempered by the eternal frustration of a continued lack of studio activity.

The vintage cuts – ‘First and Last and Always’, ‘No Time to Cry’, ‘Marian’ are played at breakneck speed, but instead of feeling throwaway or like they wanted to get them over with, as has been the case on some previous outings, they feel energised and urgent, and their brevity leaves room for an extended ‘Lucretia, My Reflection’ in a hit-packed encore which saw the band really cutting loose with ‘More’, ‘Temple of Love’, and ‘Lucretia’ before wrapping up with ‘This Corrosion’.

After 18 songs performed by a band on renewed form, not to mention a rare showing of ‘I Was Wrong’ (a personal fave) we can probably forgive the absence of ‘Vision Thing’.

Writing this after the fact, in the knowledge that it proved to be the penultimate show of the tour only heightens the appreciation of the event. The later-day Sisters shows may be divisive in fan communities, and it’s a fact they can be variable, but this home outing proved that on a god night, the Sisters have still got it.

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