I've written a pile of things about Depeche Mode over the years. Out of all my "favourite bands" over the years, they've been by far (FAR) the most enduring. The first concert I ever saw was Depeche Mode at Toronto's CNE Grandstand (RIP ... or not, everyone hated that place), and I've continued seeing them on almost every tour they've done since. Depeche tours are like federal elections, coming along once ever few years, and lead you to take stock of your life and think what you've accomplished since the last go around, see this review from 2009, for example. After Depeche Mode concert, I could say they were the first and last band I ever saw, and there's something very special about bookending one's life through music like that, remembering the band who broke through huge with "Personal Jesus" and "Enjoy the Silence" (and the teenager who used to crouch by the floor next to a tape recorder, taping the remixes of those songs off CFNY) and so on to the present day, and our older, hopefully more mature and grounded selves.
Except there's a bit more to the story than that. Depeche Mode weren't exactly the first band I ever saw in concert. The opening band that night was Jesus and Mary Chain. And I hated them.
[actually, there were two opening bands ... the first was Nitzer Ebb, so they were the honest and 100% truthful first act I ever saw in concert. Nitzer Ebb also continued their career into the late 90's, split up without me ever having seen them again, and reunited recently, so I suppose I could be writing this type of article all over again at some point.]
I knew a few JAMC songs from the radio, and never paid them much attention. "Head On" was their big single at the time ("big" for alternative radio) and it wasn't really my thing. I didn't know anything about their early days, with the fifteen minute gigs and the riots and the walls of feedback. I didn't know a thing about the shoegaze scene, which was reaching it's peak in terms of critical accolades at the time over in the UK. What I did know what that this horrible sounding band was standing between me and "Enjoy the Silence", just one song after another, completely bereft of melodies, rendered completely unlistenable by the aimless squalls of noise that covered literally every single second of every song.
Depeche Mode were in the process of redefining their image from the 80's and trying to become something other than teen idols playing pervy synth pop. Nevertheless, it might seem strange that a band like JAMC were chosen to open for them, but it really wasn't. Depeche Mode's appeal across genre boundaries has always been underrated by the music establishment. The wide variety of rock and pop bands who have toured with them over the years is but one testament to this (Raveonettes, The Bravery, Fad Gadget, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, M83, Motor). In 1990 it actually made perfect sense -- the goth kids loved JAMC, especially the "Darklands" album.
Of course there's no way to know how JAMC really sounded that night. It's all but certain they didn't sound as noisy and shambolic as I thought they were, and I can blame my untrained ears for that. I can also blame the soundsystem and acoustics at the CNE Grandstand, which was rather famously subpar (although the atmosphere at concerts there could easily make up for it). But chances are they didn't sound too different than they did this past Thursday night at the Barby. In fact, with only a handful of songs from the 90's and a band whose sound was perfectly tailored toward the punchy rock and roll style of "Automatic", most of their set could have been lifted completely what they played on the "Automatic" tour.
However the '90 version of JAMC (or at least my memory of them) had one thing that the '12 version didn't -- they were threatening, angry, and dangerous. The '12 version is a slick, professional rock band with all the cues timed down to the second and all the spontaneity or ability to surprise an audience stripped away. But for the most part, a literal belief of those things would be naive. Anything new and somewhat strange, particularly if it's rock and roll played by people wearing dark clothes, will sound scary or even dangerous. And the Pixies' hugely successful reunion and multiple tours showed that there was a market for 80's and 90's alternative bands to mend their fences, appear as a more mature and palatable version of their former selves, and crank out the same "hits" night after night to an audience itching to see them again after so many years. We're no different from every generation before us. We laughed when the Eagles reunited to make a few more bucks, and yet here we are, basically the same age as those Eagles and Who and Page and Plant fans were twenty years ago, shelling out good money to hear our heroes portray blander versions of the bands we grew up with and play the same exquisitely rehearsed hits night after night.
But that's really fine by me. I don't think anyone wants Soundgarden and the Mary Chain and whoever else to be exactly like they were then. After all, we were around then, and we already remember what they were like quite well. We have no desire to relive our lives again from that period and we don't expect our bands to want to either. JAMC '12 might have been a bit *too* professional for my taste, a bit too much of the Reid brothers and their finely coiffed, emotionless backing band, but they played roughly all the important hits and played them well, and you can't ask for much more than that. Jim Reid's voice has aged remarkably well, and although it's not like these songs were much of a challenge to sing, he still deserves plenty of accolades. William Reid is still rocking some of the 80's crazy hair and made the occasional racket on his guitar. If anything, the last five years of reunion tour are only enhancing their legacy, and they have a chance to keep it going if they ever get around to releasing the long rumoured new album.
Of course, over the years I've come to like, even love quite a bit of JAMC's music. By the time they broke up in '98 I was regretting that I never went to see them again, despite no shortage of opportunities. What we called noisy alternative rock back then now sounds very normal, the weirdos (or at least some of them) always find a way to conquer the musical world (or at least a small part) once the niche they forced into the music landscape eventually becomes accepted by the masses. So it's hardly JAMC's fault that they come off sounding almost mainstream, that's always the way things evolve in music. They're just playing the songs they had the foresight to write when most of their peers didn't have the talent or the balls to do it first.
And there's more, namely, how do you pass up an opportunity to see a band after nearly an entire generation apart. How often in your life can you say you did that?