Gig review by Zyllah Moranne-Brown with photography by Ken Harrison

Darkened smelly, smoky clubs, with sticky floors and DJ’s playing vinyl from up on high. The sub-culture of an 80’s scene – which by identity, you could belong. And the DJ plays. ‘Floorshow.’ We young teenagers dance, immersed in the churning beat. My introduction, way too many years ago, to tonight’s headliners – a welcome return to Andrew Eldritch and The Sisters of Mercy.

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Now I have to say, I didn’t think us Gig Junkies would get to review “The Sisters”. But thanks to the lovely Toad, we indeed have sneaked in to this near sold out gig in the back end of Brum tonight.

First up on stage tonight be John Robb and his band The Membranes. Robb is far better known for his journalism and TV punditry (oh and HIS  award winning review site Louder than War *yikes*) than possibly The Membranes (albeit this post punk outfit formed in ’77). As part of The Membranes, Robb and the guys  reformed in 2009, and have been touring since – including a hook up with a Choir at the Blue Dot festival earlier in the year.

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The guys take to the stage, 15 minutes earlier than planned – and Robb announces “we’re gonna play 37 minutes 37 seconds about the universe…” A quip from an audience member about playing their hits – “we don’t have any…” quips Robb back. No matter, he’s a charismatic frontsman – at the front of the stage, engaging the audience, on his personal mission that EVERY gig should be an event. They last played here (Brum) 27 years ago, across the road. “Anyone from Stafford? I lived in Stafford for a year – I got out!

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‘Supernova’ – ever been into space? Robb asks the audience. “It’s crap!” comes a  response. “That I can believe.” Robb’s energetic – now he’s off stage, into the pit and balancing on the barrier. In  2015, The Membranes released critically acclaimed album ‘Dark Matter/Dark Energy’; quite literally about the universe and hence the hook-ups with various choirs.  They’ve been performing throughout 2015/2016. The Membranes are really good fun, well worth looking out for.

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Gig Junkie, Ken Harrison had a chat with him during The Sisters set – they’re doing all these dates with The Sisters, the last gig of the tour is a fundraiser for a member of the March Violets, to adapt his home after a stroke….

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And so to The Sisters. A name coined from a Leonard Cohen song. The intro to this review refers to the legendary (and original) JB’s in Dudley – effectively a garage, painted black, with dirty sticky floors, stage at one end, bar at the other, DJ playing vinyl on a raised platform. In the mid 80’s pubs closed early (10.30pm peoples!!) so we would traipse our little punk and goth selves up to the back end of the Black Country for (more) Snakebite, a band and dance. And it was the ‘Alice’ EP with the title track of the same name, ‘Floorshow’, ‘Phantom’ and ‘1969’ we hooked in to.  While I never saw the original Sisters incarnation (with Hussey and Adams) I’m informed tonight by a punter they played the Powerhouse in ’83. I made it to the same venue on Hussy’s next outing – The Mission – a la ‘Serpents Kiss’ era. I did however, catch The Sisters support Depeche Mode at Crystal Palace in ’93  although my memory is hazy, bar a goth girl walking round in a full white wedding dress… (It is indeed amazing what you remember!)

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Eldritch and the variations of The Sisters have given the world just three albums since their birth in the late seventies / early 80s. The scene setting, and classic  ‘First and Last and Always’, the commercially successful ‘ Floodland’ spawning the #2 single ‘This Corrosion’ and follow-up ‘Vision Thing.’ Eldritch occasionally tempts us with news he may release something, but nothing so far. Though pretty much every year The Sister’s come out to play, rarely in the UK, and even rarer on as national tour. Tonight’s gig is the second of just five nights scooting across the UK….

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We expect the stage to be smoke-drenched – and hell, as the lights drop a barrage of dry ice is released, a cloud tsunami floating above the crowd before enveloping us. First up ‘More’ – there’s so much smoke we can’t see the band – but we clearly hear Eldritch’s darkened vocals. Sisters 2016 version is Eldritch, Chris Catalyst and Ben Christo. Plus of course Doktor Avalanche…

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‘Ribbons’ the smog lifts a tad, and we see Eldritch. No longer the thin and gaunt frail Godfather of Goth (a title he detested), still in black, the trademark glasses, now bald, looking not dissimilar to Billy Corgan. The set may be laden with dry ice, but the lighting is exquisite – accompanying and lighting the stage in a quite beautiful way to accompany the songs. ‘Alice’ shows the crowd divided, the pre- and post- ‘Floodland’ “Alice…” we scream… “don’t give it away….”

Eldritch occasionally comments – rueing the madness in the world…” There’s not much you can do to f*** it up, though God knows we’re trying…..”  ‘Dominion’ has the power live, as much as on audio, and by ‘Flood II’ Eldritch is snarling.

Encore I gives us ‘Something Fast’, a solidly stunning ‘Lucretia My Reflection’
and  “Stand up if you love America!” – a reference to the totally mad and crazy state of the U.S .of A. – a vicious rendition of ‘Vision Thing.’

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And encore II gives up the older classics – ‘First and Last and Always’ and ‘Temple of Love’ more upbeat than the originals, but Eldritch vocal’s becoming rawer, more primeval.  And to complete ‘This Corrosion’ completed by, in the smoggened gloom, the band take long bows and disappear into the mist.

Sisters of Mercy 2016 are everything and much more than we expected. We expected the smoke, the dry ice,  in volumes that you couldn’t even imagine. The darkened vocals and rhythmic beat. But also what came was the beauty in the lighting, timely lit-accompaniment to tracks, The Sisters still on a mission (forgive the pun), the band tight, Eldritch still with the passion and belief and vitriol, having something to say through his lyrics. Far more than for the pure fans, and far more than an 80’s goth throwback – The Sisters remain remarkably relevant and were indeed on fire tonight. First and last and always…..

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Setlist:
More
Ribbons
Doctor Jeep / Detonation Boulevard
Amphetamine Logic
Body Electric
Crash and Burn
Alice
Marian
No Time To Cry
Arms
Dominion / Mother Russia
Summer
Jihad (The Sisterhood)
Valentine
Flood II

Encore I:
Something Fast
Lucretia My Reflection
Vision Thing

Encore II:
First and Last and Always
Temple of Love
This Corrosion

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Listening:
First and Last and Always [1985]
Floodland [1987]
Vision Thing [1990]

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