The Sisters of Mercy – Glasgow ABC, 7th July 2014

The queue is pleasingly young. With their stack boots, piercings and Fall-Out Boy shirts, the torch of goth is safely in the hands of a new generation.

My mistake; they’re lining up for Bam Margera, who’s playing the secondary stage. I’ll be honest: I don’t really know who Margera is, or how he earns his crust. Or at least I don’t know why he’s in Glasgow. Does he tell stories? Jokes? Skateboard for peanuts?

The real queue is over on the other side. It’s much older. It has significantly less hair and a bit more girth, much like your correspondent.

Officially the most stubborn man in rock, Andrew Eldritch hasn’t put out a record in more than 20 years. Burned by the major labels, Eldritch is unwilling to re-line the pockets of the men in suits by playing the record game, but there are bills to pay, and what looks like a near capacity venue still pays enough.

It’s a curiously old-fashioned mindset, one where making albums is expensive and albums require massive marketing budgets. Aghast at the idea that The Sisters of Mercy will never again profit from mainstream exposure, a few Tweets and a Facebook post would shift as many albums as a full page advert in Classic Rock. But still he persists. My way, or the Highway (61).

Perhaps that stubbornness resonates; this is my first live encounter with The Sisters, despite an ongoing relationship with the records that stretches beyond that studio exile. While Eldritch and his hired hands have continued to tour – and play new material – that lack of studio action has instilled a general indifference: you don’t care so I don’t care. But here I am anyway, expectations set to ‘Don’t get too excited’.

It takes a few songs for the band and audience to warm up, which is a risk you take when opening with three songs from your weakest album. Older material like ‘Alice’ and ‘No Time To Cry’ has been given a mild makeover, the guitars beefed up to offer a more coherent sound. A smattering of ‘new’ tracks, ‘Arms’ and the instrumental ‘Top Nite Out’ remain wedded to that somewhat dated industrial Eurometal favoured by Rammstein and pretty much no-one else of any note; the latter track veers dangerously close to some kind of hair metal guitarist face-off. Perhaps the pre-gig soundtrack (KISS, Bon Jovi, Guns ‘n Roses) tells you everything about where Eldritch’s head is at.

But blow me down, as the songs tick by it becomes huge fun. The first notes of ‘Dominion’ ring out mid-set and the ABC erupts. You can’t shake off the years, and this music is buried deep. As the bear from the East lifts her head again (“Mother Russia, rain down down down”) and the wheel of geopolitics keeps spinning, it still makes sense. Even ‘This Corrosion’ – the kind of alternative crossover hit that barely exists any more – pulls in its gut, puffs out its chest and the room communes. Doktor Avalanche, still surely the only drum machine to get album credits, might have put on a little weight like the rest of us, but he’s relentless. Never misses a beat, that lad.

As penultimate tracks go, ‘Miserlou’ is a disappointment (it gives Eldritch a chance for a breather) when the band used to pull out Hot Chocolate, ABBA or Suicide, but they save the day with their biggest hit ‘Temple of Love’, that jaded hymn to domestic harmony (“Your faith for bricks and dreams for mortar”) that hit number three back in 1992 and saw a thousand student discos covered in imaginary confetti.

It’s usually considered a no-no to wear the headliner’s shirt to the gig. There are a few exceptions, usually metal bands, and they’re worn to show loyalty and how long you’ve been going to the shows. About a third of the audience tonight are wearing Sisters shirts. I used to have a Sisters shirt until it fell apart; I now have a new one.

About Douglas Baptie (207 Articles)
Editor at Words & Guitars. Lives in Carlisle, far away from 'that London'.
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