It was Sunday night, the 26th of March. I could barely believe it, but after pinching myself twice I had to accept the puzzling fact that I was sitting on the mezzanine of Vancouver’s premiere venue, eagerly awaiting the start of the night’s event: the last North American show of the Sisters of Mercy’s 2006 Silver Bullet tour!
I took a sip of my Honey Lager and looked down at the main floor below me. The Commodore Ballroom is located on Granville Street in the heart of the entertainment district and I could see lots of people rushing by in the rain through the windows. It’s a busy area and the line-up at the door had, as usual, been reaching Smithe’s corner; but once inside, the place was pleasant and did not feel overcrowded. A mixed and very well behaved crowd wandered by and most of the side tables were already occupied…
One has to be of a certain generation to have witnessed the 80’s alternative movement, I thought, and that was clearly reflected by the public’s average age. Of course a lot of black was still being worn as well as black make-up and hair, yet none of the very fancy goth fashion I had expected. Maybe Vancouver isn’t that extreme in its musical tastes after all.
I spent some time reflecting on the obvious fact that I’ve never been much of a concert person myself and do not think so highly of the “fan” behavior. The last live show I attended was in the late 80’s when I saw Pink Floyd at the Montreal Olympic Stadium. But the Commodore can hardly be compared to a stadium. It looks and feels like a theatre and its design makes for a very intimate setting. With a maximum capacity of 900 persons, it is definitely a small audience, play and have fun place and I suppose the bands must like it for that reason.
The place filled up slowly and finally the guest singer started playing, but I have to say he didn’t impress me at all. The sound wasn’t very good and people pretty much ignored him and talked, except for the few hardcore fans pressed against the stage and who weren’t going to be distracted away from the place where their idols eventually would show up.
And then at last, after much waiting, the lights were dimmed once more, smoke hissed on the stage, the spotlights wildly came to life and Doktor Avalanche started playing his typical electric beat. The crowd roared, instinctively moving forward. And then appearing through the smoke like ghosts, they were there. The Sisters of Mercy.
Or at least some Sisters of Mercy. The current band members, in other words, because the only ones who have remained with the band since the beginning are Andrew Eldritch and Doktor Avalanche.
Here I must explain for the novices: the former is the lead singer and songwriter of the band. The latter is, well, it’s a drum machine. It replaced Eldritch at the drums early in the band’s history (so that the singer could concentrate on vocals) and was nicknamed Doktor Avalanche, a name that was to stick with all of its electronic successors through the very radical evolution of the band’s human line up. Those other band members came and went pretty loosely.
So last night, along with Eldritch looking more like a skinhead with his new bald head look, were two rather young guitar players, doing a good job but obviously unable to give the Sisters of Mercy what they have lacked for so long: the ability to live up to their own legend.
Because when it comes to punk, gothic rock and alternative music as a whole, few bands can claim to have influenced the genre as much as the Sisters have. They were the best at what they did, and even though they have always insisted in being simply a rock band, they were brought to fame and stardom by the darkest faction of the alternative movement, and the goths.
And yet, all this fame is merely based on two brilliant albums, one more that was pretty good, and a compilation.
First and Last and Always came first, as the name implies, and indeed will always be the best. Then there was Floodland, produced after radical band changes but still as powerful. The third album, Vision Thing, signaled in my humble opinion the decline of the band. It did include a few great songs, but the magic was thinning. From this point on, the Sisters pretty much never released anything else then the very good compilation A Slight Case of Overbombing. They have kept alive by touring and the latest show tendency seems to be towards a lot of unreleased or b-sides songs, not sure why.
So Sunday they played stuff I had never even heard. I guess they might be trying to come back with new songs, but nothing I heard gripped me. The ratio of good old classics compared to average or unreleased songs was in fact way too low. We were granted Temple of Love, Ribbons, Something Fast, Alice, Dominion/Mother Russia and Lucretia, yes, but where were Marian, First and Last and Always, Heartland, Walk Away, Black Planet, No Time to Cry, Logic, More, Gimme Shelter, This Corrosion and Some Kind of Stranger?
The audience, however, didn’t seem to mind too much. They were biased, of course. Most of them had come, just like me, not to witness a new act or discover a rising star, but rather to visit an old friend. So the crowd managed two recalls, and whether it was planned or not, that’s when we got the best songs.
In the end, the show was interesting, but not awesome. It was cool but not fantastic. And once more I am forced to admit that the Sisters of Mercy, as many other long-lasting bands, cannot completely grab me live. Some things should not be kept going for too long. What was done then was remarkable, but that was then, this is now.
The Sisters will remain for me what they once were, when I owned every one of their vinyl albums after having discovered their music in a dark alternative club, Montreal’s old Thunderdome: one of the greatest rock bands ever, which has come, and gone.
N.B. I am still trying to extract a few pictures taken at the show from my cell phone and will repost this if I manage to get them…
leonarda da vinci