Sisters of Mercy

Heineken Music Hall, Amsterdam / 30 March 2003
Smoke and Mirrors tour

A sentimental journey…“and the devil in a black dress watches over
my guardian angel walks away
life is short and love is always over in the morning
black wind come carry me far away…”

The Sisters of Mercy have played an important role in the development of my musical taste. At the end of the 80’s, when I was in highschool, I first encountered the band. It took some time though before I really began to appreciate the music. I was already listening to some non-mainstream music, but this was different… more mysterious. I remember that this was the period when the first tv-stations with videoclips were launched. One of them was called Music Box, and I was sitting behind the t.v. on their first broadcasting day. One of the first clips I witnessed was somewhat strange…. something with chains, smoke and cellars… It was called ‘This Corrosion’ by The Sisters of Mercy. I then hired the album “First and Last and Always” at the local library, which I found rather interesting, but I was not directly hooked. I remember having taped only three songs of this album then…

A year later I had more listening experience. The Cult and The Cure, New Model Army and Joy Division had become well-known names to me. The Mission had a small hit with ‘Tower of Strength’, and I began to discover more British bands with a darker sound and image. I began to buy British magazines like Melody Maker and NME, and from a trip to London I returned with a pile of exciting records. The Sisters of Mercy had rapidly become one of my most favourite acts…

Then, in 1991, I heard The Sisters of Mercy would come to Amsterdam. Until then I had never been to a ‘big’ concert, only visited the local club (Patronaat) a few times for some smaller gigs. So I was pretty excited when I had the chance to go to Amsterdam… The Jaap Edenhal was the place to be, an old ice-skating-rink, which was also used for concerts now and then. When we arrived there I was immediately impressed, by the atmosphere, the large number of people (all dressed in black), the size of the hall… Everyone was running to the stage to get a good spot. In my memory this is one of most legendary concerts I have ever seen, although I must confess that I don’t remember much more than a lot of smoke and sunglasses…
This was the first & last time I saw them, until 2003… For years I had the feeling that I didn’t want to see them again, for fear of spoiling the good memories. But when a friend told me that he was going to buy tickets and asked if he should bring one for me too, it began to itch… Hell, why not, for old time’s sake, perhaps this is one of the last chances to see them, and they don’t come to The Netherlands that often… (in fact, this was the first time since 1991). Just go there with a different mentality, not expecting the old magic again… Furthermore it was quite some time ago that I went to a large-scale concert, and I had not visited the recently built Heineken Music Hall yet… The show was going to be the first gig of the new ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ tour.

On the day of the concert I felt rather curious… what would it sound like, which songs would they play… In advance I listened to some old records, which I haven’t played often anymore in the last years, knowing them all by heart… In my closet I even found my old Sisters shirt, which I was probably also wearing in 1991… So off we went to Amsterdam, and on the station we saw the first familiar faces and more people wearing Sisters memorabilia… Everything seemed to be well-organized in the megamodern Heineken Music Hall. The lounge-room upstairs where we took some drinks looked nice, as well as the ultrared toilets and other secundary rooms. Since we were rather early, we went to sit at the stand in the hall, where we had a good overview. Slowly the entering crowd was filling the hall and we were waiting in expectation, joking about worst case scenarios. The audience was a funny eclectic mixture… old wavers, law students, metalheads, fresh goths, hippies…

At a quarter past eight the English support-act Sulpher entered the stage. An unknown band for me, but a day before the concert I had downloaded a promising track from their website, which reminded me somewhat of NIN, Filter or Stabbing Westward. Unfortunately their performance was disappointing to me, industrial metal without any subtleties, just a monotonous and loud guitar wall of sound, mediocre vocals and cliche lyrics, quite tiring. After half a dozen of songs I did not mind going back to the lounge room to get another drink.

Then the moment we were waiting for arrived. It was not difficult to find a position near the stage, despite the fact that the hall was pretty packed by then. Before the concert started we had to endure music from Status Quo, then finally the lights went out and smoke was blown over the stage… Andrew Eldritch and his two bandmembers entered the stage. Of course with the usual sunglasses, Eldritch had a short shaven head and was wearing a leather jacket. When you looked closely you could see the marks of age on his face, but he made a youthful impression nevertheless. I was standing close to the guitarist at the left side of the stage, who turned out to be very talented in imitating macho rock star performances. Further not many signs of a stage act were to be seen, or it must be the new cigarette which Eldritch lighted after each song. But smoke and a flashy lightshow already stole the show.

The first song was a new one, called ‘Crash and Burn’. It was followed by the old classic ‘Burn’, and I felt immediately at home. The band sounded as I had expected: pretty straightforward rock ‘n roll, the sound of “Vision Thing” taken even further, with less finesses than in the past. The Sisters played quite a lot of new songs, almost half of the set seemed to be made up of new material (that is: not yet released, they are all on their live setlist for some years now). Will a new album, of which rumours circulate for years now, ever see the light of day? I must say though that I found some of the new songs quite good, they fitted in well with the older material. Especially worthwhile were the songs ‘We are the same, Suzanne’ and ‘Will I dream’.

I found it noteworthy that hardly any material from before “Floodland” was played. From “First & Last & Always” only the title track was included. And the choice from their early singles (as compiled on “Some girls wander by mistake”) was limited to ‘Burn’, ‘Anaconda’ and ‘Temple of Love’, if I remember well. Quite some hits were not played, probably to the disppointment of many. No ‘Alice’, ‘Body Electric’, ‘Lucretia’, ‘This Corrosion’ or ‘More’. Also no covers this time. But there were also some more obscure choices, like ‘On the wire’ (B-side from ‘Walk away’), mixed with a fragment of ‘Teachers,’ and ‘Giving Ground’ (from the Sisterhood project).

I think the centre of gravity lay with the “Floodland” tracks and the new songs. Four “Vision Thing” songs were also played, but they were the least convincing to my taste, with guitar walls that sounded too much alike (like the medley ‘Dr. Jeep/Detonation Boulevard’). I had expected some references to Iraq during Dr. Jeep, but this was not the case. Mr. Eldritch was not very talkative, expect for some few short expressions in between the songs: ‘In the hallway’, ‘Meanwhile…’, ‘You can thank me later’.

It took a few tracks before the band (and the audience) really seemed to get into it. For me the real starting point was the excellent rendition of ‘Dominion’. Other highlights were ‘Flood I & II’, ‘Giving Ground’, ‘We are the same, Suzanne’ en ‘Anaconda’. And ‘Temple of Love’ of course, perhaps not in a brilliant rendition, but the status and impact of this song is enough to get the audience excited. Funny to see were the (English?) fans who were building human towers before the stage, with fanatic guys on top singing along with the most obscure songs.

After two couples of encores (the stunning ‘Neverland’ + the aforementioned Temple of Love’, then a new powerrock instrumental and ‘Vision Thing’) the lights went back on and the show was over. We left the hall and returned to the lounge room, where a DJ was building an afterparty, with music like NIN, the Cure, Marilyn Manson, Joy Division, Ministry… But we preferred to catch the last train which departed at a decent time…

All in all I had quite enjoyed myself. Of course it lacked the magic of the previous millennium, but I still found it a nice experience to see this legendary act one more time. I heard some people who were a little disappointed, perhaps their expectations were too high. The Sisters of Mercy anno 2003 are just a groovy rock ‘n roll band… Wether I want to see them again in 2015 I’m not sure yet…

“and her hallway…
as the water come rushing in
like the sea
as the water come rushing over
dream of the flood…”